Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On Writing: Why I Write Pt. 1

I’ve most likely covered this at times in other blogs. I might have even written something with the same title, though likely not on this scale or with the level of introspection I’m going to put into this post. The reason I often come back to this topic, is that it is often on my mind. As a writer, I frequently receive comments or read articles or simply have a thought that prompt me to think about this topic. The answer isn’t always exactly the same, the origin story of my writing is the same, but the reasons or the important circumstances for that period of time might lead to respond differently. This series on “Why I Write” will take the reader from my origin story through many of the reasons I’ve landed on. Some of those reasons will be recurring and others will be one’s I’ve landed on and while I’ve remembered them, they might have only applied to that time in my life. Mostly I want to connect with the reader in a way that prompts them to consider why they write or perhaps help them experience writing differently.

Origins of a Writer

I write because I can’t draw. That statement is anathema to a lot of people. It comes across relatively strong and sure, but at the same time dismissive. You’re reading it but let me be clear I’m saying it in a way that should convey total confidence in you that I mean what I say. I didn’t grow up dreaming about being a writer. I loved to read, but I only fell on writing because I failed time and again at drawing. I grew up dreaming about being a comic book artist.

From the time I could mow a lawn, wash a car, and have a paper route; I read comic books. My mom bought my brother and I comics earlier which started my addiction to them. But she couldn’t afford it very often, so it was more of a luxury. When I was ten or eleven, I began doing small extra chores for money. Mowing our massive front and back yard for five dollars, washing the car for three dollars, I got paper route that paid something like forty-five dollars a month. There were a lot of things I bought: baseball and basketball cards, G.I. Joes, gum and candy, but comic books were at the top of the list.

I grew up in what I still consider to be the comic book revival. Comics fell off in the 80’s some in quality outside of books like Dark Knight and Watchmen there was a lot of garbage coming from the DC and Marvel. That combined with how poorly artists were paid for their work caused a major move in the comic book industry right at the time I was able to start buying comics with my own money. In the 90’s well-known artists left DC and Marvel and started their own studios. Image comics was the collective these studios worked under, and I feel in love with nearly every release Image put out in their early days.

Artists like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portracio left major publications, to create new heroes and villains with new artwork and coloring. Spawn, WildC.A.T.s, Cyberforce, and Wetworks along with numerous other titles were born. Unbeknownst to me they brought with them one of the best comic book writers of all time, Chris Claremont. I didn’t care about that, all I cared about was the art.

With a great burning desire I invested every leftover cent I had in sketchbooks, mechanical pencils, woodcase pencils, even colored pencils all in a vain attempt to create my own comic book. I checked out every book on drawing the library had (this was pre-internet so the library was a big part of my childhood) and began trying to teach myself how to draw. I went through hundreds of pages of dogs, cars, dinosaurs, sharks, and other random sketchable objects. Weeks turned into months and I flipped through sketchbooks, my heart sank as I turned each page. There was no improvement. I could sketch rough animals, was slightly better at buildings and cars, but when it came to people I was horrendous. There was no other way to put it, I couldn’t draw a person to save my life. If I couldn’t draw people, there was no way I could create my own comic book.

In a fit of anger and sadness I carried all of the sketchbooks to the trash and tossed them in. Took the leftovers and gave them to my brother. Returned the books on drawing and on a whim checked out Fellowship of the Ring. I barricaded myself in my room and came out when I was done with the series. A new light in my eyes. I went from a fantasy world of comic books to a fantasy world of words. Characters leapt off the page, the thousands of hours reading comics and attempting to draw had only honed my already well-developed imagination; and they enabled me to see every person, place, and thing in Middle Earth as if I was standing right there.

My brother had taken up the pencils and expanded to paints and other mediums. Where I failed at art, he flourished. Inside I was jealous and a bit angry, but he was my best friend and after a while I simply let it go. Art slowly faded as I finished more and more books, before long I was writing, albeit poorly. Derivative stories of superheroes or fantasy wizards and warriors. My brother and I began talking about collaborating on our own comic book. I’d write it and he’d illustrate it. We never did anything beyond a few panels; it is something I still wish we’d accomplished.

My writing overflowed in nearly every aspect of my life. I had always loved essays and reports, not I craved them. I read voraciously throughout junior high and high school and wrote pages upon pages. Everything from fantasy, to reports on small battles in World War II, to poetry, and even a few terrible rap lyrics. I wrote everything by hand until my junior year of high school when I bought an electric typewriter. I’d write by hand when I was out, then take over on the typewriter when I got home. I’d use a three-hole punch and put the typed pages in a binder with the handwritten pages.

Looking back on my origin story, I’m no longer sad and angry about not being able to draw. I found a different medium of creation and expression. Writing is a part of me, it’s integral to who I am and who I’ve become. It’s grown and changed with me as time has gone on. I went from thinking of it mostly as a tool that helped me through school and then later on to secure work to now considering it something of a trusted companion.

Writing is something that transcends the simple task of putting pen to paper. It’s more than arranging letters into words and words into sentences. For me it’s becomes a way to put myself into the very stories and poems I write. I leave part of myself in every piece. It’s not a conscious decision I make, it just ends up that way. What I write is important to me and so I take pride in it, but I also understand that what I write MIGHT be important to others. I just hope that others who read my pieces take away something from it, and maybe they get to know me a little bit in the process too.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Back to School Loadout Changes!

A new year and a new semester, and unlike past semesters and years this time I’ve got some cool new gear to show off! So I’m going to walk you through my previous loadout compared to my new loadout. Hopefully I don’t bore you along the way, but here we go.

I’ve been using something similar to the CamelBak H.A.W.G.500 since I started going back to school in 2015. The pack itself is from 2007, but it doesn’t show a bit of age. The hydration system is still pristine, all the MOLLE is still intact, the plastic snap/buckle system all still function, basically the bag is a BEAST. It’s slightly smaller than a run of the mill backpack/bookbag in both width and depth, but I’ve not found it hard to use except last semester when I literally had a class that required a book too large to fit. For that reason I went with a two bag system last year which worked well, but this was still my MAIN bag.

I’ll go down my must have’s that I loaded it out with. MiquelRius notebooks, I’ve talked about these at length before and will continue. They are far more difficult to find, in fact, I’ve yet to purchase any this year but last year I had four of the 5-Subject notebooks that I filled. I also kept a smattering of 15-20 pens (ballpoint and fountain), a REALLY cheap mechanical pencil, and some random colored pencils in my bag at all times. I carry iPhone accessories in a small cordura pouch from Yellow Birch Outfitters. It holds a charger, cord, and headphones perfectly and has a really small profile. That’s about all of the normal stuff from last year, I’ll get into more detail on my current loadout.

So recently Rickshaw Bagworks released their Cosmo briefcase. I love Mark’s designs, they are elegant but supremely functional and after looking at all the color combinations I knew I had to have one. I chose the Moss-Orange combination. It literally showed up today, so I’m a bit psyched about it still. Regardless it’s freaking AMAZING. If you want all the down-and-dirty details on the bag I HIGHLY recommend checking out Matthew Morse’s review of it. He did a solid job of cataloging the features and maybe I’m not as big of a bag snob as he is, because I don’t really have anything negative to say about the Cosmo. I have a 13 inch Macbook Air, and while I would like the 13 inch sleeve it would only be so I could remove just sleeve by itself. When used with it attached in the bag, the 15 inch sleeve works quite well. The fact that I can comfortably carry a 5-subject notebook and several books plus my laptop with me in a small briefcase/messenger bag is DOPE. My only regret is that it doesn’t have Velcro on the outside for all my patches, but it is supposed to be a little bit more professional so the patches will have to remain on my backpack.

As for the rest of my wonderful loadout. I’ve already mentioned my Macbook Air, it’s also new because this semester was the first where two separate professors said we’d need laptops in class. My old laptop did what old laptops do and died. So I used my student discount and grabbed this lovely gem. It’s fast, has the basics a student like me needs (word processing, internet, and a battery with LONG life). I decked it out with a Mosiso olive snap on case for added protection.

While I’m still search for an adequate replacement for my MiquelRius notebooks I’ve settled on far inferior Mead 5-Subject notebooks. They are NOT fountain pen friendly at all, so I’ve been forced (not really) to use pencils and rollerballs. For that I use a Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil, I’ll replace that with a Karas Pen Co pencil soon. I also carry a black Retrakt R-Type that I’ve swapped in a Pilot Precise V5-RT refill, it’s really the only rollerball refill worth using in my opinion unless you’re willing to spend money on Ohto rollerballs which are also superb. I do carry a grey Fountain K with EF titanium nib and a few other fountain pens (Sheaffer Snorkel, Omas Extra, INK, Carolina Pen Company custom) those are all currently uninked, and I’ll be adding my Lamy 2000 to the bag when I get home.

I have a couple of Field Notes notebooks, specifically the Starbucks larger-format with grid paper in the outside pocket but those two will go away and be replaced by a Nanami Seven Seas Crossfield, literally the best A5 notebook on the market. Perhaps the best notebook period, in my opinion. The paper is simply outstanding, the dot grid is perfect for writing or drawing (I’m not an artist but if I wanted to I wouldn’t’ have an issue using this to draw in). The lay flat design is comfortable. It really is just a superb notebook all the way around.

Besides that I have transferred my cordura pouch from Yellow Birch over. There’s also some random things in the Cosmo I won’t get into, you don’t need to know how many Ibuprofen or Zyrtec I haul around. I’ll likely find a few more things to add to it, but overall I’m super happy with the bag. It’s comfortable to carry with the padded shoulder strap and has just the right amount of space to carry what I need on a daily basis as I wrap up my last in-class semester before my internship. If you’re in the market for a quality EDC briefcase or messenger bag, this is the one!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Welcome to 2018, Now Here's Some Free Stuff!




As a company we do a LOT of giveaways. Whether that's traditional raffle giveaways, social media giveaways of various types, hidden pens, and other random giveaways; it's something we've done for several years. But we've never done giveaways on the scale you're going to see in 2018. For starters, we're running monthly random YouTube subscriber giveaways. If you didn't know about that, you've still got time to get in on that action. In February we're going to be adding monthly random Newsletter subscriber giveaways AND monthly random Facebook follower giveaways. We have yet to release the giveaway items for the Newsletter or Facebook giveaways in February, those will details are forthcoming, sometime before January 29th. We will also be doing random giveaways to members of the Karas Pen Club throughout the year, these will mainly be limited edition or very small batch/one-off items. If my math is correct that will be roughly 45 giveaways, but that's only the tip of the Giveaway Iceberg.

Our big announcement in terms of giveaways will involve a little more than simply subscribing to one of our social media channels. There will be a form you will need to complete that we'd like to get some feedback on to better serve our current and future customers. However, it's going to be worth it because the first 500 people that fill out the form will receive a free pen (one entry per person, duplicates will be deleted). Yes you read that right, we're going to giveaway 500 pens! No they won't be damaged pens, factory seconds, pens we bought from Target, or pens we found on the street. We're giving away Karas Pen Co pens. They will be assembled by our assembly staff and shipped out once you complete THIS FORM.

The form is only going to be used internally. Your information will not be given away or sold. We are not asking for any sensitive information beyond a name, shipping address, and an age range. The rest of the form is specifically focused on your preferences in terms of writing instruments. We really want to get a good idea on what YOU want to use, what YOU like to use, and what YOU'D like to see us do. That's not to say we'll be able to implement exactly what you are telling us, but when possible we'd like to use your ideas and feedback to potentially shape new product designs and releases. Are we getting something out of this? Absolutely, we are getting direct feedback, market research per se, but you're getting the chance to win a free pen and the possibility of seeing your writing instrument desires more better served. We hope you see it as a win-win.

So please, we'd like you to fill out the above form, it's fifteen required questions, one paragraph for your direct ideas that is not required, and some required information about you, the respondent. Make sure you fill out the form BEFORE you send the link to your friends and family members so you can get in earlier on the giveaway pens since we only have 500 of them. But we would like you to share the link to as many people as you can think of, especially people you don't normally associate with being "pen people". We want their feedback as well, and together we might be able to convert them to the "dark side" of Pen Nerd-dom.

Thank you for being such an integral part of Karas Pen Co and what we do. For taking the time to read this and complete the form and for being a part of our future as we go into 2018!

The journey continues this year to new and amazing places; trust me you won't want to miss what we have coming this year!

Monday, December 18, 2017

End of the Year List of Writing Gear

                In the past I’ve written about how the act of writing can be a transcendent experience, and why I feel that the writing instrument can positively or negatively impact that experience. As a wrap up to 2017, I’m going to put together a list of pens, refills, and paper that I feel make for some truly amazing writing experiences. These won’t all be Karas Pen Co products as we don’t make refills and paper, and even the pens won’t all be our pens, but the list is more as a guide to my preferences as a person that frequently writes by putting pen to paper. 

                I’ll start by listing my preferences as a writer, i.e. what I consider to be the perfect writing conditions. First off, I’m primarily a fountain pen user. That being said, many situations I am in where I need to take notes or even jot something down don’t favor the use of this type of pen. Some don’t favor a pen at all. Being a full time college student as well as working full time, I encounter a broad spectrum of “types” of writing I have to do every day. So I have writing instruments for each set of circumstances. In a perfect world, I’d want to only use a rather wet writing fountain pen, that is somewhere around a Western Fine nib size, and has just a tiny bit of feedback on the page. I’d want the ink to be a nice rich blue, it doesn’t need to shade too much, but I do enjoy a bit of red sheen in my blue ink. The paper would be anything Tomoe River preferably dot grid in an A5 format. But I rarely find myself in this perfect situation. So I’ve found a variety of options for just about any situation. I’ll break down this list in three categories: Writing Instruments, Refills/Inks, and Paper. Let’s start

Writing Instruments

                I find subcategories are helpful with pens specifically since I use fountain pens, ballpoint/rollerballs, and pencils on a daily basis. It makes it easy to tackle writing instruments in a way that makes sense if I do a little sub-dividing. I’ll start with fountain pens.

                Without fail, people will expect some justification for my choices or some rhyme or reason behind why I’ve picked these pens out of all the others. Honestly, I’ve chosen the three modern fountain pens that I’ve used or reach for on a daily basis that write the way I want them to. I haven’t taken into account price, though there is one “entry-level” fountain pen on this list. Nor have I really considered filling mechanism when choosing these. I will start the list with the “One Pen To Rule Them All”, the Lamy 2000 (L2K). It’s my opinion that the L2K is quite possibly the perfect pen. It hits every mark that I consider when thinking about a truly amazing pen. Of the 12 or so I’ve written with they all have performed above average as far as nib and flow are concerned. Easy capping, posts well (even though I don’t post my pens), huge ink capacity, durable, unique looking. The list goes on and on. If I had to get rid of all of my other fountain pens and could only keep one, the L2K is the pen I would keep.

                The TWSBI Eco is another pen I think outshines its competitors in most, if not all, categories. I think I have owned 7 Ecos and currently own 3 since I’ve gifted the others. Out of the box the nibs are simply outstanding, I’ve yet to have an issue with writing performance or ink flow on any of them. Even though the pen is plastic, it’s pretty durable, especially when compared to other TWSBI offerings. Again this pen holds massive amounts of ink, and it has the added bonus of being a demonstrator so you can see the ink sloshing around in the pen. The piston mechanism is easy to clean and functions quite well. For less than $30 dollars you really can’t go wrong with this one.

                Finally I’ll wrap up with a Karas Pen Co pen. It’s often hard for me to decide on which one of our fountain pens I prefer. I love my original INK, it’s nearly a perfect size, the weight is awesome, and it’s just a beast that I can bang around without worrying about it breaking. The Fountain K is a bit too small for me to use on a regular basis, and I’m not personally a fan of the nibs we use in the Fountain K. But when it really comes down to it, the Decograph is the fountain pen we make that I reach for more often than any other. It’s not because it’s new and shiny, or because it’s plastic, or because it posts. All of those are great reasons to love this pen, it’s really because the pen looks, feels, and writes a notch above our other pens. Specifically the Decograph with a 14K gold nib. The overall style of the pen speaks to the fountain pen collector in me that got his start with vintage pens. The lines and look of the Decograph make remind me of all the vintage pens I’ve owned or repaired in my fountain pen days. The weight is perfect for me. A lot of people have remarked about how light the pen is, but to me it’s a weight that is right there where I don’t notice I’m holding a pen. With that in mind, and outfitted with a gold nib, the pen simply glides across the page laying down wonderfully wet lines. It’s honestly an amazing experience.

                Now to the ballpoint/rollerball world. For the longest time I tried to use only fountain pens when taking notes at school. But in Arizona with the heat of the late spring and early fall causing sweat and oil to transfer from the side of my hand onto the paper as I would write, fountain pen ink just won’t work in those conditions. I would find myself frustrated and finally moved completely to using a traditional ballpoint in these circumstances. My go to pen that’s always in my pocket is an EDK with a Schmidt Easyflow 9000 refill. While not the most elegant of refills, it will write on anything and is smoother than most other options on the market. I also like the compact size of the EDK and ability to carry it in my jeans pocket. 

                A close second to this option is the Uni Ball Jetstream SX217 ballpoint pen. I stumbled across this pen completely by chance, and really ended up liking it. I love the 1.0mm refill most, but it’s impractical for a lot of writing, and the 0.7mm is just a tiny step below. The pen is cheap and you can buy them by the buttload, and you don’t have to worry about people stealing them. I’d love to have a Karas pen that takes that refill but it’s rather proprietary in its engineering that makes it hard to adapt a pen to. Not a big deal since these are so cheap.

                Lastly I really enjoy a good Bic Round Stic with a 1.0mm refill. I know it’s like writing with a crayon, but it’s so smooth and writes on nearly anything. Plus you can steal one of these pens pretty much anywhere (not that I’m advocating petty theft, just saying they are readily available). For a pen that writes really well on ANY paper, this is the one that gets it done!

                As far as pencils are concerned there’s really only one that I use ALL the time. I’m picky about pencils because I hate using them. I honestly can’t stand pencil lead and how it feels, plus pencil erasers are largely garbage. I am NOT a fan of wood-case pencils as many people are because they are never sharp enough. But with many classes I really have to use a pencil because of sketching and the fact I often need to correct mistakes or amend my notes. I’ve settled on the Paper Mate Clearpoint Elite in 0.5mm lead really for two reasons. The pen is a really nice size and comfortable to write with and it has a MASSIVE eraser. That’s a bit point with me, I don’t want to have to carry around a separate eraser for use with my pencils. I’m kind of a hot mess with the stuff I carry around for school, more because I have two backpacks full of books and not a lot of space for incidentals. So a large eraser is a must for me and the Clearpoint has that. For those people that love metal mechanical pencils, I just can’t do it, they are far too small in diameter for me to write comfortably. Which is why I stick with this pencil as my EDC pencil.

                As far as refills are concerned there’s really only two that I gravitate to in terms of seeking them out for specific pens. They are both 110mm refills and I use them in my Render K and Retrakt pens. I despise the stock Pilot G2 refill, they are dry and catch on almost any paper I use them on. Since I love a nice wet writing experience I’ve found to refills that easily fit in my G2 pens.

                The first is the Pilot Precise V5 RT refill and it’s my favorite of the two. I like it so much we did a refill “hack” video for the Karas Pen Co YouTube channel. It’s wet and smooth and doesn’t pose a lot of the problems I find with the G2 refill. For that reason this is my go to rollerball swap refill.

                The second refill I really gravitate to is the Ohto C-304 ceramic rollerball refill. I’ve tried other similar ceramic rollerball refills, but for some reason they don’t perform as well as the Ohto branded refills do. This one in particular is really find at 0.4mm but it’s perfectly wet and doesn’t catch on paper like a lot of the other ceramic rollerballs I’ve tried have a tendency to do. You can’t find these refills everywhere and they are a bit pricey but they are worth the price in my opinion.

                As far as fountain pen inks are concerned, I have one favorite brand to recommend, and two inks that I feel are superior. I’m talking bottled inks here, not cartridges. I really don’t like cartridges because they never flow right, I’d rather use a converter or eyedropper a Decograph than mess with a cartridge.

                The ink brand I always recommend is Sailor Inks (along with their custom inks done for Bungubox and Kobe). I’m not a big fan of their pens, though there is nothing wrong with their pens as a whole, I just find them to be a bit underwhelming. But the inks are amazing, and they have TONS of them. If they don’t have a color for you then I’m not sure it exists. They lean on the wet side in my experience, many of them shade and quite a few of them sheen nicely. In all they are far superior to most of the inks on the market. 

                That brings me to my first specific ink recommendations and that would be SailorSouten. The perfect shade of blue ink, nice and rich. You can usually get a bottle for about 18 dollars on Amazon. It is wet, and even in my dry writing pens performs wonderfully. Best of all it sheens red even when it comes from Extrafine nibs. Simply the nicest ink I’ve ever used.

                The last ink I recommend is a limited edition ink from Montblanc that you may still be able to find, and that’s Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red. Generally speaking I hate red inks, but this red ink speaks to my soul. I love the way it looks and how it performs. So much I have four bottles of it. It’s really a remarkable ink. I’m not a big fan of Montblanc inks outside of their limited edition inks, but those LE inks are really outstanding. It used to be you could get a decent sized bottle for $20 bucks, but Montblanc switched to a larger sized bottle and raised the price to over $40, which still isn’t bad for some of the nicer colors. But if you can find the Velvet Red I highly recommend it.


                 My last section on this horrendously long list, is paper. You’ll thank me for only briefly covering my three go to paper options, that way I can finish typing this and you can finish reading it, if you’ve gotten this far. I’ll start that way we can both be done…

                My first choice for writing outside of notes at school is a Nanami PaperCrossfield A5. I find A5 the best size for journaling and poetry and the Crossfield is Effin’ amazing. Tomoe River paper with dot grid makes it extremely user friendly. The lay flat design is awesome. This is my preferred option when it comes to sitting down to write anything personal.

                As far as 3 or 5 subject notebooks for use at school, I only buy and use MiquelRius books. They used to be easy to find and relatively cheap. I think the first year I bought them I got single subject books for just over a dollar at Target on clearance. Now I get the 5 subject books at Target for $13 bucks, BUT they are worth it. Why, you ask? Cause they are fountain pen friendly! Yup, you can find extremely fountain pen friendly, college ruled, standard notebooks at a retail outlet near you. That’s enough to make me stock up on them every semester.

                Lastly is a pocket option. I debated a LONG time on whether or not to add this. I really don’t like pocket notebooks. I find them asinine in that they are rarely functional. In a jean pocket they fall apart before I can use them. Most of them have TERRIBLE paper. They tend to cost between $3 and $5 dollars per book. In all it’s mostly just a waste of money. Then I found Story Supply Conotebooks and all that changed. Thick stock covers give them extra durability. Upgraded fountain pen friendly paper means I can use ANY of my pens with them. They sell a really utilitarian leather notebook cover that means my notebook can be in my ass pocket of my jeans and not get waterlogged in the heat in Arizona. So I recommend the Story Supply Co notebooks so much so we ordered custom notebooks from them just a few weeks ago.

                There you have it. These are the products I turn to most often when I’m writing and the reasons behind my love for them. This list is completely subjective and I’ve intentionally written it that way. It’s not my intention to alienate other brands or people that prefer other options. Rather I’ve been pretty up front in my choice of words to make sure you, the reader, understands that I’m giving you my opinion. Hopefully you didn’t get too bored reading this. If you want to suggest something for me to try, post a comment below and next time I buy some writing instruments or gear I’ll grab whatever it is you recommended. Thanks for reading this and may you have an amazing holiday season and Happy New Year. I’ll be back in 2018.

PS – For those of you that look to this blog for content, much of what I would normally cover on here has been or will be moved to our YouTube channel. It’s just easier for me to TALK about stuff rather than to type about it. Plus I don’t have to edit myself too much. While I really don’t like being in front of the camera, it takes far less of my time to sit down and share my thoughts on a topic or introduce something on video rather than sitting down and typing up a blog post. I’ll still post on here 4-6 times a year and more if the opportunity arises, but if you want content from us, please subscribe to our YouTube channel.