Birmingham Pen Company Hydrangea

It’s late hydrangea season, which means there’s no better time to review Birmingham Pen Company’s Hydrangea ink. Here are some actual hydrangea bushes from my front yard in June, then August:

They changed to a dusky pink, except for the two pink flowers.

These flowers can change every year depending on your soil acidity and the weather. This year happened to be an exceptional bloom for the bushes in my yard, and the flowers have a nice gradient. Hydrangeas have a special place in my heart because they change with each bloom, and they can even change throughout the season. My mother liked to keep dried hydrangeas in a vase, and their dark purpley grey color reminds me of this Birmingham ink.

The Birmingham Pen Company is located in Western Pennsylvania, and endearingly call themselves “a tiny pen and ink manufacturer”. They make beautiful fountain pens in small batches, and have started manufacturing their own ink in 2021. Starting in 2018, they sold ink that was made in Europe and bottled by hand in Pennsylvania. In January of 2021, they decided to make their own ink. The Well Appointed Desk published an interview with BPC about this transition, which you can read here. The Birmingham name comes from the area of Pittsburg where BPC was originally located. That area of Pittsburg is called “Little Birmingham” after the city in England, because of all the manufacturing done there. Birmingham, England used to produce pens and nibs, which is a nice piece of trivia.

A swatch of Hydrangea next to its chromatography strip.

BPC’s Hydrangea is purple with some blue tones and a hint of pink shading. If you look closely at the June hydrangea photo, there are some purple flowers that match the color of this ink. The chromatography was not surprising. You can’t see in the above photo, but there is a light strip of black where I swabbed the ink, then it spread out to a light pink, then blue. I took a photo of Hydrangea next to some other purple inks that I have swabs of, and it’s kind of a cross between Sailor Manyo Nekoyanagi and Sailor Ink Studio #150.

Hydrangea has a lot more pink than in this photo, but I couldn’t color correct without throwing off the other inks.

Hydrangea is made with BPC’s Crisp formula, which means that it will perform well on most papers regardless of quality. Birmingham has been prolific this year with their ink output, and they’ve quickly become one of my favorite ink brands. They have several different glass bottle sizes (from 30ml to 120ml), so if there’s an ink that you really like you can get a large bottle of it.

I have Hydrangea in a Pilot E95s with a juicy medium nib, and they work well together. The ink flows smoothly and consistently, and has lovely shading on the right paper. To test the claims of the Crisp formula, I tested Hydrangea on Field Notes 70#, Doane, Nock, Apica Premium, and Tomoe River:

On Apica and Tomoe River, Hydrangea dried within 15 seconds. On Nock, Doane, and Field Notes Hydrangea dried within 5 seconds. As with most inks, you’re gonna get better shading on paper like Apica and Tomoe River. Hydrangea did quite well on Nock and Doane, and there was no feathering on either paper. On Nock, there was no bleed-through, but there was some on Doane. On Field Notes, there was considerable feathering and bleed-through onto the back of the page. Hydrangea (or any Crisp formula ink) is good to have if you frequently find yourself using a variety of paper. Since this ink dries pretty fast even out of a wet nib, it’s good for lefties. I purchased a 60 mL bottle of Hydrangea for $16 USD, and you can too here.

The Noodler’s Cinematic Universe: Six Degrees of Baystate Blue

What do Baystate Blue, Bambi, kittens, and Smokey Bear have in common? Let’s find out!

The most infamous Noodler’s ink is Baystate Blue. It’s so infamous that it has its own Reddit user account. BSB is an intensely saturated ink that will stain whatever pen you put it in, and is water and forgery resistant. This ink has a higher pH level than other modern inks, and can only be mixed with other Baystate inks. I wondered why an ink like BSB exists, so I did some research and found that Baystate Blue is a recreation of a particular Carter’s ink from the 1940’s.

it’s so blue
Photo from munsonpens.wordpress.com

Carter’s Ink was based in Boston and was, at one point, the biggest ink manufacturer in the world. Starting in fall of 1941, Carter’s made an ink called American Blue. In the spirit of patriotism, American Blue was based on inks used in Colonial times. It was a vibrant blue, and the bottle had an eagle on the label. An ad for American Blue touts the oval shaped bottle as “streamlined” and “packaged in the mood of the times”. I’m guessing that the streamlining of the bottle has something to do with the lingering economic effects of the Great Depression. Perhaps the oval bottles used less glass but could hold the same amount of ink as their other bottles. Carter’s regular bottles were cube shaped like modern Sailor bottles, and had really neat labels:

Why can’t we have ink bottles like this now? Photo from munsonpens.wordpress.com

The link above is to a post on Munson Pens called “The Story That Your Ink Bottle Tells”, which takes a look at a promotional book for Carter’s of the same name. This post also looks at Carter’s ads and bottles. A Carter’s ad not included in that post is this one:

Kittens! This ad is from 1944, but there are several kittens ads dating back to 1943.

Carter’s kittens, because these inks are gentle as a kitten. This is a great ad, and the art was done by Albert Staehle. He did many advertising illustrations, as well as some Saturday Evening Post covers and some work for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Federal Art Program. He is most known for art of various animals including dogs and Elsie the cow for Borden’s Milk.

In August of 1942 Disney released its masterpiece of animation, Bambi. It’s the story of a young deer growing up in the forest. During World War Two, the U.S Forest Service started using wildfire prevention campaigns as a form of propaganda. There were less men around to fight wildfires, and the government was actually concerned that the Axis powers would use wildfire as a mainland attack strategy. Because of Bambi’s hard-hitting message of conservation, Disney allowed for Bambi-inspired characters to be used in a 1943-44 Forest Service fire prevention ad for one year.

Around the same time as the above ad, the Forest Service ran a handful of fire prevention posters by WPA artists. The poster below was created by Albert Staehle, and seems Bambi-inspired as well. In 1944, the Forest Service needed a new animal mascot for when their license expired, so they asked Staehle to design a mascot. He created Smokey Bear, the American icon of the forest.

Poster from pre-August 1944 by Albert Staehle.
Smokey was born on August 9th, 1944.

If Bambi has a similar look to these WPA style posters, that’s because the look of the film was designed by a different WPA artist named Tyrus Wong. Wong’s art style was inspired by Chinese art from the Song dynasty. Bambi has a pretty naturalistic color palette, so I wasn’t sure if an intense blue like BSB could be found in the film, but it is:

The first frame is from a stylized fight scene, and is the closest shade to Baystate Blue. At the top of the second frame in the right hand corner, and in some spots in the stream, you can see BSB as well in its lighter shades. Bambi has lots of blue, but it’s either a darker blue or more of a blue-green.

Above are two of Wong’s works. On the right is a mural titled Dragon Chasing Pearl from 1941. This mural was for the Federal Art Program for a bank in Los Angeles. You can see shades of Baystate Blue on the dragon and in the clouds. On the left is concept art for Bambi, and you can see some BSB in the bottom right hand corner.

Baystate Blue writes silky smooth. I put this ink in a J. Herbin rollerball to test it out, and it’s actually a very nice rollerball ink. The Herbin rollerball needs a wet, lubricated ink to make writing with it at all pleasurable, and BSB does the job. I used a blunt-tipped syringe to fill an empty cartridge. I can normally do this without making a mess but this time I overfilled the cartridge and got ink on my fingers.

I also put Baystate Blue in a Kaweco Perkeo, which offers a much better writing experience than the Herbin rollerball. The tops of my hands are now dotted with blue ink, but I know it’ll come off with a lot of washing. The color of this ink reminds me of the bright blue ink that’s in Stabilo rollerballs, and is definitely unique among fountain pen inks. While I enjoyed using Baystate Blue, I most likely won’t purchase a whole bottle of it because of the staining issues.

The Noodler’s Cinematic Universe: Noodler’s Lermontov

You’ve heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now get ready for the Noodler’s Cinematic Universe (NCU). Nathan Tardif is a salty New Englander who makes inks that are as wet as a Nor’Easter and shade like a Cape Cod sunset. Tardif uses all kinds of historical and political references for his ink names and ink series, such as the Russian writers inks from a few years back. The references are so vast that Tardif has created an aura around each ink that’s filled with lore. Why does this ink have this name? Why this color? What do they know? Each ink has a story, and each story may or may not have a parallel in movies.

The first ink in the NCU is Lermontov. Lermontov is a blue-grey shading ink that is named after Mikhail Lermontov, a nineteenth century Russian romantic poet. Reading about him on Wikipedia, some of the themes from his work reminded me of Boris Lermontov, a character from the 1948 movie The Red Shoes. In this movie, there is a lot of the same shade of blue-grey that is Noodler’s Lermontov.

Mikhail Lermontov was a poet who has been said to be the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism. He only lived to be 26 years old, but had a prolific career before dying in a duel. His early works are romantic, and his later works are realist. There seems to be a theme throughout his personal life of suppressing any romantic urges out of fear of getting burned. In his working life, he also suppressed his romantic and fantastic urges in order to master his craft. Lermontov’s novel, A Hero of Our Time, has a self-destructive protagonist who keeps hurting those around him because he feels that he’s fated to act this way. As his life goes on, the protagonist grows more and more dissatisfied with his actions but hides his emotional turmoil from other people.

The Red Shoes is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, but takes place in the world of ballet. It’s about the conflict between artistic passion and the human condition. Boris Lermontov is the director of a ballet company in London whose passion and determination are so great that he doesn’t have room for emotions. He takes a ballerina named Victoria Page into his company, and wants to develop her into a prima ballerina. Here is a trailer:

Victoria is an excellent dancer who equates her desire to dance with her desire to live. Victoria proves herself as a dancer and rises through the ranks until the lead ballerina leaves to get married. Lermontov is angry and says: “You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.” When a coworker tells Lermontov that he can’t alter human nature, he retorts that you can just ignore it. The subtext here is that Lermontov is repressing his own homosexuality. His only gratification is through controlling the ballet, and controlling people. Victoria becomes lead ballerina when Lermontov begins a production of the ballet of The Red Shoes. During rehearsal for the show, Victoria falls in love with the conductor for the ballet, Julian Craster. The show is magnificent, and the story of the ballet foreshadows the rest of the movie. For a scene of Lermontov describing the story, watch this video:

The relevant dialogue starts at 0:41.

The similarities between Boris Lermontov and Mikhail Lermontov and his work seem purposeful and uncanny, but what does this have to do with ink color? Here are two swatches of Noodler’s Lermontov:

This ink shades quite a bit, from navy to blue-grey. On Tomoe River, Lermontov sinks into the paper but still shades. Even with normal writing, the show-through is pretty bad with bleed-through to the back of the page in some spots. On Rhodia with a flex nib, it feathers quite a bit. It’s a wet ink that flows well out of most pens, but won’t dry quickly.

Take a look at the above photos, then look at all these screenshots where this blue appears in The Red Shoes:

I don’t know if the blue in this movie is why Nathan Tardif made Lermontov the color that it is, but the shades are pretty darn similar. I like this ink, and this exercise helped me like it even more. If you like this movie/ink crossover, let me know.

A Lesson on Ink Hygiene

Back in December, I needed to refill a pen that had run out of ink. The ink (Diamine Wild Strawberry) had been in my pen (a Pilot Legno) for about three months. The nib had some ink dried on it, as well as the feed. I figured that since I was just refilling the pen that I didn’t need to clean it before dipping it in the ink bottle. Two months later, I would find out that I was wrong. Don’t leave dried ink on your nibs kids!

When I was making my chromatography, I decided to get out Wild Strawberry for my next strip. I shook the bottle a bit so that the ink would be mixed. I noticed some solid particles at the bottom of the bottle as well as some kind of floating mass, so I opened the bottle to smell the ink. It smelled like straight mold, but I did the chromatography anyway for some reason. I ended up throwing away the bottle, the chromatography strip, and the pen cleaning towel that the strip was drying on. I thoroughly cleaned the chopsticks, the bag clips, the glass of water, and the pen that had Wild Strawberry in it. My girlfriend and I then went though and smelled every bottle of ink that we own to see if there were any other moldy bottles, and threw away too many bottles. Besides Diamine Wild Strawberry, other effected bottles were: Diamine Polar Glow, Colorverse Extra Dimension, Organics Studio Copper Turquoise, Noodlers American Aristocracy, Lamy Benitoite, Herbin Emeraude de Chivor, and TWSBI Midnight Blue. I learned that many Noodlers Inks smell like almonds, and that all Iroshizuku inks smell like nothing and have great mold protection.

From now on, I won’t be dipping a nib into an ink bottle unless it’s been cleaned. If a piston or vacuum filler pen hasn’t been inked up for very long and it needs to be refilled, I will decant ink into a small jar and refill from there. For cartridge converter pens, I’ll fill the converter with a clean syringe. Eyedroppers are already easy to maintain, but I will pay more attention to making sure that the inside of the eyedropper bulb is clean and dry. If there’s a lot of ink left in a pen and I want to change colors or just clean the pen and put it away, I’ll dump the ink in a sample bottle or tiny jar.

This incident has helped me further appreciate pens and converters that can be easily and completely disassembled. If you stick a pencil (eraser side in) to a TWSBI cap and turn it counterclockwise, you can remove the inner cap and clean any ink out. I wish that Pilot would bring back the Con-50, because those can actually be taken apart without hassle. A Pilot nib and feed can be removed very easily after you’ve done it once. Any feed with a little indent for the nib makes it easier to remove without risk of damaging the nib. Most Pilot feeds are like this, as well as Kaweco. The Lamy nibs just slide onto the feed, but the feed needs to be reinserted just right or it gets stuck in the section.

I’ve now replaced the bottle of Wild Strawberry as well as Polar Glow. We already had a bottle of Extra Dimension that hadn’t been opened to save for later when the original bottle ran out. I feel ashamed about the pen practices (especially early on) that led to so much wasted ink, but the only thing to do is learn from any mistakes and be mindful of potential biohazards.

Fun With Chromatography

After watching some videos by Inky Rocks on YouTube, I really wanted to try doing some chromatography. Chromatography is “the separation of a mixture or solution through a medium in which the components move at different rates.” The medium in this case is water, and the mixture is fountain pen ink. There is special paper available for this on amazon and other sites where scientific equipment is sold, but I already had a bulk box of industrial grade paper towels. The special paper might yield richer results, but the paper towels work pretty darn well. I might try some tests with more absorbent bounty paper towels to see if there’s a difference.

My setup. In the foreground is Robert Oster Fire & Ice, and in the background is Diamine Wild Strawberry.

I cut up the paper towels into strips, swabbed a line of ink at the bottom with a q-tip, and let the towel soak until the ink reached the top. It’s very fun to see what your favorite inks are made of. I dipped the strips by hand at first, but then I clipped them to some plastic chopsticks with bag clips so they could rest on the rim of the glass and be able to soak for a longer period of time. Some inks yielded predictable results while some inks yielded results that blew me away. My favorites so far are Robert Oster Velvet Storm, Colorverse Mariner 4, Diamine Nutcracker, and KWZ Honey.

I was really surprised at how much purple there is in Velvet Storm, since it’s a teal-black ink. The colors separated out so distinctly, and it looks neat. With Mariner 4, the corners of the towel stuck to the side of the glass and ended up separating in a triangular shape. It looks like a purple and blue iceberg. Nutcracker yielded a very nice gradient with a thin line of black at the top. Honey might be my favorite because it looks like some kind of rock formation.

Some results that surprised me were the Sailor Ink Studio dual shading inks. 123, 162, 150, and 224 all look different out of the bottle, but separated in water look very similar. 150 has more a more vibrant pink and purple than the others, and 123 has a more vibrant teal than the others. 224 has the least vibrant results. 162 has a pretty equal amount of teal and purple.

So far only one ink has completely separated out, with a clear white space in between colors, and that’s Iroshizuku Chiku-rin. It’s like blue and yellow polarized each other. I expected there to be some green in this strip, but there isn’t any.

In science class in school, we did chromatography on paper towels with magic markers. I remember being fascinated then, and had a lot of fun making these now. If you have bottles of ink or ink samples, it’s very easy to do chromatography at home with things you might already have. All you need are some paper towels, a glass, some q-tips, and something to hold the paper towel while it soaks up the water.

Yama-Budo by Pilot Iroshizuku

A planner doodle on Tomoe River paper.

Iroshizuku is Pilot’s higher end line of inks that are available in all the colors of the rainbow. The ink that I’ve chosen to write about today is Yama-Budo, a lovely burgundy color. This inks shades from fuchsia to plum, and on certain papers it’ll sheen a nice gold. In the photo above, the sheen looks almost chartreuse.

Yama-Budo is very well behaved, like most Iroshizuku inks. It flows well out of every pen that I’ve tried it in, and isn’t too wet. On this Nock Co. paper that I’m writing on it dries very fast. Also, Yama-Budo doesn’t feather or bleed-through. On absorbent papers like Leuchtturm and Nock, this ink is very lefty compatible, especially with finer nibs. On the Tomoe River paper pictured above there’s some smudging, but once this ink dries it doesn’t lift.

As far as inks on the red/purple spectrum go, Yama-Budo is right in the middle. It’s bright enough to draw attention to notations, and dark enough to use as a regular note taking ink. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and it’s among the handful of Iroshizuku colors that I keep coming back to.

Yama-Budo next to Lamy Beryl and Colorverse Andromeda

Iroshizuku inks come in these nice sturdy glass bottles, with minimalist labeling and a little dip in the bottom to help get all the ink out. Yama-Budo is an old friend that you can call after a long period of time and pick up right where you left off.

If you would like to purchase this ink, please click here. This is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission from the sale. It’s a way to support this blog directly!

Fire and Ice by Robert Oster

Shading and sheening

Finding the perfect pen and ink combination for you can be one of the most gratifying aspects of using a fountain pen.

For this first ink post I’d like to talk about Fire and Ice, a fast drying ink by Robert Oster. Most Robert Oster inks have fast dry times. The only smudging I’ve had from them is with Blue Denim, and that’s from the sheen lifting. Robert Oster has quite a few blue inks that are both similar and very different, but Fire and Ice stands out in the crowd.

Here we have School Blue, Fire and Ice, Blue Denim and Lake of Fire.

On the right paper, Fire and Ice shades and sheens, ranging from a bright blue to a dark turquoise with red sheen. The first pen that I put this ink in was a Pilot Custom 912 with a Waverly nib, and that is a perfect combination for me. Fire and Ice is wet enough that it’ll always flow smoothly, but it dries fast enough that I never smudge. This ink is even wet enough that I can comfortably write with a dry pen like a Lamy Safari, which is what I’m using right now.

The Robert Oster bottles contain 50 ml of ink and are made of recyclable plastic, which is comforting to me for some reason. Last year when I was getting into fountain pens, I watched a Goulet Pens video of stationary recommendations for lefties, and Robert Oster Black Violet was on that list. I purchased a bottle, and that ink is indeed fast drying and lefty friendly. Since then, I’ve accumulated six bottles and many samples, but Fire and Ice is my favorite. If I were to recommend a single ink company for lefties, it would be Robert Oster. It dries fast, they have interesting ink colors, and their bottles are a decent 50 ml for about 15$ USD. This is comparable to Iroshizuku, who’s 50ml glass bottles are about 22$ USD.

On Tomoe River and Nakabayashi papers, dry times were 15 and 10 seconds respectively. On Rhodia and Nock, dry times were 10 seconds and 1 second respectively. With Tomoe River you see the most shading/sheening, but side-writers may want to avoid using this combination except for short notes. For most lefties, I believe that these dry times are long enough that you can write with this ink and not smudge.

I’m not giving such high praise simply because I want to impress the Robert Oster twitter account, I just think they’re really neat.