Author: Pao Alfonso

The High Cost of Proper Nutrition

Today’s journal entry is about how inaccessible healthy food is for the poor. How strange is it that the cost of food is so high in a supposedly agricultural nation? In an archipelago surrounded by water on all sides? There is so much more to poverty than just “tamad kasi ang mahihirap kaya walang asenso.”

On Maintaining an Art Journal

Today’s art journal entry is more random things. I thought the colors of the inks in my pens for this week were so pretty and vibrant, they reminded me of the different colors of peppers (except for the blue ones, lol). The journal entry on the right side of the page is about maintaining an art journal.

I’ve been approached by people both online and IRL expressing their desire to start an art journal but they feel like their skill level isn’t “up there” yet. I get it, I feel the same way too sometimes, but the truth is that if I compare myself with the people I admire and refuse to make art because I think I’m not as good as them, my journals would be blank. The thing is, somebody will always be better than you are at what you do. If you’re always looking at other people’s output, you’ll miss the point of having an art journal.

For me, keeping an art journal is about self-care. My journal is an eclectic mix of handwritten journal entries, little watercolor paintings, pen and ink drawings, old photos, clippings of comic strips, washi tapes, etc. I write or draw my dreams so I don’t forget them. I mess pages up, I leave entries that I haven’t completed, I don’t check my grammar. My journal is my playground and my safe place on paper. None of the drawings I put in my journal are practiced outside of it, I just draw whatever I want. Sometimes it’s random things, sometimes it’s profound and expressive. Always, it’s honest.

If you want to start an art journal, pick up a journal and start on your first page. Use whatever you have on hand. Someday you’ll compare your first art journal to your tenth and you’ll see your efforts in a larger context.

I think that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when it comes to our own art journals. Of course you want to get better at it but here’s the thing, you have to practice to get better. In my experience, the more you practice and study and experiment with different techniques, the more your hand obeys your mind. You just can’t jump forward and get where you want to be without putting in the time and effort in honing your skill. Self-edit but don’t stop. Learn along the way. Own wherever you are in the process and most important of all, enjoy it.


Ink Swab: La Paz by Vinta Inks

Next up on my reviews on Inks by Vinta is La Paz 1985 (Bronze Yellow). I think that’s a very apt name for it; bronze yellow. It’s surprising how yellow inks can look beautiful on a page and that they can be used for daily writing. This isn’t a light yellow ink, it actually borders on golden brown. The shading on this ink is beautiful, a closer look at the strokes that the pen makes will show a range of colors from light, earthy yellow to dark brown. When it dries up, it has this sort of chalky finish to it, which makes it quite interesting to use with water.

It’s really fun to wash out and layer. If you’re into using fountain pen ink for your art, you might find that this ink moves a bit differently from other inks. I can’t really explain it well, you need to try it to see what I mean.

The ink dries pretty fast, about 15 seconds or so using a medium nib. The flow is dry to moderate, depending on the nib you use. I think that the color is saturated enough to use for daily writing. It kinda reminds me of the color of honey, or dried leaves without that red component. It’s a very interesting looking ink.

Here are a few closeups of the writing sample:

It doesn’t have sheen or shimmer like most of the other ink in Vinta’s current lineup, but it has a certain charming complexity that makes you look twice.

Vinta Inks are available on their website

An American Marriage

An American Marriage
Published: February 6, 2018
Roy and Celestial are the embodiment of the American Dream. He's a sales executive and she's an up and coming artist. However, their upwardly mobile life is interrupted by tragic circumstances neither of them ever thought would happen. This review contains some spoilers.

Please note again that this review will contain some spoilers. I'll try to write a short review without revealing significant spoilers but if you don't want to know the plot of the story, please don't read any further.

This  book is part epistolary, part narrative written from the point of view of three major characters in the story. It's about the unraveling of a marriage by the two characters, Roy and Celestial. The story is quite tragic because it also speaks about how the problem of race is an ever-present reality for people, and how being thrown in the system can irrevocably change your life in an instant.

Roy's incarceration shows how a life can be upended by the prospect of spending over a decade in prison. People can start out promising a lot of things to each other, but a 12-year prison sentence puts a full stop on future plans. The letter exchanges between Roy and Celestial show how good intentions often don't survive the reality of being separated physically, of the stigma of having an incarcerated loved one, of the emotional and psychological anguish of the situation. The exchanges show the different kinds of pain for the incarcerated and the one waiting on the outside of prison bars. It shows how tenuous human connections can be, and that the institution of marriage means very little when the bedrock of the relationship is shaken to the core.

The book also shows how difficult it is to reintegrate back to your own family and  back to society after being incarcerated for years, and how displaced people are after being released from prison. It's sad how Roy struggled against feelings of alienation, or not belonging anywhere, of not knowing where to pick up after this major "interruption" happened. He's a free man, but he couldn't go "home" because home is simply nowhere to be found now. The house, the structure, might still be standing, but he has lost his place in it when he lost the love of his wife. The institution of marriage cannot enforce love between husband and wife, and despite emotions coming to a boiling point, Roy eventually realizes that Celestial doesn't love him anymore, and he saw no point in forcing himself on a wife who is now only a wife on paper.

It's an engaging story, and the writer has a beautiful way with words when describing deep emotions and memories. Despite how things turned out for Roy and Celestial, I actually liked the ending. I also liked the first person  narratives because it gives the readers an opportunity to at least see things from the perspective of Roy, Celestial, and (later) Andre. The story shows how a lot of things can really fracture a marriage.

Ink Swab: Sandugo by Vinta Inks

Here’s the only red ink in Vinta’s current lineup. Sandugo 1565 (Sikatuna) is a dark red ink with a golden green sheen. The name is based on Datu Sikatuna and the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi who made a blood compact, or Sandugo, to seal their friend­ship. The first time I tried this ink, I thought it was black, but after writing more, the red shows through. When the light hits is at an angle, the green sheen just lights everything up. The wetter your nib is, the more it shows off the character of the ink.

It actually reminded me more of cherries. Dark red that’s almost black and a hint of green under the right light. The base color is a nicely saturated red which is light enough to show some shading. Its flow is moderate to wet, and it dries up a bit slow. I think it’s a nice, complex color that’s good for everyday writing.

Here are a few close up shots of the writing sample:

I like how beautiful the sheen on Vinta’s inks look like, and I love that they’re not hard on the nibs at all. Left in my pen for a couple of weeks without using and it didn’t hard start at all.

Vinta Inks are available for purchase within the Philippines. Visit their website here.

Ink Swab: Kosmos by Vinta Inks

Next up in my review of Vinta Inks is Kosmos 1955 (Cosmic Blue). I think that Vinta came out with really beautiful blue inks, but this is my favorite. It’s surprising because I’m not a huge fan of shimmery inks. I think they’re too high maintenance because of the sparkly bits. When I tried the prototypes last year, this was also my favorite of the batch. It’s remarkable that I used it in several pens (stubs, mediums) and I didn’t have any problems with clogging. I like using it with my stubs and (in the photo above) a Waterman Expert II with a left oblique cursive italic nib. The amount of sheen and shimmer is pretty dramatic.

In low light, it looks like blue ink with a pink halo. When light hits it just the right way, all the sparkly bits just light up like stars. it’s so much fun to look at. At first I thought the shimmer is silver but if you take a closer look it looks more like copper. It actually reminded me of Emerald of Chivor because of the combination of sheen, shimmer and shading, but the base color is a beautiful royal blue. It pops right out of the page and is very eye-catching, especially if you use fountain pen friendly paper like tomoe river or mica (which were the two kinds of paper I used for the writing samples in this review).

The flow is moderate, not too wet. It dries pretty fast too, about 10-15 seconds. It also doesn’t smudge when I run my finger over it after it has dried. It’s a great looking ink, and it’s well-saturated enough for daily writing. In low light it looks like a nice, dark blue ink, but then you look closely and it’s so…disco. Me likey.

Here are a few closeups of the writing sample.

It’s such a trippy ink, and I’m happy that it behaves relatively well in my pens, considering the amount of shimmer in it. It’s even more fun to look at in person. The team behind Vinta did a wonderful job on this one.

Check out Vinta Inks’ website for details on Kosmos and other colors.

Ink Swab: La Union by Vinta Inks

La Union 1971 (Vineyard) is a beautiful, velvety magenta-colored ink. It looks like red grapes, and in fact the name was derived from vineyards in La Union. The color reminded me at first of Iroshizuku Yama Budo, but this one looks a bit more subdued. It’s a nicely saturated ink that is so much fun to use on my ultraflex pen. The color is just brilliant and vibrant.

It takes a bit long to dry if you’re using a wet pen (like what I used for this writing sample), and it’s not waterproof. It has some shading but I wouldn’t call it dramatic. There’s a subtle gold sheen on it, but it shows up more on wet nibs or, in this case, the ultraflex nib that I used. Here are a few close ups of the writing sample (and some additional samples not in the photo above):

The ink flows moderately wet and it’s really gorgeous in person. Definitely something you can use for daily writing, it’s so easy to read. Pretty awesome on a flex nib too. I think the Vinta team did a really nice job on this color.

Vinta Inks are available on their website.

Inks by Vinta

One of the greatest pleasures of using fountain pens is the insane variety of inks available in the market. There was a time when the only available colors are red, black, blue, and the occasional blue black from Parker or Sheaffer. Now there are more brands to choose from and a delightfully wide amount of colors too. One only needs to spend a few minutes with a fountain pen nerd to know that all of blue inks he/she owns have its own character and nuances. Even black inks aren’t just black. I can tell just by looking at my journal which kind of black ink I used for a sketch.

So it was such an amazing treat to be asked to attend the launch of a new brand of locally-made fountain pen inks called Vinta Inks. It’s such an appropriate name because the word Vinta refers to boats with vibrant, colorful sails traditionally from Mindanao. The brand was launched last March 9 and it was such an huge success. I had the pleasure of trying out some prototypes of the inks since last year, and I already know that they do perform quite well and the colors they made are so beautiful. There were still a few surprises for me during the launch, though.

I made these writing samples using a glass pen and watercolor brush. You can see right away that there are very interesting colors in the lineup.

The inks during the launch came in 45ml bottles but newer batches will come in 30ml bottles due to issues sourcing a stable supply of the 45ml bottles they used for the first release. I like the little bottles, and I suggested that they figure out a way to accept bottle returns so that they can reuse them instead of us throwing them away.

I like the simplicity of the design of the logo and the labels. It’s clean and classy.

Best of all, the opening of the bottle is wide enough to accommodate big pens. That’s always been a pet peeve of mine. Of course you can decant inks to smaller containers if the opening of the bottle is not wide enough to accommodate fatter pens, but it would’ve been much simpler if the opening was just wide enough in the first place.

I’m relieved the bottle’s opening is of a comfortable size. Also, look at the sheen on that lid. Yum.

It’s also worth noting that Vinta Inks will donate P25.00 per bottle sold to Teach for the Philippines, Inc. which provides support and training for public school teachers nationwide. What a wonderful advocacy.

I bought five colors to add to my personal collection, most of them are colors that I loved during the time that I was regularly using the prototypes. I picked Kosmos 1955 (Cosmic Blue), Carlos 1960 (Emerald), Leyte 1944 (Sea Kelp), Dugong Bughaw 1521 (Blue Blood), and Sandugo 1565 (Sikatuna). All very interesting colors. I’m going to try and write a review on all of them and will update this entry with a roundup of all the Vinta Inks I review.

Vinta Inks are locally available in the Philippines via their website.

La Union 1971 (Vineyard)
Kosmos 1955 (Cosmic Blue)
Sandugo 1565 (Sikatuna)
La Paz 1985 (Bronze Yellow)

Review: FPR Himalaya Ultraflex

A few weeks ago, I attended a small pen meet with fellow southies. One of them had a wonderful collection of vintage flex pens. I’ve always been so hesitant to try flex pens because I’m afraid to ruin the nib with all the flexing. I didn’t want to flex the nib too much, and I wasn’t sure what the right amount of flex was. I did buy a Noodler’s Ahab several years ago but I found it so difficult to flex, it wasn’t too enjoyable to use. During the pen meet that I attended, I bravely tried out Pat’s flexies with a very light hand, very minimal pressure. I was surprised at how beautifully they flexed and how easy it was on the hand. I decided I would give flexies another try, but since I’m on a budget, I decided to try one of those FPR Himalaya Ultraflexies that Kailash from Pengrafik was selling at the time.

The pen’s body and feed are made of ebonite. I chose the brown swirly design over the plain designs because I thought it looked really pretty. Plus, I don’t have an ebonite pen yet, I thought it would make a nice addition to my collection. The pen itself looks really simple. I like the simplicity of the design, the flat ends, the simple clip, the simple chrome-colored trims that aren’t ostentatious or flashy. The pen is light, but it wasn’t as light as I expected it would be.

I liked the length of the section, it’s comfortable to hold and the length makes it a good fit in the hand whether the cap is posted or unposted. The converter is a plunger-type design which is screwed onto the pen. You’ll notice a lot of silicone grease when you unscrew the barrel. I suggest that you don’t unscrew the converter anymore to clean out the pen. Of if you do, make sure that you apply silicone grease on the threads. Because of the ebonite body, the pen smells a little like burned rubber. I think the smell is a lot less pronounced than the Ahab, though. I don’t mind it.

Prior to using the pen, I heat-set the ebonite feed first. Here is the tutorial I used to do this. It’s important to heat set the feed, so do not skip this step. If you don’t heat set the feed, the pen will not write well. Mine railroaded a lot and alternated with burping blobs of ink and not writing at all until I heat set it a few times. After it was properly prepared, I inked it up and the magic began.

Cursive is just not in my comfort zone, but it’s always fun to try something new. The ultraflex nib is so soft, it’s almost effortless to use. Of course it’s not the same as vintage wet noodles but as far as steel nibs go, this one is pretty soft. It’s a far cry from the Noodler’s Ahab that I owned. You can use it for regular writing or if you want to add line variations in block letters. Normal writing feels great on it. You can’t really get very thin hairlines like how you would if you used nibs for pointed pen calligraphy, but the fine lines do look (and feel) like you’re writing with an XF nib. Lots of nice feedback and the ink flow is consistent. If you use a wet ink, the hairlines may look thicker.

I haven’t really had the time to start studying calligraphy yet, but I do enjoy my wobbly figure eights. If the pen railroads a lot, try heatsetting it until you get a better flow. I noticed that you need to get into the rhythm of writing to avoid railroading too. Here’s a video of the writing sample. You can see that the pen keeps up with my hand pretty well. It took a bit of practice to get the speed and angle right, and I had to heat set until I’m happy with how it writes.

It’s important that you’re not afraid to tinker with the pen if you want to try this. It’s a lot of fun, really. Since it’s an ultraflex nib, it kinda guzzles a lot of ink, but it also shows off the beauty and character of the inks that I use. If you want to dabble in calligraphy but don’t have the moolah for vintage flexies or if you want to give your handwriting a bit of line variation from the bouncy nib (it feels like it’s bouncing as you write), or if you just want to zone out while writing figure 8’s on your notebook, this may be the pen for you. It also has a flexy variant but I wasn’t able to try that out.

FPR pens are available at Pengrafik.