Travel Carry for India

I’m off to India on a business trip and have carefully compiled my travel carry that I’ll be sharing with you today.  I’ll be spending more time outdoors on this trip compared to my trip to Malaysia, so my carry needs to reflect these uses. I’ve focused on packing tools that are reliable, easy to reach for and will take a beating if necessary, as well as including a couple of new products.

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WritePads: Lenore Review and Kindred Spirit First Impressions

I have been lucky enough to receive both of WritePads limited edition packs of notebooks in my monthly Pocket Notebooks subscription box; the Lenore edition and the newly released Kindred Spirit. Today I’m compiling my thoughts on the Lenore and my initial impressions of the Kindred Spirit.

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Stationery Constant: Hobonichi Techo

I am thinking of starting a series on my stationery constants. I have already discussed one of them this year (the Hightide pen roll that I jointly reviewed with Jenny @ The Finer Point). Another 2016 stationery constant has been that patient companion, the Hobonichi Techo.

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A Year of The London Parchment

A few weeks ago The London Parchment turned a year old. First and foremost thank you so much for sticking with me! I’d like to use this post to pick out a few brief thoughts I have of the year gone by and to revisit some of my favourite photographs. There are links dotted throughout for you to check out if you joined me somewhere throughout the last 12 months.

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Hightide Pen Roll Collaborated Review: Part 2

Today on The London Parchment I’m publishing part 2 of a collaborated review. This is part 2, and you can find part 1 on The Finer Point where Jenny has compiled her thoughts on the Hightide Pen Roll using it intermittently for a few months. So if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, stop here! Go back and have a read!

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Nataraj HB Marble Pencil

My favourite continent for stationery products is Asia, particularly because of the wonderful Japanese and South Korean products I regularly use. (Shameless plug: I mentioned this during my question and answer session on the Pocket Notebooks blog). The Nataraj HB Marble pencil also hails from Asia but is one of the first Indian products I’ve tried.

Barrel with printed branding.
Barrel with printed branding. This side of the pencil has more of a vibrant yellow and red marble.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect. There’s more pink and white on the reverse!

I was drawn to this pencil because it was affordable (I picked it up for £1.50 from Choosing Keeping) and a unique, colourful object. I also favour HB wood cased pencils because I mostly use pencils for writing and the occasional drawing.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

Look and feel

The Nataraj Marble comes pre-sharpened and is about 7 inches long. It’s eraserless and in place of the usual ferrule and eraser there is a long white tip, ever so slightly glossy. The remainder of the pencil is a delightfully colourful marbled lacquer, blending reds, yellows, pinks, greens and blues. It reminds me of a psychedelic art project or the colourful swirls found in a pool of petrol. A bit of research on the Nataraj Marble indicates that each pencil is actually unique. The most noticeable colours in mine are reds, oranges and yellows but I’ve seen images on the internet with dominant blues, whites and pinks. I think this uniqueness is a nice element to buying this pencil and adds a little bit of surprise particularly if ordering it online.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

 

The Nataraj branding is stamped simply and effectively in black along a single side of the barrel. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not too averse to a printed barcode but those of you among us who are will be pleased to know that there is no barcode and only one barrel side with any printing on. The lovely marble lacquer is the star of the show on the rest of the hexagonal barrel. The Nataraj Marble measures up in width similarly to my trusty Staedtler Mars Lumograph.

I think one of the loveliest things about this pencil though is the colour of the wood casing. It has a natural grain left to see when sharpened and is a great, vibrant pink-red hue. I read on the CW Pencil Enterprise blog that the pencil is made from Indian vetta wood. I can’t find much out there on vetta wood so I’d love to know more if anyone has any information. The Hindustan Pencils website which manufactures the Nataraj brand clearly have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and only use wood from their own plantations which they replenish to ensure they aren’t deforesting, which is a really admirable statement to make. Anyway – the vetta wood used looks gorgeous in this pencil.

Look at that gorgeous pink-red woodcasing.
Look at that gorgeous pink-red wood casing. I really like that the natural woodgrain can be seen too.

Performance

Firstly I would say that the Nataraj Marble is more of a B grade, or possibly even 2B, than the HBs I usually use. It smudges fairly easily and produces a smooth black line. I think this would make it a good pencil for drawing and outlining. It’s also good for writing and doesn’t require sharpening too often – rotating the pencil provides the good sharpness required for writing. When I have sharpened it though it sharpens very well – very smooth with no breakages.

Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad.
Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad. Can you see the smudging in the second paragraph?
Close of up of graphite smudging. You've got to be careful if you're left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.
Close of up of graphite smudging. You’ve got to be careful if you’re left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.

I really like writing with the Nataraj Marble. It’s smooth without blunting too easily although the smudging issue may be something to note if you’re a leftie. There isn’t any scratchiness or strong resistance on the page when writing (although I have to admit sometimes I find a bit of scratchiness quite pleasing). It erases well with my Milan synthetic eraser – which is rapidly becoming my favourite eraser – and can be layered to produce a really black effect.

Eraser and smudge test.
Eraser and smudge test.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.

In summary

This has been a really easy and simple review for me to write. The Nataraj Marble looks lovely and unique. I love the lacquer, reddish pink hued woodcasing and the fact that it has no eraser. I find pencil erasers generally rubbish to use a technical term and sometimes I wonder why anyone really bothers adding them! I think it really stands out on my desk and in my pencilcase. I’m also really pleased with the blackness and smoothness of the pencil to write with and I think it may be an even better companion for someone who draws more often with pencils. Be warned if you’re a leftie because of the smudging issue, but otherwise for approximately £1.50 in the UK and even cheaper in the US I would definitely recommend that you add this to your toolbox.

Ballograf Chrome Epoca

On my recent trip to Amsterdam I discovered the lovely Ballograf Chrome Epoca pen. I had never heard of Ballograf before and I’ve learned a lot about the brand since buying my first product.

Ballograf is a Swedish producer of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils and is based in Gothenburg – set up in 1945 by a lone Austrian. Apparently Ballograf employ thirty employees but produce four million writing implements a year. That’s 133333.3 pens per employee! Its main market appears to be Scandinavia and western Europe although I haven’t come across this brand during my usual stationery jaunts, neither online nor in person.

Look and feel

This pen features a simple push button mechanism and is refillable with Ballograf refills. Pushing the button has a nice resistance to it which kicks in about halfway down.

The pen has several simple details which really make the look and feel of this writing implement. The pen clip features the Ballgraf symbol, the silver barrel is lined on each hexagonal face, the join between the barrel and the grip section features, very very finely, the words Ballograf Epoca Sweden. I’ve seen a few websites where you can have your Epoca engraved and sure enough, there is a short section of barrel which is waiting for your name. There’s an overriding historical vintage feeling about this pen – like it’s something that hasn’t changed since the 50s – even though it’s brand new and looks brand new. Its design is timeless, simple and honest.

Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It's there!
Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It’s there! This section says “Sweden”.
Close up of the lined barrel.
Close up of the lined barrel.

I love the cornflour, lavender blue of the grip section. It’s untextured and has a softly rounded taper towards the end which suits me just fine, and really complements the surrounding silver. It also adds a touch of brightness and femininity to the pen, which is a good contrast against the straight sides of the barrel. The only downside of an untextured grip section might be that it could get uncomfortable writing for long periods of time particularly if, like me, you don’t hold your pen close to the nib or ballpoint.

Lovely blue grip section.
Lovely blue grip section.

The ink in my pen is archival blue. I rarely choose a blue ink, particularly with ballpoints as they tend to be a very obvious blue, if that makes any sense. Luckily the pen is refillable: there are medium and fine refills in blue, black, red and green. I don’t find this blue offensive at all though. Apparently early in the brand’s history, the ink used in their Epocas was certified as archival, meaning that it could be used widely for official purposes in Sweden and this increased its popularity in offices.

Performance

Ever since reflecting on what I want from a 0.4mm gel pen in this post, I have thought about what I expect from several different stationery items. The things I expect from a ballpoint are a smooth writing experience without any ink stickiness, an ink that writes dry on the page and also no ink skipping – this is a common expectation among all pens for me. I think a stationery mantra everywhere should be “every touch has to leave a mark” because it’s so true among all writing implements for me. Finally I really dislike ballpoints where the refill “wobbles” inside the pen casing. I think you’d have to experience this one to understand what I mean but I think it’s caused when the refill isn’t supported properly by any mechanism inside the pen casing or barrel leaving it free to move depending on the pressure you apply.

So on those expectations. Every touch of the pen leaves a mark! Even the dot of an i. You don’t need to apply much pressure to achieve this. I’ve used this pen in a Word notebook, Rhodia dotpad, Field Notes notebook and my Tsunami Fools notebook and I haven’t experienced any pressure marks on the reverse of pages I’ve written on. I’m not sure I would ever risk a ballpoint pen with my Hobonichi though or on paper any lighter than found in your business as usual notebooks.

Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.
Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.

This pen gives you a really smooth writing experience even on cheap copy paper and whether you’re writing on a single sheet directly on a hard surface or whether you’re writing in a notebook. This is so important for a ballpoint because I think this is one of the main things that makes them compete with gel and fountain pens. Thankfully there’s no wobble either. There is, very infrequently, a pleasing squeak of ballpoint on paper.

Obviously you can’t post a push button pen. It is comfortable to write with but I personally wouldn’t want to write with a much shorter pen. Overall it comes up at a slightly shorter length than my faithful Uni SXN 150-38 and about a centimetre shorter than my Uni Signo .38. Unless it’s a mini-sized fountain pen, I notice the pen’s length much more with push button ballpoint and gel pens because of the clip – I generally only hold a clipped pen in one position with the clip facing upwards rather than rotating it in my hand if necessary.

Length comparison against some of my other push button pens.
Length comparison against some of my other push button pens. As you can see it’s the shortest of the lot.

In summary

I’m really glad I chose the Epoca as my first foray into this brand. Ballograf don’t produce a huge selection of products and are confined to pens and mechanical pencils. I think I’m happy with having this as my Ballograf toolbox addition rather than trying out a range of their other products as I may normally do when discovering a new brand; my impression is their products are likely to perform similarly. In all honesty I think investing in the Epoca and sticking with it without needing to collect the rest of their products is a testament to the brand and pen in this case. It’s timeless in appearance, refillable and writes smoothly and comfortably. It’s also clearly designed to be reliable, apparently each Epoca Chrome will give you 8000m worth of writing. I’d love to know how many Field Notes this equates to!

I am generally shy of ballpoints because I find them to be similar writing experiences whatever the pen is that you’re using. The design, weight and smoothness of the Epoca make for a really enjoyable writing experience. It’s not a standout revelation moment for me with ballpoints, I didn’t expect it to be, but I’ve come away with a product that is unexpectedly high performing, is lovely to look at and use and is a great reflection of a brand I’ve never experienced before. Although four million of them are produced a year I feel it is a unique addition to my toolbox and one that I’m going to keep in my regular collection for the near future.

I can’t find many UK retailers of Ballgraf products but if you’re interested in buying one I suggest you do a bit of googling and find a retailer which suits your requirement best. I bought mine at Like Stationery in Amsterdam where there were a few different colour options including one with a pale pink grip section, and a gold version with a black grip section.