Saturday, 31 August 2013

Ink Review: Diamine Evergreen

I’ve mentioned Diamine Evergreen before, but it was generally in comparison to other inks — not a “review” as such.

Let me explain why I’m revisiting my ink collection. I recently had an epiphany that dark greens, greys and blacks are my go-to colours for note taking. I have plenty of other colours — from nice bright ones to fairly traditional colours. But I’ve now settled on colours I will regularly use, and the others have been tucked away in a little box under my shelves.

Colours got lopped off the A-list for a number of reasons. Some are subjective (just don’t like the colour so much), but others are objective — and will become my review criteria. In no particular order:

  • Contrast: general legibility and ease on the eye
  • Flow: how well the stuff comes out of the pen, avoiding hard starting
  • Lubrication: how well the ink lubricates the nib on a given paper
  • Bleeding and showing through: whether the ink soaks through to the other side of certain papers
  • Feathering: a sort of spreading effect along the paper fibres (undesirable)
  • Cleaning: does the ink hang around or does it go after a few flushes?
  • Water resistance: if I spill my water glass, are my notes gone?

I’m writing about Evergreen because it scores very highly in all of these (for me), and I like the colour a lot. This is the benchmark I may use for other inks in the future. ———

Subjective: why I like Diamine Evergreen

  • it appeals to me from a wet and a dry pen, fat and thin lines
  • nice and calm like a mid-grey, but much better contrast and more interesting with the green
  • warmer and perhaps not as in-your-face as some other green-blacks (e.g. Diamine Sherwood)
  • the benchmark I would use for lubrication, flow, and ease of cleaning
  • great VFM, UK manufacturer

(Relatively) Objective: my Review

Pens

  • Pelikan M200 Fine
  • Lamy Safari Charcoal with OM nib (dry writer)
  • Lamy Safari White with OB nib (wetter writer)

These are my “workhorse” pens, each with their own issues. The Pelikan and the broad Lamy can be hard starting with some inks and papers, and the Lamy Broad can also really drag on paper without lubrication. The Lamy Medium is much drier than the others, and really shows up some inks.

Workhorse1 Workhorse2

Paper

As noted before this ink changes colour over 24 hours from a sort of blue/green-black to a proper evergreen — the scans are of the final colour (top) and just-dried (bottom).

 Clairfontaine paper — top is after 24 hours, bottom is just dried

Copier paper — top after 24hr, bottom just dried

24 hr Just Written

Filofax Flex

The Clairfontaine paper can drag a bit, and the glossy surface can punish hard starters. I had neither problem with Evergreen. Printer paper feathers more but still no bleeding. Filofax flex cream paper is for a bit of fun — it shows. The ink looks like teal, verdigris or blue-black on this paper. Suspect it would do the same with other cream papers. All in all pretty good. I think the ink looks best on white paper, and for cream I’d choose a proper grey like Diamine Grey.

Bleeding, Feathering

Doesn’t really bleed through any papers I tried, though threatens to with the fat Safari nib on printer paper. Feathers a bit with the Safari nibs on cheaper paper, but the Pelikan is very well behaved. Shows through a bit on thinner paper, but doesn’t affect legibility. I’ve also used the Charcoal Lamy with Field Notes which tend to be hit and miss with fountain pens. With this ink everything is legible, no bleeding, feathering or show through. The line from the Pelikan is a little tidier, so I think that’s an effect of the nib, not the ink.

Lubrication and Flow

Great. A real pleasure to write with. The fat Lamy OB glides over papers. Pretty much a benchmark fountain pen experience, even with the dry Lamy.

Water resistance

Good luck with that. If this ink left the tiniest residue I’d be happy, but any kind of soaking will make writing illegible.

Cleaning

Great, cleans up quickly, doesn’t hang around (er, see above).

Summary

This ink ticks a lot of boxes for me, both colour-wise and with performance. Works in several different pens, on several different papers, and colour is to my liking in all cases.

This is pretty much the benchmark I would use to compare other inks. Not all inks I have (Diamine and other manufacturers) are as lubricating, or easy to clean, or look good both wet and dry.

However, there is no water resistance. That’s a lower priority for me than the actual writing experience and my ability to read notes I made a few days ago (anything important gets transcribed).

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Old Dogs

My mum recently said “your handwriting is wonderful… considering how bad it was.” That’s a backhand Andy Murray would be proud of.

Can’t deny it, though. My handwriting was the kind of labyrinthine scrawl that would make a GP proud. How did that happen? Well, I’ve always been science-leaning, which meant most of my handwritten schoolwork was equations, diagrams and chemical formulae — it’s a supreme challenge to make x2 illegible, although I probably managed once or twice. Prose was always an inconvenience and an afterthought — isn’t it clear what I’m talking about? It’s the equations! Science!!11!!

At uni one of my tutors took me aside and offered me help with my handwriting. I accepted and then did the absolute bare minimum to comply with the coaching I was given; I rarely practiced what I was taught and as a result my handwriting didn’t change.

Of course I still used a ballpoint, and a cheap one at that. One thing that tutor recommended was a fountain pen. He wasn’t the best example, given his handwriting was still utterly indecipherable after years of trying to correct it. And at the time I was poor and pens were expensive and I was still reeling from a bad experience with fountain pens in my junior years where I got the cheapest, scratchiest pen that ran dry and then blobbed ink everywhere. So I took no notice.

I don’t think there and then a fountain pen would have made much difference, though. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to improve my handwriting, and the last lessons I’d been given on writing cursive had been a decade ago — handwriting wasn’t something that was taught at my secondary school, you either wrote well or you didn’t.

The last time I wrote something down that mattered enough for someone else to look at it was my finals. After that my thesis was mercifully printed and bound, and then we were into the age of email and the paperless office. For a while I was fully behind never having to write on paper again.

The one thing that kept me writing on paper was writing for pleasure. Most of my notes for roleplaying games are in A4 hardback notebooks, and somehow writing something I was actually interested in, that didn’t feel like work, made my handwriting better. Even when I owned a computer my handwriting could keep up faster than my typing.

I’m recalling all of this because I’ve been reading Dilemmas of an Expat Tutor. I came across it via the page on why Britain made the change to vertical handwriting, which contains some interesting thoughts in itself to do with handwriting and ergonomics. I’ve been big into workstation ergonomics for years, but never considered handwriting — it’s taken me until now to realise why I vastly prefer A5 sheets to A4, because it’s easier to slant them properly on the desk to write cursive script.

The most recent article is Students Mourn Never Learning Cursive. That made me think of our general attitude to learning new things as we get older. No doubt many adults will think that because they didn’t learn handwriting as a child, they are now set in their ways and will never have good handwriting as an adult. I know that adults can learn fine and gross motor skills perfectly well — like fighting with swords. If you can tidy up a flanconade, you can work on your handwriting.

I wouldn’t call my handwriting good, but it’s certainly improved. It’s more consistent. Maybe I’ll call it good when a proper cursive “r” comes naturally.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Les Revenants Soundtrack

I haven’t seen Les Revenants (a TV remake of They Came Back) but I’m currently listening to the soundtrack, by Mogwai of all people.

Les Reventant

It’s melodic, melancholic and generally less post-rock-y than the band’s other offerings. I’m a big fan of soundtracks and will take a punt on some albums even if I haven’t seen (or hated) the film, so my collection contains a few duds — but this one I feel confident in recommending to anyone who likes, well, ambient music. This one’s kind of tense, and kind of sad.

Oh look, it’s raining outside.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Alas Vegas Tarot

Alas I backed James Wallis’ Kickstarter for Alas Vegas, a game about waking up in a shallow grave naked and with no memory just outside Las Vegas.

Anyway, the artist John Coultart has created the Major Arcana for the Alas Vegas Tarot, and he blogs about it here. As James said recently — one card in isolation is impressive, the whole set together just blows my mind.

While I’m here I may as well mention other kickstarter stuff — Ron Edwards’ annotated Sorcerer is here (so I should follow up on my earlier review), and I also backed Shadows of Esteren because I seem to be unable to resist pretty pictures of bleak landscapes.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Imajica CCG

I was never much of a player of CCGs. I have a bunch of Magic cards, some Battletech cards and some Netrunner sets gathering dust (metaphorically speaking; they’re all in silly deck protectors).

I liked looking at Magic cards and imagining the worlds behind them. I particularly liked the feel of some of the early sets like Ice Age and Homelands, but eventually I grew out of my card fetish (well, almost — I still collect a few fantasy art card sets). Being actually bad at playing MtG didn’t help, of course.

I’m also a fan of Clive Barker, and for years I fancied getting my hands on his Imajica CCG. Well, thanks to a certain auction site:

Imajica Box

Imajica Cards

I’ve not had long to digest the rules (not that I really care, I’ll probably never play them, just paw them) but my first impressions are:

  • It’s like MtG on acid, which is what I would expect from a game set in the Five Dominions;
  • It’s rather restrictive — decks must be exactly 60 cards and can only contain certain kinds of cards, and must contain other kinds;
  • Love the large artwork. Much more of a Tarot feel to the game.

Who knows if it’s any good? It’s a shame that the game was cancelled so quickly, but it was probably inevitable. I think it probably could be “better than MtG”, but we’ll never know. For now I’m happy to have a cheap copy. Hopefully some of the cards will have art by Barker himself.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Spot the difference

Some more ink comparisons. First, a couple more diamine inks:

Midnight

Diamine Midnight

DeepDarkBlue

Cult Pens Deep Dark Blue

Midnight sq Ddb sq

 

I did this because when I tried a freebie cartridge of Midnight my first impression was it’s exactly the same ink as the Cult Pens Blue — but side by side the latter is darker. Still, the hue is similar:

Blue Chrom

Both blues appear to be a fairly “true blue” with no green or red leanings, though from the chromatograms (Deep Dark Blue on the bottom) they have a grey undertone. I don’t know if the separation with the bottom ink is better because of the ink or because I put too much on the top sample.

Next, some turquoise:

Lamy Turquoise

Lamy Turquoise

SSB

Waterman South Seas Blue

Lamy sq SSB sq

 

Mostly I like turquoise for annotation with a very fine nib, and the lamy turquoise is a bit too light for writing with a fat nib. I’d choose the SSB for all-round use although Waterman changed the name to Inspired Blue and I’m not 100% the inks are exactly the same. Some say it’s just marketing, others suggest there may be a difference. I got a genuine NOS bottle of SSB because it was cheap and I like the old label better than the new with its French name (Encre Bleu des Mers du Sud).

So, two sets of two inks, very similar. Just like the greys and the reds most people are unlikely to care about the differences. I’ve also heard people say that of all the colours turquoise is the most similar between brands. It’s just… turquoise. You either want a nice vibrant blue or you don’t. But whatever you choose I’m pleased to say these are all nice safe inks, flowing and lubricating well with easy clean up. The Diamine colours are very wet, Lamy is a little dry and Waterman is “just right”.

“Defining the OSR”

I’ve seen a few people get quite territorial over the OSR acronym — mostly as a reaction to including modern games that emulate OSR-style play such as Dungeon World and Torchbearer.

There are arguments for inclusion and exclusion, but it’s worth noting that OSR stands for Old School Renaissance and a renaissance is above all a movement. This means that even with the roots of the OSR firmly planted in 70s D&D, this movement can embrace new and innovative ways to play with “old school feel” and up-to-date rules — following a different evolutionary path to D&D 3rd edition and later.1

One problem that’s compounded the OSR is its image as The OSR. Wikipedia presents the OSR as exclusively D&D retroclones, to the exclusion of modern pretenders and also all the other games we played in the 70s and 80s. I’ve found this definition helpful: 

OSR : renewed interest in playing and emulating games from the early days of the hobby

The OSR : a marketing umbrella term for clones of Original D&D.

(this definition has been borrowed and adapted from this fellow. Take it with a pinch of salt, he is a pirate.)

Now, this may sound like a complaint — that The OSR is somehow getting in the way of many other worthy candidates for their own old-school revival. Nothing gets nearly as much attention as D&D and its clones, despite clones of contemporaries in the works (OpenQuest, Zweihander, probably clones of Gamma World and similar games, too). But I don’t have much of a problem with that; I’m sure these games will continue to have their fans and quietly do their thing — and maybe they’re better off differentiating themselves in a market saturated with D&D me-too games.

And most importantly, without The OSR there would probably be no OSR. Yes, people like me would continue to blog about games from their youth, but it would be pure nostalgia, not progress. I happen to think that a lot of the things that the OSR delivers is progressive, even when looking back to games as old as I am.

One subtle property of the OSR is avoiding reinventing procedure, analysing the end product and matching it to player expectations and overall game feel. I have enough “new” games to last my lifetime, but there’s always room for discussion on how to revise and improve the existing product. I’m thinking about LotFP‘s encumbrance rules, Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel and spell fumbles2, and similar innovations.

Some of the other qualities the OSR brings to light include:

  • mission focused games
  • location based games
    • with incumbent resource management (dungeon exploration, etc)
    • the infamous “sandbox”
  • player-GM adversity (I don’t mean outright GM-trying-to-kill-the-party adversity, but rather a strong focus on challenge and consequence of failure)
  • a strong focus on what the game provides based on the mechanics it provides

<

p>None of these are new ideas — but I think a lot of flabby, incoherent games could benefit from some introspection based on the above and pruning out the bits that don’t really serve a purpose.3

The OSR is not (just) a nostalgia trip. It’s not a bunch of reactionaries refusing to embrace the modern on principle. It’s not hipsters gaming ironically. It’s not just D&D, and it’s not just marketing. It is an opportunity for debate on what really works in games and delivering a lean, coherent product. And on that note I think Ron Edwards actually has a point when he describes OSR as “the Forge with vision”.


  1. I have never owned any version of AD&D, and only played a bit of 1e AD&D, so I’m not sure what the main evolution is. I can hazard a guess given what I know of D&D4e — feats, healing surges, attempts to emulate World of Warcraft. That’s about all I know.

  2. I also refrained so far from actually buying DCC, so my knowledge is secondhand. I’m not sure if it harks back to D&D 3e or an earlier edition, but from the size of the book I guess it’s a medium weight system. It looks gorgeous, though.

3. I guess the generic and all-encompassing toolkit has its place for a lot of people, but if I want a properly generic system I’d pick something minimalist.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Two Blues

Last comparison. This is the same ink, from the same bottle (Diamine China Blue):

ChinaBlueFresh script ChinaBlueAged script
ChinaBlueFresh sq ChinaBlueAged sq

 

The one on the left is dry, but recently written. The one on the left has been sitting for 24 hours. Granted, the white balance is different in the two scans (no idea why, they were done back to back on the same settings) but trust me, the colour does change from a fairly bright true blue to a nice milky blue. Not great for writing notes as the contrast goes down, but looks pleasant nonetheless.

Three Colours Red

While I’m comparing inks, how about some red:

 

Reds

Diamine Red Dragon

Diamine Oxblood

Visconti Red (cartridge)

 

Reds as Document

(scanned with wrong settings)

 

 

 

Here’s an example of two scans, and neither doing the images justice. The one on the left is truer to the daylight colours, but the one on the right shows a better representation of how Oxblood should look – a dirty black red like dried blood. The closeups of the square are a bit better:

Red dragon square Diamine Red Dragon Oxblood square Diamine Oxblood Visconti Square Visconti Red

 

Even then, those scans have been written with a fairly narrow nib. Oxblood is a rich, dark colour that dries like blood. It needs a fat nib, like my Lamy oblique broad:

Oxblood1

Oxblood2

Oxblood 3

Nice, eh? This colour is very popular, flows really well and is also easy to clean up.

Four Shades of Grey

Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids came earlier in my reading than Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, but if I had to pick a name for a new shade of black ink I’d choose fuligin.

There are inks that claim to be the blackest. Are any of them truly black? Well, not in my collection. Black is funny stuff — it can shade to the blue, or the green, or the brown or red. This is why you have to be careful when mixing inks on your own, because more often than not the result will be “kinda brownish” (a la multicoloured reflec armour in Paranoia) due to interactions of the undertones in different components.1

If you go for those minutiae, black and grey inks are interesting. Since the ageing goth in me would rather use black than blue for business (and shading towards green), I care about those details. I scanned four inks:

  • Pelikan Edelstein Onyx (my only black)
  • Diamine Graphite
  • Diamine Grey
  • Montblanc Oyster Grey

EdelsteinGraphiteDiamine GreyOyster Grey

I’ve tried to show them in order of dark to light, but it’s not easy to compare. Also inks behave differently in different pens, and the Parker 51 was writing a bit dry (I later cleaned it extensively — there must have been some ink clogs because it’s wetter now).

Edelstein square

Edelstein Onyx

Graphite square

Diamine Graphite

Grey square

Diamine Grey

Oyster square

Montblanc Oyster Grey

<

p>Both the Diamine and Montblanc greys are a bit dry; the other two feel lovely to write with, lubricate well and flow nicely. Much as I like the Montblanc for colour and funky bottle, it’s more than twice the price of the Diamine inks. The Graphite stands out for colour, although the greys will look better on cream paper. They all have a fair amount of water resistance, but the Graphite is really obviously green when wet.


  1. I learned a lesson that just mixing in “a bit of black” can cause problems due to blacks interacting with each other. In my case, some skrip black I used to darken a mixture with some Onyx and some brown caused precipitation — which I only noticed after having used a pen for a while. Took a lot of soaking and flushing to make the pen write properly again.