Tools of the Trade: G Nibs & Brushes

Choosing Keeping may be known for its impressive curation of fountain pens, but we certainly have one very humble nib amongst the collection. Our wooden dip pen holds what seems to be any old steel nib - but is in fact so much more than it appears. Ideal for calligraphy, writing, and drawing alike, the G nib by Zebra is the only singular nib we sell: it’s the only one we need! 

Manga artists, or mangaka, have longed used the G nib, owing to its flexibility and versatility. One can make very precise, razor-sharp lines, when no pressure is applied, and create wet, bold strokes when pushing down vertically. Stiff at first, but once broken in, they are quite malleable, making them the perfect instrument for beginner calligraphers and illustrators alike.

Artists as acclaimed as Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and known as ‘god of manga’, and Hayao Miyazaki, director and illustrator of most of the Studio Ghibli anime output, have utilised the G nib throughout their careers. Miyazaki has most recently turned to the G nib for the illustration of his post-retirement samurai themed manga! His work for Studio Ghibli - where they hand draw and colour every frame before animating - began as ink and/or pencil sketches which were then developed into watercolour paintings. Here pictured is Miyazaki using a brush very similar to our own white horsehair brush

Whether it be practicing your lettering, developing a graphic novel, or simply to play around with some inks on the page, why not give the G a go? 

Shop G Nibs & Holders here

As Seen In: Twin Peaks (1990)

The murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer sets the scene for David Lynch’s cult 1990s television show Twin Peaks, a mystery series set in a fictional town of the same name in the American northwest. Throughout the series, Laura struggles to tell her story from beyond the grave, relying on accounts of people who knew her - and claimed to. 

Harold Smith, an agoraphobic, was visited by Laura before her death, and entrusted him with her diary, an account of her innermost thoughts, and recurring dreams of her killer, BOB. Her best friend Donna visits Harold in an attempt to reclaim the diary and solve Laura’s murder. However, Harold will only read Donna few excerpts aloud. In exchange for reading the diary, Donna begins to tell him the story of her life for Harold’s “living novel”, a collection of the contributors’ stories of the world outside. To record Donna’s tale, Harold picks up a Pelikan Souverän fountain pen with its distinctive green-striped barrel, most likely the M800 based on its size. 

Pelikan, simply the German spelling of ‘pelican’, was founded in 1838 by chemist Carl Hornemann in Hanover, Germany, initially as an ink factory. Guenther Wagner took over the company in 1871 and seven years later, the titular pelican logo, with its four chicks below it, was designed and trademarked - one of the first trademarks in Germany. 

Though they had created a range of inks for every use (everyday writing ink, indelible bookkeeping ink, and even perfumed ink specifically formulated for female customers), Pelikan had not yet created a pen, and so in 1929 they produced their first, simply known as the ‘Pelikan Fountain Pen'. With a slick green barrel and black cap, it’s piston-fill technology and transparent ink window were revolutionary for the time, and a real game changer for fountain pen design. A year later, the company slightly modified the design and called it the 100. Later, the 100N was released, with many different colourways and finishes. In 1950 came the 400; with its distinctive green striped barrel (as seen in Twin Peaks), it was their most popular pen for the price range. 

Here at Choosing Keeping, we have several Pelikan models to choose from. The M200 with a creamy brown marbled barrel, or the jade green marbled barrel reminiscent of the original Pelikan Fountain Pen. The M400 is also on offer, in two finishes: black and green, or white with tortoiseshell stripe. With all our models being piston-filled, you will not need to refill your pen so frequently, and you too can create a ‘living novel’! 

Shop all Pelikan pens here

Peonies: The King of Flowers

a rice bowl
filled to the brim
one peony
- Buson

Paeonia, or peony, is named for the Greek god Paeon, the physician to the gods and student of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. As the story goes, Asclepius became jealous of his pupil, and so Zeus transformed Paeon into a peony flower to protect him from his mentor’s wrath. 

Pl. 100, Crimson double-flowered peony, Adder's-tongue fern, Basilius Bessler, 1820

Though there are many subspecies the ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony is understandably the most popular strain. Named for the famous 19th century French actress, it may be the best known species; with its full head of ruffled double petals and subtle scent, it is often included in wedding bouquets and romantic floral arrangements. Indeed, the Victorian language of flowers notes that the peony represents good fortune and a happy marriage - particularly poignant for a 12th wedding anniversary - as well as bashfulness, since it was said that mischievous nymphs would hide between its luscious petals. 

The peony has long been represented in art, from the 17th century botanical illustrations of Basilius Bessler to Modernist painters such as Bazille, Van Gogh, and Manet, including Bazille’s two portraits of a young woman arranging the flowers, as pictured below. These fluffy petals, drooping from their stems, are soft and romantic amongst the subdued background, one of many flowers in the bouquet. 

Black Woman with Peonies, Frédéric Bazille, 1870 

In the East, however, the peonies depicted in art have a wholly different interpretation. It is known as the King of Flowers and has been cultivated for over 4000 years, symbolising wealth and prosperity. China, Japan, and Korea have many species of tree peony; until 1929, the mudan (Paeonia suffruticosa) was the national flower of China, officially replaced by the meihua, or plum blossom, in 1964. The Japanese tree peony has featured in many forms throughout history: woodblock prints, ceramics, silkscreen papers, lacquerware, and tattoo art. 

Tattoos have long been taboo in Japan, often associated with the yakuza (mafia) and other criminal operations. Here pictured is one of the characters from the famous Chinese novel Water Margin, one of the first Chinese novels written in vernacular Mandarin; his back is decorated with the flower. Whilst in the West, one might associate peonies with romance and luck, the Japanese botan (peony) represents bravery and honour, making it a fitting armour for a warrior’s skin! 

The Wrestler Konjin Chogoro Throwing a Green Demon from Water Margin, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1866 

Peonies, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1866

The peony has often featured in the woodblock prints of the great Ukiyo-e artists, including the works of Hiroshige and in this three-panel screen by Kunisada, pictured above. Several of Choosing Keeping’s silk screen katazome and chiyogami papers, some adapted from ukiyo-e prints, feature the peony, such as the katazome repeat peony pattern here and the scene of the seasons in our full-panel chiyogami print. 

Perhaps you would like to try your hand at painting peonies! These Saiun-do pigment shades are specifically chosen to reflect the varying tones of the peony’s petals and leaves. From the tiny shop in Kyoto which translates to painted clouds, the raw pigment can be mixed with nikawa binder glue to your desired consistency, creating a paint much like gansai. Consider that preparing your paints is as much a part of the Nihonga art practice and artists' ritual as the painting itself. 

Find the pink peony pigment set here

As Seen In: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, Céline Sciamma)

On an island near Brittany in the late 18th century, a young lady of the gentry, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), is to be married off to a foreign nobleman. Her mother commissions a young painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), for the task, but advises the artist that her daughter does not wish to be painted, and so she will have to complete the portrait in secret. Marianne spends her days with Héloïse acting as her companion, only working the portrait when she returns to her room, hiding her brushes and canvas from her subject.

The eventual, titular portrait depicts Héloïse caught aflame, looking towards the moon in a cloudy sky. It recalls a scene midway through the film where the pair attend a bonfire. Earlier in the day, they read the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus betrays his oath and turns back to look at his wife, condemning her forever to the underworld. That evening, they attend the bonfire gathering with other women from the island. Héloïse and Marianne lock eyes across the fire - an intense, smouldering gaze - until Héloïse, self-conscious, walks away, the train of her dress catching fire as she leaves. The allegory of Orpheus and Eurydice is continued throughout the film, leading to its heartbreaking final scenes.

Throughout the film, Marianne makes many sketches of Héloïse - her face and form alike. In the scenes pictured, she can be seen using a handmade paper, not dissimilar to our 17th century drawing papers, available in various sizes.

This acid-free, museum grade paper is produced in small batches from leftover linens of the textile industry. The traditionally made paper uses no tree pulp at all, and is neither bleached nor boiled for colouring purposes, making it a good use of the material and a form of stationery up-cycling. Its rich texture makes it suitable for pastels, watercolour, drawing, charcoal, ink, and many other mediums. Available in packs of multiple sheets in various sizes as well as a lightly bound pad.

To make your marks, choose a stick of charcoal from our artisan fine charcoal taster box. These beautifully packaged boxes contain willow and hornbeam in varying lengths and thicknesses for every subject. For the final portrait, our Wallace Seymour 18th century oils will satisfy. The colours selected are original pigments, based on a palette belonging to the British portraitist George Romney (1734-1802). As he had up to twelve portrait sittings a day, it was essential that he had access to pre-mixed, flesh tone tints such as these. 

This Valentine’s Day, try your hand at capturing your lover’s last look of longing: painted in secret or otherwise…

As Seen In: Good Will Hunting (1997, Gus van Sant)

“The intent was, and still is, to make the geometry and physics that are expressed through the stars accessible and appealing.  They are a kind of fusion of science and art.” - John Kostick

John Kostick in his workshop in Roxbury, MA, 1967

If you have ever visited our shop on Tower Street, you may have wondered what on earth those star shaped bronze objects are atop the Ohnishi pen vitrine. Indeed, we have many ornamental objects in the shop, but this particular one has an intriguing history and purpose.

The Kostick star, so named for its makers and founders John and Jane Kostick, is not purely decorative. In 1962, John attended Brandeis University, Massachusetts, to study physics. A lecture from renowned architect and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller inspired Kostick’s interest in exploration of spatial forms and how these could be applied to simple, practical structures. 

The idea of ‘Tensegrity’, attributed to Kenneth Nelson, was explored, where models are suspended by ‘tension members’ such as wires or strings. They are joined by tension and do not converge, allowing for a push-and-pull spatial integrity. Kostick enjoyed developing this mathematical and scientific concept through handmade crafts and design, and created several versions before patenting the stars in 1970. Independently, other inventors have created similar designs such as Japanese architect Akio Hizume’s version. Today, John and his wife Jane make the stars as well as many other designs such as integrated wooden structures, furniture, and magnetic assemblies, all inspired by their interest in the fusion of science and art. 

In the Academy Award-winning coming of age film Good Will Hunting, the large, six-axis Kostick star is featured in the many scenes set in MIT Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård)’s office. As mathematical genius Will (Matt Damon) and Lambeau argue about Will’s employment prospects, you can see the star perched atop a pile of folders on Lambeau’s desk in the foreground of the shot. It is quite fitting that this Fields Medal winning professor would have such a structure in his office. 

Available in small, medium, or large sizes, they make the perfect gift for oneself or others. Perhaps you aren’t destined for the NSA, but you can certainly enjoy this delightful object for its visual and architectural complexity. 

You can find the Kostick stars on our website here

As Seen In: Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975, Peter Weir) 

In this enchanting mystery film, set in 1900 in the rural outback of Victoria, Australia, the students of a girls’ boarding school go missing after a Valentine’s Day picnic. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, the story is told as if it were inspired by true events, though it is entirely fictitious. To the present day, there is an annual gathering at Hanging Rock to celebrate the novel and film, with attendees in costumes of the era.  

In the scene pictured, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) cuts the Valentine’s cake in a single - and rather ominous - stabbing motion. The girls laze about in the valley with their embroidery and books, drinking tea and eating scones. Soon, though, their curiosity turns to the volcanic entity, the titular Hanging Rock, and the food is left to be swarmed by ants. 

19 minutes, 58 seconds 

15 minutes, 45 seconds 

15 minutes, 35 seconds 

Don’t make such mistakes: stay with your hamper and luxuriate in these last days of summer weather. Write in a vintage wallpaper covered journal with a complementary Japanese fountain pen or sketch the trees around you with a tin of various grades of sketching pencils in a linen bound sketch book

The picnic setup doesn’t require a purpose-built basket with plastic crockery or any of the other flash accessories. All you need is a blanket, strawberries, and a slice of cake - and be sure to wear your best broad-brimmed, ribbon-tied hat and flounciest dress. 

20 minutes, 12 seconds 

        Mudlarking: Treasures from the Tide

If you find yourself on the Thames foreshore at low tide (you can check tide times here) don’t forget to look down. There are hundreds of traces of London’s rich history to be found as centuries of everyday items have found their way into the river including wood, leather, bone and, perhaps most prolifically, ceramic.

Many historians have used such artefacts to quite literally piece together the city’s history; indeed there is much to be learned from the commonplace items of a time and place. At Choosing Keeping we are equally interested in the culture of the everyday and revere the significance of household objects as markers of an era or generation as much as anything you can find behind museum doors. 

The most common thing you are guaranteed to find when mudlarking (don’t forget if you want to seriously search the foreshore you do need to get a permit) are fragments of clay pipes (image above). These tend to date back to the eighteenth century and, if you can believe it, used to be pre-loaded with tobacco and for single use, so London’s smokers would discard their smoked pipe into the river once done. This is why so many small pieces of these can be found on the muddy beaches; if you’re very lucky you may find one with an intact bowl!

But pipes are not the only ceramic items that can teach us about London’s past - at one time many potteries existed throughout the UK, of course due to cheaper labour costs overseas most of these have now closed, and you can still find traces of them in the form of fragments most commonly appearing by London’s docklands. Perhaps a box was dropped into the waters and ceramic remains, cups and bowls in their previous lifetime, have only just appeared from the murky depths of the Thames. 

Lakes and manmade canals were once the most efficient means of transport for trade in the UK - indeed an intricate network of canals still exists connecting London to major working cities such as Leeds and Manchester. Built in the latter half of the eighteenth century, many factories accordingly would be built by the water and a portion of items would inevitably end up below the tides when loading the narrowboats that once facilitated transport from factory to customer. 

We can only wonder exactly how these treasures made their way into the water, but they are a reminder to pause and think about the things around us and how they make up the specific ecosystem of objects that define us as both individuals and a generation. 

As Seen In: Tenebrae (1982, Dario Argento) 

Following an argument that leaves her stranded in the night, Maria (Lara Wendel) encounters a murderous doberman which sets her running for her life. Fitting with the dark atmosphere of this typical giallo (a subgenre of Italian horror that features mystery and crime) film, she only finds safety in the form of an unlocked back doorway which leads her down an ominous concrete stairway into a sparsely furnished basement space. 

Limping and bleeding from the dog bites, any fleeting relief from the immediate canine danger is quickly replaced by something more lingering and insidious as whilst adjusting to her surroundings Maria’s attention is quickly drawn to the large table which dominates the space. On it she discovers gruesome photographs and newspaper clippings that reveal the identity of the homeowner to be the murderer of young women we have been searching for in the movie thus far. 

Unable to escape back outside due to the lingering threat of the dog, she rummages through and frantically collects some of the evidence, including single letters that have been cut from papers to make up the archetypal letter-by-letter note of a killer. But what scissors have been used to cut these incriminating artefacts I hear you ask? A familiar pair of squared off handles can be seen in close up which reveal the accomplice to be the very same as our classic 1970’s design.

Produced for decades in Premana, Northern Italy, the small mountain town that remains the country's largest export of scissors and blades, it is fitting that these can be found in the dark Italian thriller. May they grace your own desk as well as that of a fictitious serial killer..! Tenebrae contains some troubling scenes - watch with caution.

at 52 min

   Cats in Art: The Feline Muse

It is hard to imagine ‘the perfect domestic companion’, often an unpredictable and nonchalant friend, sitting still for a portrait on cue (The girls in Ammi Phillips’ (1788 - 1865)  Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog and Lucian Freud’s Girl with a Kitten 1947 appear to be grasping onto the cats very tightly! ) yet domestic cats have been a consistent feature in art since the Ancient Egyptians, where cats were considered sacred and were even mummified. The Romans and Ancient Greeks then depicted cats in mosaics as allies to the humans often chasing and killing mice, following on through the 20th Century to Japanese woodblock artists who depicted cats in the gardens of Onsen bath houses.

Laziness (La Paresse), 1896
Félix Vallotton (1865 – December 29, 1925)

Today we may see cats as cute and cosy friends or stars of Instagram but they have not always carried the same favour; in the iconography of Christian art, cats symbolised laziness, lust and deception. Cats can often be seen lurking in the corner of a painting reminding the viewer that betrayal is on the horizon: if you look closely at Domenico Ghirlandaio’s (1449-1494) version of The Last Supper you can see a cat sitting at Judas’ feet. Even in the 19th Century, Félix Vallotton pictured a cat in his woodcut print La Paresse, or “The laziness”.

Image from Tacuinum Sanitatis, c.a. 1400

In contrast, cats are also represented as a comforting friend and part of wholesome domestic life. In the 15th Century work Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval guide to health, you can find this image of a woman working over the cauldron with her cat in the background keeping her company. (Observant Choosing Keeping paper fans might find this tile design very familiar..)

Les Debutants
Henriëtte Ronner-Knip (1821-1909)

Dutch-Belgian artist Henriëtte Ronner-Knip (1821-1909) was know for her pictures of domestic animals, mainly cats getting up to mischief, and was extremely popular for her Victorian Romantic style of oil painting. She had a house full of animal “models” including a parrot and apparently was as stubborn as a cat herself. Here in ‘Les Debutants’ the kittens are ransacking the art supplies, a scene reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Aristocats.

Finally a favourite - “Black Cat Auditions”, 1961 by Ralph Crane (1913-1988) for LIFE magazine. Proof that is it possible to herd cats!

For those who like to admire “cat art”, as opposed to creating it, we recommend this striking Ann Hepper Cat box but if you want to paint your own feline (good luck keeping them still) I recommend the Wallace Seymour portrait oil paints or Choosing Keeping’s new Darkness and Light watercolours.

As Seen In The 80's: Dixon Ticonderoga

When watching films I think it’s fair to say that the general public are paying attention to plot and characters with particular settings and decor adding to the mood and style of the scene. Cinephiles may pay closer attention, recognising the symbolism of a particular colour and the nuances in the subtlest of lighting changes. 

But how many people obsessively check the backgrounds of sets for a particular pencil? I think this may be an affliction I endure alone; my viewing experience will forever be haunted by the looming presence of the number 2 Dixon Ticonderoga. First produced in 1913, the iconic yellow and green colour scheme appeared after the war when the previously brass ferrule was replaced with plastic due to metal shortage. 

An all American celebrity pencil, starring in many Hollywood blockbusters. A few favourite cameos from the 1980's...

Breakfast Club (1985, John Hughes - at 6 mins, 25 seconds)

Stand by Me (1986, Rob Reiner - at 1 hour, 19 mins, a bit blurry but unmistakable in the foreground)

Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper - at 43 mins, 20 seconds) 

Heathers (1989, Michael Lehmann - at 6 mins exactly, on the table in the foreground)

Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985, Alan Metter - at 1 hour 10 mins)

The Act of Handwriting: Writing vs The Written

Walter Benjamin's library card 

Handwriting is two things - the ‘writing’ and the ‘written’. Most of the time we tend to focus on the latter, since it is the very reason humans learned to write - to document our thoughts, our lives, our progress as beings. One might ask, if handwriting was born with the intention to communicate, is it still worth preserving considering the constant development of its digital replacement tools? 

The answer is yes - and it’s not just because we love stationery here in the shop. The true value of handwriting lies in the action itself, the movement, the kinaesthetics of it - the ‘writing’. Handwriting is an embodied and phenomenological experience - Husserl states that phenomenology calls us to go back “to the things themselves”, the things being the abstract constructs of experience as we reside in them. 

When writing, the objects we hold become the extension of ourselves; the materiality of handwriting comes from everything the writer touches during the act. Each material contributes its unique sensory stimulant to the whole process and eventually, contributes to an absolutely irreplaceable, wholesome experience. When a person is touching the surface, the person is simultaneously being touched by it - the hand is where the soul and world commingle. 

Aside from that, the idea of Aura (Benjamin, 2008 - handwriting example above) - the original, the authentic, adds another layer to the value of writing by hand. In the world of handwriting, it stands for the autographic. Everyone writes in their own way and leaves a unique trail of existence. Your handwriting says ‘I was here’, it is a form of establishing oneself amongst all the overwhelming. In this sense, the meaning of handwriting lies in the writing act itself, independent of the meaning of the written words. 

JMW Turner: Painted Seascapes

Waves Breaking on a Shore (c. 1835)
Oil on Canvas, 46 x 60cm

Born interestingly just around the corner from our shop, JMW Turner seems only too fitting to write about for this week's sea theme. A once-hidden aspect of his enterprise, Turner’s watercolour seascapes form a sizeable portion of the 20,000 paintings and drawings that he left behind on his death in 1851. Described by John Ruskin as ‘the father of modern art’, Turner’s more experimental and abstracted pieces solidify his place as a forerunner in the wider developments of abstract expressionism and impressionism.

With an emphasis on common subjects such as city ports, and, in his later career, a disregard for objective realism, Turner captured the mundanities of everyday life in a manner that can be described as bursting with excitement and optimistic in its modernist outreach. 

Although traditionally believed to be experimental in their intent, Turner’s ‘Beginnings’ (a group of several hundred rapidly made and expressive watercolours) convey more so Turner’s delight in his material of choice and transforming it into his most beloved subject - the sea.

The paints in our Turner Colour Beginnings Watercolour Box have been purposefully created to emulate the feel, texture and colours of Turner’s own paint materials, utilising historical pigments of the day and perfect for your own seascape experiments.

Find your own Turner paint set here 

Pressing Flowers: A Victorian Pastime

Since this summer is gifting us numerous rainy afternoons, we think it’s time to dust off some of our knowledge on the recreational uses of flowers, the history, secrets and fun facts of one of the Victorians' favourite pastimes: pressing flowers.

Documented traces of how various cultures employed flowers appear in burial grounds and artistic exhibits:  Egyptians, for example, used petals for scenting houses or as perfumes, but also utilised them in funerary rituals. Oshibana - the Japanese art of pressing flowers in order to create a picture - originated in the 16th Century. The charm of this artistic endeavour is the possibility to turn leaves into worlds, imagining alternative scenarios through meticulous arrangement and creativity. 

In the early Victorian era, the art became fashionable in both England and the United States, but finding and cataloguing specimens weren’t simply parlour pastimes - botanical scrapbooks were kept also by travellers and botanists whose drive and ingenuity led to some important discoveries that improved our understanding natural phenomena at large.

Victorians are known for their penchant for symbolism and studied ploys to convey affection and memorialise important events: preserving petals or a whole flower into a book became a way of safeguarding a special gift, to communicate passionate love and devotion, and mark an important rite of passage. 

Although it gained visibility throughout her reign, the scrapbook tradition didn’t end with Queen Victoria; as recently as 1980 another royal, Princess Grace of Monaco - formerly Grace Kelly, undisputed diva of the times - published a book full of her own pressed flower creations. 

So, what are we waiting for? Why not collect your pressed flowers in one of our refined Antoinette Poisson Dominoté notebooks? But don’t forget: have a look at the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland website to find out how to pick responsibly!

Find your own notebook here

As Seen In: Bright Star (2009, Jane Campion)

The intimate letters exchanged between lovers have long been a way for couples to correspond despite distance, illness, and familial and societal disapproval. In Bright Star, the portrait of the affair between English poet John Keats (1795-1821) and Fanny Brawne (1800-1865) is detailed through his poetry and their letters, exchanged throughout their short romance before his death from tuberculosis in 1821. In the scene pictured, Fanny (Abbie Cornish) reads a letter from Keats (Ben Whishaw) from his time spent in the Isle of Wight:

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days — three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.

For the film, writer-director Jane Campion incorporated lines from Keats’ letters into the screenplay - indeed, the letter is quoted from his real letter of 3 July, 1819, written from the Isle of Wight. 

John Keats first met Fanny Brawne in 1818 at Wentworth Place, the semi-detached houses now known as Keats House on the south side of Hampstead Heath. Keats and his companion Charles Armitage Brown lived in the adjoining house beside Brawne and her family. Though slow to warm, their romance quickly flourished, with the couple becoming engaged the following year; initially, this was kept secret from Brawne’s mother, who disapproved of Keats’ poor social status. By the end of 1820, Keats’ health had rapidly deteriorated, with doctors advising him to spend the winter in Italy. The severity of his condition still did not move Brawne’s mother to consent to the marriage, and so they exchanged locks of hair and gave each other parting gifts. Keats gave tokens of affection such as his copy of the folio Shakespeare, his miniature, an Etruscan lamp; Brawne gave him a new pocket-book, a paper knife, and an oval white cornelian stone. Keats finally died in Rome on 23 February, 1821, at the age of 25, with the cornelian in his hand. 

Before he had left for Italy, the couple destroyed Brawne’s letters to Keats: though the reason for this is unknown, it is suspected that Keats wanted her to be able to meet another suitor and marry, without having her reputation spoiled by the evidence of intimate letters. Keats’ letters to Fanny did survive, with one being purchased for £96,000 in 2011 (now displayed in Keats House), and many have now been restored and published in various collections.

Find all your letter writing materials here

From Analog to Digital: How We Write

The materials we use when doing writing of any kind inform the content we create and it is fascinating to think about the ways in which authors throughout time have used different and newly developed mediums to create finished and fully polished works. Of course, at Choosing Keeping, we are preferential to a return to the analogue, to good old fashioned pen on paper (a sentiment shared with friend of the shop Neil Gaiman who values the flow of thought that only the handwritten word can produce). But, alas, these days it is far more common to encounter an individual who is more a stranger to fountain pen than keyboard.

There is a big jump from handwriting to typing and the most notable cultural development for written mediums was of course the invention of the typewriter. Whist initially scorned by authors and poets of the late nineteenth century, the mechanical interference with poetic thought seen as almost unholy, the typewriter was quickly accepted and adopted by many authors and perhaps the most famous typewritten novel is Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel ‘On The Road’.

Legend according to Kerouac is that the manuscript, written on a long scroll so as not to interrupt the flow of writing when changing sheets of typewriter paper, took just three intoxicated weeks to write. The romanticisation of the writing process is key for On The Road as it creates a mythology of immediacy, of a flow of unedited thought that is in keeping with the beat author’s transient style and theme. But in fact this is a story cultivated by the man himself - in reality the novel was drafted, considered and edited for a decade before its final form took place. 

And it was in journals and letters that Kerouac first wrote On the Road - theres no beating the everyday musings that take place between the pages of a notebook.

Find your own notebook here

As Seen In: At Eternity's Gate (2018, Julian Schnabel)

41 mins, 39 seconds

“At the moment we have a very glorious, powerful heat here, with no wind, which suits me very well. Sunshine, a light which, for want of a better word I can only call yellow — pale sulphur yellow, pale lemon, gold. How beautiful yellow is!”  - Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, Arles, Sunday 12 August 1888.

This somewhat unconventional biopic of the life and work of Dutch Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) opens with his dissatisfaction with his lifestyle and artistic output - and the weather - in Paris. On fellow painter Gaugin (Oscar Isaac)’s advice, he makes the journey south, to Arles, in the former Provence region in France. Like many of his contemporaries, van Gogh was inspired to paint en plein air, fully immersing himself in the natural world to accurately depict the town and fields of Arles. His work during this time is ripe with colour: deep gold, ultramarine, green, and mauve. His artistic breakthrough over the 17 month period there produced 200 paintings and over 100 drawings and watercolours, with much of that work being created outdoors. 

The Summer months have long inspired artists to take the studio out into the field in the movement known as painting en plein air, or “in the open air”. With the invention of portable easels and canvases, many artists were now able to reimagine their studio setup. The invention of the French box easel in the mid 19th century was a game changer: made of wood and incorporating the paint box and palette, with telescopic legs, it could sometimes even be folded up into a backpack for ultimate portability. Paint, previously only used after being prepared by hand with raw pigments and a binder, was suddenly available in tubes, thus inviting a new and exciting way to capture the landscape. Early Impressionists would use a large white umbrella to diffuse the bright and ever-changing light, and it is clear to see the difference in brushstroke techniques that were developed as a result of this outdoor exposure: fast and wet-on-wet strokes to capture the vast brilliance of nature in full colour. 

14 mins, 54 seconds

Sunshine has returned to the UK: why not grab your best straw hat and try your hand at painting outdoors with a boxed set of 18 tubes of British natural pigment oil paints? Each pigment has been selected specifically for depicting landscapes. Or perhaps you prefer something pocket-sized: how about the Italian honey-bound watercolour pans of the Zecchi 12 Watercolour Travel Set? Add a brass or silver travel paintbrush and you are well on your way to painting en plein air.

31 mins, 04 seconds

Father's Day Across the Globe

It’s that time of the year again: Father’s Day weekend! On this day children present Father’s Day cards not just to their dads but also grandfathers, uncles, stepfathers or any other person who commands the position of a father in their life. Whether yours is a football dad, a not-so-funny-jokes dad, a cheeky dad who enjoys embarrassing you in front of your friends, or you have two dads with very different tastes, Choosing Keeping has the perfect gift for them all.

According to the lore, Father’s Day originated in Spokane, Washington, USA in 1910. Initially frowned upon by traditionalistic men - that saw in the celebration of playful, kind and caring father figures the negation of their idea of fatherhood - it rapidly spread all over the United States and oversees, where it gained popularity in the UK too. Now over a century old, Father’s Day has gone from a quite unpopular concept to a bona-fide celebration to shower fathers with love and appreciation.

Adapted and tweaked to better represent different cultures and values all over the world, this joyous and somehow quirky celebration embraces very local traditions and national symbols.

In Germany, Father’s Day takes place on Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter. Known as Vatertag, Mannertag and Herrentag, Father’s Day in Germany often involves odd outfits and wagons full of booze.

Father’s Day is a December affair in Thailand, celebrated on the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. People give canna flowers to their fathers and grandfathers.

Father's Day (父の日, chichi no hi) in Japan is celebrated on the third Sunday of June with fathers showered with presents like sake, shochu, sweets, fashion items and sports equipment.

In the UK you might want to treat your dad to a pint or two, a juicy roast or perhaps a classic joke card to start the day.

As Seen In: Utamaro and His Five Women (1946, Kenji Mizoguchi)

20 mins, 11 seconds

The film, based on the Kanji Kunieda novel of the same name, is a fictionalised retelling of the life of Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), the famous ukiyo-e printmaker. It was produced under Allied occupation, one of very few jidaigeiki films made at the time - period films that celebrate national themes. Perhaps not Mizoguchi’s best known work, the film is said to be partially autobiographical; in the scene pictured he is asked to paint directly onto the back of a beautiful courtesan to be tattooed over, mirroring Mizoguchi’s successes due to his depiction of women in his films. 

Utamaro’s work was predominantly ukiyo-e prints, which roughly translates to ‘pictures of the floating world’ - relating to urban pleasures such as scenes of bathhouses, kabuki, sumo, and prostitution. 

Indeed many of the full panel prints found at Choosing Keeping are based on similar themes and designs, taking direct reference from ukiyo-e masters.

However, as the style developed, other scenes such as landscapes, flora and fauna, and folk tales were depicted. The first ukiyo-e prints were produced in the late 17th century, and the movement flourished through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Utamaro was especially known for his mastery of the bijin-ga style prints, or portraits of beautiful women, often pictured alone, and in a domestic setting. His work was very popular during his lifetime, and he was sure to sign his work with ‘the genuine Utamaro’ to distinguish it from any lesser imitations. 

After the over 200 years of isolationist foreign policy of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan, many Japanese prints and curiosities began to appear in Europe, particularly in France, where the trend was known as Japonisme. The prints of Utamaro piqued the interest of artist collectors such as Gauguin, Monet, and Degas.

13 mins, 38 seconds

This newfound interest in East Asian art and interiors influenced the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including Van Gogh, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec. Utamaro particularly inspired American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, in both her choices of composition and colour. 

A woman and a Cat, Utamaro (1793-1794)

As Seen In: Just One of the Guys (1985, Lisa Gottlieb)

Is there a decade more nostalgic than the 1980s? Remembered and beloved for bold colours and questionable taste levels - its not just mullets and velvet scrunchies that are coming back! Aside from its vibrant pop culture, the 1980s is a decade known for some quite influential technological developments; both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows were developed in this decade and it is no surprise it was a culture that fully embraced all things man made - from the electronic sounds of the likes of Prince and Soft Cell to the glossy veneer of a vinyl sticker

Not out of place in your favourite 80's teen movie, these stickers represent the fun of the decade where collecting and sharing was encouraged and garish decoration of the everyday celebrated. In ‘Just one of the Guys’, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night no less, Terri (Joyce Hyser) masquerades as a male student to make a point about gender bias as she is sure her journalism piece would have won her a coveted summer job if she were male. All the classic American teen cliques are represented and each have their own stereotypical signifiers. 

Following a blow up in the school cafeteria, one of the school nerds (Robert Fieldsteel), convinced he is from outer space, has decorated himself with galactic stickers. Concerned with identity and self discovery, the stickers allow for unique self expression from a decade that pushed the boundaries of identity politics and norms.

Depending on your definition, stickers can broadly be dated as far back as the ancient Egyptians when market sellers would paste papers to the walls to advertise the prices of their wares. Most sources however attribute the modern sticker to the likes of ‘Stan the sticker man’, Stan Avery, who in 1935 constructed a kind of Frankenstein machine from parts of a washing machine motor, sewing machine and a sabre saw. What he developed became known as Avery labels, which are still known and used today, but it is the more decorative and brightly coloured ancestors of this technology that stimulate that twinge of nostalgia for the school room and sticker collecting days. 

1 hour, 5 mins

Earlier in the film Phil, the nerd, is seen with similar stickers on his folder; just one on his shirt so far! - 21 mins, 42 seconds

Leather Hide Painting

Throughout history, indigenous nations have recorded their histories through art, crafts, music, and speech. The Plains Indians of the First Nations people of North America, comprised of over 30 tribes, engaged in animal hide painting to record spiritual communications, scenes of daily life, and to mark events and time passed. The hides were usually buffalo, deer, or elk, and both ‘rawhide’ (untreated) and tanned hides were used. Tanned hides were usually treated with the animals’ brains, a laborious process that involved rubbing the brains against the hide with water for an exceptionally smooth and supple finish. Brain tanning was particularly useful for hides prepared to make soft articles such as clothing and blankets. Men tended to paint scenes of spiritual visions and personal victories on teepees, shields, and drums, whilst women were more inclined towards painting abstract geometric patterns on parfleches (storage bags for food and other goods) and clothing. To apply the natural pigments to the hide, one would use a bone or wood stylus.

With no written history before approximately 1880, many Plains tribes relied on oral histories, passing stories down from generation to generation. Before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, the Sioux people measured the year as the time between first snowfall and first snowfall.

 To document the events of the time passed, the tribe’s appointed historian would paint the waniyetu wówapi, also known as a winter count. The winter count was a pictorial calendar upon which any significant happenings were depicted, with each pictograph representing a year passed, organised chronologically. When reviewing the winter count, the tribe’s historian would then be able to recall any given year’s events with clarity, aiding him in retelling their histories to the tribe. For example, in the pictured winter count, the horse in the centre of the hide represents the year 1801-2, as this was when this Sioux collective received their first horse. This hide reviews the years from 1800-1871, beginning at the centre and spirals outwards in a counterclockwise fashion. It is named the ‘Lone Dog Winter Count’ as the hide was last maintained and kept by a Yanktonais Nakota man named Lone Dog; it is unclear if he contributed to its decoration, though he would have been responsible for its interpretation. 

The recording of history was more important than maintaining the original hide; when the hide was beginning to wear, several copies were made, either onto muslin or canvas. For this reason, there are only around 36 original winter count hides in existence.

Lone Dog, Winter Count

Sun Kills Two, Winter Count - Photograph by John A Anderson, 1923

As Seen In: Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003, Peter Webber) 

Based on the novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier, the film depicts the life of Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer and his most famous work. This fictionalised account of how the titular painting came to be tells of a young servant girl, Griet, and how she is drawn into the world of the elusive painter. As she works for his household, he is increasingly intrigued by her and invites her to work alongside him in preparing pigments for his palette, eventually having her model for the famous painting.

In the scenes pictured, Griet (Scarlett Johansson) purchases raw materials such as lapis lazuli for ultramarine and is taught by Vermeer (Colin Firth) how to grind and prepare the pigments for making paint, mixing the raw materials with linseed oil, resin, and other binders. The paint is ground with a muller upon a slate. Vermeer shows her the pure rocks of vermilion and malachite, ruby shellac flakes, and wine skins to make verdigris.

Vermeer used very few pigments on his palette, and was known to favour expensive ones such as lapis lazuli, which he used not only for its pure colour but quite unusually as an additional layer over and under other colours.

He was not dissuaded by their cost; his paintings were funded by patrons and clients such as art collector Pieter van Ruijven, as well as the extortionate prices he charged for works sold. Though moderately successful in his lifetime, he was relatively unknown outside of his hometown and residence in Delft, and did not achieve international fame until the mid-19th century, when his works were rediscovered.  

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is generally classified as a ‘tronie’, or face, a Dutch name for paintings of anonymous sitters, usually focusing on the expression, or a model dressed as a stock character. The style is similar in function to a classical portrait, except that as the figure depicted is unknown, it would be sold through the art market rather than commissioned by a patron or court. The headdress of the model is painted with ultramarine and yellow ochre, with subtle layers of lead white and ultramarine to create the illusion of shimmering fabric.

From 37 min 39 seconds

Pictured above - an image from our visit to the paint factory with Zecchi demonstrating traditional paint making techniques that are also exemplified in 'Girl with the Pearl Earring'; Zecchi's paints today are still made with artisanal methods but now do employ machinery!  

Stationery: A Vehicle for Democracy

Election Ink and Polling Pencils

Image: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters - The Guardian

For many of us living in England, Wales or Scotland, today we will be participating in elections - whether mayoral in London, local council or parliamentary. In the UK, polling stations do provide pencils for filling in voting ballots, though possibly you have never questioned or contemplated on the choice of stationery.  Given graphite’s easily and effective erasable function, it seems at odds with the inherent pitfalls of democracy and its iconic expression: voting. When asked, officials have justified the use of pencils versus ink because of the lesser risk of invalidating votes byway of ink transfer or spillage. 

Put aside for one second the brilliant technology that is ballpoint pens, not exactly cutting edge stuff, over 60 years old now, and not widely known for its mass leakage threat, one could interpret favouring graphite over ink as an expression of political philosophy and culture. While you would never dream to fill and sign a check in pencil - using it for voting is a powerful and confident demonstration in our faith and trust that elections will be carried out legitimately. Push the argument further and the choice of graphite seems to carry deeper subtext - a sort of cheeky provocation, not tempting fate, but certainly a flaunting demeanour, a demonstrable sense of pride to carry out something with so much gravitas as the hard-earned right to self-determination using, the most cavalier medium to do so. 

That is the brilliance of the multi-faceted talents of stationery. Far from being the reserved territory of artists and instagram fads, it also carries real-world scope for political meaning. Indeed many nations, by contrast but with parallel intention, have entrusted ink, graphite’s symbolic opposite, as a low-tech medium to demonstrate fair elections. 

So called “Election-ink” has been used, most famously in India as recently as 2019 in the world’s largest democratic exercise, as a safeguard against voting fraud and double voting. Each voter’s left index finger and nail cuticle is stained in a special indelible bluish-purple ink containing silver nitrate which cannot be washed out with any chemicals or soap, and only disappears as the skin cells shed and renew, roughly a week later. The ink is produced by a government owned company in India, Mysore Paints and Varnish, which exports to over 30 countries, and has kept the formula a secret since 1962 when it was first deployed. More than a vehicle for democracy, voter’s ink has also become a symbolic badge of honour for ‘having voted’ as seen in powerful images of citizens waving their forefinger to attest to fair elections.

Perhaps we should consider giving the pencil the same honour - a symbol and reminder of the privilege that are fair elections, entrusting humble old-age technology to speak up for it, whatever choice of implement that may be.

As Seen In: After Life(1998, Hirokazu Kore-eda)

If you could only choose one memory from your life to preserve after death, which memory would you choose? That is the question posed by “After Life" as a group of recently deceased are welcomed to a lodge - the modest waypoint between life and death - and are asked to decide exactly that. Early in the film the fleeting residents muse over their memories, and the councillors who are there to assist, and eventually recreate each scene, take notes.

A councillor records a woman’s desire to remember her husband before he left for war, and in close up is the unmistakable oversized hooded nib which was classic to Japanese pen manufacture from the 1950’s, broadly, and by Pilot in particular in the form of early Elite and Custom ranges from the mid to late 60’s. Complete with engraved metal barrel, the pen in question is certainly a predecessor to the Pilot silver cross hatch - the fine nib suiting the precision required for Japanese character alphabets.

The film is littered with much familiar stationery; a marker of the culture of the everyday, and so often associated with memories of childhood, it is no surprise that a film preoccupied with reminiscence and nostalgia is populated with pens, pencils and if you watch closely at the end an old friend of Choosing Keeping - a black and orange Maruman sketch book.

Sketchbook - 1 hour 55 min

Fountain Pen - 14 min 05 seconds

As Seen In: Jaws(1975, Steven Spielberg)

When a man-eating shark terrorises the townspeople and tourists of Amity Island, an oceanographer, professional shark fisherman, and a local police chief team up to catch it. When a shark is caught, oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), arrives on the scene to measure the bite radius. Between his own jaws is the iconic Blackwing 602 pencil as he assures the gleeful crowd that this is in fact a tiger shark; not the infamous great white.

The Blackwing 602 is know for its distinctive pearlescent grey colour, gold foiling, removable pink eraser, and long ferrule (the metal part that connects the pencil to its eraser). It claims to write with ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ - as the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing was marketed - and sits somewhere between a 2 and 3B lead grade. Now manufactured in Japan by Palomino, the original run of pencils are quite difficult to come by - racking up extortionate prices on eBay and at vintage fairs.

The original Blackwing was a favourite of Hollywood and appears in several other classic films of the era, as well as some modern television shows set in the past.

34 min 25 seconds

"Painting with Scissors" - Cutouts by Henri Matisse

Scissors are often considered useful for day-to-day tasks such as opening food packets, performing lockdown haircuts, or cutting papers when gift wrapping, but do you think of them as a drawing tool?

Using scissors as a drawing tool, he created his well-known and loved ‘cut outs’ that captured the linear quality of drawing with the form of sculpture. Coming from a family of tailors, his preference was a pair of large dressmaking scissors (although if you choose to follow in Matisse’s footsteps,  remember that a pair of scissors should be used exclusively for either paper or fabric, or the sharp blades will quickly blunt) and he would use these to cut bold, playful shapes into large sheets of paper that had been painted with gouache by his assistants. The large, dynamic shapes would then be pinned to the wall, arranged to find the desired composition before being pasted down. This way of working enabled Matisse to work from his bed or wheelchair. He called this technique “painting with scissors”.

This active and immediate way of working was intended to get ideas on the page. Unlike a pencil mark, the lines created with scissors cannot be erased, so confident and decisive moves are essential. For decoupage, we use the Choosing Keeping Italian 1970s scissors as they are extremely sharp and agile. For dainty precision work we recommend ultra-fine, made in Japan, stainless steel precision scissors.

As Seen In: Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, Agnès Varda)

Omniscient in its execution, the overhead shot of a fortune-teller’s hands shuffling a deck of tarot cards accompanies this fascinating title sequence in Agnès Varda’s “Cleo from 5 to 7”. Though the remainder of the film is in black and white, this opening scene is in full colour, illuminating the beauty and intricacy of each card’s design.

The fortune-teller (Loye Payen) asks her patron, Cléo (Corinne Marchand), to draw nine cards — three for the past, three for the present and three for the future. The cards are drawn from a traditional Lenormand set, named for the famed French cartomancienne Marie-Anne Lenormand who is widely credited for the rise of cartomancy in France during the Revolutionary period.

The chosen cards represent various elements of Cléo’s life: her widowed friend, a kindly gentleman, a doctor. Cléo confesses her ill health, knowing that she is expecting a possible cancer diagnosis from her doctor shortly after the reading. 

The fortune-teller has trouble interpreting the Lenormand cards and asks Cleo to draw again - this time from a Tarot de Marseille deck, including the Major Arcana card “La Mort”, or death, signifying Cléo’s fate. The fortune-teller insists that the card is indefinitely fateful; it can rather predict “a complete transformation of your whole being”. Nevertheless, as the door closes, she confesses to her companion in the next room - “I saw cancer - she is doomed.”

Intro Sequence

As Seen In: Gavin and Stacey (2009, Christine Gernon)

Stacey (Joanna Page) laments her difficulties in trying for children in this episode of the British cult television show Gavin and Stacey. In Nessa’s (Ruth Jones) trailer in Barry, South Wales, she offers to tell Stacey’s fortune by way of a crystal ball. Ever-resourceful Nessa instructs her to grab a handy spherical paperweight, aptly repurposed for the occasion. After all, “times are hard and there’s a credit crunch on”!

Though not quite crystal, the UV-resistant resin actually makes for a more suitable casing - and doesn’t run the risk of damaging the interior specimen.

The featured paperweight contains a real dandelion seedhead, grown expressly for the small company that also produces the finished product, by hand, on their farm in South Wales.  

Traditionally, it is thought that blowing on the seedhead of a dandelion will ensure the blower’s wishes will come true. Perhaps Nessa had more sincere, hopeful intentions for Stacey’s future when she told her fortune with this particular design.

Series 3 Episode 4, at 5 min 25 seconds

As Seen In: Maggie's Plan (2015, Rebecca Miller)

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) wants a child - and who better to have one with than her new colleague, the aspiring novelist and 'ficto-critical anthropologist' John Harding (Ethan Hawke)?

Early in the film, Maggie and her friend eat lunch in the university cafeteria and discuss John's reputation; he sits within earshot, lecturing students on the banality of filler words such as 'like' in creative writing. In his hands are a simple pocket notebook and a very particular pen for jotting down ideas…

His instrument of choice is the gold and burgundy 1964 Capless "Vanishing Point" fountain pen by Pilot, one of Japan's holy trinity of penmakers and its most legendary pen designs. With just a push of a click button, the Capless' knock-shiki mechanism retracts the nib, enclosing it in the barrel to prevent leaks and drying. Perfect for the aspiring novelist, it’s, like, a really cool pen.

8 min 03 seconds