Printmaker’s Block, Litho and Ink Experiments, and Twine Trials

drypoint and monoprint

H. Kurzke, drypoint and monoprint, 1/1, “arches”

Still no progress with my print to enter into the show. I am suffering from a lesser known but just as severe form of writer’s block: printmaker’s block.

In interviews with artist’s the question of how they overcome the blank paper and lack of ideas is often asked. Arrogant as I can sometimes be, I always had thought it didn’t effect me. Indeed I have not experienced this before. It is not like I do not have any ideas – I have plenty new ideas and fill pages of my diary and sketchbook with reminders of these seemingly so wonderful things to do. Problem is just that even if all these would be brilliant, and I could make them come to life all today, this would still not answer the question what to send to Japan. The approaching deadline (my personal save line was actually last weekend) doesn’t make it easier. Graaaah!

Up until now I just never had to deliver something specific on a deadline. So when I thought I didn’t have a problem with creative blocks, it was just a matter of not encountering such a deadline before. And truth is: I do not have any concepts in place to deal with it. I am currently just spirralling down into doing nothing at all, it seems.

Well, to give myself a break, I bought art materials, and then allowed myself to play a little with it. I already showed you some pictures of the kitchen lino woman with hat, here are two scans now.

litho print woman with hat

H. Kurzke, Lithographic print, woman with hat

I also tried a little more drypoint in combination with a monoprint, an idea I had during my print workshop in April (seen on top). The monoprint (all that is not black) took an amazing and crazy lot of time. Essentially it took me a full day to just make two prints.


my worktable while making the monoprint. With the paint tubes on the table and rags and brushes and rollers I felt really like a “proper” artist

In the past week, I had the crazy idea to indeed make a kitchen lino print for Japan (by now I have given up on that idea), and thus experimented a little more systematically. Here is the inked up kitchen foil for a sample page, experimenting with different pens and resists (the frame and the word “sampler” were made with a brush dipped in melted butter). If you take a closer look you will notice that I cannot write mirror skript quite as well as I would like to…

sampler alu

preparing a kitchen litho sample print

And here is the print in my sketchbook. Silly me is delighted beyond sensibility about the coincidence that the kitchen lino book has exactly the same format as my sketchbook.

sampler book

look, my sketchbook and my printing paper has the same format as the book!

Also I have been thinking and experimenting with expanding my product line for Büchertiger Supplies. I now added Fil Au Chinois professional bookbinding thread. Fil Au Chinois is the line of lush linen thread (lin cable) made for sewing leather which I like to use for exposed bindings. That thread is beautiful but too strong for conservational and professional use. I still have some small bits of German Bookbinding Thread which I intent to keep in my inventory (but it will take a while until I restock).

Fil Au Chinois bookbinding thread

new bookbinding thread now available at Büchertiger Supplies

And today a sample of Jute thread reached me. I am wondering and going to experiment whether it will serve well for binding on cords. It is completely natural, I love the colours it comes in and the rough look it has, and – not least – the tin!


yummy jute twine

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Lithography - first trial
While still searching for something to enter into the show I mentioned in my last post, I decided to try non-toxic alu-plate lithography at home. Find out more here. I bought the book, by the way, and can very much recommend it. – And it works! Much to try out now.
Lithography - first trial

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Searching for a new Print

Not quite blank pages, but not getting anywhere either, it seems. I am urgently looking for a new thing to print and enter into a print competition I foolishly agreed (and paid for) to enter, and now I am drawing one blank after another, wrecking my brain what to print…

Some drafts from my sketchbook inspired by architecture this morning:
trying hard

trying again

and again

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Studio Time: Making new copies of Absences

stone piles 1

stone piles, photo by H. Kurzke, July

I have had a little studio time in the past four days or so, and I thought, I’d just show you what I did.

My book absences was selected to be exhibited for the Sheffield Book Arts Prize. What is interesting about this prize in Sheffield is that it is open to all. There are a variety of prices and awards to win, among them also a publicly voted prize, and all visitors were allowed a vote. I very much appreciate this approach, allowing for the unexpected and entrys from less established and less academic backgrounds. Until last time, 2013, all entries were exhibitied. The response 2013 was overwhelming, though, both for the space, the organizers and the visitors who had to decide which of almost 500 entries was their favorite. So this year they decided to reduce the number of books in the show to 200. While I understand that the number has to be that small for this to work, I am also sad that this means that there are gatekeepers now, people who decide which books will be shown and which won’t.
Well, all that being said, I am very happy that absences will be on display and available for votes from 7th October – 31st October, in Sheffield at Bank Street Art.

Absences is made completely by hand, stencilled, handwritten, and is an open varying edition. Books are essentially made to order. I am saying “essentially” because I like to have a small amount (like 1 or 2) ready made. And I have more prepared in various stages. And so I had one to send to Sheffield for the exhibition, but also made two more for my stock here.

First Day (Sunday)

stage 1 gesso

First step: applying the gesso

The first thing to do is of course to apply the gesso, onto which I then write the story. You see here the various stencils placed onto ready cut and folded paper, ready to take the white ground. And then it needs to dry.

Some of you might remember my beach sketches.  I made them essentially while the blog was on hiatus, so it is quite likely that you missed it. – I brought shells and stones from the Lincolshire coast last summer. I had them sitting in my studio, and while I was waiting for the muse to kiss me, I started to build piles of them (like the one seen above). A little later I made sketches from them, first for my messages in bottles, and then for a little folded book. The idea was initially to make it a daily sketch to start off work in the studio. It felt great every time I practised the habit. It calms down my mind, and helps me focus on my work, and forget about the noisy children on the floor below. But well, things slowed down fast, and this is by no means a daily thing. Well, I did one last Sunday:

beach sketch kleiner
Beach Sketch

I then got out some already prepared and dry accordions and wrote the story:

stage 2 text

Step 2: Adding the text

I also added some minor decorative bits to already cut to size Kraft paper covers. – The protective layer of craft paper that you see in the pictures above will become covers for future copies, too.

Second Studio Day (Monday)

stage 3 pressing

stage 3: pressing in the covers and books

I make the book mostly from scraps, and the boards I had lying about in the studio were extra thick. So after cutting them to size, I then first sanded down the edges to make them a little less chunky and bulky.
Then cover and put in the acordion. To be as gentle as possible to the writing, I put the covers under pressure seperately rather than the folded book.

Third Studio Day (Tuesday)

stage 4 title

Step 4: Adding the title. The one on the left is done, on the right one I am positioning the stencils.

Next the books need a title which I also stencil on with white gesso. And now this needs to dry.

 Fourth Studio Day (Wednesday)

stage 5 number and sign

stage 5: all that is left now is my signature

Now all that was left to do this morning was to add the impressum, number and signature. And now on to the next project which is once more print related:


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100 bookmarks done

The joy of editioning

Done. I just finished signing and numbering the 100 bookmarks for bookmarks XIII. Ah, the joy of editioning. Sure, making editions can be very tiring, repeating the same action over and over. I am one who likes to move on quickly, usually, having solved a problem there is no sense in doing it again, or is there? Well, editioning can be so satisfactory. It is like: Look, I have not made one lino print, I made 100. And now they are lying in this big neat pile looks so nice on my desk.

The desk itself looks less nice. In the first image you can see black, non-healing cuts on the cutting mat. It has suffered from 100 bookmarks being cut from the same template on the exact same place.
Well, on to writing on their back. I have the chance of giving my contact details on the back of the bookmarks, and so probably I should. I guess I should cut a stamp for this…

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Me at the Writer’s Studio

at nws

me this morning at the writer’s studio – look, they have a type writer on the sideboard. I wonder whether it is in a usable state

I am currently sitting at the writer’s studio, trying to find my way into working on 346 and on a text about my message in a bottle project. Instead, as you can see, I am blogging, but well, blogging is writing too, right?

Sitting here, I realized that I have not told you about the writer’s studio yet. – I have been a member for maybe two weeks now, and I am still trying to figure out how everything works. Essentially the Nottingham Writer’s Studio is a community of writers of all kinds that share some facilities near the city centre. I found them while I was browsing the internet, and the thought of having office space outside my home office and meeting other writers was immediately appealing.

It took me a couple of days, and a shift in self perception to apply, though. Up until now I have not really thought of myself as a writer. Of course I was aware that a lot of what I did involved writing, but since I am not writing novels, and am not published by a publishing house, somehow, it just never occured to me to say I am a writer.
When I was asked during the application process at NWS what kind of texts I am writing (fictional, non-fictional, novels or poems, …) that was when it really hit me how much writing I am doing all the time. From advertisement texts for my thread, over snippets that describe my art, writing that is part of art, instructions, blog-entries, … And I currently do have a lot of writing projects of different nature living partially finished on my computer waiting to be finished. Which is getting increasing hard to do at home with the children’s ability to open doors developing, as well as their ability to get into fights and and their seeking out Mum who tries to work next door for mediating even though Dad really would be on duty. And due to not exactly soundproof walls (it feels like I am sitting in the children’s playroom trying to work) I find myself mediating even if M. is there before I am.

Apparently on weekends, the other members of the studio are home, though, maybe even enjoying a day off. Today I find myself completely alone here. I am not exactly sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. Right now I find it a little spooky, I must say. Well, I’ll try to get some of the more pressing work done now… Talk to you soon (for example about rapidographs)!

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last print today, number 25

As I mentioned in a post earlier this year, I am participating in Bookmarks: Infiltrating the Library System Project XIII by Sarah Bodman this year. For this I need to send her 100 bookmarks by June. Since Febuary I have been thinking about a good image, tried some, never quite satisfied. My thoughts were mainly focused on fish and feathers because that is what I have mostly been printing in the last years. But then I decided to focus on libraries, instead, and today I indeed printed the first 25 bookmarks. Only on day 2 of cutting the lino I had the idea of documenting the progress. As you might think, it was a quite tireing and delicate work. Therefore I couldn’t do much each day, or else I would have risked destruction of the block by lack of attention.

 Day 1

The first day I did not do much else than preparing the plate and drawing the image to drafting paper. Then I transfered like I usually do by rubbing the graphite onto the white washed plate.

Day 2

I slowly started to cut the plate. I decided to start at the bottom, with the option to shorten the plate should the first trials not work out well.

WIP. plate after day 2

lino plate at end of day 2

Day 3

I just had a bit more than an hour for cutting. Working on the shelves and books is rather boring and demanding at the same time. So when I got tired I started to work a little on the top.

WIP plate after day 3

lino plate after day 3

Day 4
More cuting in the morning:

WIP plate after day 4

state at the end of day 4 workday

and yet more cutting in the evening. And so I could start day 6 – which was today, with a slightly more finished plate:

Day 6

This looks do-able:

WIP plate beginning day 5

plate at the beginning of day 6

After about another hour I was finished:

WIP plate cut


The next step then was of course the washing off of of the white paint and with it the graphite. Although I was quite sure about this, I was still a little nervous whether it would still work with the pencil lines gone.

WIP washed

cleaned plate, still before the first print

And generally I was happy with how it looked. Some of the books suddenly seemed pecularialy thin, and so I corrected some small spots and here and there, but then it was time for a first ink-up.

inked up for the first time

inked up for the first time

In the Library

and her eit comes: the very first proof

I was very happy with how it looked. Of course I corrected some more small things. For the first ink-up and the first proofs I used a water based ink because it is easier to wash off. But with the plate like I want it, I then started to print in oil based ink:

25 down, 75 to go

25 down, 75 to go

I have made some prints by rubbing with a spoon, and some with my copy (tiger) press. The results with the spoon look much nicer, but are so much more work. There are some like this and some like that under the first 25. I am not decided yet whether I will keep on mixing, or stick with one method for the remaining 75. Another option would be to scan the best (or one of the best) and then print 100 digitally. It is not what I have in mind, but serves as a back-up if the prints are not drying fast enough.

The possibility that the prints won’t dry fast enough do worry me. It is not just about the drying time alone: Due to lack of space, I need a first batch to dry before I can print a second one, and I only have less than fours weeks to finish (and the twin’s birthday with a bunch of visitors and three days of celebrations right in between).

Another thing that worries me about as much as drying time is that I will have to cut each of the 100 bookmarks to size by hand. – I should have made a smaller plate without bleed! But, well, now I’ll stick with it, and will solve each problem when it occurs, I guess.

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Ruling Pens and Technical Pens – Part I: Ruling Pens

draughting tools
I have recently started to buy some technical drafting tools and experimented a little with different kinds of usage for them. I mentioned that I could show off my (many newly acquired) collection of pens, and to my delight, you seemed interested. While writing it, I realized that just showing you a picutre of my pens is not going to be very interesting, so I read up a little, and researched their interesting history:

writing pen nip 01

a metal nip of a dip pen, especially advertised for sketching. It is rather smooth, and the line width varies with even a slight pressure. Here I am showing you how the two halves come apart when pressing the nip against the paper

You all know how the metallic nip of a traditional writing (dip) pen looks like: it has a slit that seperates it into two halves through which the ink flows. Nips vary in form and in how rigid they are. But even those that are very ridig vary the width of the line with the pressure on the paper, because pressing the nip down onto the paper forces the two parts apart, and the line will get thicker.

Draughtsmen are interested to keep their lines in technical drawing very much constant. The ruling pen does this beautifully. They have a screw fastening the two (comparably clumsy looking) two halves which come together in a tip. By fastening or loosening up the screw the line width can be altered and then stays constant. Ink is held only between the two brackets, there is no additional reservoir.

ruling pen nip

ruling pen – a screw keeps the line width constant

Ruling pens were originally made not for writing but have been used in calligraphy for a while now. To make a precise line, you drag the pen parallel to the two halves slowly along the paper. The ink is filled in with a brush between the two halves. You wouldn’t want to dip this pen, as ink on the outside of the nip would smear the  line. When used in calligraphy, it apparently is often dipped and also used across for a broad line which often looks a tad ragged and tends to splatter ink.

I bought my ruling pens primarily as drafting tools just after buying a set of better compasses and technical pens (more about them in a minute). You can buy them for as few as a £2 but I also saw some for £30 and more. I stuck to the lower end of the price range, and bought a variety of sizes and shapes, which all do the job:

ruling pens

trying out different pens, mostly drawing lines

001 kleiner

close-up of my ruling pens (and I have of course those that come in the drafting boxes that I already showed you before) The ones on the left are a set which I bought on ebay as “unused” but the red dot on the tip is almost certainly the not cleaned off residue of a previous use. Whoever used them must have dipped them.

002 kleiner

This one is “cross-hinged” which means one part can swivel out for easier cleaning – much appreciated.

Ruling pens have nips of different shapes, especially when they are used for calligraphy. If I am not mistaken – and I am a bit confused about terminology, I must admit – these are all “swedish form” ruling pens of different size. But I have also seen them referred to as “normal form” whild swedish form would be similar to the one in the middle, with an almost diamond shaped nip.
Calligraphers use folded pens, which they also call ruling pens, and for them the shape of the nip is even more important since they will allow the line width the vary with direction of writing and tilt of the pen.

Technical pens have essentially made ruling pens obsolete for technical drawings, although I found some advocates online who value them over the technical pens for their ease to clean them. Well, by now also technical pens are essentially obsolete for professionel architecs and other technical draftsmen since almost all the drafting is done at the computer nowadays. – Which it seems frees them to be used by artists.

I’ll write more about technical pens in a next blogpost. I would be delighted if you could let me know about any experiences you made with ruling pens. Maybe you can link to some results too?

Holding a ruling pen

While researching, I found a variety of interesting pages which I want to share in a link-list:

Wikipedia Article about pens

Handmade Ruling Pens

Worldbuilding with Maps

Videos of a ruling pens used in calligraphy:  butterfly shape,  swedish shape, “normal” shape

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Ich wollte nur mal wieder ein Lebenszeichen von mir geben. Ein Blog-Artikel über meine Tuschestifte (technical pens) und Reissfedern (ruling pens) ist in der Mache – ich komme nur gerade so wenig zum bloggen. – Warum? – Weil ich in der wenigen Zeit, die mir ja sowieso zum freien Arbeiten bleibt, mit Drucken beschäftigt bin. Im etwa eine Autostunde entferten Leicester (gesprochen “Lester”) gibt es eine Druckwerkstatt, bei dem man dann später auch Mitglied werden kann, und dann Zugang zu Druckpressen und Equipment aller Art hat (hört ihr mich vor Glück seufzen?). Da hoffe ich, demnächst auch mal mehr machen zu können. Jedenfalls habe ich bei denen einen Grundkurs gebucht, die dritte von sechs Wochen ist gerade abgeschlossen. Ein bisschen bin ich enttäuscht über das Niveau – ist wirklich alles ganz elementar, und ist bislang nicht über das hinaus gegangen, was ich hier auch so mache. Ein paar nützliche Tricks und clevere Ideen schnappt man natürlich trotzdem immer mal auf… Ich hoffe, ich werde demnächst mehr davon berichten können. 

Einen Newsletter will auch eigentlich auch schon seit Monaten schreiben, alle die schon darauf warten und sich fragen, ob sie tatsächlich auf der Liste stehen seien beruhigt: noch nichts ist rausgegangen, sollte aber bald kommen. Noch ein wenig Geduld…

I just wanted to let you all know that I am still alive and well, and my post about technical pens and ruling pens is not forgotten. I just couldn’t find the time yet to set up a blog post. In the limited time I have at my disposal, I have mainly been preparing for the printmaking class that I am currently taking in Leicester. It is a lot of fun using the big presses, and talking with like-minded people. But more about that, when I have more than 5 minutes left to pick up my kids from nursery. :-) A newsletter should also come out some time soon, so if you have been waiting and wondering whether I took you off that list: no, I just have to get around to actually write it and send it off.

Thanks for your patience!

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Drafting, New Tools, and Arithmetic for the Visually Inclined

mark making H. Kurzke

mark making H. Kurzke using a plastic nip on a compass and different inks

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that in the past weeks I have been having a love affair with drafting tools. In a way it started when I read that blog post about dividers that went kind of viral in the bookbinding community a couple of months ago. After having read about dividers, I went to find my box of drafting tools that I used in school. It is an interesting box with a variety of tool that I never used. In school we used the compass whith the lead tip attached and were told once in Geography how it could be used together with the scale on a map to measure distances – but we never used them, instead we would use our rulers for measuring. The box, however, contains a few additional items:

old school set

My School Drafting Set

Some things are easy to identify: There is the pair of dividers, a compass with a screw in the middle and a lead attached. There is a small round box with a screw top which contains spare leads (it still does), an eraser, a sharpener for the lead – which is really neat. One of the arms of the compass lets you attach different things. For example, the lead could be exchanged for the needle which then gives you two dividers. At least I guess that this is what the needle is for. – Curiously it is different from the other needles already attached and doesn’t have the characteristic slot that goes over the screw in the arm.

If this is what the needle is for, then this leaves only these two black plastic things to identify: The one in the middle in the photo with the screw can also be attached to the compass. It is the tip of a ruling pen, which then allows you to draw circles in ink. I can’t remember when I learned about that. I guess I already asked in school, or maybe I read about it when I first learned a bit calligraphy. Searching the internet for the right word to use for this kind of nip I came across a considerable amount of entries where people guessed it was some kind of tweezers that would allow to hold another lead or something else.

About the remaining plastic thingie: I do remember that it baffled me as a kid. I tried to attach it to the compass which doesn’t work. I also tried to fill the riffles with ink, resulting in a big splash of ink everywhere on my desk. This all, including the smell of the ink soaked wooden desk came back to me in a flash the moment I found the box and felt this frustrated curiosity/fascination for that thing in my box again. Only now it was pretty obvious what it is: It is a handle! It can hold either the ruling nip or the lead which is helpful especially for the nip (instead of a lead it is really just easier to use a pencil) and turns it into a ruling pen. Really useful and neat. I already ordered a selection of more ruling pens, but more about that in a minute, or maybe rather in a new blogpost about ruling pens… Best you let me know in the comment section whether you would like to know more about them (and take a look at my selection) in the comment section. This blogpost is already very long, probably too long to read for most. So congratulations if you read this setence ;-)

stage 1

square, octagon, hexadecagon, circle

Playing around with different constructions, I got frustrated with my school set pretty soon: The compass is too worn out, the connection of the arms wonky, the screw too loose, and circles don’t really come out round from the tip of the arm wobbling around. So for a first batch of geometric constructions (one above, a few more on ipernity, most in the bin by now) I used another compass from M.’s set which worked well. But it didn’t allow for an ink nip to be attached.

Nevertheless I was experimenting with the one from my box, and was soon dreaming of a better nip: Considering that it is made from plastic, and has rough bits on the perimeter it works surpisingly well. But I imagined how the joy of using it would be multiplied if I had a decent smooth one. It took me just one day until I decided to buy more drafting tools.

So here are the contents of my new (grown up) drafting box:

new tools

My New Drafting Set

Oh, I love these new tools, I really do, and I feel silly and just a tad crazy for the joy I feel while looking at the photo. But look how steam-punk beautiful those compasses are! I am totally enarmoured with the one on the left in the top row. It makes rather small circles but fit perfectly in my hands, and the attachment to the arm that makes it easy to switch between a lead and a nip looks brilliant and works perfectly.
The next one, in the middle, may look a little weird. It is for to make really, really small circles, the tip of the pen(cil) and the needle can touch each other, and you can still make a perfect circle.
The rest of the box pretty much coincides with my box from back then: The thing on the top right is easily identified as a pair of dividers, and on the bottom another compass with a lead attached and an arm which makes it easy to swap the lead to the ruling pen’s nib also contained (middle top). There is another of those handles to which the nib can be attached, a box with spare leads, and on the very left there is an arm extension.

But there is more:

new pens

New Technical Pens

I also bought a box with technical pens. Now these are really interesting in itself, but I guess I rather spare that for another blog post (if you are interested at all). It just needs to be said that they are not fine liners with a felt tip, and they write with actual ink which comes in cartridges (spare ones can be seen in the picture, apparently providing spare ink and leads is an important selling point). Interesting here is the small clear plastic ring that can be seen on the bottom top of the 0.2mm pen: The pencs can be screwed into it, and the metal end goes into the arm of the compass – and then I can draw circles with ink with these technical pens. Very, very neat and gives beautiful results.

Well, so with all these tools I have been playing around. I uploaded many of my trials to an ipernity album for you to browse if you are interested. I am going to show you here a couple of different things I tried. This first one I made with the new tools and pens: Very simple, just trying different things:


trying out my ruling pen and the nib on the compass

The main question soon became: What do I want to draw, now that I have the tools? And what do I want to do with the resulting images? Two or three general things to draw immediately came to mind: Euklidian constructions (regular polygons), technical constructions, architecture. I started out with architecture. The idea was to begin with a simple structure and then add geometric elements and colours on top. Literally, because by now the tracing paper that I order had also reached me:

Layer 3, H. Kurzke

Layer 1, H. Kurzke

This are two “takes” from one of my experiments from the architectural series: On the left you see the base image, on the right three layers stacked on top. (It has been pointed out to me that the visible tape in the scans is distracting, and I agree. I cannot do much about them in these scans, but I tried to remember for other scans.)

A not very inspired very first trial at technical drawing, showing the box for 346 I am currently working on:


Box Construction for “346”, H. Kurzke

And finally – and this is the idea I currently like best, even thought the images I am going to show you are not yet as clean and perfect as I would like them: Geometric construction. I call this series “Arithmetic for the Visually Inclined”:

24polygon combined

upper left: 6=2*3, upper right: 12=2*6=4*3, lower left: 24=2*12=4*6=…, lower right 4 hexagons coloured in.

I guess I don’t have to say anything about the content of these images, but I am very happy to explain more if needed.

I dislike the specific writing in these images (although I like the square pattern in the corner, I might add it randomly here or there, hihi), and the colouring in the last layer just doesn’t work. It was supposed to better show the four hexagons that make up the hexadecagon. However, the paper warps too much under the moisture, and although I thought I thinned the ink quite a bit, the colours are still too opaque and nothing really is left of the image. But I hope the idea is pleasant. I am going try some more in that direction.

If you are interested in more, you can find it in my ipernity album as mentioned several times now. And I have not forgotten that while writing this blogpost I offered more information on ruling pens and on the technical pens. It would be helpful if you let me know whether you are interested at all. And of course feedback on my trials are more than welcome.

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