I am fifty-seven. I grew up in a time of pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, and typewriters.
I have, in the past, used (preferred) pencil or pen on legal pads to compose stories or poems. I felt that push and pull of the writing instrument on the page to be inspiring and rewarding.
In recent years, I would hear about young people composing entire chapters of novels on their phones and think they were absolutely insane. How can you track, mentally and mechanically, your ideas on a tiny screen? How can you be connected to your words and their taste, smell, texture, when you are clicking on glass that has almost no tactile feedback at all?
Then, in 2019, I had a crisis in my twenty-nine year marriage and couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t watch tv. Couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t write a letter. Yet, the emotions of the crisis were vast and overwhelming. How do I deal with them?
I picked up my phone one day while out on the deck overlooking the beach and allowed my thumbs to skip over the glass.
In moments, I had the first poem I had written in years. The next day, another. Then a blog entry. Then another. Then more poems.
So many words I had contained for months (in some cases years) were spilling out of me. I was feeling, if not full relief, at least not so bundled up in pain.
I was surprised at just how much I connected with the words. How quickly they fell onto the screen and how cleanly they fell. At times, they felt (and still feel) much like they had in my youth, as if I was not the one writing them at all but some greater force had taken over (and I am not the spiritual sort).
I still write with my pens and pencils. I edit with my favorite fountain pens and bright, cheerful inks. However, the best flow comes on the little 3”x 6.25” computer in my hand.
This blog entry began its life just so. All my blog posts now begin and are fleshed out on my phone, move to my laptop, are sometimes printed for review/editing, then are posted.
Somehow, it connects. Somehow, I still sense these words as I did when writing with pen and paper. I still feel as linked to the words, ideas, and emotions as I ever did through a nib on fiber. I am a bit humbled by this realization. I am fifty-seven and I have been forced to recognize that art is not lost or bastardized in or by technology despite the protests of many of my generation (I am on the Boomer cusp). At the same time, I hope this also shows that we are not all floundering dinosaurs, insisting that “the old way is best.” Nor is the new way superior. It’s the typewriter vs. computer argument of old which was once the pen vs. typewriter argument. And that was once the quill vs. fountain pen argument.
Ultimately, the way that works best is the way that works for the individual in the moment. When my heart was calmer I could sit in a quiet room with those seemingly gentler implements and “compose.” Now, in this moment of my life, my heart is panicky and wild and my thumbs need to spatter my creations across the glass instead.
Recently, Rhodia Drive gave me the opportunity to play with papers by Clairefontaine and G. Lalo, two French stationers whose papers are imported by Exaclair, Inc.Clairefontaine makes a variety of notebooks and notepads as well as “Triomphe” stationery. G. Lalo makes high quality stationery for correspondence.
GraF it sketch paper.
Smooth but matte texture. Disclaimer number one: I am not an artist. I’ve been playing around with sketching people, dogs, and trees but I won’t frighten you with the results here. Still, I’ve developed a little feel for how graphite feels on sketch paper v. writing paper so I think I can speak to this a little.
Clairefontaine designed GraF it to take both ink and pencil. It is less toothy than the Strathmore I used for comparison (my only other sketch paper) so it did feel as if it didn’t want to take the graphite as readily as the Strathmore.* There is some difference in the lead darkness on one v. the other (Graf it is lighter) although the paper is whiter than the Strathmore. However, the GraF it erased better and didn’t leave as much of a scar from repeated erasing compared to the Strathmore. Both smudged easily (intentionally) although it seemed to me GraF it smudged more uniformly. Whether this is an advantage or not, I don’t know. I’m sure it is because the paper is smoother overall.
It’s important how it handles ink, of course, and it does quite well. Disclaimer number two: I like smooth paper but I like toothy paper, too. What I care about with paper is, will it stand up to my ink and my way of writing?
GraF it paper showing pencil marks, erasure, and ink appearance.
The image above shows that I used several nib types and several ink brands on the GraF it. All performed very well with no bleed-through, no feathering, and minimal show-through. As I said, the paper is matte and slightly toothy for sketching purposes but it is still fairly smooth as opposed to something like laid paper (see G. Lalo below). You’ll feel it. Your pen won’t skate like it’s oiled, but it won’t be an unpleasant writing experience.
I don’t care for using pencil on the ultra-smooth paper of CF’s other notebooks (or similar papers). It’s messy and hard to control. But, I have wanted a journal I could draw in with graphite and colored pencil and fill with ink ramblings to my heart’s content. GraF it comes as blank and dot grid notepads. I was happy to learn that the same paper appears to be in their “Crok book” notebooks. On may way to find a seller, NOW!
*Below is the same test written on the Strathmore sketch paper (Recycled sketch paper 400 Series) and more of my hideous handwriting. Strathmore is not designed for fountain pen ink so you can see the ink spread and slight feathering. Not bad considering.
Strathmore sketch paper. Pencil, erasure, and ink test.
Clairefontaine Triomphe Blank 90g
This is CF’s correspondence paper. I’ve used the same paper but lined. It is wonderfully smooth, there’s no getting around that. I don’t know if it is exactly like their notebooks and notepads. To me, it seems a little more tolerant of my ultra-smooth nibs; they don’t seem to skate so easily. I could be imagining that. It also seems to show through a little but that could simply be that I’m not accustomed to using blank paper. Their standard notebooks are 90g just like the Triomphe paper. Whatever the case, if you want smooth paper for writing letters, this is an excellent choice and is one of my favorites. A lined version is available, as well. There is the one little problem with super-smooth paper like this: dry time. If you use a very wet pen, or a very goopy ballpoint (for shame!) you will get some ugly smearing if you don’t allow the ink to dry a few seconds. Well, in the case of the goopy ballpoint, you’re on your own. You’ll see at the end that I did smear tests for all three papers.
Clairefontaine Triomphe. Top quote in wet writing medium nib, bottom quote, dry XXXF nib. Some show-through visible from other side (wet writer, dark ink).
G. Lalo Verge de France
A lot of fountain pen users balk at laid paper but I’m not one of them. I love the stuff and I particularly love to use a very fine nib on it. Oddly enough, using a fat, smooth nib makes it feel more unpleasant. Better to tip toe through rocks than walk with flat bare feet on top of them. It’s more than that, however. I actually like the tactile feedback of the sharp nib on the laid lines (the narrow ridges on the paper). It’s part of the process. I equate it with the way many people prefer old mechanical keyboards over the membrane keyboards. I’ve tried to capture the lines in the picture here.
Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de France. The vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.
Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de france. The Vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.
It’s entirely personal preference and if you know that your pens can only tolerate smooth or glassy surfaces, Verge de France isn’t for you.
From an inky point of view, this paper was tiny bit picky. I was sent “White” which looked distinctly “cream” to my eye. Nice color but I’d never call it white. You won’t be able to tell from the pictures that the Noodler’s Apache Sunset is fainter and shows less shading on the G. Lalo than on the other papers. The darker inks were fine. My Violet Vote ink, which tends to write rather wet, almost seemed to feather. It’s not as noticeable after the fact but was when I was writing.
I wrote at length on the back of the G. Lalo just to confirm my preference for fine nibs and the Violet Vote’s behavior. Yup.
G. Lalo Verge de France ink test. Inks used, top to bottom: Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Diamine Mediterranean, Iroshizuku Yama Budo, Noodler’s Bulletproof Violet Vote, Diamine Umber.
Last image. The smear test. They all did about the same. I was surprised that the Verge de France, with its texture, smeared as much as it did. But all were good at 20 seconds. The ink is Diamine Umber in a custom XXXF nib. Umber is not known for smearing. I consider it a middle-of-the-road ink, neither too saturated nor too weak.
Smear test of three papers.
So, wrapping up. European paper makers come through with great stuff. No big surprise there. Is this Big Box, grade-school priced stuff? No. They aren’t ridiculously expensive either. All three are worth giving a go if you love to write letters and/or draw.
Disclaimer number three: Other than three sheets of paper to play with and the fun time writing this, I get diddly squat from Rhodia Drive or Exaclair without paying for it. This little blog entry is uncompensated except by the sheer enjoyment of the process.