Behind the pen: Tom Oddo of InkJournal

This is the second in my interview series, now grandly rechristened ‘behind the pen’. Today I’m proud to present Tom Oddo of InkJournal fame.

I’ve been following Tom and InkJournal for a while. The InkJournal is a genius idea — pads of quality paper (mmmm, Tomoe River), pre-printed with the info you need for logging your currently inked pens (and we all have those, right?). Just this year Tom’s dived into a new service, called Ink Flight… an ink sampling service for the post-Goulet era. Now in its second month, both months have sold out. Here on the UK side of the pond we can only grumble about how good those Americans have got it… but without further ado, on with the questions.

PART 1: You and writing

Let’s do the twitter/speed-dating introduction. Tell us about yourself and what makes you tick in 140(ish) characters.

I’m a self-professed pen and ink geek that has been working in the pen industry for 10 years.

Now back to the beginning. What got you started with the stationery bug?

I always loved pens, notebooks and shopping for school supplies as a kid. I remember back to when I convinced my Mom to buy me a $7 Dr. Grip pen because it would help with my callus on my middle finger while writing. Someone as school made fun of me for having a fancy (non-Bic) pen and ripped apart the grip. I was heart-broken!

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Let’s be honest: it’s not as sexy as an Aurora 88, is it?

You’re the brains behind InkJournal. Where did the idea come from? And what’s next for InkJournal?

After seeing so many forum posts and reviews for inks that were done on a variety of papers and formats, I wondered if I could offer a standardized template for people to follow so that they can easily describe a pen & ink combination and catalog them for future reference. Being that I come from an art & design background, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to independently print a run of InkJournals for the pen community. I’ve listened to the feedback from customers and the online community to develop improved versions and our next step forward, which is the Ink Flight Box. It’s a subscription box without being a subscription, or a box per say. We’re offering a journey from ink makers around the world to provide a random sampling of ink colors for fountain pen enthusiasts.

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Dave’s urine samples caused some confusion at the lab.

Aside from your InkJournal, do you keep a journal, or a paper to-do list system like BuJo? What does writing mean to you?

Absolutely. I keep a long-form journal for deeper, meditative writing (rants) in my Rhodiarama webnotebook, a task-managed bullet journal in my Leuchtturm notebook and a few random pocket notebooks for jotting things down. Writing is a place to organize my mind and keep my priorities straight. It’s also a way for me to get rid of all the negative thoughts in my head and put my worries in perspective so that they don’t eat me alive.

Now that you’ve waxed lyrical about poetry and meditation, let’s get real: what was literally the last thing that you wrote on paper? Be honest!

“Snail Mail Tracker” honestly and literally, that’s what I wrote.

Some people are talking about a resurgence in old-school, non-digital experiences like film photography, vinyl, and paper books. Would you say you live an “analogue life”?

As much as I would like to be a luddite, digital life is all-to prevalent and useful to ignore. It’s allowed us to accomplish what was impossible 20 or even 10 years ago.

Do you have a special place or time for writing… an old desk or comfy armchair? How does writing fit into your life?

Whenever the kids go to bed. I do like writing while waiting at the car mechanic. I can’t be picky and choosey about the where and when, it’s just whenever I have a free moment, which is rare. I do keep my bullet journal out on my desk so I can constantly make notes and check my tasks for the day.

Are you happy with your handwriting? What do you think about it?

It’s improved over the years, especially after starting the InkJournal instagram feed, which features many videos and photos of my handwriting. I’m not “good” by comparison with other calligraphers on there that I look up to. I’m content with it, but it can be better, which I aim to improve this year. It seems to be a common feeling among people that follow the site and the newsletter. Everyone feels they can do better with their handwriting.

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I dunno, that handwriting looks good to me!

PART 2: Gear

Cards on the table. How many fountain pens, and how many bottles of ink, do you have in your house at the moment?

In my own personal collection, I probably have about 20-25 pens and about 15 different colors of ink. I will occasionally sell off pens that I don’t use anymore to make room for new ones that I do want to use.

We’ve talked by email about a renaissance in pen and ink, and there’s really never been so much choice of inks out there from lots of new brands. Which brands and colours really push your buttons?

I’m a huge fan of the Rober Oster Signature inks that have came on to the scene as of late. The shading, sheen and colors are exactly what revs my engines. From the feedback I’ve read throughout the pen community, others seem to feel the same way. I’ve also been a big fan of the Sailor Jentle inks as well.

From your current collection, what’s your “desert island” pen and ink combination? No cheating! What is it you like about them?

It has to be my OMAS Ogiva Cocktail with an extra-fine, extra flessibile 14kt gold nib and Sailor Jentle Souten. My favorite color is blue and I love the semi-flexibility of the OMAS nib.

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One of Tom’s shots from his Instagram. The Omas, with Dark Lilac (see below…)

 

Which fountain pen do you recommend to a first-timer? And, more importantly for anyone who’s reading this, what would you recommend for someone making the next step up to a £50–100 pen?

You can’t go wrong with the Pilot Metropolitan (MR or Cocoon for you folks in the UK) for a first-timer. That’s an excellent experience to start off with that will certainly evolve into getting other pens. For the next step, I’d say it depends on taste. There are a number of pens available in that range, so you could go with a Lamy Studio, a TWSBI or a vintage fountain pen that’s got nice flex.

What’s been your most surprising purchase discovery of the past year? An ink, a pen case or something else that has made a difference that you want to shout about?

Lamy Dark Lilac [Ed: link to review on the Pen Addict. I love Dark Lilac!] was one of those wild instances where the ink came, it went (I bought a bottle and am holding onto it), and became so rare that people are willing to pay 8X the original retail price for a purple ink. If you told me this 8 years ago when the most popular ink colors were black and blue, I’d call you crazy.

What’s on your to-buy list at the moment?

Aurora’s 88 with the Flex nib [Ed: link to preview on TGS] is high on my list. I’m dying to try it out. It’s a bit out of my budget at the moment, but I’ll work towards scraping up the funds so that I can get one later on.

Some people only use fine nibs, or metal pens, or blue ink. Would you say you’ve got a stationery “type”?

I’m a sucker for partially translucent pens. If you mix that in with swirling acrylics, you’ve almost got me sold.

What craze — for instance, glittery inks or flex nibs — leaves you cold?

I’m not a fan of slapping “limited edition” on everything just to create artificial scarcity. Our industry tends to do this to move product quickly, but I think it will eventually be a case of “boy who cried wolf” where the community will not react as quickly anymore.

PART 3: The community

Who would like to see me interview next?

Robert Oster. The man is a pleasure to converse with via e-mail and must know a ton about creating fountain pen ink. I’d love to read about his inspiration behind the colors and maybe a behind the scenes as to his operation.

In the spirit of #followfriday, who do you think knocks it out the park on Instagram or blogs that we should give a shout out to?

Attila Sultis has some of the best pen photography, hand writing and taste in pens & ink that I enjoy seeing pop up on my feed.

Which stores (online or offline, and US is fine!) do you think are doing a great job of inspiring the community that we should give an honourable mention to?

Goulet Pens, of course. They are one of the big reasons behind the resurgence of fountain pen writing.

This is a UK blog. Do you get much business from the UK? How do you think the stationery culture differs between our two great nations?

95% of our business comes domestically within the USA. We do get an occaisional order from Europe, but I understand that you folks have your own choice of pen stores that tend to carry the same exact items. Since the dollar is currently strong, we’re definitely not seeing as many international orders as we did back in 2007-2010. I think European style tastes differ and we tend to value the fountain pen as more of a luxury item whereas EU writers are more practical and see the pen as a tool. I think this has to do with the exposure of fountain pens at an earlier age. Kids in the USA are exposed to mobile phones & computers before a fountain pen.

Thanks again to Tom for contributing.

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