An Interview with Shawn Newton

(Susan M. Pigott is a fountain pen collector, pen and paperholic, photographer, and professor. You can find more from Susan on her blog Scribalishess.)

I asked Shawn Newton of Newton Pens if he would do an in-depth interview with me for The Pen Addict. I've been impressed, not only with Shawn's beautiful pen designs but also with the scholarships he provides for students in need. I wanted to find out more about his personal background, how he became interested in fountain pens, and his journey in pen turning. We corresponded via email and snail mail. All but one of the photos for this interview were provided by Shawn or plucked from his website. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

Shawn is married to Elizabeth Newton, and they have two boys, ages 6 and 9.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

"I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and lived there until I was almost 12, when we moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, thanks to a job transfer my dad got. It was a very good move, and I'm thankful my dad was given the opportunity to take it."

Where did you go to college? What did you major in? What teachers/professors most influenced you?

"I went to two colleges. First was Garland County Community College for my basics. I dropped out my fifth semester but finished a couple of years later.* I went to Henderson State University and graduated with a BSE in Art Education, but I had nearly enough hours to have gotten a Studio Arts Degree. I took every art class I had time for and even figured out ways to take some that I didn't have time for, thanks to some very accommodating teachers. (*GCCC became National Park Community College and is now just National Park College).

As for the teachers I had, one from NPCC helped me out with gas money, moral support, and, when I dropped out, he helped find grant money so I could come back.

After I got my Associate of Arts, he told me who to go talk to at Henderson and I left there with scholarships! I was given so much help and support by people who believed in me, from teachers to my wife, who always pushed and encouraged me to keep at it. I'll forever be grateful to these people."

What did you teach when you taught school?

"I went to college to be an art teacher, so that's what I did. I taught two years of K-6 at Centerpoint School District and then five years of 7-12 grades at Mountain Pine School District. Both were small schools. I was lucky to get hired, only because somebody recommended me at both places. I was surprised how hard it was to find a job teaching if you don't know somebody there."

When and how did you first become interested in fountain pens?

"I give all the credit for my introduction to fountain pens to my wife. She bought a Sheaffer's Viewpoint italic pen for me on Valentine's Day of 2010. It was my second year teaching and the kids at school loved seeing something so different."

Were you a fountain pen user for a long time before you became a pen turner?

"I bought and used fountain pens for about two years before I started making my own."

When did you decide you wanted to start pen turning? How did you learn the craft? Did you study under someone or did you teach yourself?

"I started making pens a while after learning about the whole custom market. I thought it would be a great way for me to maybe spend less money buying pens for myself.

I learned a lot from YouTube but mostly from a few pen makers who very kindly answered all my questions. Prior to this I had never used a lathe, so I had to learn that plus how to cut threads for pens."

Shawn Newton Gibby

Shawn Newton Gibby

What was the first pen you ever made? Do you still have it?

"I still have the first pen I ever made. Somebody called it the Clown Vomit pen. That name suits it, too."

Clown Vomit Pen

Clown Vomit Pen

What sparked your idea for the scholarship for your students using postcards drawn by them? How much money have you raised? How many students have benefited from this scholarship?

"The scholarship came about before the postcards did. I was selling 'raffle tickets' online with somebody winning a custom pen almost every month. The idea for the scholarships came from wanting to pay forward the kindness that was shown to me when I graduated high school. A friend's mom offered to pay for my first two years of school at the local community college. Without her help I never would have gone to school in the first place. I probably never would have met Elizabeth and never learned about fountain pens. I certainly wouldn't have been able to afford the hobby.

So far, fourteen kids have received scholarships of $1,000 each."

If you'd like to learn more about Newton Pens Scholarships, click here.

Postcards made by students. Photo: Susan Pigott

Postcards made by students. Photo: Susan Pigott

When did you decide you wanted to do pen turning full time? How did you and your wife plan for this? How did you feel about quitting your job as a teacher to pursue this full time? What have been the best things about going full time? Have there been any negatives?

"When I first started making pens, I never thought it would become a money maker, and I never thought I would quit teaching to do it full time.

I was pretty nervous about quitting my job, but the income from this is just so much greater than teaching it was just the best decision to make, really. It was mostly the fear of change to something new that I was nervous about. So far things have been very good. I just hope it continues.

The best things? Working for myself and not answering to a principal, superintendent, or disgruntled parents. No--I had really great experiences with everybody when I taught. The best thing about this is making people happy with my art. I've been some kind of artist my entire life, mostly pen and ink and later printmaking, but nobody wanted my art nearly as much as I wanted to make it. With fountain pens, though, I can hardly keep up with the demand."

Copper Pen

Copper Pen

What is the most complicated pen you've yet made? What made it so complicated?

"I think the piston filler has been the most complicated. Some are difficult for different reasons, but none have required the amount of planning as the piston mechanisms. But as it is with anything else, the process gets easier with each build."

Shinobi Piston Filler

Shinobi Piston Filler

What is your favorite pen you've made? What makes this your favorite?

"My favorite pen . . . . That's hard for me. Probably all of the ones I've made from any of the ripple ebonites that I use. I love the ripples more than just about anything else. I love the patterns, feel, and even the smells so unique to this material."

Ebonite Swirl Colors

Ebonite Swirl Colors

Where do you hope to be in five years with your pen turning? Do you hope to one day to make your own nibs, for example? Do you hope to have a store?

"In five years I hope to be better established, better known, better at what I do and able to do more. I have a jeweler friend who is already making nibs for me, but I'm perfectly happy with JoWo nibs. And, of course, if a customer wants to provide their own nibs I'm more than happy to install those in my pens. I don't know about having a store, though. I'm not sure that would make much sense for me. Who knows, though?"

Shawn Newton Gibby Ebonite

Shawn Newton Gibby Ebonite

What is the most unusual custom pen you've made?

"Goodness, I'm not sure I would call any of the pens I've ever made 'unusual.' I did make a couple of pens that looked very pregnant a couple of years back. No pictures exist, thankfully."

Have you ever had someone request a pen you simply would not make?

"I prefer not to copy other existing pens. Sometimes I will make something similar to a long out of production vintage pen, but I flat out refuse to copy logos (yes, I've been asked!) For the most part I never get asked to make a pen that I would consider ugly. I guess all of my customers just have really good taste!"

What is a typical day like now that you're pen turning full time? Describe your schedule.

"A typical day starts with getting the kids off to school, a cup of coffee, and catching up with email. Once the crust is out of my eyes, I turn the lathe on and get started."

How do you plan out a custom pen?

"Every pen begins with a sketch. Depending on what the client wants, I might be very meticulous and draw everything out to scale, or I may draw a rough sketch with measurements written over each of the parts."

What is the hardest part about your job? The easiest?

"The hardest part is time management. I get distracted too easily and have to work hard to stay directed and focused. More than one of my friends has commented seriously that I probably have ADD.

The easiest part is actually making the pens. I love my job."

Posted on October 2, 2015 and filed under Fountain Pens, Newton Pens.

The Beginner's Guide to Fountain Pens (By a True Beginner)

(This is a guest post by Adam Di Stefano. Adam is a writer, armchair philosopher, former lawyer, entrepreneur, marketing professional, obsessive compulsive, and consummate generalist. He has also recently become addicted to fountain pens. You can read more of his ramblings on his blog at The Happiest Man in the World.)

I have always loved the look and the mystique of fountain pens. As a writer, I have a sentimental attachment to the written word, and all things that go with it. I've always had a bizarre fascination with stationery stores. I own far too many notebooks, and while you would have to drag me kicking and screaming into a shopping mall, I'll happily spend money on office supplies. As such, maybe it was a foregone conclusion that I would some day grow fond of fountain pens.

But, getting into fountain pens is intimidating. It's a mysterious world, with its own vernacular, and full of odd people who watch ink dry and wear fishing vests when they get together.

If you're like me, there aren't a ton of people you know who share this obsession that you can ask for advice on how to get started. So, instead, you turn to the internet to find this information. There you will find a ton of great info and great blogs (like this one, but most of it speaks to people who know what they're talking about. Not to us newbies.

If you're like me, you'll read a lot, you'll feel lost, and you'll be intimidated. And then eventually, after months and months of reading stuff that you barely understand, you'll decide to take the plunge and buy a pen and see what happens. You'll make some mistakes, but eventually after some trial and error, you'll start to realize just what these fountain pen aficionados are so crazy about. Or, you'll give up because it's too much hassle and regret having waster your money.

That's why I decided to write this. My goal is to give someone who wants to try fountain pens for the first time a step-by-step guide on how to go from true beginner to early-stage addiction in a single concise article, all the while removing some of the intimidation and false starts that come with plunging in on our own.

Some Basic Definitions

I could write a whole glossary just on the terms and terminology used in the fountain pen world, but that's not my goal here. My goal is simply to give you the most basic definitions you'll need to understand the rest of this article. I want to focus on things that someone who doesn't know much about fountain pens wouldn't know, while not getting into details that are unnecessary for someone just getting started.

The nib

The nib is the part of the pen that touches the paper, and that the ink comes out of. On most pens it will be stainless steel, and on higher end pens it will be gold. By changing a nib, you can completely change the experience of writing with a pen. One of the first decisions you'll have to make when buying a fountain pen is the size of the nib's tip.

On most standard fountain pens, nibs can come in various points from extra fine to bold. The tip of the nib will determine just how much ink is released, and the thickness of the lines that you will put down. In addition to extra fine to bold, there are also a variety of other nib types like a cursive italic, or a stub. These special grinds are best suited for specific handwriting styles.

To further complicate matters, nib sizes aren't standard. A "fine" nib on a Japanese pen, will tend to be finer than a "fine" nib on a German pen.

Certain nibs work better with certain inks, and certain handwriting styles.

Nibs made of softer materials, like gold, will wear in such a way as to adapt to the handwriting of the person using it. As such, if you have a very soft nib on a pen, and you lend it to someone else, the ink flow will seem strange to them, because the pen will have literally adapted itself to you.


A cartridge is the reservoir of ink that you can swap out of your pen and replace in its entirety, similar to how you would refill a ballpoint or a gel pen. The advantage of cartridges is that they are easy. When you're out of ink, you simply pop in a new cartridge, and you're good to go. The downside is that it costs much more to constantly replace your cartridges than to simply refill your pen with ink using a converter.


A converter changes a cartridge filling system into refillable solution. There are various types of converters and filling systems, but the main purpose remains the same: a refillable reservoir that holds the ink that your pen uses to write. Some pens come with converters, others need to be ordered. For instance, a Pilot Metropolitan comes with both a cartridge and an empty converter, whereas a Lamy Safari comes only with a cartridge. If you want to refill a Safari, you either need to buy more cartridges, or you need to buy a converter plus ink.

Step by Step of How to Get Started

1. Buy a Starter Pen

The Pilot Metropolitan

One of the reasons you'll have gotten into fountain pens in the first place is that they look so damn cool. Unfortunately, for most of us, the idea of jumping into buying a $200+ pen without knowing anything about it isn't so easy. As a result, it's probably a good idea to wet your feet with what I call a "starter pen."

In my travels around the pen internets, there appear to be two pens that come back again and again as great starters: the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan. There are other good pens in the sub $50 range but these two appear to be the best to act as starters for a few different reasons, which I won't get into here.

For the time being you should buy one of them.

When it came time for me to buy my first fountain pen I asked the one and only, Brad Dowdy, what he recommended and he said, "Definitely the Pilot Metropolitan."

So, naturally, I bought a Lamy Safari (it was an availability/lack of patience thing).

In all seriousness, either of these pens work very well as a starter pen. I think if I had to recommend one to someone, I'd probably recommend the Metropolitan. It's slightly cheaper. It's better looking in a very classic way. And out of the box it comes with a cartridge as well as a converter, so you can play with both filling systems.

The Lamy Safari is slightly more expensive, is a bit odd looking, and depending on your colour choice, can look a bit cheap. The Lamy Safari comes with a Lamy cartridge and if you want to refill the pen using bottled ink, you'll need to buy a converter separately, which will add to the price of the pen.

On the flip side, I actually prefer the way the Safari writes, so your mileage may vary.

Each of these pens comes in a variety of colours and looks, but the most important decision you'll likely need to make is what size nib you want. I purchased mine with a fine nib. As a general rule of thumb, if you have tiny handwriting, you'll want a finer nib. If you have bigger handwriting, you'll want a bigger nib (you probably don't want to go higher than medium, though). Either way, the goal here is to get to know how the pen writes, so pick one and don't worry too much about it.

Either way, either of these pens will be a great introduction to the world of fountain pens, so buy one and let's move on.

2. Get Used to Writing With It

The day I got my Lamy Safari, I started using it immediately. Admittedly, my first impression was less than stellar. I found the pen scratchy to write with, and found that it was skipping. I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong, and then questioned whether getting a fine nib might have been a mistake.

I stuck to it, and a few hours into taking notes with my pen, somethign magical happened: the ink started to flow better!

This was my first fountain pen lesson. The way a fountain pen works is different from the way a ballpoint or a gel ink pen works. Pen doesn't just start flowing automatically. The ink needs to work its way through the entire nib. In addition, if ink has been sitting in the pen for a while, it may have dried slightly, which will give you a less smooth writing experience. In general, using it will allow you to get through the drier ink and then it will start to flow.

As I continued to write with my fountain pen, the more I found I liked it.

3. Try it on Different Papers

As I started using my new pen, I began to notice something that I had never really taken stock of using my old ballpoints or gel pens: paper quality. I soon found that some papers worked great with my pen, while others made it feel scratchy, or caused the ink to bleed.

You can read exhaustive articles on which paper is the best to try with what ink and pen combination. However, my best advice is to try a bunch of different things.

Write on whatever plain pad of paper you have lying around the office. Write on post-it notes. Write in your favourite notebook. Write on scraps of paper.

You'll soon get a feel for the difference that paper can make.

Brad recently wrote a great piece for Rhodia about how paper is like the tires on a car, and it's true. You don't really notice what kind of tires are on your car until you have a high performance car that can take advantage of them. The fountain pen is a little bit like the high performance car.

It's also a good moment to call out the aforementioned Rhodia. I have a few Rhodia notepads, and I have to say, their paper is something else. For one, when you write on it, it's so smooth that you wonder if you're actually writing on paper or if you're writing on plastic. If you want to get a feel for a pen's true potential I highly recommend it.

That said, I'm not saying you should now write exclusively on premium paper. In truth, the majority of my writing still takes place on generic ruled office pads, the brand of which I couldn't tell you.

Returning to my car analogy, it's kind of like having your every day tires for the commute to work, and saving your performance tires for the track on weekends.

4. Learn How to Adapt Your Writing Style

I think there is a misperception about writing using a fountain pen that if you're using a fountain pen, you should be writing in cursive (or attached letters as I understand it's called across the pond).

That's nonsense. Personally, I love the look of cursive writing, but I simply don't like my own cursive writing, and I don't feel like devoting the time to improve it. So, I continue to write in either tiny all capital block letters when I'm trying to be neat, or very round, large lower case block letters when I'm writing normally (I have had my handwriting compared to that of a seven-year old girl because of how bubbly my letters are).

So, if you don't have to write in cursive, why am I telling you to adapt your writing style? Well, simply because a fountain pen writes differently than a ballpoint pen. The ink flows more, and tends to dry slower. Furthermore, fountain pens need to be held at a certain angle so that the nib contacts the paper in the right way to allow the ink to flow properly.

As such, some people may have to adapt their handwriting. Lefties for instance, may need to tweak their style in order to avoid smudging the entire page. Some people have to change the way they hold their pen because they tend to hold their pends nearly perpendicular to the page.

In my case, it just meant making a conscious effort to lift my pen when writing in block letters. My normal handwriting tends to drag the pen across the page. As such, even though I write in block letters, they tend to appear attached half the time, just because I haven't actually lifted my pen. With a ballpoint pen, this doesn't cause many issues. However, with a fountain pen, more often than not, this leads to smudging. As a result, I've had to curb that habit.

5. Buy Bottled Ink & a Converter

In my opinion, the true fountain pen experience only begins once you've started buying bottled inks and refilling your pens.

Cartridges are easier, neater, and more convenient. You can just swap them out whenever you want. But if you want to use cartridge refills, you might as well stick with ball points and gel pens.

If you get into fountain pens, buying bottled inks is the way to go. There's a few reasons for this. First, there's a very cool feeling when you're refilling a pen from a bottle. It just makes you feel like you're writing a very important letter.

Second, once you have a converter, you never have to worry about buying the right cartridge for your pen, and you can use the same bottled ink interchangeably amongst all your pens.

Third, the selection of inks you will get when you go the route of buying bottled inks dwarfs what you can find in cartridges, and so you can really begin to customize your writing experience.

And if you're concerned about the difficulty of refilling your pen, like I was, because you've heard it's messy and difficult, don't worry about it. It's not as bad as you've heard. Here are a couple of links to some explanatory videos of how to fill a pen with bottled ink.

6. Notice the Colours

One of the great things about fountain pens, and refilling them is the sheer variety of different colours. It's not unusual for a single ink company to produce a few dozen colours. And before you think that after a few primary colours, all other inks are just variations of the same thing, you are missing a huge part of the ink experience. It is only when I started using fountain pens that I started to truly understand what it meant to appreciate an ink's texture and depth of colour.

Even the standard blue that came with my Lamy Safari had more variation and depth than any other ink I'd ever written with before.

The moment you start getting excited about watching the ink of your pen dry, that's when you know you're hooked. So, at this point, I would suggest that you buy at least one ink refill.

7. Play with it Some More

Now that you've tried a couple of different inks, different papers, and different filling systems, play around with your pen some more. See how each thing you change, changes the way the pen writes. Notice the feel of the pen. Learn to appreciate the thickness or thinness of a line. Understand bleed and feathering. Unless you experience these concepts yourself, it is difficult to truly understand their importance.

In short, with the same pen, you can have a number of different experiences. Learn to appreciate those, and the entire process at this point has cost you less than $50.

8. Buy a Different Cheap Pen with a Different Nib

At this point, if you're like me, you probably want to run out and buy a super expensive, cool looking pen, because you've now fallen in love with the experience of writing with a fountain pen, and you just have to have that next $200 pen.

Instead, what I'd recommend is you buy a different cheap pen with a different nib. If you bought a Pilot, buy a Lamy. If you bought a Lamy, buy a Pilot. Try a different nib to see what size nib you prefer. Remember that if you're buying Japanese instead of German or vice versa, even buying the same nib size will actually give you a different writing experience. Both my Safari and Metropolitan have fine nibs, but the Safari has a much thicker line.

I consciously bought this way so I could compare and contrast both pens. My next Pilot will likely be a medium nib, just because it suits my handwriting better. My next Lamy, however, will probably still be fine, because I don't think I need a thicker line than what's provided by the Lamy Fine nib.

I would not have known any of this if I hadn't bought a second pen. Sure, I could have read about it, but that wouldn't have helped me understand which nib I prefer.

9. Try Different Inks

Before you spend a fortune on a Nakaya or some other crazy expensive pen, realize just how much fun you can have just by trying different inks.

In my mind, inks are a seriously under-appreciated part of the fountain pen experience. Most articles you will read about fountain pens focus on the pens (with good reason, it is what you're using to write!). However, changing the ink in your pens is a more affordable way to get a great variety of experiences with your fountain pen.

Think about it. Instead of spending multiple hundreds of dollars on new pens, you can spend a few bucks on a new bottle of ink, ink your favourite pen, and boom, just like that, whole new writing experience!

Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Kai

Some inks are "expensive." For instance, the first bottle of ink I bought was Pilot's Iroshizuku Shin-kai. This blue-black is considered a premium ink, and I paid upwards of $20 for 50 mL. That may seem like a lot, but 50 mL will likely last me a LONG time and it is a heck of a lot cheaper than me buying a brand new pen when the mood strikes!

10. Buy a Nicer Pen!

Now that you've got a feel for a couple of "cheap" pens, and how fun they can be to use, NOW you can appreciate fancy pens.

Read all those blogs that were too hard to understand before. Shop around. Talk to the weirdos wearing fishing vests. You can even try going to a Pen Show to see the selection. Whatever the case may be, you've now made the leap into becoming a true pen addict.

Closing Words

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself, this all seems like a lot just to buy a pen. And you're right. It is. However, if you just want a pen that you can pull out at any time and it just works, then I'd suggest grabbing a roller ball or a gel pen. There's a ton of great ones out there, and you can read through Brad's reviews to find the best of the best. If you're looking for a utilitarian tool, that's the way to go.

However, if you're approaching fountain pens as a piece of art, a hobby, or worse, a potential addiction, I think it's worth taking the time to understand the basics with a few of the cheaper options before diving head first into the vast selection of premium pens that exist out there.

Hopefully this guide will help you on that journey. Best of luck, and let me know how you enjoy it!

Posted on October 1, 2015 and filed under Fountain Pens, Beginners.

Pen Friends Update

I went through a big cleanup and update of the Pen Friends page today so if you want to find some new blogs to read, or refresh your memory on some old standbys, head over there now.

If you write a stationery blog and are not included on the list please leave me a comment and I will make it happen.

Posted on September 30, 2015 and filed under General.

Diamine Asa Blue Ink Review

(Jeff Abbott is a regular contributor at The Pen Addict. You can find more from Jeff online at Draft Evolution and Twitter.)

Blue inks are a weakness of mine. I'm always searching for something that's a little different and interesting compared to the ones I've already tried.

JetPens recently started carrying small trial size bottles of many Diamine inks, and I've been trying those out pretty frequently.

Asa Blue is one of those inks, and it's probably one you've heard of before. This is one of those standard blues that gets recommended quite a bit. Even though I've known about it since I first started using fountain pens, I'm only now just getting around to trying it.

In this case, better late than never.


Asa Blue is a deep, rich blue. I'd call it a royal blue, and it lives up to the name much better than Kaweco's version of the color. Calling it navy might be too much, since navy is closer to blue-black in most cases. Either way, this is a standard blue that looks fantastic and fits in professional environments with no problem. This ink won't turn heads because of its stand-out color, but it might for the small amount of shading it exhibits.

I think the best way to describe this color is to compare it to most blue gel ink pens that you can buy. It's a standard blue, and it looks fantastic. And, like I said earlier, this is a deep, dark blue, but I wouldn't classify it as a blue-black.


Like other Diamine inks I've tried recently, it behaves admirably in my pens. Feathering is non-existant, show-through is minimal, and there's a pleasant level of shading evident in some strokes. It's a smooth, well-lubicrated ink that works well in dry, small-nibbed pens, but also doesn't over-saturate the page in a broader nib. It behaves just as you'd expect a Diamine ink to behave, and that's a compliment.

The shading in this ink is subtle. It's not flamboyant like Kon-peki, Ancient Copper, or Rouge Hematite, but you notice it in the strokes after the ink has settled on the page. There's just enough variation in the color that you can tell a fountain pen created the line. For an office setting, you can't go wrong with properties like that. It looks professional, but it's also gorgeous instead of bland.


I've been really happy so far with the Diamine inks I've tried. They behave well, clean out of the pen easily, never have issues starting or skipping, and have great color and saturation. With a deep blue, I'm not expecting a lot of shading, but the small hints evident in Asa are a real pleasure to notice when writing.

There are a couple of different options for buying this ink. You can get a full-sized 80ml bottle, or a smaller 30ml bottle for about $17.50 or $7.50, respectively.

If you're interested in dark blues that behave well, this is a swell place to start.

(JetPens provided this product at no charge to The Pen Addict for review purposes.)

Posted on September 30, 2015 and filed under Diamine, Ink Reviews.