Introducing the Year of Advent: 52 Weeks of Trial and Error

It’s January. January means many things- the beginning of a new year, the end of a holiday season, a time to reflect on the past, and a time to consider aspirations and ideas for the upcoming 12 months. So far, this week has been a mix of all of those things, but it has also signified another particular event for me this year.

The end of advent calendars.

I’ve always enjoyed advent calendars, but admittedly probably went a little overboard this time around.

Advent calendar extravaganza above brought to you by my empty wallet and:  CW Pencils ,  Pipsticks , The PenAddict Slack Invent Swap, and  David’s Tea

Advent calendar extravaganza above brought to you by my empty wallet and: CW Pencils, Pipsticks, The PenAddict Slack Invent Swap, and David’s Tea

All of this “adventing” had me thinking a lot about the concept of advent, but it also got me thinking a lot about my approach to life over the last year.

The word advent has a history in traditions of faith, and comes from the Latin word “coming.” Advent season is traditionally the four weeks before Christmas, and serves as a time of expectancy, watching, and preparing for the arrival of Christmas.

The advent calendar finds its origins in the newsprint industry, where a German newspaper included an advent calendar counting down the days to Christmas with cardboard photos hidden behind little paper doors as a gift to its readers.

I noticed a few things about myself during the month-long advent extravaganza. I tried alot of new things. I didn’t get through every ink, sticker, pencil, and tea- but I certainly tried more new things in December than I had tried all year. Trying something new every day became a sort of daily habit, and there was something refreshing about that habit. I joked one day that should take all the stationery in my collection and make myself a year-long advent calendar. It was a joke at the time, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. That specific set up would be a little too restricting and time-consuming- but the mindset is something I haven’t stopped thinking about since.

The last year has been an interesting one for me in a lot of ways. Many things from 2018 will surely bleed over into these 2019 Year of Advent posts, but here’s just enough background to give you context.

The scariest thing I did all year: I went way in over my head professionally licensed a pharmacy from the ground up and launched a brand new investigational drug service at my hospital.

Why yes, that is a coloring wall in my pharmacy.

Why yes, that is a coloring wall in my pharmacy.

The most frustrating part of my year: That major professional project put me way behind on (everything, but especially) another significant goal still stuck to my back like the heaviest of backpacks- my dissertation for my PhD. This year IS the finishing year.

Time to get writing.

Time to get writing.

One of my favorite things I did this year: I attended more pen shows than ever from DC to Denver,  helping out at the infamous NibSmith at several shows, and traveling to Toronto for the second year in a row. Lisa Anderson even dubbed me a “pen show roadie” so I’m going to call that official. :) There is so much to say about these shows, and I plan to continue to hit the pen show circuit as much as I can in 2019. You can bet that will make it into the advent calendar. For now here are a few photos from this year’s adventures. ❤️🖋

Overall, 2019 was an extreme version of a default pattern I’ve learned about myself. I do a lot of “doing.” I don’t think that’s an uncommon default in today's culture-not by a long shot. Doing isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But sometimes the overwhelm of busyness keeps me from trying new things and from meaningful progress. And even more ironic, sometimes the more I do, the less growth I feel even within the progress I do make.

In all my thinking about advent and trying new things, I started researching the process of trial and error and experiential learning in general, and the cycle itself was even more revealing.


I realized I spend a majority of my entire life on the left side of this cycle.

Do it. Now what? Do it. Now what?

This applies to many areas of my life; my work habits, my information consumption habits, my social media habits, and even my purchasing habits. It strikes me how little time I have spent reflecting on what I do and attributing meaning to my actions. I think those missing pieces are one of the primary drivers of the dichotomy between doing so much and feeling so little progress.

So here’s to an entire year of advent.


The kind of advent that goes deeper than just doing, and is more than simply trying new things.


The kind of advent that takes time to notice what’s working, and is brave enough to face the things that are not. 


The kind of advent that celebrates progress no matter how small, and strategically selects next steps based on that progress.


Re-launching the blog seemed like the perfect place to document the year ahead and dialogue with others about these ideas for two specific reasons. 

1) This year of advent will undoubtedly include trying new stationery. However, I also hope this year I can also explore things on a different level, sharing ways I attempt to utilize stationery on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes fail. In particular, I want to think more deeply about when and why I use analog tools versus when and why I use technology and trial and error new ways of doing things across both domains. 

2) Stationery will likely also serve a significant role in implementing the “What?” and “So what?” side of the trial and error cycle. Paper has a way of slowing people down. I’m not very good at that. You can expect posts focused on new experiences, reflections, conceptualizations, and experiments. Sometimes stationery will be the end and sometimes stationery will be the means to the end. Sometimes stationery might even lead to a dead end. #PlotTwist


Happy new year everybody! 

 "Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress." ~ Bruce Barton

Experiment 22: An Inter-review of Baron Fig's Raspberry Honey Notebook

Earlier this week, Baron Fig released a new limited edition notebook. There are many things that I instantly loved about this release: the debossed cover, the color choices, and the illustrated inner covers and box to name a few. But what honestly excited me most was that Baron Fig had chosen to do another artist collaboration. I really value it when companies choose to partner with makers to release this type of product. First of all, it gives me a chance to learn about and connect with new individuals doing great work and making cool things. Secondly, I love to see art and ideas paired with product design in a way that moves beyond marketing and embodies a life of its own. As I read through the short story that was included with the notebook, I was curious about the processes Geoff Gouveia used to write and illustrate for the project. I decided to reach out to him to see if we would answer a few questions for the blog. He was kind enough to agree, and so I present to you the interview portion of this inter-review:


You have a very distinct illustration and writing style. What have been your primary sources of inspiration over the years, and how has your style evolved over time?

My style is a whimsical mix of Shel Silverstein characters and Van Gogh’s color sense. I’ve been drawn to clear styles throughout the years and actively sought to create my own. What I’ve found is that it’s a continual process, one that is ongoing for as long as I create.

Tell us about your process for writing the short story and creating the illustrations for the Raspberry Honey notebook. What was your starting point? Which came first the illustrations or the story?

Baron Fig approached me to do a collaboration after we worked together on a different small project (A canvas piece/book board project where we went around the city asking the question: what would you do if you could not fail?). They wanted me to illustrate something for the packaging and the inside cover but I pitched back the idea of using a short story I had recently written to be the basis for the edition. The story had natural imagery that leant itself towards my cheeky illustration style and I thought it would be something that a company like Baron Fig would never have considered. They liked the idea and we began rolling.


Where do you come up with your names for your short stories? Are Yuri McLevell, Briarton, and Steffonn Yungbum modeled after real people and places? Have you ever tried raspberry-flavored honey?

The names in a story like this make me laugh. I can’t point to a particular reason why but the stranger the name the more I’ll like it. We all have people in our life that quench our dreams – those are our Steffon Yungbums. As for the trying of raspberry honey, I honestly thought I was writing about something fictional. I was pretty bummed it was an actual thing (I’ve written about 4 unpublished short stories with weird fruit combinations at the core.).

Talk to us about how digital and analog tools intersect in your work. How much of your writing and illustration processes are done on paper vs. on a computer?

Everything starts in my sketchbook. I’ve been exclusively using Baron Fig’s blank sketchbooks for about 2 years now. Close to zero percent of my writing is analog now, though I did get my start using notebooks as a journal. That flipped in 2010 when I realized I enjoyed typing more than writing and began to use the new space for images. All of my illustrations begin in the real world and then I touch them up in Photoshop. I’ve been illustrating more and more work with a digital tablet but nothing beats the mistakes a real sketchbook gives you. I say mistakes because the best aspects of an illustration are the imperfections. A machine is built to edit that out so working digitally takes me longer because I have to put the imperfections in myself.


What are some of your favorite analog tools?

I use ballpoint pen to sketch. I used to use pencil but I started erasing too much. It’s better to use something permanent as a record of what you’ve done before- like drafts on a short story. It’s great to look back through the thousands of sketchbook pages over the years and see how those mistakes and old ways of doing things shift over time.


You can find Geoff at his website, on Instagram, and on Twitter. Now that I've been made aware of his work, I look forward to following along and supporting! Thanks again to him for taking the time to dig into a little of the backstory with me!

As for the review portion of this inter-review, there's really nothing I can think of that I don't like about this release. I absolutely love the style of Geoff's illustrations and that the short story added an experiential component to the theme. There's something about a notebook that already has art within it that makes me want to write in it, and I started mine almost as soon as I received it. This edition is the perfect companion for curling up with hot tea and a book, so I decided to finally start the reading/ reflecting journal I've been meaning to begin.

In the past, I have heard others describe the Baron Fig paper as less than fountain pen friendly, but I find the opposite to be true. Sometimes I enjoy writing on smoother paper like Rhodia with ink, but there's something to be said for writing with pen and ink on a paper with a little more tooth. The M400 pictured below has a sweet architect grind by Dan Smith, and it's a fairly wet writer. Still, there no feathering or bleed through and very little show through on this paper. The shading of the ink is also particularly evident. You can see how this edition holds up to a variety of different writing instruments over at From the Pen Cup. It's hard to find a paper where I truly enjoy using both graphite and ink, but this one of those papers for me.


One of my favorite pen/ ink matchups is my Pelikan M400 with KWZ Honey ink, and I think I now have the perfect notebook to complete my writing trio. That trio inspired me to come up with a few more stationary pairings for the Rasberry Honey: 

Suggested Match-ups: 

Fountain Pen: Pelikan M400 Tortoise Brown

Ink: KWZ Honey Ink

Non-fountain Pen: Pilot Vision Elite BLX

Pencils: Viking Skjoldungen 400 or Rasberry Honey Hackwing (Blackwing 444+ 602 ferrule + brown eraser from Blackwing 211)

Other: Harney and Sons Rasberry Herbal Tea 


You can learn more about the edition and get a copy here. Thanks to Baron Fig for providing me this notebook for review.

Experiment 21: Beginner's Calligraphy with the Desiderata Icarus

A few weeks before the Chicago pen show this year, I stumbled on the Instagram for The Desiderata Pen Company. The examples of calligraphy intrigued me, and as I read more closely, I realized the pens were dip nibs housed in a fountain pen type body. I had not previously heard of this possibility, but seeing that Pierre was from Chicago, I was hoping he would be at the show. 

It turns out, Pierre was at the show, and I got a chance to see his pens up close and chat with him Saturday morning of the show. It only took about five minutes of consideration after that conversation to decide to take a Desiderata pen home with me. I admittedly didn't know exactly what I was getting myself into. I did know that 1) I had an interest in learning more about calligraphy, 2) the Icarus pen was a beautiful hand crafted ebonite pen, and 3) I enjoyed writing with flex nibs, but was a little scared to do any serious calligraphy practice or to learn with vintage nibs.


After taking Pierre's recommendation to read the User Manual carefully, I inked the Icarus up immediately in the hotel that night. At first, I was a little intimidated by the manual and the filling mechanism of the pen. However, after I got used to the pen, I can honestly say there was nothing to be intimidated by. The filling mechanism worked great and was easy to use once I watched Pierre's videos and tried it myself a few times.


The replaceable G nib utilized in this pen is one of the biggest selling points for me. I never have to be concerned about breaking or ruining the nib in my practice, since the nib can be easily and cheaply replaced.   

What I didn't realize when I purchased the pen was that the replaceable nib meant that it was more susceptible to ink; meaning that it was recommended that you clean it after each use if you wanted to maximize the lifespan of the nib. I've tried several different cleaning regimens for the pen. At first, I cleaned it after every couple of uses (keeping in mind I was using it every day), and I did accidentally leave the pen inked for about two-three weeks once. The pen was fine, but the nib and feed were stuck pretty tightly with the dried ink, and of course, the nib needed to be replaced at that point. In general, I now prefer to clean the pen after each session. It's not difficult to clean, and I usually end up going through most of the ink capacity in a long practice session anyway. I like starting fresh, and I get the longest lifespan from my nibs using this method.

In that way, this pen is very different than my other fountain pens. I don't usually carry this pen to work or in my daily carry. This pen stays in my office, where I pull it out at least a few times a week to ink it up, practice my calligraphy, and then clean it and put it away. In-between sessions, it is a good looking addition to my desk. Even if this pen had a regular nib instead of the Zebra G nib, I would love it- although for different reasons. The ebonite body is both beautiful and a real joy to use in hand.


For me, this pen is the perfect tool to use as I learn calligraphy. It allows me to get the real pointed pen experience in a more comfortable and portable method than a dip pen. I sometimes practice calligraphy at the kitchen table, or even on the couch in front of a movie. This just wouldn't be feasible with a dip pen set up. I also love that I can use the regular fountain pen inks I already have instead of buying specialized ink for my calligraphy practice. This gives me another great way to utilize my vast collection of ink, and it gives me a huge variety of colors and inks to use in my calligraphy.


Regarding performance, I personally also find this set up easier to use and learn than dip pens. The feed keeps up with the ink flow nearly flawlessly, and I rarely have problems with skipping or railroading once I get the pen started. The Zebra G nib is particularly fun to use with sheening (Robert Oster Fire and Ice) and shading (Sailor Apricot) inks.

Writing sample with Sailor Sky High Ink.

Writing sample with Sailor Sky High Ink.

I enjoy using my Icarus pen, and if you are just getting started in calligraphy or if you are interested in trying a flex pen for writing or drawing I would recommend a Desiderata pen. Even more so, if you ever get a chance to meet Pierre in person, you should do it. He is kind, entertaining, and passionate about his work. I have also been testing out one of his new prototypes over the last few weeks, and if that prototype is any indication of where Desiderata is heading- I would keep an eye out on his website.