black and grey pens, current favourites

Last April I discussed my shift to black or grey ink for planning. That is still going well, for the most part. Earlier this week I wrote about how I choose tools with a general eye to knitting needles. For each tool I evaluate both in general and with a few specific questions in mind.

However, over the past couple of months, I’ve found myself asking those questions to new pens with a frequency that outpaced need. The result is that my choice has become a overwhelming.

This is a small selection from the pens available on my desk. I gathered them together into a pile for the sole purpose of a photo. They’ve overrun my standard corrals and I need to rethink some of my storage. Don’t worry, not all of them have been acquired recently! As I tidy my desk and gather similar items together it’s surprising and frustrating to see the collection.

What do I look for in my pens? The answer changes each time I sit to write. Maybe I need to write quickly. Perhaps I need to work around a helpful cat and writing while defying gravity is important. At other times I’m looking for a specific nib style sometimes I like felt or tips, at others a super fine needle. Am I watercoloring or highlighting and need something waterproof or at least highly resistent?

Penny’s list of pen specific questions

  • Is it friendly to a water brush?
  • Does it hold up to my hard writing?
  • Is it comfortable in my hand?
  • Are refills available or is it disposable?
  • Is it the correct nib size or style for what I plan to write?
  • Is there a grey ink option?
  • Can I pick it up at a local store or do I need to make a special trip or place an online order?

All of these factors influence my choice of pen at any moment. Scoring positively on the answers only matters if I decide to purchase refills or a replacement.

This collection includes the pens I’m using almost daily. Most are now available at a range of local stores (Michaels for example, has expanded their pen and paper selections). It’s wonderful that I no longer need to rely on special trips to find pens I like or internet orders. Some I picked up because they were popular and I was curious. Others were purchased to see how well they held up to my hard writing style or for their reaction to a water brush.

Do you have a pen you love writing with?

on pens and planning

While I love the rainbow spectrum of my fountain pen inks, I prefer to be colour consistent in my planner and log books. This is a change from how I once worked, colour coding everything.


I’m embracing simplification. Not in an austere sense of only having a few pens (I don’t think that’s possible for me), but I keep fewer ink colour choices around.

What was wrong?

The biggest problem with many of my old systems was how if I didn’t have the right pen (or ink colour) my system would come crashing to a train wreck. I want my system to work no matter where I choose to work that day or what writing tools I select.

A robust system shouldn’t break with a minor tool change. I place high value on content before formatting in my digital files. Simplifying ink colour helps me be consistent with that concept on paper as well.

But are blue and black inks really that different?

No. In this I’ll “blame” Instagram planning posts. Many of the designers I follow have perfect planners and are very particular about pens and colours. While that degree of focus is not a good one for me (I learned that last year), I found that black and dark grey are more visually consistent than various blues.

Current system

My every day pens are now almost all black or dark grey ink.

Most of the pens are also smear proof when I watercolour/highlight over them. I use Noodler‘s Lexington Grey in the majority of my fountain pens.

I have a range of other pens that I also use in my log books; there is little consistency in brand or type. Some are gel, some are felt tip, others are ball point. I’m trying to write through what I acquired over the years before I purchase new.

Strategic colour

When one applies colour strategically, it helps the eye to focus. Think back to when you first began to highlight school notes. Chances are you highlighted almost every word. Could you remember or find anything in your notes? Probably not.

Years ago, I found that highlighting my todo list as I finished items helped me to focus in on those tasks yet to be completed.

Now with a standardized base colour the other bits of colour in my planners and notebooks pop just a little bit more.

What about all the other pens and inks?

I still use my rainbow when I write letters to friends, for drafts, and my morning pages.

This tiny shift to a simpler system has helped reduce decision fatigue and paralysis. My focus has increased and I am getting more done. Have you made a small shift with big results? Please let me know.

greens and blue-greens, ink edition

I go through colour phases. A long time ago when family tried to get me to stop wearing so much black (I live in NYC, I wear black, deal), I shifted through the colour spectrum more frequently. During each colour shift, it seems almost everything I acquire ends up that colour. It isn’t conscious I just look up and suddenly everything all my accessories are shade of green. I’ve been in the green phase for a several years now. It’s a good place to be and I find it easier to mix two shades of green than I can other hues. I realized that a secondary colour arrived. Perhaps it began with the surprisingly perfect sweater. It has now expanded into my ink collection.

Inks shown are Noodler’s General of the Armies, J Herbin Vert Empire, J Herbin Lierre Sauvage, J Herbin Poussière de Lune, and a mystery teal cartridge.

Do you have a favourite fountain pen ink? I love J Herbin’s Poussière de Lune the most.

a new fountain pen

The other week I discovered a new, inexpensive, small fountain pen by J Herbin. I like small and slim fountain pens, they are the most comfortable in my hand. I bought a J Herbin roller ball several years ago. I love it. I was very excited to see this pen but couldn’t find it online, it was that new. Karen at Exaclair was very generous and sent me a demo pen before she even got a chance to try it!

This pen writes beautifully and if you don’t want to use cartridges the Monteverde Mini Ink Cartridge Converter fits.



Looking for a J Herbin fountain pen of your own? Ask your local stockist to carry them, or try online at Paper Bistro.

thank you my friend

Dear everyone of Art Brown,

I miss you already! Sure, you really don’t know who I am or my name, and I always forgot your names (because I was too shy to ask directly), but I remember you and both spaces. I’ve been coming to terms with the news since I first learned of your final closing and then read further confirmation. I feel the loss of each small business, each friend.

Thank you for being you.

Thank you for putting up with my wandering through each aisle 20 times but not knowing for what I searched. Thank you for not complaining when I spent half an hour debating between two ink colours…Thank you for never pressuring me to just buy something already. Thank you for being patient while I bought my first Lamy and my delight as you changed it to an EF nib. And the second. For looking for a nice box for the j herbin rollerball I was picking up as a gift, and surprising me with one for my selfish acquisition as well! Thank you for the many sheets of paper in various formats that i could look at and touch (and sniff) before I bought. Thank you for the regular boring muggle pens and the scrap paper left there so I could try them out and pick up the one I needed for my non-special-ink writing. Thank you for the ink selections and never complaining when I asked to see the swatch books, again. That you for being kind even without saying a word. Thank you for not questioning when I would spend a long time in a back corner with items I had collected, review them, debate them, and then finally come forward to ask a question. I’ll never forget the day I wandered in during a pen sale caught totally unawares and wondering if I could just pick up the new notebook I needed.

I’m sorry I didn’t visit as much recently. My work is no longer just a few short blocks away, but I tried to visit when I could. The next time I’m nearby I know that when I start to walk toward 45th I will feel the loss all the more acutely then.

Thank you for the memories. I’m saddened I didn’t do more. I will miss you.

your friend,

Fountain Pens fine and medium
multitasking, old skooloffice supply Lamy Safari, Lime XF Nib
(note: not all pens or paper pictured were acquired at Art Brown. Most were.)

Dear Reader: Please support a local small business you respect and admire in memory of Art Brown – The International Pen Shop.