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El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

El Rancho Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Writers love pens. And paper products. Those are our tools of the trade. When I was younger, there weren’t that many choices: Sharpies (1964), BICs (1950), and Flairs (1966). I used them all. My current pen of choice for Writing Practice is the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point (1979), in a spectrum of 24 colors. (Since 2007, they come in a 4 inch size with a carabiner clip.)

Sharpies don’t smell as toxic as they did in the 1960’s (though the odor is still noticeable). They aren’t what some would call a fast writing pen. But for me, the rough, porous tip slows down my writing so I can read what’s on the page at the end of a practice.

In grade school, I wrote letters with a Schaeffer fountain pen, complete with robin’s egg stationery. After a thousand years of using quill-pens, the fountain pen was invented in 1884 by an insurance broker named Lewis Edson Waterman. In 1901, at the time of his death, Waterman was selling 1,000 pens every day. In 2008, Schaeffer and Parker dominate the fountain pen market.

What kind of pen do you use? Have you ever used a Ring-Pen? Do you prefer a ballpoint? What about paper products? I can’t walk by an old fashioned stationery store (hard to find) or an art materials store without ducking inside.



     Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Vertical, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Tell me about your tools of the trade. If you are an artist, list all of your materials: canvas, brushes, paints, charcoal, watercolors. Do you use high-end papers like Arches, Canson or Bienfang?

If you are not a writer or an artist, what are the tools of your profession? Are you a cosmetologist, dental tool sharpener (yes, I used to be one), doctor, butcher, baker, ski bum.

Make a detailed list of all the pens, pencils, art materials, drawing papers in your home or studio. Sinclair Lewis was a master list maker. Here are a few random snippets from Main Street (1920):


Dyer’s Drug Store, a corner building of regular and unreal blocks of artificial stone. Inside the store, a greasy marble soda-fountain with an electric lamp of red and green and curdled-yellow mosaic shade. Pawed over heaps of toothbrushes and combs and packages of shaving soap. Shelves of soap-cartons, teething-rings, garden-seeds, and patent medicines in yellow packages — nostrums for consumption, for “women’s diseases” — notorious mixtures of opium and alcohol, in the very shop to which her husband sent patients for the filling of prescriptions.

Howland & Gould’s Grocery. In the display window, black, overripe bananas and lettuce on which a cat was sleeping. Shelves lined with red crepe paper which was now faded and torn and concentrically spotted. Flat against the wall of the second story, the signs of lodges — the Knights of Pythias, the Maccabees, the Woodmen, the Masons.

Axel Egge’s General Store, frequented by Scandinavian farmers. In the shallow dark window-space, heaps of sleazy sateens, badly woven galateas, canvas shoes designed for women with bulging ankles, steel and red glass buttons upon cards with broken edges, a cottony blanket, a granite-ware frying-pan reposing on a sun-faded crepe blouse.



       Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sharpies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



She rose to a radiance of sun on snow. Snug in her furs she trotted up-town. Frosted shingles smoked against a sky colored like flax-blossoms, sleigh-bells clinked, shouts of greeting were loud in the thin, bright air, and everywhere was a rhythmic sound of wood-sawing. It was Saturday, and the neighbors’ sons were getting up the winter fuel. Behind walls of corded wood in back yards their sawbucks stood in depressions scattered with canary-yellow flakes of sawdust. The frames of their buck-saws were cherry-red, the blades blued steel, and the fresh cut ends of the sticks — poplar, maple, iron-wood, birch — were marked with engraved rings of growth. The boys wore shoe-packs, blue flannel shirts with enormous pearl buttons, and mackinaws of crimson, lemon yellow, and foxy brown.

No ones save Axel himself could find anything. A part of the assortment of children’s stockings was under a blanket on a shelf, a part in a tin ginger-snap box, the rest heaped like a nest of black-cotton snakes upon a flour-barrel which was surrounded by brooms, Norwegian Bibles, dried cod or ludfisk, boxes of apricots, and a pair and a half of lumbermen’s rubber-footed boots. The place was crowded with Scandinavian farmwives, standing aloof in shawls and ancient fawn-colored leg o’ mutton jackets awaiting the return of their lords.


    Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Blue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



  • Make a list of all of the tools of your trade.
  • Do a 10 minute Writing Practice after you make your list. Start the practice with What’s in front of me….
  • Be as detailed as you can:  name brand, color, size, shape, smell, memory associations.


How are 21st century tools the same or different than when you were growing up. What are your favorite tools for writing, drawing, gardening, farming, painting, working. Start out with the details of the objects — see where they lead you.



-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, March 26th 2008

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