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Art on trail: a lightweight fountain pen

Platinum Carbon Pen
Platinum Carbon Pen as purchased

Though an indifferent artist, Three Points of the Compass does often like to take a small, minimal and lightweight art kit when backpacking. This will occasionally get pulled out to add a little scribble or sketch to the small journal carried on each hike. Viewing these in the years that follow brings it all back- the moment, the time, the experience. My favoured art medium is a permanent ink, with daubs and puddles of watercolour. A fountain pen is the ideal tool in this. But what to use?

The Platinum Carbon Pen, model DP-800S, is actually a desk pen. There is the option to purchase an additional desk stand, this explains the somewhat odd shape. The EF nib gives a fine line with little variation and glides smoothly across the paper. The fine line also means that the write length is increased, useful on trail with limited supplies. These fine nibs are pretty much typical of many, if not almost all, Japanese nibs. It is slightly scratchy and may catch on cotton rag or fibrous paper. The pen is getting a little more difficult to source these days but can still be found with a bit of hunting. It is a pretty cheap pen that works well for sketching yet offers a very practical facility that also makes it worth considering for inclusion in a lightweight art kit.

Platinum Carbon Pen nib
Platinum Carbon Pen nib

The Platinum Carbon desk pen is one of the very (very) few pens available that can be fitted with an ink cartridge containing waterproof ink. These are the quite small Plat-SPC-200 cartridges containing carbon-based black pigmented, not dye based, ink from Platinum. The ink is both lightfast and waterproof so is perfect for pen and wash. This ink would normally quickly gunge up in a normal fountain pen but the Carbon Pen has a wider channel in the feed that aids in preventing it drying up. But note that we are warned this will eventually dry up, but more on that later. Using these cartridges simplifies things on trail. No bottles of ink, no wiping spilt ink, no mess, no fuss. Ink cartridge runs out, change it, done.

Platinum Carbon Pen, in parts
Platinum Carbon Pen, in parts
Sawing 50mm from the pen handle
Sawing 60mm from the pen handle

The pen, without fitted ink cartridge, only weighs 9g with its hexagonal shaped cap fitted. The cap will not post on the long slender end of the pen but its shape does prevent the pen rolling off a table when in place. Each of the 57mm long ink cartridges containing carbon ink weighs 2.4g.

I first converted one of these fountain pens for use on trail quite some time ago but have never shared the detail. I am by no means the first to do this and shamelessly copied other artists that have done the same, though I am unsure if anyone has done this specifically to make this pen more suited for lightweight backpacking purposes.

It is possible to cut off 60mm from the end of the pen without encroaching on the chamber containing the ink cartridge, thereby giving a much shorter pen that will fit into a small art kit. This has the advantage that the cap will then post on the end. This modification is achieved by carefully and slowly sawing through with a small hacksaw, cutting carefully around the circumference then smoothing off the rough edge with a small file. A drop of resin plugs the hole.

The converted fountain pen
The converted fountain pen

Very little weight is removed with this method so is not really worth carrying out for that reason, but it does reduce the length effectively and has the added bonus that the cap will then firmly post. With a carbon ink cartridge fitted, the pen then weighs 10.7g. Less than 11g for a ‘comfortable to use for extended periods, good nib with a decent permanent archival quality ink’ is extraordinary.

I confess that while on a five month hike I lost my little 5g ink pen I used with my trail journal each night. I promptly lost its replacement too. Rather than replace with yet another, I simply used my fountain pen from my art kit for the remainder of my hike. It was a good deal more confortable to write with too. There cannot be many lightweight backpackers using a fountain pen for journalling these days!

The ink I use most with other ‘house-bound’ fountain pens is Noodlers Bulletproof ink. This is a black ink that dries waterproof, though it can take some time to dry. The drying time also seems to vary slightly across different papers I have But what of my Platinum ink cartridges? Does this ink also gunge up the works when unused? If this does occur, at a pinch, the pen could be completely disassembled and component parts washed off under a tap, being careful not to lose parts.

Noodlers Black Ink
Noodlers Black Ink is a waterproof ink that is safe to use with watercolours. In common with a couple of other carbon inks, this has finely ground carbon which means that it can potentially clog a pen, particularly if left for any length of time.
My small and lightweight art kit for taking backpacking is minimal in its contents. However it includes a decent fountain pen with good quality permanent ink, plus spare cartridges
My small and lightweight art kit for taking backpacking is minimal in its contents and weighs less than 130g. It includes a small paint palette, clutch pencil and a decent fountain pen with good quality permanent ink, plus four spare ink cartridges

Covid has made 2020 and 2021 quite awful years for many. In addition to personal loss, overnight backpacking trips ceased for Three Points of the Compass for over a year. My little art kit previously pushed in to my packs pocket instead sat on a shelf unused and unloved for some 14 months.

Today I was checking my kit prior to hopefully getting back out on trail in the near future. I took my little art kit down, retrieved my fountain pen, uncapped it, briefly wiped the nib with a piece of paper towel and it wrote perfectly the first time with no sign of any drying up or clogging. This is testament to how tightly the cap fits when not in use. Though there is likely to be some carbon build up in the feed inside so I suppose it is time I stripped it down for a rinse off. Just in time for our release back into the wilds…

A lightweight fountain pen for use on trail
Even when unused for over a year, the pen still writes clearly when uncapped

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