A Southpaw's Experiments with Fountain Pens
The first time Doug posted an article on fountain pens, I felt a familiar urge creep up my back. It entered my "office supply junkie" nerve and made me drool. Fountain pens are the ultimate in writing shiny. A delicate balance of elegance and environmental reuse. I recall dabbling with cartridge-style calligraphy pens back in high school and how fun it was to write with them. Thanks to Doug's article, I knew that I wanted to give them a second chance. So a few months ago, I decided to hop onto the enabler bandwagon. I started researching fountain pens and what types would work for me. At this point, you're probably wondering why I said research. You'd think I'd have just gone and ordered the best looking pen right away. However, I'm a left-hander, a southpaw, and not all fountain pens work for us. Therefore, I've written this for those left handers out there who want to give fountain pens a shot. This article sums up what I know and have experimented with.
Fountain pens are not created equally for both right and left-handers. Fountain pens work different than modern pens; they are made to drip ink across a piece of paper when a hand pulls the nib across the page. Whereas a right-hander pulls a pen across the page, lefties drag the pen as our hand moves rapidly across and occasionally into the paper (depending on how hard one presses the pen on the paper). Dragging a pen makes the ink skip out so not all the letters get formed correctly. It can also gunk up the tip of the nib with tiny paper fibers because we have scratched the pen's nib deep into the paper itself. So, not only must the pen we use be a bit more rugged but it also needs to be designed to allow the ink to flow smoothly when the nib drags across the paper. Many manufacturers make special left-handed nibs, often referred to as oblique nibs, that are like a right-hander's pen but offset so that we can write with them. However, the most popular solution I've seen is to get a pen that contains a small rounded ball on the end of the nib. This ball allows the pen to flow when writing at any angle and solves the issue of malformed characters when writing with a standard fountain pen.
In addition to general writing issues, left handers also smudge the ink on the page as we write. While this isn't really the pen's fault, it does tend to put a damper on the romance of using a fountain pen. No one wants to use a pen that's going to coat their fingers and wrist in a layer of brightly colored ink. Once again there are several ways to circumvent this problem. We can learn to write so our hand does not touch the paper as we're laying down the ink. Or we can use a Fine-width nib that lays down less ink onto the page so it dries faster. The last thing we can do, is to use a quick-drying ink, such as Private Reserve's Fast Dry Inks (scroll halfway down this page, or search the page text for "Fast Dry").
Experiments Using a Right-handed Pen
A friend of mine gifted me a Levenger True Writer Fountain Pen. It's a wonderful starter pen, comes in 3 nib varieties (i have a fine width nib), and got me excited to throw out all my other pens and convert solely to being a fountain pen snob. The pen's body is a bit wider than what I am used to and I soon discovered that I'd need to get used to holding a wider pen. I also had to retrain myself on how to hold the pen properly. I grip a pen really tight, always have. Not sure why I do this but when you use a fountain pen, gripping the barrel of the pen super tight hinders the flow of ink. It also covers a writer's bump (if you have one) in ink as well. Once I got the hang of holding the pen looser than I'd normally do, I discovered that a second modification to be made. Yep, the dreaded drag issue. It was time to figure out how to get the ink to flow correctly onto the page in a single pass.
When you first use a right-handed fountain pen, you'll notice that it takes a bit longer for the ink to flow. I found myself having to constantly redraw lines or loops on my pages. I found that it slows down the writing process so much that it gets in the way of really being able to focus on what was spilling out from my mind and landing on the page. I could've tried to slow my thought process down so I could take more time in drawing and retracing the letters and numbers; but by the time I'd get things down just right, I'd have lost half of what I wanted to put down on the page. So I tried something completely different. What I did next, may cause some of you fountain pen aficionados to squirm, so I'll understand if you need to look away. Just remember, this was all done in the name of science and finding out what the best way for a lefty to use a right-handed pen.
I flipped the pen over so that I saw the underside of the nib, rather than the pretty silver side. And then, I started writing my notes with the pen in my hand this way. Now, I know nothing about the way a nib is made, so I'm not sure if they're actually made to do this. But I found that flipping a pen over this way seemed to help lesson the amount of retracing on my writing I was doing. I have seen that over time (I wrote about a month's worth of entries this way) (ab)using the fountain pen as such does put a bend or crease in the tip of the nib. So I'm not sure if this is the best thing to do. It may not write normally after having been bent in this fashion. And honestly, I haven't attempted to write with this pen the correct way because I started using a different pen.
The Lefty Answer
Working with the True Writer made me wonder where (or if) I could find a true left-handed fountain pen. Research on fountain pens told me that lefty nibs are sometimes called "oblique" and account for the dragging motion of how our hands get the pen to spill ink across the page. A search on google showed me this site: Anything Left Handed. It's a site/shop located in the UK that sells all sorts of left-handed products. Even pens. They have a wide variety of pen styles to choose from and the prices vary from $20 USD up to $100 USD.
I settled on a Tombow cartridge pen, in black. Mostly because I liked the way the pen looked, but it seemed like a good middle range pen to start with. I didn't want something too cheep and I wasn't about to spend more than $100 on this experiment for a totally customized solution. It took a week or two to get from the UK to my home in Washington State but the wait was worth it. The pen comes with a few cartridges of ink and a some freebies (a pencil and a left-handed pad). The pen's nib is silver and seems to accept the same standard sized cartridges and converters that you can get for the True Writer. After I used up all the cartridges I had between my True Writer and the Tombow, I switched to the converter. I filled my Levenger convert up with some Smokey ink and plugged the converter into my Tombow. So far, so good-- no leaks, no messes. Smooth sailing. I do know that Anything Left Handed does sell converters separately for a modest $8 USD if your pen does not come with one. This standard size converter can be used with all the pens carried through the Anything Left Handed storefront.
The Tombow writes great. The ink flows out as if I were using one of my trusty gel pens and I have really yet to have to go over any lines as I did with the True Writer. However, I have found a few nit-picky things about this pen. First, the cap does not always want to rest on the backside of the pen. It slips off often and I have to search for it in my comfy chair. Second, you can only get the nib in a wide line width. In fact, that's the biggest issue I have with any lefty fountain pen; I have yet to really find a manufacturer that produces a fine or very fine line width. If anyone knows of any pen manufacturers who make lefty pen nibs in fine to very fine widths, please let me know! I even brought up the lack of lefty pen nibs to Levenger, so who knows, maybe they'll start producing a lefty nib soon.
Lefties have the right to enjoy fountain pens just as our right-handed brethren. However, it takes time, a little bit of research and a lot of experimentation, to discover which pen and nib you'll want to covet for the rest of your life. It's my hope that I've been able to help out some of you southpaws who have, like me, drooled over the plethora of fountain pens and reviews and resources out on the internet these days but were afraid to jump into the mix. Here's your permission to go for it. Start slow and cheep. Get yourself a decent medium nib pen and start writing. Figure out what works for you and then, when you're ready, contact your favorite fountain pen manufacturers to see if they make left handed nibs. Feel free to share your results here in the comments or post over in the forum thread that has been going on for a few months.