Three ways to freshen up your pen life

Stationery is a hobby that’s full of joy. Writing can be art, and so can the objects that produce it. But stationery is also a tool, a means to an end… in other words, work.

And we all get bored of work from time to time. If you’re finding that the spark has gone from your relationship with stationery, there are a few things you can try to get the magic back.

1: Get out of your ink comfort zone

Yeah yeah, you’ve got a load of blues, browns, blacks. How many turquoises can one man buy? Purple is so passe. And the “obvious” choices to add a bit of excitement to your ink collection just aren’t practical. How many people really write day-to-day with shimmery inks, bright yellows and oranges? And, however safe they might be, maybe you don’t want to try micropigment inks or iron gall formulations.

Thankfully there are plenty of sober ink choices out there that have their own charms. At the moment I’m really into inks that are not-quite-black… like Alternator Crimson by Birmingham Pen Co, which is the colour of old engine oil, just rust-red behind the black. Or BungBox Ink of Witch, the darkest purple (with a gold sheen) that you’ll ever see. Grey is another great choice — find the right one, and you get legibility but beautiful shading and a touch more subtlety than your usual black. Or maybe try the antiquated versions of your usual colours. R&K’s Alt Goldgrun is a favourite of mine, a dingy swamp green (yeah, I’m really selling it with that description). Diamine Ancient Copper is a beautiful rust colour, much more complex than the usual orange or red.


Take your pick. There’s a world of ink out there.

My tip: try ink samples if you can, look at smaller manufacturers, and try to look past the name (KWZ Brown Pink or Rotten Green, anyone?). Most importantly, try inks in a variety of nibs — they’ll behave very differently.

2: Move beyond the medium (or fine)

If you’ve bought a pen in a store recently, chances are it was a medium or fine. A big blob of tipping, nice and smooth, even line width in every direction, hard as a nail. That’s fine for everyday writing… nice and reliable. Won’t stand out from the crowd. In other words, boring.

There is a whole world of nibs out there that you can try, and they don’t have to cost you the earth. If you’ve got a Lamy, a Kaweco, or any pen that takes a Bock, Jowo or TWSBI nib unit, you can buy a new nib for about a tenner and swap it out in a matter of seconds. Why not try an extra fine, a double broad, or a stub? See what it does to your handwriting — and your favourite inks. Maybe it’ll surprise you.

Ready to go a bit wild? Custom nib grinds don’t have to be expensive — and if you’re buying a new nib unit at the same time, you don’t even need to send your favourite pen away. You could try out the unusual Architect/Hebrew/Arabic grind that’s got the pen world excited, get bendy with a fude/Waverley or posting nib, go oblique, or try finer than fine with a needlepoint.


Warning: this Platinum music nib costs a bit more than a tenner. But you could get a Noodler’s Neponset for about £50, pen included.

My tip: for out of the box nib choices, Kaweco is a good place to start. Going custom? Try FPnibs. Got more budget? Get a Pilot 912.

3: Try new paper

Writing is a trifecta of nib, ink and paper. Paper is definitely the neglected one of the three, yet it’s amazing what a difference using the right canvas makes to your art. Use the wrong one and your favourite nib drags, your most beautiful ink looks dull, and every line becomes a chore. Discover a new brand and you might just transform that middle-of-the-road ink into a sheening sensation, or that scratchy nib into a graceful dancer.

The right paper can make a huge difference to how your writing appears – and feels

My tip: I love Tomoe River, but I’ve just started using Mnemosyne and I’ve fallen head over heels.

Like all relationships, familiarity and intimacy are important, but sometimes you need to inject some freshness into your stationery life.

Have you ever discovered a pen, ink or other piece of stationery that has rekindled your love for the hobby?

2 thoughts on “Three ways to freshen up your pen life

  1. The first pen that rekindled my love for the hobby was a Waterman Phileas in Blue marble finish. Totally lovely little pen. The next was a Cross Solo in burgundy with gold trim. So nice! Then I found an Aiken-Lambert BCHR with a wet noodle nib. The best nib ever!! Smooth yet expressive, a real delight.


    • Well, I’d never heard of Aikin-Lambert before… This hobby always has something new to teach! I’ve still never tried a true wet noodle. One for the bucket list!


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