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Duke Confucius Art Fountain Pen


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#1 requiescat

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 23:30

INTRODUCTION:
FULL DISCLOSURE: I received this pen at half cost ($50 US instead of $100) from Bertram's Inkwell in exchange for agreeing to write up a review. I bought my first two fountain pens for sketching rather than writing, so I was extremely curious about the Duke Confucius pen's unusual nib, and thought this would be a great opportunity to try the pen out.

The pen came in a box rather larger than I thought a fountain pen needed to be in! (Not bad, just surprising.)
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That's my foot for scale, I suppose. The corner of the box inside the postal box had gotten slightly smooshed, but the contents were fine, and since as far as I'm concerned the box's purpose in life was to protect the pen, I wasn't worried.

Opening it up revealed an inner box and the fact that for some reason one of the box's faces opens out, beyond the fact that it has a lid.
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Regrettably, I read no Chinese of any form whatsoever (well, okay, a couple characters that are used in daily Korean, but...).

Inside the box once I resettled the contents, which had shifted during the journey, but no harm done:
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Incidentally, I still have no idea what the bottle is. It came with a leaflet of instructions in Chinese. (I suppose it's possible the leaflet is about something else entirely, but that's my guess.)

Appearance & Design: 9.
The pen is very pretty! I like the bamboo section, but I am prone to spills and suspect I'm going to stain it at some point, especially since I intend to use this pen with Platinum Carbon ink. It's also a little flashier than my personal preference; for some reason I expect a pen for art to look very functional so I don't get distracted. I suspect my husband (who is not into pens) would look at my pen collection and mistakenly assume that this one was the most expensive just because of the design. But still, very pretty.

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Construction & Quality: 10
I was astonished at how solid this feels. Not that I condone throwing pens at people in ordinary circumstances, but I would hate to have this thing thrown at me (see below on weight/dimensions). It feels very rugged. I am a klutz and I am always grateful when a pen seems like it would probably survive being dropped on the floor a few times.

Weight & Dimensions: 8
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This thing is a tank! I don't have the means of weighing it, but it's both bigger than my Edison Pearl (which already feels large in my hand) and it's significantly heavier.

For comparison:
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The one on the top is a mangled Waterman 52V; the one in the middle is the Confucius; the one on the bottom is my brand-new Edison Pearl. As you can see, the Confucius is even longer than the Pearl when capped, and it's thicker too. I have small hands (6.5" from base of palm to tip of middle finger), so I tend to prefer smaller/lighter pens.

I should add that you can technically post this pen:
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but the weight of the cap makes this actively uncomfortable, and I am someone who usually prefers to post. In this case, I'd rather shed the excess weight when I'm trying to draw.

Unposted, the pen is actually pretty comfortable:
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(Sorry, intermittent hand tremor. But you get the idea.)

Nib & Performance: 10 (with important caveats)
I loved the nib, so I give it a 10, but this has some important caveats.

The nib has an unusual shape, which is how it gives you line variation:
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Basically, that extension sticking out on the left is how you get the variation. The more of that extension is in contact with the paper, the thicker a line you get. So you can go from fairly fine lines (probably even finer than that, with practice) to extremely thick, thicker-than-BBB thick lines. Varying the angle takes a bit of practice, but becomes intuitive fairly quickly. I was worried that the learning curve would be very high but I think it's just a matter of practice.

Here's my first attempt to use the pen at all, with Platinum Carbon ink:
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So other than the fact that I can't draw, you can see me playing around in the top left trying to figure out how to vary the line.

The thing about this pen is that it's actively obnoxious to use for regular (Roman alphabet) writing. If you want to do Western calligraphy, you're better off with an italic nib or a flex nib or something along those lines. I did try writing my name in Korean (yeah, my identity's no secret) and my *suspicion* is that you could get good or at least interesting results with *Eastern* calligraphy using this nib. However, I am sadly not educated in any such calligraphy (I missed the opportunity to ask my grandfather about this when he was alive, as he did calligraphy), so I can't verify this; I'd love to hear from someone else about this aspect. (I have books on Korean calligraphy, but haven't cracked them open yet.)

I think this is a steel nib; it seems very solid and sturdy, feels firm, and once you adjust to the whole angle thing, writes pretty smoothly.

Here was another attempt at a casual sketch, in which I didn't make much use of variation, and you can see the width variation in the test lines in the upper left:
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And then, because I can't sketch out of my head but occasionally have better luck inking over a pencil sketch so I can work out the mistakes in advance, I tried the Confucius out as an inking pen:
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The Confucius can produce a line with a lot of character (or lack of control if you prefer, my hand has always been kind of jittery). In the hands of a real artist it would probably deliver stunning results. As a bonus, since you can lay down quite thick lines, filling small areas with black ink is not nearly as tedious as it could be. Obviously for large areas I'd still reach for a brush of appropriate size.

Filling System & Maintenance: 10
I am currently filling-system agnostic. The Confucius comes with a converter and I have no issues with it. I'm not sure if this is some kind of standard or proprietary converter or what, but it looks like it holds at least as much as the Platinum converter I use for my Kuretake brush pen. The converter behaved fine, no issues there.

Didn't try to disassemble anything, although the nib looks sturdy enough that I wouldn't be completely terrified to have a go (as opposed to my flex nibs).

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Cost & Value: 10
As aforementioned, I paid $50 for this pen in exchange for reviewing it, but I would have been willing to pay $100. I've been experimenting with pen-and-ink solutions for a while; I used to like brush-and-ink work, but developed a hand tremor and my lines went to pieces after that because of the brush's sensitivity. I then moved to a Kuretake brush pen, on the grounds that the pen form factor might help me control my line better, but had mixed results, and the other problem with the Kuretake (if it matters) is that it goes through ink like whoa so you're always refilling the converter. I like my wet noodle a lot for quick sketching, but it has a very different feel. Interestingly, the Duke Confucius is congenial because it is forgiving even of someone who does not have a very delicate touch; this may actually be somewhat due to the pen's weight, even if the pen's weight unnerves me, because it means that when my hand shakes it is less likely to move in response.

I bought the pen through Bertram's Inkwell, which offers it for $100. I'm really delighted to have gotten the pen (again, I would have been willing to pay the full price for it), and since I haven't seen anything else currently available that seems to do the same thing, I'm grateful.

Conclusion: 57/60
I knew going in that this would be an unusual nib and that I wanted to use the pen to draw with. I think it's a great pen at what it does, but you should definitely research it to make sure that it matches up with your goals. If you want basic line variation for everyday writing, this pen is probably not a great choice. (I could be wrong, maybe someone could find a way to make it comfortable. For my part, I'm sticking with my cursive italic for that function.) I like this very much and am considering saving up for a second one at full price so I can have a backup. :)

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#2 bitterwonder

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 00:59

Nice, thoughtful and thorough review. I am one of the three lucky enough to get this pen. I have not been able to figure how to post pictures.
I will try again as soon as I can find a computer to use.

I am able to write cursive with this pen and print as well. Interesting to me is that the pen people I let try it were all impressed for their various reasons.
What this pen aces, for me, over regular calligraphy nibs is its flow; I work too fast and have never had a calligraphy nib the can keep up with me.

Thanks for the terrific review. Enjoy your pen and good luck with your drawing.
Marie

#3 Scrawler

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 01:23

Thank you for your excellent review. I have been curious about these pens for a while, but have been dubious about ink flow. The nib does not change its geometry as you tilt it, all that happens is that it lays more nib surface down on the paper. To draw a broader line it must put more ink on the paper. It seems to me anomalous that it can draw a fine line with its tip, without flooding. Can you comment on its ability to keep supplying ink when drawing broad, and its relative dryness when writing with the tip.

#4 requiescat

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 01:35

Thank you for your excellent review. I have been curious about these pens for a while, but have been dubious about ink flow. The nib does not change its geometry as you tilt it, all that happens is that it lays more nib surface down on the paper. To draw a broader line it must put more ink on the paper. It seems to me anomalous that it can draw a fine line with its tip, without flooding. Can you comment on its ability to keep supplying ink when drawing broad, and its relative dryness when writing with the tip.


I think the key to the nib's ability to lay down ink lies in its slight curvature. By using light pressure I can get a very fine but scratchy line--you can see this in the third (last) sketch in the shading of the right figure's pants down the center toward the bottom. To fill in the hair for both figures I changed the angle and got a much broader stroke (not too broad so I wouldn't lose control and turn the hair into blobs). I was very pleasantly surprised--ink supply wasn't an issue at all with the broad strokes. I think it's a little tougher to get a fine but wet line, and I have difficulty maintaining a constant pressure due to tremor issues so you'll notice that the finer lines in that sketch tend to waver in width.

If there are other tests you want me to try, please let me know--I should have some time tomorrow to play with the pen some more, and I can get more scans done.

#5 Scrawler

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 01:58

Thank you for your excellent review. I have been curious about these pens for a while, but have been dubious about ink flow. The nib does not change its geometry as you tilt it, all that happens is that it lays more nib surface down on the paper. To draw a broader line it must put more ink on the paper. It seems to me anomalous that it can draw a fine line with its tip, without flooding. Can you comment on its ability to keep supplying ink when drawing broad, and its relative dryness when writing with the tip.


I think the key to the nib's ability to lay down ink lies in its slight curvature. By using light pressure I can get a very fine but scratchy line--you can see this in the third (last) sketch in the shading of the right figure's pants down the center toward the bottom. To fill in the hair for both figures I changed the angle and got a much broader stroke (not too broad so I wouldn't lose control and turn the hair into blobs). I was very pleasantly surprised--ink supply wasn't an issue at all with the broad strokes. I think it's a little tougher to get a fine but wet line, and I have difficulty maintaining a constant pressure due to tremor issues so you'll notice that the finer lines in that sketch tend to waver in width.

If there are other tests you want me to try, please let me know--I should have some time tomorrow to play with the pen some more, and I can get more scans done.

Thank you. I was actually toying with the idea of buying one of these review pens, but right now is not a good time for me to be buying pens. I have always been curious how this style of calligraphy pen managed its ink flow. I suspect from what you have described, that it has a very cleverly shaped feed and maybe the slit between the tines is shaped to draw and dump less ink from the tip.

#6 mik

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 19:11

Whilst I am not familiar with the confucius I have another Duke which works on the exact same asian calligraphy nib principle.
Although I am an experienced pen & ink artist,I have struggled to use these "bent nib" pens for any longer than a try out period.
It seems to me that to get the tapering line, the process of rotating the pen in your fingers or changing the angle of presentation while moving the pen laterally to make the line is not acceptably accurate for a fine artist to embrace one of these pens fully.Sure you can make some lovely expressive lines but it's hard to make them where you want them!
Altogether this is a very alien concept ,you may find the pen ends up unused & unloved at the back of a dark drawer ,I would suggest trying a cheaper version of the bent nib before shelling out on the luxury confucius.I include an attachment to just hint at the potential but mine is back in the drawer already!
Best of luck whatever you decide.

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#7 ObserveClosely

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 15:10

These bent nibs do take some getting used to. It helps if you hold it as if it were a brush. Rather than hold it as you would a writing pen. In my limited experience, it's easier to turn it and manipulate the angle of attack if you're holding it loosely, as you'd do with a brush. You can try this nib out for ten bucks: scroll down to the Hero M86 on this page. This nib will also fit on your TWSBI and on your Noodler's Piston Fill pen, if you'd prefer that to the rocket ship Hero body.
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#8 JefferyS

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 22:29

I picked up one at the regular price, but haven't had a chance to use it yet. I have to agree with everything the OP write regarding the look and feel of the pen and packaging. It is the heaviest pen in my collection. Not quite sure which paper to use with it. I'll probably use it with some sort of dark brown or sepia ink.
Jeffery
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