“Autumn Leaves” Commissioning A Custom Maki-e Pen

I genuinely believe that there is a stage in one’s Fountain Pen collecting where a certain clarity reveals itself. For myself, it was around two years ago and I’m sure regular readers of Inkstable won’t have to guess too hard as to what I may be referring to. Urushi… yes I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but for those of you fellow lovers joining me in the deep deep rabbit hole, you’ll understand my passion for this beautiful brown liquid.

Recently, I did a little poll on Instagram asking about people’s fountain pen collecting journey and it was an interesting result.  A good majority of people that responded stated they were slowing down. Ever since I discovered the beauty of maki-e I have also slowed down. There is certainly something to be said about saving for something which is truly special. This pen I’m reviewing today is no exception. 2 months of design work by myself and 5 months of solid hard work by Yukari have resulted in a spectacular finish.

Now, before I start reviewing I want to talk very briefly about why I am slowing down. Collecting can be incredibly addicting and much like other addictions, the need to fulfil that desire of opening a new box or taking a sip of coffee can start to control you. Your purchases become knee-jerk reactions just for a few more likes on social media.  All of the above points I have made, I have suffered from. Of course, buying Maki-e is not cheap, but in many ways having the focus to concentrate mainly on this topic has forced me to slow down my buying and made me truly evaluate where I wish to go with this hobby. Remember ask yourself, will this new pen really offer you something that you don’t already own?

Themes and Design thoughts

Autumn is a season that juxtaposes the beauty of rich colour with that of the impending death of nature. For myself, I see this as the start of the renewal process towards spring and in many ways, I often see this as the start of the year in terms of creativity. In Japan芸術の秋 translates to “autumn, the season for art.” which coincides with my mantra of creativity, it’s a season where those vibrant reds oranges and yellows really capture one’s imagination and can be the source or inspiration for many.

pen siblings together, can you guess that I like black and gold?

I wanted a way to express my desire for art and creativity and the above-mentioned themes were my basis. Quite a lot of the design process was thinking of themes that would help express my love of painting and drawing. I evaluated a number of my previous art pieces and went about roughing out ideas, before finally rendering them on blueprints kindly supplied by Eboya. I also wanted to continue on from my previous Eboya’s night sky inspiration.

The original basis for the design was just to keep it to just autumn colours. However, this alone didn’t fully realise my intentions, so after some conversations with Yukari, we decided to add some summer leaves at the top of the cap, thus showcasing a transition to autumn. Those small accents of colour really added some clarity and depth to the pen.

To emphasise even more depth, I used my limited knowledge of maki-e techniques to add a sense of perspective to the overall design. Starting on the cap, you’ll see smaller leaves detailed in hira maki-e (flat design)  slowly wrapping around the circumference of the body and transitioning to taka and togidashi maki-e on the barrel.  The intentional use of these techniques further embellished the scale and gives the pen a wonderful texture, not unlike the feeling of a real leaf.

These prior mentioned techniques take a different amount of time to realise, but each has its place and purpose. My point is that cheaper maki-e techniques are no less beautiful than pricier options.

Execution and process

Yukari’s skill and execution of this design are flawless, and below you’ll see some of the stages of development. Every brush stroke has been expertly carried out and the precision in her linework is mind-bogglingly good.

Pictured above is the base stage for my pen, you’ll also notice a few other pens that Yukari is currently working on. To reach this stage, multiple layers of Kuro (kuro) urushi are applied to the pen. Next, depending on the thickness of the abalone shell, this is hand placed next. Hand placing allows for a much smoother finish, but this is also incredibly time-consuming. If metallic powders are being used? Then this application happens shortly before a final coat of kuro urushi is used. With this all complete, the layers are burnished with charcoal or sandpaper to reveal a smooth finish of abalone and gold powder. This can also be pictured below.

With the formation of the night sky in place, the application of hira maki-e is started. Although we see gold powders sprinkled first, pigmented urushi is applied over the top and later burnished to reveal a metallic quality to the leaves, that subtly sparkles in one’s eye. In the above picture, you’ll notice Yukari’s exceptional skill for sharp lines and minute details on the stem of the leaf.

Further designs are applied with the undercoat of the red urushi formatting which will become some of the transitional elements.

Painting of coloured urushi is now applied to the design, in which we can now see the summer colours clearly coming through. These colours are cured in a muro at much lower humidity and temperature. Coloured urushi will turn extremely dark if cured to dark!

Continuing around we can see the first application of taka maki-e forming. In later photos, you’ll see this to be one of the more uniquely developed leaves.

Togidashi Taka maki-e, with silver powders, is applied to this pen to give the impression of the leaf being further back in the barrel, but also harmonises with the night theme of this pen. 

Coming further down we will start seeing the formation of my favourite leaf. This leaf has little gold discs embellished over layers of red urushi and again burnished to reveal a very highly reflected pattern. I have included a before and after picture of this. Also, note the charcoal used for burnishing on the right (Please note, that is not your regular artist charcoal or the stuff in which you may burn on a BBQ)

Okay, the art is all great, but how does it write?

I am glad you asked, this is a medium 14k gold bock nib and it writes fantastically! Would I change anything? Sure… but not without it going to a nib grinder. Bock nibs are really quite superb when they are tuned well and fortunately, I got a good one! I’d say the only thing that lets this pen down is the fact there is no branding of eboya on the nib. Anyway, this pen does write perfectly fine and I certainly feel Eboya as a company offers some exceptionally good value options. If you prefer the command of a number 8 nib, Eboya from time to time does do a release of this size and you may also be able to ask for a number 8 section should you choose.

Just how practical is this pen?

Well, let’s explore this a bit. This pen comes with no clip and that is intentional, Eboya does clip versions, but I tend to find that clips can spoil the aesthetical look of maki-e. Of course, the downside to all this is you can’t transport it as easily in a shirt pocket. Oh well, you can stick it in one of Yukari’s beautiful pouches! Which is exactly what I did. 

Other than the fact this is a clipless pen, the ergonomics and comfort of this pen are superb. Eboya produces this pen in small medium and large which is a fantastic consideration. A few manufacturers do this, such as Pelikan, Sailor and Leonardo… but all these manufacturers add more bells and whistles to the larger versions. Eboya gives you the exact same nib, just in different size barrels and caps. This is great because you don’t feel like you are missing out!  

Speaking more of comfort, I love the length of the section, it’s not too big or small,  it just fits like a glove and the fact these pens are made of ebonite gives you further comfort for longer writing sessions.

All in all this pen is extremely practical!

Final thoughts

I will of course be biased here, I have come to really admire Yukari’s work. Unfortunately, she is no longer accepting commissions due to her waitlist.  I have been told in about half a year to a year when she has cleared some of the pens she’s working on, she will accept more orders. Currently, her waitlist is well over a year! But rest assured I will be joining that cue again when it clears.

Meanwhile, let’s just talk about this pen. As mentioned in the main part of this pen perspective, Yukari’s execution is incredible. Every minute detail has been beautifully rendered and she’s really taken my brief and excelled past my expectations.

Overall, this pen will give me smiles every time I come to use it! If you fancy seeing this pen in motion head to this reel .

If you have any questions about urushi, maki-e and would like to connect on Instagram. Please reach out to me on @penfriends_uk and if you wish to reach out to Yukari Mochizuki, please find her on @yukari_mochizuki1987 

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