I only go to one pen show a year, and for the last few years that has been the Chicago show. My reasons are purely geographical, but I got pretty lucky to have this as my home show.
I wasn't able to attend the entire show, alas, so there were a few people and activities I missed, but considering how much fun I packed into the 27 hours I was there--that might be for the best.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that the pen show is the highlight of the year for me. Connecting with the wonderful people of the pen community is an unparalleled delight. I get to see old friends, meet online friends, and make new friends. Every year I learn new things that make the pen world a bigger, more beautiful place.
If I outlined everything I loved about this show, it would take longer to read than I was actually even there, so I'll just dwell on a few of the highlights.
The highest of highlights was getting to spend the weekend with my friend Moriah. We met at the Appleton Pen Club and she is an excellent human with an uncanny natural talent for lettering. She's also very sensible and helped keep me out of trouble. Sort of. Well, she tried.
The first thing I always do when I get to a pen show is run and say hi to Brian and Lisa Anderson. They're good friends, my local pen hustlers, and it's often been DAYS since we've seen each other, so that reunion is priority one. Then I'm off to find Ana, which is easy to do thanks to her enchanting pink hair. Then I make my way around the room saying my hellos and admiring all the lovely wares.
It's easy to get distracted by all the shiny things on the tables (and I did), but the real treasures of the pen show are the people standing behind those tables.
It was wonderful to get to meet Hugh and Karol from Kanilea Pen Co. They may be some of the nicest people I've ever met--warm and welcoming and instantly Ohana. Be careful if you get too close to the pens, though. They are irresistible. At least, I'm pretty sure--I didn't try very hard. But I did resist getting two, which was quite painful.
I also got to meet Jonathan Brooks for the first time. His mind is a melting pot of art and engineering--it was fascinating getting to hear him talk about how he creates his masterpiece acrylics.
Brian Gray of Edison Pen Co. demonstrated some of his innovative filling mechanisms. His trays of bright acrylic pens were like a beacon of joy. He's exceedingly kind, generous with his knowledge, and totally devoted to making sure every piece he sells is absolutely perfect.
Pierre's Desiderata Pen Company is always a must-see. So is the Musubi table, where Daryl introduced the new pen cases that are made by and sold to benefit victims of domestic violence. I had to have one of these cases. You have to have one, too.
Ryan Krusac's pens continue to amaze me. I bought one last year and it occupies one of the Most Special slots in my pen tray. Somehow, Ryan has defied the laws of physics and created a pen body in labradorite. He's probably a wizard.
Shawn and Elizabeth Newton rocked their usual spot by the fountain, tempting us all with beautiful cases and Shawn's crazy awesome faceted pens. Check out his Instagram feed and be sure to follow the work he does to encourage students in the arts.
The spirit of the pen show is in its highest concentration at the Pay it Forward table, where those who have followed their pen addicts to the pen show can pick up a starter kit and join us all here down the rabbit hole.
At one point Ralph showed up in a penguin onesie and Ana painted his nails. Like you do.
And of course there's no better way to finish a day chatting about pens than to go to the bar and chat about pens. Since Brad was a turkey and ditched us this year, Lisa Vanness hosted the after-hours mixer. As long as she stood on a chair and shouted HEY Y'ALL as loud as she could, we were mostly cooperative.
We traveled in small groups from table to table, learning about urushi lacquer from Jonathan Brooks, flex nibs from Nik Pang, and lettering from Ana Reinert. We sampled all the Franklin Christoph nibs. Ralph had his array of wild nib inventions for us to try. Daryl Lim from Musubi gave a fascinating talk on paper quality where I learned more than at any other point in the show. I especially learned that you should never lick Tomoe River paper. Or eat it. Who knew? Daryl knew, that's who. I didn't ask how he learned this.
There were several tables I never made it to. The bar kicked us out long before we were done, unfortunately. So I've still never met Dandon, and I never had a chance to tell Leigh Reyes how much her class last year has influenced my work. Of course I'm looking forward to those opportunities next year.
Oh, and there was an enormous gummy snake? The hotel chef butchered it for us like some kind of gelatin sushi. Do not recommend.
I left Sunday morning, after more shopping, more chatting, and a round of cheerful till-we-meet-agains. I'm already looking forward to next year's show. Only 358 days.
What I love most about pen shows is the diverse groups that come together with love and respect, sharing and laughing--setting aside all differences and celebrating what we have in common. I wish the whole world could have what we have at pen shows.
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