Like many people, my first experience of fountain pens was somewhat mixed. I remember clearly at school the excitement building up, as some children were deemed to have handwriting at a standard that allowed them to “move up” to a fountain pen. I worked really hard so that I too could replace my biro with the much-anticipated upgrade.
The day finally came. The recognition I had been waiting so long for, which acknowledged that my handwriting was, at last, neat enough to progress, had arrived. I happily picked out my budget-friendly fountain pen and selected my ink cartridges. Admittedly the options were rather limited and the permitted ink choices for school were only blue or black. Still, it was progress.
The problems started shortly afterwards. Everything from inserting ink cartridges in the wrong way round, leaky ink cartridges in my school bag, running out of ink in the middle of sentences, smudged ink every time I tried to draw a line using a ruler and a dramatic drop in the standard of my handwriting.
Over time I learned to control the pen and avoid at least some of the smudges, but the excitement had lost more than a little of its initial shine. I longed to return to the ease of a more simplistic writing instrument. After leaving school, it was many years before I dared to venture back into the world of fountain pens.
A couple of years ago, I noticed fountain pens starting to pop up everywhere on my Instagram feed. I was intrigued. Why would people voluntarily subject themselves to this pain? But, on the other hand… they did look so attractive. They appeared almost unrecognisable from the fountain pen that I used at school. There was a huge range of colours, finish, nib size and shape, filling mechanisms and ink colours. I couldn’t help but pause and admire their beauty.
After about six months of gazing at them on social media, I decided to do a little research and see if perhaps it was worth another go. I finally took the plunge and bought a Lamy AL-star in dark purple, with a converter for easy filling. I chose a purple ink too, quite excited by the rebellion of turning my back on the previous limited blue or black ink options.
As soon as the pen arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the tactile nature of the barrel. When picking it up to write, it felt that what I was about to document was somehow more significant than before. Sure, there were still plenty of smudges, but I learned that the best way to overcome this was to slow down. The whole process of having to be more mindful about how I wrote made me more considerate of the words that I was choosing to write and added to the whole experience. It felt like a wonderful indulgence every time I sat to use it and I was determined to make the most of that time.
Inevitably, since then I have branched out into various fountain and dip pens, along with a lovely selection of inks. I really enjoy being able to select the size and style of nib, fill up with the ink of my choice and having the view hole to see how much ink is left in my pen. Unlike disposable pens, I feel much more attached to my fountain pens as I know they will be with me for many years to come and will be used to write down some of my most important thoughts.
My favourite pen to date is the TWSBI Diamond 580AL in rose with an extra fine nib. The colour and feel of the pen - along with a nib that glides so smoothly across the page - really add to the joy of writing.
I still use ballpoint and gel pens for my quick notes and popping in my bag, but I am extremely happy to have rediscovered the joy of using a fountain pen. They make me feel ready to tackle even the biggest of tasks.
So, if your early experiences are similar to mine, perhaps it’s time to give the fountain pen a second chance. With so many options out there, you are bound to find something that brings a little joy to your life.
30 October 2018