Little Rock Pen Show

This was my 2nd time at the Little Rock Pen Show, and it was bigger than last year. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Papier Plume from New Orleans had a booth this year–I saw their ink bottles first and I was like oh, someone brought some of PP’s inks. Then I looked up and saw Patrick Rideau and was like oh, no PP actually came to the show! He had an even longer drive than I did.

Ironically, I had just made a purchase off their website the day before; they started carrying Flow Magazine and they have it much sooner than Barnes & Noble (who’s still trying to unload copies of the previous issue) does. They charge a couple dollars less than B&N, but then you add that back in with shipping and it’s virtually the same price. Plus, you’re giving your money to a small local business instead of a chain, and that’s always good. Flow is a Dutch magazine (there’s an English language version) that I discovered through my Hobonichi Facebook group, it reminds me of Real Simple but fancier and with really nice paper. There’s a yearly supplement called the Flow Book for Paper Lovers that has lots of stationery, paper crafts, and goodies you can use in journals/planners; neither PP for B&N seems to carry it and I ordered it off the Flow website. That was going on 3 weeks ago and I’m still waiting. *sigh*


Anyway, the show! The first table I made a beeline for was the Vanness one, because I wanted to see if they had brought any of the KWZ Inks with them. They did, although they’re out of the two colors I’m really interested in, Brown Pink and Honey. KWZ is handmade in small batches by a chemist in Poland and at the moment Vanness is the only place in the US that carries their standard inks, although Massdrop offered a 3-pack of their iron gall inks a while back. They’re surprisingly affordable for such “boutique” inks, $12/60 mL for the standard ink and $2 more for the iron gall. I settled on Brown #2, which has a reddish tone and shades beautifully, and I swallowed my nervousness and also bought a bottle of the Turquoise IG. Iron gall inks are infamously caustic to pens, but they bond with the paper and are pretty much bulletproof. I want something I can address envelopes with and not worry about rain washing away the address, but most iron gall inks come in horribly boring colors. I figure I’ll limit exposure to either dip nibs, which can be quickly washed off after every use, or one of my Pilot Petit eyedroppers, which cost less than $5.

After that I found Shawn Newton and picked up the pen I sent him for grinding, the vintage UK Parker button fill I bought at last fall’s Dallas show. It had a 14k oblique nib that I just COULD. NOT. get to work for me. I tried holding that thing at every conceivable angle and no matter what I did, it would catch on the paper on the upsweeps and spray ink. He ground it to a stub and did a lovely job; right now I have the Brown #2 in it, but I recently bought a small bottle of Iroshizuku Momiji and may swap it for that and put Brown #2 in something else.

And then I just wandered around and looked at pens! I had some dumb idea that my goal pen for the show was going to be a Sailor Sapporo Mini, which of course I did not find, so I decided to just scoop up some vintage pens and not be a name brand snob about it. With old pens, while it’s cool to find something like the Parker, I mostly just buy pens that are pretty. I found a lady’s ringtop pen/pencil set from the 1920s that I really liked that was priced $80-$100; the dealer had a lot of pens so I was like hey, give me the $80 price and I’ll buy another pen from you. After much agonizing I decided on the green/bronze pen because I thought it was an interesting color combo. The nibs on both are a little chewed up, but nothing a quick rub with a micro mesh cloth won’t solve.

After I’d checked into my Airbnb (a very cute bed/bath suite with its own entrance and separated from the main house with a pocket door), I went to Big Orange for dinner, a burger place that had a ton of great online reviews. I sat at the bar and was waited on by a skinny hipster with an honest-to-dog waxed mustache, but he was a good server so I won’t hold it against him. I told him to give me whatever was the staff favorite and I wound up with a turkey burger dressed with havarti cheese, red onion, butter lettuce, bacon, and a (fresh, local) fried egg. It was uhhh-mazing.

I’m probably not going to Little Rock next year, because I’ve decided to attend the Chicago show and that’s in April. I’m going to take Amtrak–specifically, The City of New Orleans, the train in the Arlo Guthrie song. It leaves NOLA every afternoon at 1:45 and arrives at Chicago at 9:00 the next morning. A round-trip ticket is just over $100, which is probably what I’d spend on gas if I drove; not to mention I’d have to spend the night somewhere midway because it’s a 14 hour drive. Chicago has Uber, so I’m just going to use that to get around. I haven’t been to Chicago since I was a little girl, so I’m going to spend an extra day and sightsee. Top of the list: visiting Field Notes HQ!

at this rate, I’ll be using a stone slab and a chisel by the time I’m 50

Not content with fountain pens and WWII-era typewriters, I’ve started using dip pens when I write letters. Actually, I am not new to them. When I was a teenager, my best friend gave me a glass dip pen for my birthday, and I used it for several years (mostly to write in my journal, as I wasn’t into the whole epistolary thing back then) until the tip broke off.

I bought a pewter dipping pen at Papier Plume shortly after I moved to Louisiana, mostly for aesthetic reasons. (Side rant: I’ve gotten pretty sick of the ubiquitous fleurs-de-lis since moving to Louisiana, but I liked it on the pen. Mine has an olive green feather.) I bought a couple bottles of calligraphy ink (walnut and moss green–earth tones seem to suit the medium better; PP makes and bottles their own) and did use it a couple of times. But the nib they stuck on it was super sharp and pointy–like, you could put someone’s eye out with that thing–and I had too many problems with it catching on the paper and spraying ink all over it (and my hands and the desk and whatever shirt I was wearing at the time).

I figured they could probably recommend a better nib for someone who a) prints, rather than writes and b) tends to hold a pen like they’re trying to strangle it. But I didn’t get back to the store until this past Labor Day weekend, although I’ve been buying sealing wax and fountain pen ink off their website. The woman who works there suggested 2 different nibs: one with a flat tip, like a calligraphy pen; and one with a ball-tip. They both worked out beautifully, and the flat nib can even be used on ordinary lined binder paper.

So when I went back last weekend, I bought another of each type, just so I have spares–dip nibs don’t last forever. I also bought a bottle of their peacock blue ink, which is hands down my favorite shade of blue–and since joining the Goulet Pens Ink Drop, believe me when I tell you that I have tried a LOT of different blues. I’ve been using the fountain pen ink and wanted it in calligraphy ink. And I bought a bottle of gold calligraphy ink, which is not as frivolous as it may sound, as I actually use metallic ink quite often, to address dark-colored envelopes. Also fine, maybe I have some half-assed idea of doing illuminated letters in my correspondence.

I also bought this dip pen (in bronzed pewter with a burgundy feather), which I am not even going to try to defend, I don’t in any way need a second pen. Design aside, it’s the exact same pen. I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING! In fact, I plan on buying this pen as well, just as soon as I can get it with a dark blue feather.

I spent part of this weekend in New Orleans, and I can report that it’s all still there

A lot of residences still don’t have power, some streetlights were still out, and in the residential sections I saw lots of branches waiting to be hauled away, but they appear to have escaped any major destruction. They didn’t cancel Southern Decadence (a huuuge gay pride event), and my hotel was full of FABULOUS men. Which I will take over the usual gaggle of douchey fratboys any day of the week.

I went for the opening of the Odd Works photo exhibit at the New Orleans Photo Alliance gallery, which features 2 photos taken by yours truly. (It was curated by this dude. I should send him a thank you card.) It was a “soft opening”, because about 1/3 of the art is still stuck in transit. So essentially it was just an excuse to get together and drink booze and swap storm stories. I actually know some of the NOPA members now, so I spoke to people and had fun and didn’t feel like my high school’s biggest nerd at the prom. There were lofty Art-based conversations, and also conversations that involved topics like snake-handling and making fun of iPhone users. (Apparently they complained so bitterly about not being to “like” comments on photographs that Apple built a new Facebook app from the ground up. When you’ve been living without electricity for the better part of a week, this kind of technophile whining is a little grating.)

While thinking of things to do, I realized it’s been a long time since I went to a cemetery in New Orleans. When I dropped the photos off the previous weekend, the director had me leave them at his house with his wife; they live in the Garden District literally across the street from Lafayette Cemetery #1. Unlike St. Louis Cemetery, it’s in a neighborhood where you’re unlikely to get mugged–St. Louis is behind the Iberville Projects, and the city does not recommend people wander around it alone with several hundred dollars of camera equipment. And it’s only a city block square, so it’s small enough to see most of it. I went right after I checked out of my hotel and I had it mostly to myself. I shot a roll of B&W in the Lomo LC-A+ and finished the cartridge in the Rollei A110.

Then I drove up to the French Quarter because there were a couple of things I wanted to do on Royal Street. Royal is probably my favorite street in the Quarter, it’s a lot of galleries and small specialty stores and lacks the depressingly mediocre and tourist-oriented sleaze of Bourbon Street. (Other nice parts of the Quarter are Chartres, St. Ann, and Pirate’s Alley.)

I wanted to see the “Something Old, Something New” exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection. The whole thing was interesting, but that painting was fascinating. It’s telling that the pose deliberately doesn’t show the chest, where the presence or absence of breasts would have been a strong hint. I looked at for a long time and concluded that the subject is a man. There’s a hint of a shadow on the upper lip, although by itself that isn’t proof (see: Frida Kahlo, me when I get lazy about plucking, etc.). No, it’s something about the eyes. That painting was done in 1837, and it really makes you think. What would it have been like to be transgendered in a time where most people didn’t know even that existed?

Then I went to Papier Plume, my favorite pen shop and just a few blocks up the street. I needed some sealing wax and fresh dip pen nibs; I can get them on the website but I like going into the store. The owners are really friendly, and REALLY passionate about pens and inks and stuff. When I gave the woman (it’s run by a husband and wife) my Visa, she recognized my name from all the times I’ve bought online and even remembered what town I live in, and she covered the sales tax since I’m a repeat customer. (You call that “lagniappe” in Louisiana, “a little something extra”.)

Then I had lunch, then I decided that I had sweat enough for one day and came home. I might go back next weekend, which is kind of crazy, but NOPA is having a “push pin show” at the HomeSpace Gallery–that’s where Hope and I saw the tintyping demo last year. You just show up with a couple of your photos, they don’t have to be framed or anything, and you stick them on the wall any old way–literally with push pins if you want. It’s a fun and informal way to show work and meet with other photographers.

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Christmas isn’t just about presents. It’s about the one time of the year where your family makes an effort to get together and get along. (It helps that my immediate family are actually all cool people and none of them are bigots or Faux News watchers or god-botherers who tell me I’m hellbound).

That being said: come on, presents are awesome.

From the ‘rents:

  • A blank journal in a re-usable leather cover (with another blank journal that will fit inside).
  • A wax “S” seal.
  • Harajuku Lovers “Wicked Style” Music perfume.
  • An Old Navy gift card.
  • Brooch, a snake twirled around a branch with a green stone in its mouth.
  • Mom tried to get me the Holga 35mm TLR, but must have been fucked up because she said it wouldn’t take any of her cards. She’s going to try again this week.

From Uncle Larry:

  • Susan Sontag’s essay series On Photography.
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire.

From Rian:

  • A Barnes & Noble gift card (gonna use this to get both the book and movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

From Jamie & Greg:

  • The Williams-Sonoma “Asian” book from the Food Made Fast series.
  • A sampler of teas from Chado and a tea filter (as you can see I already had one and it was excellent).

From David:

  • A really beautiful Waterman fountain pen. It can take cartridges and also be filled from bottled ink.