Must-have Crafting Tools Countdown #1

If you’ve been following this Must-have Crafting Tools series since I started with #10 way back when, thanks so much for sticking with me! (And for those of you just tuning in, catch the whole countdown here.) We’ve finally made it to #1. Are you ready for it?
Drumroll, please!

#1 – The perfect black pen

Admittedly, I haven’t found it yet. It’s almost like the perfect, yet elusive, little black dress: it makes you look great all the time, it goes with anything, can be worn anywhere, and never goes out of style.

The black pen is the perfect complement to your pocket sketchbook. Because writing and sketching in pen is, for the most part, permanent, it forces you to spend more time thinking about each word, each stroke that hits the page. Instead of hastily taking five tries to draw a single line that eventually ends up looking more like a haystack, you draw one with precision. Using a black pen to draw and write forces you to be deliberate and intentional. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes or cross things out, but it does mean that you’re not just slopping lines and words onto a page and thinking that you can always erase them later.

All designers, essentially, are problem-solvers. And problem-solving involves a lot of thinking and sketching. As awesome as computers/tablets are for working out design problems, nothing can ever replace pen and paper. The design process is one that often requires several iterations of the each idea with subtle changes here and there. If you take just a few extra seconds before each stroke, it can ultimately lead to more productive and timely sketching sessions (not to mention, saves paper!).

My sister and I often find ourselves talking and sharing about our creative processes a lot. As a writer, she works through a lot of her own creative problems the same way that I do – with pen and paper. And we’ve found that as different as writing and design might appear, they both require creativity, thoughtfulness, patience, hard work, and a touch of inspiration. And at the core of all that, lies the artist’s black pen – her “paintbrush,” so to speak.  I love having a sister who is a writer and not only shares in my love for beautiful and creative things, but who also shares in my quest for the perfect black pen!

I wish I could tell you that we found it. But like I said earlier, it’s elusive and tricky to hunt down. I had these great pens once that I used to get at the drafting store that had tips that were almost like little tiny paintbrushes. I honestly believe that they actually improved my writing and sketching. But within a month, the tips would wear down and you’d have to start writing at awkward angles to get the ink flowing. I abandoned those eventually, but I still think about them every now and then.

Let me show you what I’m using for now.

This is the Uni-ball Signo UM-100 Gel Ink Pen in 0.5 mm (my sister prefers the Uni-Ball Signo RT UM-138 Gel Ink Pen in 0.38 mm). I buy these at the Japanese bookstore in Matsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa, CA. I actually go there for the ramen but always end up leaving with a couple of these pens too. I like that the ink has a nice flow to it, the tip is relatively fine, and that they’re so cheap. I think I pay about $1.39 for each, so I always buy at least two. I throw one in each of my purses and leave a couple on my desk as well. I recently let Dean use one for note-taking, and now he claims that they’re his perfect black pen. :P
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