[Guest Post] Reds and Yellow and Blues, Oh My!

February 7, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Elizabeth Janes, who is a big ol’ F&SF nerd. She lives in upstate New York, mere minutes from the Massachusetts border, and is still looking for her perfect red.

In the guest blog posted on January 31 I referred briefly to my runaway ink-sample-buying habit. Readers may have thought I was joking.

As best I can remember, it started as a search for My Perfect Red: a bit on the warm side, but not so much as to edge into red-orange territory; bright enough to read as red even when used as the tiniest accent; waterproof, or at least water-resistant, if at all possible.

Unfortunately, I know of no brick-and-mortar stationers within an easy drive, at least none that carry a wide range of inks for dip or fountain pen, and I couldn’t really justify making a special trip to Boston or New York City just to shop for ink. Internet to the rescue, right?

Well, somewhat. The trouble is, the ink that looks just right in a Web site’s digital swatch may look very different when it’s put down on paper, due to a number of variables. Has the screen been calibrated for color accuracy, and are you looking at it under the same lighting conditions as when the calibration was done, and at the same angle? How accurate was the color in the image file of the swatch the vendor uploaded to the Web page? Is the paper highly absorbent, or does the ink sit on the surface? If you’re picky about color, expecting close fidelity of ink on paper to image on screen is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Bottled ink isn’t cheap enough that most people can afford to buy bottle after bottle as they seek the color of their dreams. And mixing one color with another can be hazardous to your fountain pen’s health if the individual ink formulas aren’t compatible (or at least it can make cleaning the pen a lot more work). But somewhere online I read that the Goulet Pen Company sold small sample vials of their entire line of inks, so I clicked on over to their Web site. Glorioski! and oh, boy, was I in trouble!

My first order was for two dozen samples and a rack with spaces for forty vials, plus a new fountain pen. (Of course I didn’t limit myself to reds.) I won’t admit to how many orders have gone out since then, but as the photo below shows I’m just about to fill my fourth rack.

Ink Sample racks

As satisfying as the tidy ranks of vials are to behold, the color swatches are even better. The fans of individual slips in front of the racks represent my current stock of both samples and full bottles, sorted into rough progressions from one color to another.

The full pages of swatches (which I’m in the process of updating) show how each ink looks when writing with a glass pen, along with a test for water resistance, and will eventually show tests for fade resistance as well.

Ink Swatch Drip Tests

At the margin end of each color strip I place a drop or two of water, and after about fifteen seconds I tip the page so the water runs down to the outside edge. Some of the inks are every bit as waterproof as the manufacturer claims; others (for which no such claim has been made) give up their color at the first touch of liquid. When the drip tests have been done on the new sheets, I’ll mask off all but the center third of each column of swatches and expose the unmasked portions to strong sunlight for a good long time; that will, I hope, give me a fair idea of each ink’s resistance to fading.

A few days after LetterMo 2015 ended I was about to address the envelope for a card I’d written when I noticed it had begun to snow, in those big fat communal flakes you can feel hitting your head. Aha, an opportunity for real-world water-resistance testing! I lettered and colored the envelope, making sure to write the crucial information in inks I knew to be waterproof, and took it outside to collect some snow.

You know, it’s not that easy to have snowflakes land precisely on a particular small spot, even if you try to help them along by moving the particular small spot directly underneath them as they fall.

Eventually I got tired of chasing flakes, took the envelope inside, and exposed it to an artificial rain shower; results are in the next photo. I’d tried to make sure the address stood out nicely within its box, but I may have played it safe and taken the card to the post office in the town where the addressee lives; I sometimes worry that if my envelopes get too busy or fancy the sorting machinery may freak out.

Rain test

Sometimes my envelopes are a lot more interesting than what they contain, which is fine with most of my friends.

As I was preparing the photos for this post I started feeling a little ridiculous for diving into the deep end of the inkwell. But I’m betting that crafters and artists out there will recognize the feeling, the little stir of anticipation you feel as you look over your tools and materials and wonder, “What will I make today? Wouldn’t that orange and that green look great together? What shall I draw for Chris/Andrew/Pat and Jen?”

Are there any other ink enthusiasts in the LetterMo community, or is your passion for pens or paper or tracking down vintage postage stamps? We wouldn’t stick with the challenge if we didn’t love the writing, but what else about the Month of Letters experience brings you joy?

4 responses to [Guest Post] Reds and Yellow and Blues, Oh My!

  1. Oh heavens. I have such a giant weakness for Goulet Pen’s. My current favorite ink is Noodler’s Black Swans in English Roses, which is a beautiful red-black that dries to the color of old blood. It is glorious. And I…um… use it to sign my contracts with. Because, you know.

    Your racks though. I’m a wee bit envious of those.

    • The Black Swans is on my ink-wish-list. I have far too many bottles of ink and I regret none of them. My grandmother gave to me her collection of perfume bottles; my kids will get those and my collection of ink bottles.

  2. I have a very small fountain pen collection. Most of my ink is Noodler’s, but I haven’t yet found a cartridge refill/converter solution I like. I make a huge mess every time I try to refill a converter.

    • Sara,

      Are you trying to refill the converters by themselves or are you leaving them attached to the nibs? I finally figured out that converters work better with the nibs left on. I’ve also recently learned that pulling the ink up through the nib can help keep it cleaner. You can also get bottles with long needles you can use to refill cartridges or converters. But refilling pens can be a messy business. I have a couple old cotton t-shirts I wear to clean and refill my pens. They’re quite the splotchy rainbows now.

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