Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, calls it “your equipment, like hammer and nails to a carpenter.”
When you hold a pen imbued with quality design and craftsmanship, it’s inspiring. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? This is a post about how much I appreciate my Lamy 4pen. But since it’s my blog I’ll ramble a bit first.
Though I’ve been a stationery nerd since visiting grandpa’s office in diapers (I still use his vintage Bostitch stapler), I avoid carrying expensive pens because I tend to lose or damage them in direct proportion to their value.
For mobile productivity, I like the utility of four-function multi-system pens. I’ve tried almost every multifunction pen out there, from branded freebies to Fisher’s Multi-Action Space Pen (writes upside down, but frequently doesn’t write at all) to the excellent Yafa Quadro with rubberized brass barrel and contoured grip (until the rubber “brassed out”).
Finally, on a layover at Singapore’s Changi Airport, I splurged on a Lamy 4pen 4x1, part of the Accent line created in 2000 for the Heidelberg penmaker by Andreas Haug at Phoenix Product Design. The line won a Good Design prize from the The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.
Introduced in 2003, the 4pen comes with a smooth, medium black ballpen, a propelling 0.7 lead pencil, a large-ball fluorescent orange highlighter, and a steel-barreled PDA stylus. (I replace the black ballpoint with Lamy’s equivalent blue refill, which shows up better when I’m annotating printed documents.)
Unlike most alternatives, the Lamy has a silky palladium finish and a polished, spring-loaded steel clip (solid, not stamped, with a separate release button on the barrel). The colored function indicators show through windows in the barrel, rather than as paint ready to rub off.
My version came with an India rubber grip for comfort, though just customized it with a beautiful briarwood replacement. Other grip options include anodized blue aluminum, orange lacquer, rhodium rings in acrylic, pear wood and platinum.
Multifunction pens usually have a gravity mechanism, so that you hold the pen horizontally and rotate the barrel until the indicator for the tool you want is facing up, then depress the cap and the desired shaft slides out. On most pens, this has a tinny feel and unreliable results. But on the Lamy, the action is smooth and solid. Most mechanical pencils in multifunction pens are prone to jamming and breaking. This is rarely a problem with the Lamy, and the leads feed in precise clicks and increments.
$80 was a lot for me to spend on a pen, but after 2 years, I haven’t broken or lost it, I guess because it has become an extension of my hand. I always reach for it and I always seem to know where it is. Whenever I can, I buy business and casual shirts with a separate pen pocket.
Meanwhile I usually carry at least three other writing implements for heavier duty in my bag (currently the Briggs & Riley @Work Mini Computer Brief). These are:
- A non-smearing yellow highlighter (Sharpie Accent Pocket)
- A non-leaking medium red pen for editing (uni-ball Vision Elite)
- A 0.7 mechanical pencil with a comfy grip and big eraser (see below)
In terms of the pencil, I have a couple of favorites. When I am sketching something out in a diagram or mindmap or doing a lot of editing, I prefer a mechanical pencil with .7 sized leads for smoother writing and less breakage. My preference is a dedicated tube with a cushioned grip, a spring-suspension, retracting tip and a big, refillable, retractable eraser. The Faber-Castell Grip Plus meets those requirements with an excellent ergonomic grip and polymerized lead based on a century’s worth of pencil-making knowledge. Unfortunately, The Grip’s the barrel is too fat to slip in and out of the pen slots in my briefcase. This weekend I found a good portable substitute. Office Max carries the Tūl mechanical pencil with a nice rubberized grip, twist-up eraser and excellent lead system. Also worth mentioning is the extremely cool Yafa Executive Pencil, but it loses points for its non-cushioned .5 size tip.
Of course, there are still times when a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga is the only way to get the ideas out. But these days, what I mostly use it for is… as a stylus for my PDA.