My Triumphant Return

I’m finally back from the dead! I apologize for the long absence. This semester was really difficult for me. Between dealing with my student job, annoying roommate, and dreaded homework, it was hard to keep up with my blog. I focused mostly on new extracurriculars and keeping my grades up. Unfortunately, all my creative outlets fell by the wayside, including writing this blog. 😦 However, I did find a fun new hobby: art!!!!

I always liked drawing characters from the stories I wrote. But when I got older, I was intimidated by my amazing artist friends and stopped drawing. I never really improved past stick figures. But this year, I took an intro art class and drew five pages in a sketchbook every week! I was drawing much more than ever before. One of my aforementioned artist friends also encouraged my art. This time, I didn’t let insecurity stop me but kept on trying. In six months, I definitely improved! But I still have a long way to go. Maybe later I’ll show an album of my progress. Here’s one drawing I made recently:

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I copied this from one of Albrecht Durer’s prints, where St. John is forced to eat a book by a floating head???

With the paycheck from my job, I also bought Copic markers!!! For those who don’t know, they are alcohol markers that can be blended together to make watercolor-like drawings. They are amazing but so expensive. I wish I got a whole set in Japan, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase. 😦 So in December I picked out 45 individual markers for around $260. Yes expensive I know. But I already had other markers I collected over the years. My collection is now around 75 markers. I’ve wanted them for years now so I think that was a paycheck well spent.

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In other news, here are some of my currently inked pens:

My current favorite ink is the Kingdom Note Thysanostoma thysanuran ink, aka the scientific name for jellyfish!!!! It’s a vibrant purple that leans more pink than blue. In my broad Sailor Nib, it shows lots of shading. It even has a hint of black sheen on Tomoe River paper! I’m going to treasure this ink because I don’t know if I’ll ever get it again.

I wrote some stories, but mostly for my creative writing classes. However, I hit the 250 page midpoint of my Hippo Noto! Despite my initial concerns, the spine did hold up. Some of the sections felt loose but didn’t fall out. As time went on, it became harder to keep the pages flat. I’m ready to move on to the next notebook but I still have 250 more pages to go. My other journals were 200-215 pages so this sure is a change. Besides the Hippo Noto are my two Field Notes I use to jot down lists and ideas.

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Here are the notebooks I filled with school notes! For the first half of the semester, I wrote with fine tip gel pens, then switched to fountain pens. On the left are two 80 page Kokuyo Soft Ring notebooks and on the right are two Kokuyo Campus notebooks. I still need to write a review on the former. I obtained mine on my Japan trip  but I didn’t get enough. Turns out the ones I have aren’t available online to ship to the US at all. 😦

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I have tons of new blog ideas that I hope to bring to you soon. Look out for a review of a local stationery store and my thoughts on the Stalogy365, Taroko Enigma, Story Supply Co Morning, Studio C and other notebooks!

Mini Review: Oasis Notebook

Sorry about not updating! I’ve been busy settling into school and getting used to my course work. Here are my thoughts about a new notebook I found: The Oasis Notebook.

I first discovered the Oasis Notebook when I received it as a gift at the July D.C. Pen Meetup. It was elegant, sturdy and lay flat too! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it again. Luckily for me, they were available at the D.C. Pen Show, right next to the Sailor table.

Profolio is a new brand from Japan, made by the famous Itoya stationery company. All of their products feature a hybrid graph ruling, using both grids and lines. They can be used for taking notes, making diagrams or tables, or writing lists. There’s a space at the top to write a date. I bought the regular A5 Oasis in a “stealthy” black and a limited edition A5 with white paper.

The Oasis lays perfectly flat, perfect for long term writing. The paper is a nice cream color. There’s shading but no sheen unfortunately. I didn’t see feathering or bleed through but there is some show through because of the thin paper. It’s very smooth and pleasant to write with. The limited edition is the same except it uses bright white paper. It’s staple bound, so doesn’t lay flat. The cover springs up once I opened it up. I prefer the bright white paper but the ruling does look harsher on it. The lighting is kind of off but I tried my best to show the contrast in paper color.

I enjoy these notebooks and can’t wait to see more from Profolio! They are available online at Amazon and Anderson Pens. The Oasis comes in black, green and red covers. I haven’t seen the limited edition for sale online.

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Elemental Notebooks Review

For the second time, I’ve been burned by Kickstarter. The first time was with the Hippo Noto’s long wait time and questionable sturdiness. At least the Elemental Notebooks delivered fast. Also, the chemistry-themed design is spectacular, living up to every picture released. It reminds me of another cloth-covered favorite, Baron Fig notebooks. I bought the Nitrogen and Hydrogen, and a set of Unobtanium pocket notebooks. (I forgot Oxygen had the blue cover, this is why I hated Chemistry lol) But the paper is more important than anything else for me, so the Elemental Notebooks were a massive letdown.

Once again, I’m late to the show. Check out Mountain of Ink’s review here. In the next paragraphs, I review the Nitrogen notebook and the Unobtanium add-ons.

Specs:

  • 100 gsm cream dot grid paper
  • A5 size, or 3.5 by 5.5 inches for Unobtanium
  • $20 per notebook, pocket Unobtaniums were add-ons for $12
  • 192 pages
  • two ribbon bookmarks
  • no table of contents or numbered pages

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Appearance:

I was impressed by the Elemental notebooks as soon as I got them. The packaging is gorgeous! The notebooks come in black slipcases that explain the element the notebook is named after. The cover is made of a slightly rough cloth, with no decorations on the front. It reminds me of an old library book, especially with the indent near the spine. The dark green of Nitrogen is beautiful. The endpapers are well thought out. There’s a space in the shape of the periodic table to put your name in. The bottom of the spine is imprinted with gold foil showing the periodic element. It’s a nice touch. The edges of the book are tinted black with tiny colorful stripes meant to emulate the emissions spectrum of Nitrogen.

The Unobtanium notebooks have the element stamped in green foil on the lower right side. It’s made of a soft pleather material. They are the size of Field Notes, but have stitched bindings like Baron Fig Vanguards.

Paper:

But the paper is where it all goes downhill… I opened up my Nitrogen to see large, dark, dots. I hate when the ruling is too dark. It distracts me from my writing and looks generally unpleasant. But then I used my new Sailor Kingdom Note fountain pen to write the header and was instantly disappointed.

Feathering everywhere! No shading, only a flat color. Something I’ve noticed with bad paper is that “splotches” appear, instead of shading. I experienced that here. There was more show through than I’d like, but it’s not terrible. The paper itself was an off-white color, with some tooth to it, like Baron Fig. This paper is really bad. It’s usable with gel pens, ballpoints and pencils, but the dots are still too dark for me. So I don’t know what to use these for? The Unobtanium has the same paper. At least I use those for taking quick notes and the dot grid doesn’t matter as much.

Honestly, I feel misled. The creators of Elemental notebooks specifically said the paper was good for fountain pens. They even posed the Oxygen with a blue TWSBI Eco-T in a promotional picture! They also said the dark dots were part of the prototype and would be lighter in the final production. I wouldn’t have spent $47 on these notebooks if I knew they weren’t fountain pen friendly.

Comparison to Baron Fig:

The Elemental Notebook just begs comparison with the Baron Fig! I’m a huge fan of the BF Confidant, so this newcomer had a lot to live up to. I’d say BF won, for pure stylishness and usable paper. My Nitrogen is a typical A5 size, while the Confidant is more compact. The ribbons on Nitrogen are longer, and there’s two of them. See how they lay flat and are easy to pull on? That’s what BF needs. The stubby bookmark isn’t enough for me.

The Nitrogen is more like a library book, complete with the crease near the spine and rough linen cover. The Confidant is like a luxury product, with softer covers and a modern style.

The Confidant wins the paper battle, by far. First of all, its dot grid is large but a soft gray. The Nitrogen has the problem of both dark and large dots, which makes writing very distracting.

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Comparing the dot grid on the Confidant, on top, with the bottom Elemental notebook

The Confidant doesn’t have the luxurious Tomoe River feeling, but I actually like the slight tooth while using my fountain pens. Nib sizes tend to spread a bit, but don’t feather. The colors are vibrant and accurate. Honestly, I’ve only used the limited edition Confidants, and other reviews have made me question the paper quality. I want to do my own test on the regular Confidant. But the Nitrogen feathers and spreads everywhere. Instead of shading, I get weird splotchiness.

Overall, if you want a cloth-cover A5 notebook with dot grid, get the Baron Fig. It’s cheaper at $18 and has better paper.

Conclusion:

I think I’ve learned my lesson about not funding kickstarters. Both times, I’ve been disappointed. The nature of a kickstarter is itself fickle. It’s easy to run out of money, find problems in production, or deliver months late. I don’t blame the creators for running into problems, but I’m done accepting them. From now on, I’m ordering notebooks that are in regular production.

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Stationery Shopping: Traveler’s Factory, Muji, and Other Stores

Note: This is part of a series. Read my other posts here, here, and here. 🙂

I’m sad to say that I’m back home now. Japan was a wonderful experience and two weeks  didn’t feel like enough time. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to Osaka so I didn’t see Nagasawa. 😦 I did check out the Traveler’s Factory and Muji in Narita airport though.

I was excited to see this Muji-to-go after seeing all the great stationery stocked in convinence stores. But the selection was small and not very exciting.

However, The Traveler’s Factory sold Traveler’s Notebooks and its accessories. For those who don’t know, TN’s are leather covers that can hold small notebooks, or “inserts”. This allows you to carry around several notebooks in a portable package. I bought inserts with special covers exclusive to this store. I also bought vintage-style Pan Am stickers. My dad bought a brass bullet pencil and ballpoint. He was actually interested by the shop! My plan to convert my family is working. 😉

I also bought some stationery from convenience stores. The most common ones were Family Mart and 7/11. Yes, the latter is apparently very popular in Japan. These small stores actually have good selections of name-brand stationery like Kokuyo and Muji. Some 7/11’s had their own branded notebooks too! The items here were cheap yet high-quality.

I’m still surprised that such nice stationery is widely available and cheap. I’m used to the terrible paper sold in U.S. stores. I spotted nice pens used for signing stuff a few times. I guess Tombow pencils and Uni Sign pens are the equivalents of Ticonderoga’s and Sharpies in Japan!

I hope you enjoyed my blog series! I’ll try to post more reviews but college is starting up for me and I need time to settle in. For those who are interested, here are some non-stationery related pictures of my vacation:

Stationery Shopping: Itoya, Tag, Loft

Note: Read my other posts about stationery shops here and here.

So I went to Itoya Ginza and its related shop, K. Itoya, during my last day in Tokyo. Itoya is in the center of the Ginza shopping district, surrounded by luxury stores. Just look for the giant red paper clip jutting out from the building!

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Itoya presented the stationery beautifully. It must have taken a long time to arrange all the stationery so perfectly. There were endless rows of letter paper, washi tape and pens. There were 12 floors, so a lot to choose from! Not all the floors catered to stationery lovers. I spotted travel and home good sections. There’s also a nice restaurant!

But most of it didn’t really speak to me. The items was either too expensive or not my style. The service was also quite slow. Compared to Sekeido, Itoya was too upscale and curated for me. The notebook selection was lackluster in the main store. There wasn’t enough variety and everything was full price. I liked the K. Itoya better. It was less sterile, and had a good notebook section. There were also cute school supplies. My favorite part was the table devoted to astronomy-themed stationery!

I did buy a Pilot Custom Heritage 91 in Yama Budo color, a pen I’ve coveted since the beginning of my pen obsession. And I grabbed Pilot Iroshizuko Momiji for 1500 yen!

I had a much better time when I went to Kyoto. There I visited Loft and Tag Stationery. They were two very different stores. Loft was a Target-style store, with many different floors devoted to fashion, travel, home goods, gifts, etc. Tag Stationery was a smaller, specialized shop.

Loft was in a busy part of Kyoto, near my hotel. It had several floors, but it wasn’t all devoted to stationery. The third floor had all the journals, pens, art supplies and planners. There was a rainbow of notebooks in even more colors and types then I’d seen before! This had the best notebook section out of all the stores I visited so far. The Copic marker aisle was small and not as good as Tools. The fountain pen and ink counter was also small. But there were Loft exclusive Pilot Kakunos with magenta, pink or purple pen bodies. I got the purple pen. 🙂 There was even  a cute Traveler’s Notebook set up. I even convinced my mom and sister to visit Loft. They both enjoyed it! My sister even bought a Traveler’s Notebook in passport size and some inserts to go with it. So proud of her. 😀

In comparison, Tag Stationery was a small niche store. Apparently that’s where the Tag inks came from. It was in a bustling shopping area. A small temple was next to it. I loved that about Kyoto, finding little shrines and temples everywhere!

I already had Kyo-no-oto Adzuki-iro but I bought Kyo-iro No. 2 Ohara’s Morning Snow and Kyo-no-oto Hisoku. Besides, the store-made inks, I also purchased a pinkish red Sailor demonstrator. There was an exclusive pink Pilot Prera but I didn’t get it. Tag also had a wonderful collection of letter writing paper and envelopes. I bought a nice set with flower patterns printed into the surface. I was surprised by the array of notebooks for young children. It seemed like the type of notebooks you’d buy for kindergarten. It had an unusual ruling, a large grid made up of four squares. They had pop culture references on the cover like Disney and Peanuts and Moomin. I always like finding new rulings!

Although, I didn’t enjoy Itoya as much, the other two stores more than made up for it! Next, I’ll post about the Traveler’s Factory store in Narita airport and other assorted places where I got my stationery.

Stationery Shopping: Tools and Sekaido

Note: This is the second blog post in a series. The first post is here

I’ve been lucky to stay in a hotel in Shinjuku for the past few days. Besides the thriving restaurants and nightlife, there are also many stationery stores! Today, I went to Tools, an art supply shop in the Lumine EST underground mall. I also stopped by Sekaido, a stationery store very close to Kingdom Note.

I heard about Tools from this blog post. My main reason for going there was its large stock of Copic markers! For those who don’t know, Copics are alcohol markers known for their vibrant colors and blending qualities. They are popular among manga and comic artists. The problem is that they’re expensive in the United States. I was slowly building my collection, one $7 marker at a time. 😦 But here, a single marker is 380 yen and 340 with the tax refund. This made them a lot more affordable.

Tools is on the 6th floor of an underground shopping mall called Lumine Est. It’s near the East exit of Shinjuku Station, close to my hotel. It’s one of many stores that sell clothing, lifestyle items, makeup, etc.

Tools is an artists’ paradise! I was instantly bedazzled by the endless rows of washi tape, stationery and pencils. But seeing the Copic marker selection took my breath away. Tools had all 358 colors in the Sketch size, along with all of them in the Ciao and Original type. It also had a variety of Copic-friendly marker paper and sketchbooks and even Copic multi liners. There were small pads for testing the markers.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAH SO MANY MARKERS

Copic markers come in every color imaginable, from the palest shadow to rich pigment. They are divided into several color groups and are rated on a scale of how easily they blend with other markers in the same group.

I also bought Staedlter fineliners, marker paper and a sticker set of samurai and geisha figures!

I spent so much time in that store, whittling down which Copic markers to buy. It’s truly an experience. It helps that the tax refund counter is on the same floor so I can get my 8% refund back easily. If you’re an artist, definitely go here.

Later, I spent time in Sekaido Shinjuku Nishiguchi, which is only a block away from Kingdom Note. It has 5 floors, and two basement levels, all packed with stationery. And this isn’t even the main outlet! There were painting frames, letter paper, paint and canvases, pens, ink and pencils. It is basically jetpens in a physical location! The price on jetpens is usually higher because it‘s imported. But getting it from the source makes it cheaper. Sekaido also has a permanent 20% discount on all of its stock. The fountain pen and ink floor was lacking, unfortunately. There were some interesting pens but most were Pilot Kakunos or Preras. There was a display of the new 20ml Sailor bottles. It was nice to see the colors but I’ll wait to buy them at Itoya Ginza.

The best section was the gel pens and notebooks! There were a dazzling array of Hi-tech C’s, Zebra Sarasas, Pilot Juices, Uniball Signos, Gelly Rolls and countless brands I never heard of before, in every tip size from .28 mm to 1mm. I restrained myself from getting every single color.

The notebook section was amazing for back to school shopping. There were Kokuyo Campuses, Maruman Mnemosynes, and Maruman Spiral Notes in A5 sizes. There were pocket notepads, letter paper, A6, A5, B5, A4. I was fangirling so much! I wouldn’t use these notebooks for stories or journaling, but they are great for being stuffed into my backpack for note taking.

My mom went along with me to Sekaido and she enjoyed it! She doesn’t quite understand my stationery obsession but I tried to convert her anyways. She got three notebooks for work, two Kokuyo MIOs and a B5 Maruman Mnemosyne. I persuaded her to get a Zebra Sarasa Dry Gel. She got some beautiful origami paper too.

As for me, I got a five pack of 30 page Kokuyo Campuses. They were decorated with little fruits and flowers. There was a Disney princess set that I was tempted to buy… I also got a Kokuyo soft ring spiral notebook. It was amazing to me, as a lefty that hates when metal rings dig into my skin as I take notes. I bought a few Pilot Juices, Hi Tec Cs, Pilot Maica, and bought a pack of fountain pen friendly flash cards.

These two stores are great and I highly recommend going to them if you’re in Shinjuku. I’d like to mention Smiths, also in the Lumine EST map next to Tools. They have a selection of Rollbahns, not really my favorite notebooks though. Also look in the small convenience stores in the subway for Muji notebooks and pens. I bought two notebooks and a gel pen that erases better than the Pilot Frixion does. Here are my pictures of my purchases!

I’m excited to see Itoya Ginza tomorrow, the last leg of my epic Tokyo stationery journey.

Write Notepads “The Lawn” Review

I live in a suburbia of rolling green lawns, as far as the eye can see. Even in the summer, the grass is trimmed to perfection. Well-kept lawns are always in my summertime memories. I remember getting green stains on my knees, running through sprinklers and tall grass, swimming and roasting smores on a campfire. Maybe that’s why Write Notepads’ “The Lawn” edition touched me so much. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling.

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Specs:

  • 3.75” x 5.5” inches
  • 48 pages
  • 70# paper with 6.35 mm lines
  • three gold staples
  • 3 pack for $12.99

I reviewed the “Sakura” pocket notebook edition in a previous review. I enjoy this edition even more! However, I’m a bit late to the show. Johnny from Pencil Revolution also reviewed it here. Once again, Write Notepads came up with a simple yet creative theme. The notebook is slightly wider than the usual Field Notes 3.5 x 5.5 size. It gives me more space to write and it’s not like I actually put my pocket notebook in my pocket. 😛 The notebook is a deep green, more olive than emerald. Tiny blades of grass are letterpressed on the cover. They seem slightly raised, giving it a texture when I run a hand over it. The Lawn is staple bound, with three sturdy golden staples. My three-pack was held together with a checkered red and white belly band, like a picnic blanket! My pack also came with a sheet of STICKERS!!! I love the whimsical art of garden gnomes, lawn chairs and flamingoes. They blend into the grassy cover perfectly. I hid the beer cans sticker on the back. 😉 I forgot to take a pic before I used them, sorry about that!

Inside is a luscious white paper perfect for fountain pens. It has 6.35 mm green lines that fit my writing perfectly. Write Notepads must have changed their paper formula because this and the Sakura is much better than the old stock. The paper is smooth but not slippery like Field Notes. It has enough tooth for pencil and feels great with my felt and gel pens. It handles literally every fountain pen I throw at it, even my juicy Pelikan and Faber-Castell nibs. There is only some feathering with my F-C nib. There is no bleed through and barely any show through. The only other paper I’ve found like this was Baron Fig and Rhodia/Clairefontaine. My nib doesn’t catch on the paper fibers nor does it feel scratchy.

For research, I bought a pack of “Samuel Morse” notebooks, a previous Write Notepads limited edition. Though they share the same attention to detail, the “Morse” notebooks are perfect bound, meaning the spine is glued. This makes it much harder for pages to lay flat. The paper is also not good for fountain pens. It feathers and bleeds to the other side. Ink colors look flat and lifeless. In comparison, “The Lawn” has crisp lines and shows shading, though not sheen.

In the past, I didn’t buy Write Notepads limited editions because of the perfect binding and paper. But staple-bound, fountain pen friendly notebooks are always welcome in my horde. I hope Write Notepads makes more editions like “The Lawn” and “Sakura”. Hopefully they have a table at the D.C. Pen Show so I can come and visit!

I bought these notebooks with my own funds. I was not paid for this review. 

Write Notepads Sakura Review

This post is a little late, but I’d like to review the newest limited edition from Write Notepads: the Sakura edition!

Specs:

  • 3.75” x 5.5” inches
  • 48 pages
  • 70# paper with 4mm grid
  • stapled!
  • 3 pack for $12.99

This is my first time trying Write Notepads. They make very nice pocket notebooks among other offerings. However, their editions usually have perfect binding, which is a type of binding that makes the notebook harder to keep open and lay flat. They also don’t have the best paper for fountain pens. But I saw the new Sakura edition and fell in love! I live near a place with many cherry blossom trees and I love seeing them bloom in the spring. They also are staple bound which is more my style.

I bought two packs, each set being $12.99 . I ordered the bundle which came with a special surprise. 🙂 The Sakura is a little shorter than Field Notes, another popular notebook brand.

The covers are absolutely gorgeous. They’re a speckled cream color with cherry tree branches letter pressed onto the surface. Even the band holding the notebooks together is beautiful. It’s black with silver blossoms decorating it. So pretty!

The paper inside is very nice. It’s not as smooth as the Field Notes or Story Supply paper but it’s not rough like Baron Fig. It has a minuscule 4mm grid printed in light green. I definitely can’t fit my writing in the squares, so I just use it as a guide for my writing. Here is the grid in comparison to the one in my field notes:

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The paper is great! It has enough tooth for pencil but feels great with gel, felt and even fountain pens. I was expecting a lot of show through or bleed through but didn’t have any! Only a tiny bit of show through and bleeding. I wonder if they changed the paper or I happened to choose well-behaved ink for my pen test. In reviews of previous editions, bloggers have found the paper to not be fountain pen friendly. So this is a pleasant surprise!

And the add on was a letter pressed packet of cherry blossom seeds. It was a very thoughtful extra and I’ll have to find a place to plant them. These notebooks were also a good match with the pink Blackwing Volume 54 pencils. I love this limited edition and I am excited to see more from this company!

 

 

Surrealism is Awesome: Palomino Blackwing 54 Review

I first tried the esteemed Blackwing 602 pencil ($22 for a box of twelve, yes they’re pricy) at the CW Pencil Shop last year. It’s much talked about in the pencil fandom (you thought I only liked fountain pens???) so I was excited. It met my expectations, and so much more. The “firm” lead is smooth and creamy on paper. I was turned off from pencils after years of using ones that were scratchy and had broken lead.  I stopped using pencils during middle school, and never went back. Until now.

For the spring semester, I found a use for my new pencils. I used my Baron Archer #2’s for math problems and my Blackwing 602 for creative writing class, where I had to erase often. I’ve even used my pencil for sketching! So I was excited to see the new Blackwing Volumes release. Okay, at first I was disappointed by the color. But the pictures online don’t show how it actually looks. It’s gorgeous!

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This picture shows the color off best.

The theme is inspired by Surrealism, one of my favorite art movements. Surrealism is when artists take inspiration from their unconscious and dreams to create a bizarre, off-putting work. It followed the work of Freud, often showing what lurked in the hidden parts of your mind. Though most think of Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte, there were many women and people of color working in that style. Surrealism was a diverse movement that gained popularity in the Caribbean and Latin America. I’m happy that Blackwing mentioned artists on the box that weren’t just white men. (Nothing wrong with that demographic but it’s nice to see underrepresented artists.) Some other female surrealists include Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, and Remedios Varos. Wilfredo Lam, mentioned on the box, was a famous Chinese-Cuban artist, who drew inspiration from his Afro-Cuban heritage for his paintings.

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They’re beautiful!

The shiny lacquer is a strange color, shifting like the color palette of Surrealists. It looked bubblegum pink in some pictures, magenta in others. Seeing it in person, the color is orchid, with just a hint of purple. The teal imprint and blue eraser add to the oddity of this pencil. It’s unusual, which I like.

I had a weird scratch on one of the ferrules, which annoyed me. I’m paying $25 for a box of 12 pencils, it better be perfect!

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Weird scratch on ferrule

The “extra firm” lead wasn’t as mind-blowing as the 602’s was. But it has better point retention and is slightly harder, making it better for precise writing. Some bloggers theorized that the “extra firm” was the same as the Palomino HB. I tested that out, along with my other Blackwing pencils I have.

“Extra firm” is definitely a different lead. Palomino is even darker than the EF. Its line isn’t as dark as the 54’s. It has even better point retention and just had an overall different feel on the paper. I’d suggest both as good pencils, but they aren’t replicas. I also compared my “soft” and “firm” leads. The “soft” was the darkest, but smudged the most and lost its point quickly.

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Pencil test done on Baron Fig paper

I really enjoyed the 54 and its cool theme! They’re out of stock in many places, but there’s still some floating around if you look. Below are some of the works of the Surrealists mentioned on the box!

Also I found a list of awesome female Surrealists!

europe-after-rain
Max Ernst, Europe After the Rain (1940-42)
Meret-Oppenheim.-Object-469x311
Meret Oppenheimer, Object (1936)
self-portrait-along-the-boarder-line-between-mexico-and-the-united-states
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Between the Borderline of Mexico and the United States (1932)
lam the jungle
Wilfredo Lam, The Jungle (1943)

Sources: