Monday, October 23, 2017

Fountain Pen Review: Franklin-Christoph Fude Nib

The Franklin-Christoph fude nib
Two-and-a-half years ago, I undertook an epic search for the ideal drawing fountain pen – one that would give me a wide range of line variation and fluidity. Eventually I found my grail: the Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen, a premium pen in Sailor’s specialty line that is worth every penny. (I like it so much, in fact, that a while later when I had heard that Sailor’s specialty nibs were becoming harder and harder to find, I bought a second so that I could always have one in my bag for waterproof ink and one for water-soluble ink.)

The Sailor Naginata fude has been on my Top 10 list every year since I bought my first, and I’ve been so happy with it that I rarely use other pens. Occasionally I’ll ink up one or another pen from my epic search just for variety, but by the next inking I always go back to a Sailor. I don’t feel a need to keep looking for a possibly better nib, and I don’t mind feeling smug about something that serves me well nearly every day.

However, that doesn’t mean I ignore new nibs that appear on my fountain pen radar. Several months ago, something very interesting caught my attention: the Franklin-Christoph fude nib.

Franklin-Christoph model 20 Marietta pen body
with fude nib
This American pen manufacturer wasn’t new to me; in fact, Franklin-Christoph’s music nib was one I considered during my epic search. An appealing feature of F-C’s designs is that most of its pen bodies are compatible with multiple nibs, so if you own one body, you can buy a variety of nibs, and each would be at a price much lower than buying a whole new pen. When I learned about the Georgia company’s specialty fude nib, I realized I could buy it and pop it onto the Model 20 Marietta pen body I already owned – sweet!

There was one catch: The Franklin-Christoph fude nib was being made on a very limited basis; like Sailor’s fude, it is difficult to obtain (though not nearly as elusive as the Sailor, which seems nearly impossible to find now except on the secondary market).

I put my name on the “interested” list. A couple of months later, I happened to be waiting in the TSA line before boarding my flight to the Chicago Urban Sketchers symposium when I received an e-mail informing me that a very limited number was available for purchase. I knew these would be snapped up quickly, so I ordered my fude nib right then and there while standing in line!

I wanted to try the F-C nib mostly out of curiosity but, I admit, also with a bit of skepticism. Up to that point, all the fude (which means brush in Japanese) nibs that I was aware of were made in either Japan or China. This makes sense because the curved or bent nib is designed to mimic the up-and-down fluid brush strokes of Asian calligraphy. Using a fude nib for western writing isn’t ideal (as much as I love drawing with it, I don’t enjoy writing with it). Since this was the first non-Asian-made fude nib I’d heard of, I couldn’t help looking a bit askance. But after giving the F-C a solid two months of testing, I am happy to say that it’s an excellent fude.

Left: Sailor Naginata fude; right: Franklin-Christoph fude
It’s important to point out that, unlike my Sailor Naginata fude, which is made of 21kt gold, the Franklin-Christoph nib is made of steel. F-C’s nib isn’t quite as smooth and fluid as Sailor’s, but it’s not fair to compare an apple with an orange. The Sailor Naginata also has a gentler curve and a rounded tip that impart an exceptional writing and drawing quality. I love it. That said, if I hadn’t been spoiled by that Sailor for more than two years, I’d say the F-C fude is the smoothest I’ve used. It’s far and away smoother than Sailor’s budget-priced steel fude models (which I had used for years before upgrading to the gold version). I’ve also tried a China-made Duke fude that is remarkably smooth for a steel nib, but it leaks, runs dry and is unreliable in other ways.

The Franklin-Christoph was both smooth and completely reliable right out of the box. It has remained so after several inkings with both waterproof (Platinum Carbon Black) and water-soluble inks.

Line variation comparison
But what about the most important part – its line variability? Compared to my Sailor Naginata, the F-C fude’s range is very similar: Reversed, the nib is a bit finer than the reversed Sailor. It’s also wetter than the Sailor, so when I’ve used its broadest angle, I have to remember to allow extra time for the plentiful outlay of ink to dry. It moves effortlessly and fluidly across the page, whether on toothy Stillman & Birn Nova paper or smooth S&B Epsilon.

While I will not be permanently swapping out one of my Sailors for the Franklin-Christoph anytime soon (those Sailor Naginatas will have to pried from my cold, dead fingers), it is more than a worthy stand-in for the elusive Naginata fude de Mannen (which currently has a multi-year wait in the US). In fact, at $55 for the nib (plus $105 to $175 for a body; you’ll need one that fits a No. 6 nib), it’s a fantastic value – a much better value than the premium-priced Sailor unless its golden smoothness is important to you.
10/20/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Every now and then a blog reader who is seeking a Sailor Naginata fude will ask me if I know of a source, and I have to give them the bad news. But now I’m going to suggest that they get a Franklin-Christoph instead of torturing themselves with an indefinite wait for a Sailor. It’s not the same, but it’s pretty dang good.

(All sketches shown here were done with my Franklin-Christoph fude pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink except as noted. I used Field Notes notebooks except as noted. I’ve been doing most of my InkTober sketches with it the past couple weeks, so you’ve seen some of these before.)

8/8/17 Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink, S&B Epsilon paper (from photo)
10/11/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood, S&B Nova
8/8/17 Green Lake neighborhood
10/17/17 Montlake neighborhood


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Green Lake Trees

10/21/17 photo reference (in progress)
This cluster of trees is something I see whenever I walk around Green Lake. The trees form a distinctive group – growing so close together that they look like they might have been a single tree at one point – so they are unusual and memorable. When Suzanne, my graphite drawing instructor, suggested that we bring in our own photos for last week’s lesson on foliage, I knew these trees would make an interesting study.

Although I think I did a fairly good job of making the brightly lit trunks stand out from the background, I’m not as happy with the foliage. The branches in the light don’t seem to come forward enough, but I’m not sure how to fix that. As for shadows, I worked through the full range from 2H all the way up to 4B this time, and I finally stopped – not because I think it’s done but because after about 10 hours of work, I’d had enough of it for the week. I’m hoping Suzanne’s feedback will help me figure out what to do next.

Compared to clouds (which I prefer to imply rather than draw explicitly) and rocky cliffs and shorelines (which I rarely encounter here in the Maple Leaf neighborhood), trees are something I see and sketch regularly. I’m fully motivated to continue learning how to make foliage look more dimensional and tree-like because I think it will help to improve most of my urban sketches. During my first couple years of sketching, trees were such a challenging subject for me that I officially declared them a sketching nemesis. Since trees are (thankfully) unavoidable in the urban landscape, I decided it was easier to face them than run away, and I tried to practice them regularly.

Then, as now, I loved trying to capture the graceful structure of tree trunks and branches (I still enjoy sketching trees more in winter!), but when it came to foliage, I was always stumped. Buildings or other objects made primarily of planes can be shaded on one side to show their three-dimensional structure. Trees, too, face the sun in only one direction, but they are a hundred times harder to show dimensionally. Each leaf casts a shadow in a slightly different direction, and each branch is lighted on top but shaded underneath. The tree as a whole is spherical, cylindrical or conical, not cubic, so the shading moves gradually around it to the unlit side, not at a distinct plane. It’s easy enough to show a tree’s shape silhouetted against the sky, but what about all those foreshortened branches coming toward me? It’s enough to drive a sketcher bananas! 

Still, a few years ago when I first declared trees to be a nemesis, I would not have been able to articulate why they are so friggin’ difficult to draw, and now I am, so I guess I understand more about them now than I did then. Of course, understanding trees and drawing them are not the same.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Graphite and Photo Respite (#InkTober2017 Second Trimester Review)

10/19/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood

I’ve been spending so much time this fall working on homework assignments for my graphite drawing class that it’s seriously cutting into my urban sketching, and that makes me sad. I certainly value the concentrated time I’m devoting to class and its exercises because I’m learning so much, and when I’m motivated to learn, nothing beats extended, ongoing practice to help me internalize a process. But I still miss sketching on location.

10/12/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood
Thankfully, InkTober is taking up a large chunk of this quarter. Initially I was afraid that participating while also taking a class would turn InkTober into another “assignment,” spoiling the fun. Instead, it has become a respite both from time-consuming graphite and especially from photo-reference drawing. After spending hours at my desk diligently putting various graphite pencil grades to paper, it’s a refreshing break to take a short drive in the neighborhood and make a 15-minute sketch of whatever I can see from my car (it’s been raining a lot lately).

Using a fountain pen for InkTober is an interesting contrast in another way. While drawing with a pencil requires the slow, gradual accretion of graphite – a process that allows constant evaluation and incremental changes and corrections along the way, with or without an eraser – ink requires non-equivocal decisions made with a solid, confident line (whether it’s correct or not). It’s a very different way of thinking and drawing. I like both, and I learn different things from each. And I’m appreciating each more through my coincidental focus on both this month.  

10/17/17 Montlake neighborhood

10/16/17 Wedgwood neighborhood

10/13/17 Stone House Bakery

10/14/17 Maple Leaf neighborhood
10/15/17 downtown Everett

10/18/17 (from memory) (Ha -- I just realized I put the wrong year on the hashtag!)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Personal Leaf-Peeping Tour

10/16/17 Wedgwood neighborhood

Strong winds and rain are in the forecast for the rest of the week, so I figured yesterday may have been my last chance to sketch the spectacular color we are having. In a few days all the leaves may fall off or turn brown and soggy, so it was now or possibly never.

10/16/17 Green Lake
First I went to Green Lake to sketch my favorite stand of maples that I sketch every year, but I was surprised to find that they weren’t yet at peak. (I’m going to take my chances and give them a couple more weeks.) Instead, I was fully dazzled by all the many yellow-green trees around the lake that are trying to steal the show from the maples. I didn’t know what these trees are called, so I put out the question on Instagram, and one of my friends thought it might be a honey locust. I think that could be correct – when I Googled for images, the leaves looked right, and it’s common in the Pacific Northwest.

After that, I went back to the Metropolitan Market where I keep sketching the same flaming maples (top of page). This time I parked on the street instead of in the lot so I could get all three of the brightest, boldest, most showy trees. (The right-most tree in the sketch above is shown in the photo, below, that I took Sunday afternoon when I was there to shop and didn’t have time to sketch.) 

I hope my readers in the northern hemisphere are enjoying as much seasonal color as I am! 

10/16/17 honey locust leaf
On fire at Metro Market!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sun, Fun and Funko

10/15/17 Funko storefront
The intersection of California and Wetmore in Everett was a lively place Sunday morning, and I’m not talking about the line of people waiting outside the Funko store door. It was lively because sketchers were on every corner and even on the rooftop of the parking garage across the street, sketching the most colorful residents of downtown Everett.

I was there a month ago scoping out the location for Urban Sketchers Seattle, but I stayed on the street level that time. On Sunday I went up to the garage rooftop with several others, where we got a fantastic view of the storefront (and the bright sun at our backs kept us warm). I’m not familiar with this lavender-colored monkey, but I was told he’s a video game character. I never found out why a line of people began forming an hour before the store’s opening, but I was told by employees that it’s been like that every day since the store opened in August. They obviously know something I don’t.

Stickers and a pencil case!
By the time I finished my first sketch, the store opened, so I went inside to warm up. If you saw the photos on my post last month, you know I was tempted by a lot of cool but overpriced Star Wars trinkets. This time I couldn’t resist.

My haul purchased, I went back out to the sidewalk on Wetmore Avenue to catch Anne and Vivian sketching the storefront (plus Batgirl and the same monkey overhead). 

Although Everett is a little further north than we typically go for a Sunday outing, we got a great turnout on this chilly but sunny morning. What a fun place!

10/15/17 Wetmore Avenue

Suzanne on the rooftop
Michelle sketching the storefront

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Green Lake Resonance

10/12/17 Green Lake (in progress)

My latest graphite class assignment is shown above (still in progress; there’s a bush in the left foreground that’s especially challenging, so I’m going to ask my instructor for help before I tackle it). I must say I enjoy drawing trees much more than clouds or rocky shorelines. And I’m enjoying this week’s homework a lot more than the past weeks’ assignments for other reasons: I’m very familiar with the location (Green Lake), and I took the reference photo myself.

Even though making the drawing is no less challenging with a familiar landscape, it somehow makes a difference to know and understand which way the shoreline is curving, how far away those trees are from the shore where I stood when I took the photo, the time of day and year – things like that. 

I think it has to do with resonance – how meaningful the subject matter of a drawing is and how that affects its outcome. I talked about resonance a few years ago and how discovering urban sketching finally made drawing “stick” as a habit. Of course, sometimes a trash bin is just a trash bin, and the subject matter doesn’t have to resonate meaningfully to turn into a sketch. (If you read my blog regularly, then you know that my standards for what makes an object sketch-worthy are certainly low.) But a photo of a landscape is already once-removed from the actual location, and a photo of a place I’ve never seen with my own eyes is even further removed. No wonder there’s no resonance at all.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Farewell Scone

10/13/17 I delayed sketching until my scone was half gone.
Nothing keeps me from a warm pastry -- not even sketching.
The Stone House Bakery on the south end of Lake Washington has been a sketcher-friendly venue the past couple of years. The first time was almost exactly two years ago when, after warming up first with a scone and coffee, I was able to go outdoors long enough to sketch the Stone House itself. When we went in July last year, we all went outside to sketch the colorful décor, including the blue truck parked there permanently. The owner, Patrick Choy, is moving his popular bakery to a new location, so Urban Sketchers Seattle met at the old Stone House location yesterday for the last time.

Again fortifying myself first with a scone (cream cheese pumpkin!) and coffee, I intended to eventually sketch outside if the morning warmed up. Almost all of us began the same way – sketching our scones. I decided I needed to stay warm a little longer, so I sketched the view out the window (including a bit of the lovely stonework around the window).

10/13/17 Looking out the stone window
With only a half-hour left, I zipped up my jacket, pulled on my hoods (yes, plural), and went out to the café’s haunted house. I gave the fellow below 15 hasty minutes before I scurried back inside, rubbing my hands together. I guess there’s no denying that fall is here. 

Many thanks to Patrick for being a gracious host to us the past couple of years. I’ll certainly get to his new location for more scones, if not sketching.

10/13/17 A slender patron

Check out Sue's sketch of me! I think it's the first time I've recognized myself in someone's sketchbook!
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