Squid Chat: School and Art Supplies

Paper and pens. No big deal, right? Just use whatever you find in that junk drawer next to the kitchen phone . . .

Not necessarily. Middle-aged, intentional Me doesn’t think that way, anymore, that’s for sure. That person, the mother of two nearly-grown children with ADHD, believes that the right tools have a positive effect on organization and ability to stay on-task.

Personally, what I’ve discovered over time is that I like pens with a fine point (something in the .7 range) because they make my handwriting appear neater on the page — sometimes it’s the little rewards right? Additionally, I prefer pen ink that flows readily, because with all that dramatic looping that I tend to do, my hand tires quickly otherwise. Finally, I’m a lefty, so I also prefer a high-quality, acid-free paper that absorbs the ink before my wrist can smear it on its inexorable trek across the page.

Another thing I’ve realized is that when it comes to these basics, the return on investment can be satisfyingly high: for the cost of a latte, I can pick up a couple of pens that will provide me with satisfaction for seasons to come. I’m not the only one at Glittersquid with strong opinions on this topic, though. What follows is a discussion about some of our favorite stationery and art supplies.


LISSA: Favorite? Ahahahaha. That’s like asking which Tom Hiddleston gif is your favorite. Um. Okay, wait, I can do this. Fountain pens. Especially Lamy Joy with Iroshizuku Shin-kai ink, which is a sort of smoky blue.

ANDREA: The Uniball Vision Elite Rollerball Pens with blue-black ink are my go-to pens. Excellent flow, feels solid in my hand, love the ink color. Only down side? Not always 100% lefty-friendly: I do experience occasional smear if I’m not careful because that flow-y ink takes a sec to dry. As a backup, I will also happily scarf up any Zebra F-301 Ballpoint Pens my husband accidentally brings home from work. The Ink flows nicely and dries immediately and the metal barrel on these pens has a satisfying heft…

Photo credit: Jackie Reeve

Photo credit: Jackie Reeve

JACKIE: Andrea, I love those Uniball pens. I use the Tek Writer Gel Writers like crazy, though. I bought a set at Costco that came in stadium seating formation — love! I really like their flow — they have made my handwriting so much better! Personally, I need thick, slow flow because I have unsteady hands.

MARZIAH: I love office supplies — gel pens, graph paper, and bookmark-sized sticky notes that you can write on— which is funny because I have terrible handwriting and tend to prefer to buy the digital version of books (so what am I buying those sticky notes for, exactly?). But I will doodle like crazy in a good notebook.

JACKIE: My Prismacolor 132 set is one of my most-used quilting tools, too.

LISSA: I’m a Prismacolor fan too, Jackie. We use them daily around here. I especially like them in my planner.

Photo credit: Lissa Wiley

Photo credit: Lissa Wiley

MARZIAH: Also love me some Prismacolors. I have stashes so the kids don’t take them all. And gouache. Love gouache.


ANDREA: Paper quality and page size are surprisingly important to me. Again, I think the lefty element comes into play: narrow or small notebooks don’t work for me because my hand sits in that left-hand margin — half the page winds up empty in an A6 or A7-sized notepad. To boot: if the paper is cheap and doesn’t do a decent job of absorbing ink, everything just turns into a smeary mess. For bullet journalling, I’m really liking the Moleskine Cahier journals — the six-pack at Costco will run you about twenty bucks. For note-taking or anything design-related, though, I prefer Rhodia notebooks and dot pads (niiice paper quality). I’ve also used these SUCK UK A5 Colored Tab notebooks with my kids with good results — each subject gets a different color of notebook paper which provides a bit of a visual-organization prompt.

MARZIAH: I love blank pages with a bit of heft to them so they can take slightly wet media. I just got a BOGO deal on mixed media notebooks at Blick’s. They’re the kind with a spiral notebook and perforated edges so you can have your clean edge when you rip out something you want to save. I gave one to my daughter, and she’s partnered with a high school friend who does anime-style drawings. They’re launching a Tumblr together. That makes me so happy.

LISSA: What brand, Marziah? I always stock up on Canson mixed media spirals when Michael’s has a sale. (Very cool about the Tumblr!)

MARZIAH: Yup, Canson.

RUTH: I love colorful things. Markers and pencils and so forth. But deep down, what I really want is an awesome Trapper Keeper. Because I never had one. I saw one at a nostalgia store in Denver this summer, but it was about $40, and I just couldn’t. Someone suggested the other day using small plastic bags tucked in binder card sheets to organize beads. Maybe I should get a modern Trapper Keeper for this purpose. My dream, finally realized!


LISSA: Speaking of gouache, Jennifer Lewis Orkin— who is one of my favorite people on Instagram — is about to launch a gouache class on Creativebug. Rilla and I are totally signing up!

MARZIAH: I used to do a lot of oil painting, but it’s smelly and stains everything. Also possibly poisons you. When I had kids, I threw out the supplies but I kept some watercolors and gouaches because they’re quick, easily stashed, and satisfying to use.

LISSA: I’m clumsy with watercolors, but even clumsy looks great in that medium. We paint almost every day. I have a little teeny palette that fits in the pouch of my Midori.

MARZIAH: I need a little clumsy. I’m too much of a perfectionist and will overwork and kill paintings if I don’t step back and let some of the sloppiness happen. Which is ironic if you look at how sloppy my desk is.

LISSA: Related to above: I’m also really enjoying the Expressive Little Faces watercolor class at Skillshare.


Photo credit: Jackie Reeve

Photo credit: Jackie Reeve

JACKIE: I discovered black-and-white Post-Its a few years ago, which I’d never, ever seen in a store. I found them online, and now they’re the only official Post-Its I’ll use. (They were also one of my most-swiped library supplies). Also, anything that comes as a rainbow is about 10x more likely to actually get used by me. And I can’t stop buying tape flags and cute sticky notes, even though it takes me forever to use them. I can’t help it.

LISSA: My other favorite desk item — Andrea will appreciate this because she knew her — is a letter opener given to my by the head of my college English department when I graduated. I had a work-study in her office. I wrote a post about it a while back.

ANDREA: Aw man, Sue Hanna! She had the most amazing laugh! It filled rooms!

LISSA: Right? After graduation, we invited her to our wedding, but her husband wrote back saying that she’d passed. We were crushed. Every time we’ve crossed the Susquehanna River ever since, we holler, “The Mighty Susan J Hanna!” in her honor. We gave one of our daughters the middle name Susanna in her honor, as well…

Such a humble thing, a letter opener, a tool of limited function and unremarkable shape. And yet what a magic key it is: unlocking the portal to words penned hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Today it opened letters from France, Austria, and New York. Everything about it is special to me: the curly L that means Dr. Hanna knew me well; the solid heft of the handle, always cool to the touch. The image it conjures up of Sue Hanna striding into the office in a multicolored blouse, booming out a greeting and asking me to make a few dozen copies for her afternoon class. The stentorian recitation of a few lines from Prufrock. Here was a woman who never had to question whether she would dare to eat a peach—she seized them, split them, shared them around the room.

— Excerpted from Lissa’s “Ode to a Letter Opener” post.

ANDREA: Yeah…it’s funny how some objects that can seem almost inconsequential from the outside wind up taking on a a larger importance if they somehow get wrapped up together with our emotions and our memories . . .

Supplies that get the Glittersquid “Cephalopod of Approval” include:

Caveat: Glittersquid.com is a labor of love, but some of these links lead to Amazon affiliate accounts. No corporate cash has crossed our palms during the creation of this post. If that changes, we’ll let you know.

Andrea Schwalm Stolz

Andrea can often be found near water or toward the back of dive bars. Her to-be-read pile literally fills a small room, along with an LP collection she started 40 years ago. She thinks we should all pay more attention to our gut biomes, and man, does she ever take a ton of photographs.

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