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An Old Fountain Pen Travels The Pacific Northwest

It is probably difficult for non- fountain pen hobbyist to fathom the common anxiety of choosing the pens to bring with on a road trip. 

A road trip, usually spans a few days to a week or so, ideally visiting a place that we have not been to or haven't visited for decades.

Given that context, those of us who likes to journal, sketch, or both, are faced with the dilemma of which pen(s) -- and ink, and notebook/sketchbook/paper/etc. -- to bring from our collection. Naturally, the more pens we collect, the harder it would be for us to decide. 

I have many fountain pens, most of them are vintage (made in the eras when fountain pens were common household item ca.1880-1960s), which I bought and restored to be usable again today. I even have a website where I find new homes for some of my pens.

The Road Trip

So here is where the chronicle began. Last week my family and I trekked the Pacific Northwest in search of nice Summer weather, hiking trails, and awesome vistas.

So which pen did I bring? Ironically, it took me but a moment to choose one (yes, a single) fountain pen out of my collection, adhering to one principle: Simplicity.

My plan is super simple, one fountain pen, one ink, one sketch a day.

The chosen pen was a vintage Conklin Endura which is almost 90-years old. I bought this pen about a year ago and fell in love not only with the pen itself, but also with the big 14k firm XF nib. This nib gave me the most versatility in my sketches to be as detailed (or not) as it suits the subject.

The chosen ink is a sample vial of Anderillium Cuttlefish Brown. Why in a vial? So I can bring the fountain pen empty and fill it up after I get to the destination. 

TIP: At the airports, TSA Security check don't bother themselves with inks in a vial, tucked inside a backpack.

For the paper, I chose to bring a stack of drawing paper (bought from Daiso) that I cut into postcard -size.

How does this "Simplicity" -based setup perform? Let's get into the sketches.

Sketch #1: Vancouver

As you can see in the photo, the old Conklin is protected by my favorite single-pen case from Franklin Christoph. The small size allows it to securely tuck into one of my small backpack pockets, while providing good protection for the vintage pen.

By the way, vintage pens are not fragile as some people thought. A well-made one conveys substantiality and inspires confidence when you handle it.

This first sketch was inspired by the interesting contrast I saw in the city of Vancouver between the old English house style against the backdrop of towering skyscrapers. Charming and sophisticated at the same time.

Sketch #2: Vantage Point

The next day we spend time at the Stanley Park where we saw the awesome view of the city and the mountains behind it.

A young lady noticed the old lens on my camera and asked about it. I explained that the lens is my favorite from my film-photography days. In my eyes, it creates images that have that old-timey look which I prefer to what we see out of newer ones.

Back to the trip, as this is our first time crossing the US/Canadian border, I got a chuckle at the different terms used to describe the same thing, for example "parkade" for parking garage, or "washroom" for restroom.

On the contrary, the km/h vs mph is not a big deal to me and my wife because we both grew up using the metric system.

PS: Don't mind that other fountain pen on the bottom of the picture, my daughter wanted to visit the Muji shop, and when I saw the bigger version of the Muji pocket pen that I own already, I just have to buy it. That pen wasn't used in this road trip.

Sketch #3: The Lighthouse

My family and I are quite atypical when it comes to being tourists. We tend to enjoy things that are not the most popular, and we like to try seeing things that the locals prefer when they want to avoid touristy places. So instead of going to the famous mountain in Vancouver area, we went to visit a lighthouse. 

But interestingly, even though the lighthouse is visible from the main hiking trail, the best spot to see it was not well-known.

To see it properly, we have to use the other trails. It took my daughter and I a few guesses (looking at the map) to choose the right sequence of trails which leads to the part where the view to the lighthouse is just awesome, and that's what I tried to depict in this sketch.

From this vantage point, the view is beautiful not only towards the lighthouse but also around it where we see the open sea. Coincidentally, a whale-watching tour ship passed by, we waved to the people on the ship, and we all spent some time waving and taking pictures of each other. That was fun!

Sketch #4: The Barn

After spending a few days in Canada, it's time to go back into the US and explore the stateside Pacific Northwest. Interestingly, the US border station seemed to have more business-like and stern officers compared to their Canadian counterpart. So after asking typical questions, the officer gave back our passports with a curt "bye!".

Now, I never associate the Washington state with barns (I spent college years in Iowa, so I have a pretty good idea about barns), but I was pleasantly surprised to see some cool-looking barns on our way to Oregon through the state.
Wait, Oregon? Yep, read on...

Sketch #5: The Falls

The reason that we zoomed past Washington into Oregon is because we'll spend our last leg of the trip in Seattle area with friends who live there. So the next stop is the Portland area, and the hike-able Multnomah Falls.

We decided to go past the touristy lower part and hiked the foot-powered "escalator" 620 feet straight up to the head of the waterfall. 

TIP: If you took the trail following the river (where the fall came out of) upstream, you'll see a beautiful stream dotted with mini waterfalls. These mini ones are the inspiration for the sketch. 

It was so peaceful, plus the gorgeous weather, so we just enjoy the stream for a good while. Then we went back to the head of the fall and saw the water just drop straight down, that, and the tiny ant-sized people at the base of the waterfall.

Sketch #6: The Stacks

Next stop in our adventure is to see the Oregon coastal region where we took the curvy route up and down the mountainous region and it took us right into the serene little town of Cannon Beach. It was cloudy but no hint of rain, and even though there were a lot of people at the beach, it never felt crowded, just the way I liked it.

The "stacks" refer to the big rocks that just kinda jutted out of the sea not too far from the beach. Beautiful and kind of surreal when you are there, looking at them.

The sketch's perspective is from a road that overlooks the houses into the beach.

Sketch #7: The Ledge

We finally arrived back at the Seattle area where we'd spend the rest of the trip hanging out with a few old friends whom we haven't seen in a long while. We hiked up the Rattlesnake Ledge trail (again, a locals' favorite) to breathtaking view -- if you still have some left after the 1.9-mile uphill hike to reach it. But it's absolutely worth it.

Plus, you get to pet some dogs and greet fellow hikers along the way. Overall, for a city-dweller family from a "flatland", we did better than I expected against the "beginner/intermediate" hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest, were we had more time, I'd venture to tackle more challenging ones.

Sketch #8: The Place

We spent the next two days just sightseeing the popular attractions in Seattle. 

I have always liked the Pike's Place sign in Seattle, and I've been itching to sketch it. Therefore it is proper that the 8th and final sketch for this road trip features the public sign.

The place is of course packed with people, lots of stalls selling artworks, handmade pottery, I bought some postcards with sketches from different artists.

Some fish throwing later, and that basically wraps up the sightseeing part of the road trip.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the one pen, one ink setup performed marvelously. By only having one pen, I spent zero time in deciding what to use and when, which translates into more time thinking of the creative aspects of the sketches.

In summary, my message to my fellow fountain pen enthusiasts, journal-jockeys, and ink collectors is this:

Bring one pen on any trips, and sketch/journal away. Don't spend too much time over-analyzing the choices. Just pick one and go.
This approach will allow you to focus on capturing the highlights of the trip. Plan at least one sketch based on the photos you took that day, or sketch in place.

In the end, you'll get a souvenir that is both tangible and memorable.

And for those who love vintage fountain pens. Look at this old workhorse of a pen. With a bit of care and restoration, it sketches like a pro, and it makes the sketches even more memorable, to me if to no one else.


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