Tag Archives: Writing Instruments

With Pen in Hand


When my wife and I were in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, I saw something that caught my eye in the National Art Gallery gift shop. My wife decided to give it to me a few days later as a birthday gift. The item – a quill and an old style ink pen. Now, I’ve routinely written with a fountain pen for many years; I used a Cross fountain pen as I traveled around Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

I like the juxtaposition of using a fountain pen to sign or annotate computer generated paperwork.

When I was in grade school we were required to use a fountain pen while learning cursive handwriting. Our desks had the hole in the upper right hand corner into which an inkwell had formerly been placed when my father went to that school.

With such extensive experience, I was fairly confident as I picked up the quill, opened the bottle of ink, dipped said quill lightly into the ink, wiped the tip against the bottle and began. My intent was to write a blog entry, scan it and publish it in all its historical finery.

Alas, my handwriting went from barely legible to Charlie Brown’s ink stained pen pal letters with blotches and smudges galore. Even though I have tried repeatedly I am still far from perfecting a skill that children from the earliest days of European settlement on this continent were able to master.

Perhaps the reason that some of the writings from the past were so profound was because the act of writing took time, and that time was available to think about what one wanted to say. Today, we can slapdash a thought through a keyboard, send it as an e-mail (or worse, “Reply All”) with little or no thought, often with unpleasant repercussions.

In thinking; in speaking; in writing – it’s quality that endures, not quantity.

The Medium Makes the Artform

When visiting a museum, it’s easy to get lost in the art. There’s the picture, of course, then there’s the style –no mistaking a Monet for a Warhol or a Cezanne for a Botticelli. Artists understand that the importance of media is very personal, and almost part of their signature. Painters choose among oil paints, acrylics, water colors, and then decide whether these should be applied to canvas, wood, or uncured plaster as in a fresco.

Among sculptors perhaps the most elite are those who work with marble or granite, tediously chipping away everything that doesn’t belong in order to free the image from its stone prison. However, some amazing work has been done with clay, and, of course bronze. Modern sculptors may weld pieces of steel together in an additive style of sculpting, yielding some of the most thought provoking pieces.

Although I do not claim to be much of an artist, I nevertheless have a preferred medium that I have settled on after all these years.

I prefer cocktail napkins.

Although in a pinch I’ll use a regular paper napkin, cocktail napkins have a smoother surface, lending to a crisper finish, not to mention the fact that so long as your drink tab is open, they are generally provided for free.

While for writing, I prefer a fountain pen, such an instrument is virtually useless on a cocktail napkin resulting in unsightly blobs. While some prefer pencil, I find that insincere since an image can be adjusted. On the other hand, a fully committed artist never fails to use a ball point pen – the type with gel ink whenever possible.

Cocktail napkin art is best viewed in dim light; in the past this also could be enhanced by clouds of tobacco smoke, but that has fallen out of favor. Beer goggles enhance the view of the work of art in order to capture the frame of mind of the artist.

I have submitted the following for your enjoyment, although I had to compromise and use a standard paper napkin, and it was produced in the sober light of day. However, I do believe it is satisfactory for instructional purposes.