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Robert Oster 1980 - Honey Bee


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Robert Oster 1980 - Honey Bee


Robert Oster is an Australian ink maker that is well-known for its unique range of colours. With this mini-series he gives us a conglomeration of colours inspired by the anything goes world of the 1980s. These inks fit my personal preferences: muted pastel-type colours with great shading.


In this review I take a closer look at Honey Bee - a yellow-orange-sepia chameleon of an ink. This ink substantially changes colour depending on the type of lighting. It's more of an orange-sepia colour in daylight, but a dark yellow under artificial light. Honey Bee is not a bad name, given that honey comes in a broad colour range, that is nicely captured by this ink. The ink feels dry - and I mean really dry - in my Lamy Safari test pens, and even in wetter pens with fine nibs. Saturation is also relatively low, meaning that you need wet pens to take full advantage of this ink. All this doesn't sound very promising, I know. But pair this ink with broad nibs in a wet pen, and the result looks really nice. And for drawing, this ink simply looks gorgeous.


To show you the impact of saturation on the ink's look & feel on paper, I made some scribbles where I really saturated portions of the paper with ink. This gives you a good idea of what the ink is capable of in terms of colour range. As you can see, Honey Bee is quite faint at the lower saturation end, but reaches a much darker sepia-brown colour when fully saturated. The colour remains dusty and muted across the saturation range, which I personally like.


To prove the chameleon quirks of this ink, I took a photo of the same saturation sample under artificial light. Here the ink transforms into a dusty dark yellow. Compare this to the more orange-sepia tones of the saturation sample above (my scanner uses light with a daytime colour temperature). To be honest, I personally prefer its nighttime appearance under artificial light.


Like most Robert Oster inks, Honey Bee has zero water resistance. Short exposures to water completely obliterate the text, leaving next to nothing on the page. This is also apparent from the chromatography. Smudging is not a problem though - which is what I typically care about.


I've tested the ink on a wide variety of paper - from crappy Moleskine to high-end Tomoe River. On every small band of paper I show you:

  • An ink swab, made with a cotton Q-tip
  • 1-2-3 pass swab, to show increasing saturation
  • An ink scribble made with an M-nib Lamy Safari fountain pen
  • The name of the paper used, written with a B-nib Lamy Safari
  • A small text sample, written with an M-nib Lamy Safari
  • Origin of the quote, written with a Kaweco Sport with M cursive italic nib
  • Drying times of the ink on the paper (with the M-nib Lamy)

Honey Bee is a well-behaving ink on most paper types, with no visible feathering. The ink dries quite quickly around the 5 second mark (with the M-nib Lamy Safari). The ink reacts weirdly with Moleskine paper, but works just fine with the other paper types in my test set. Due to the yellow-orange colour, the ink works best with pure white paper. Personally, I don't really like its looks on more yellowish paper. As can be seen from the quote origin texts written with an M cursive italic, Hoeny Bee works best with broader nibs or wet pens, where saturation improves, and the horrible dry-ness more or less disappears.

I also show the back-side of the different paper types at the end of the review. No troubles there, except with the Moleskine paper, which shows significant bleed-through. All in all, a well-behaving ink (if you avoid the Moleskine where the chemistry gets weird).





Writing with different nib sizes

The picture below shows the effect of nib sizes on the writing. All samples were written with a Lamy Safari, which is typically a dry pen. I also added a couple of visiting pens. The ink's shading really starts showing up once you go to M-nibs or broader. With wet pens, the ink becomes much more saturated, while still keeping its toned-down muted appearance.


Personally I think Honey Bee should only be used in wet pens with broader nibs. Below is a writing sample on Paperblanks journal paper, showcasing the difference between a Lamy Safari M-nib (dry pen) and a wetter-writing Kaweco Sport with M cursive italic nib. With the wetter pens, saturation and dryness are no longer a problem.


Related inks

To compare Honey Bee with related inks, I use my nine-grid format with the currently reviewed ink at the center. This format shows the name of related inks, a saturation sample, a 1-2-3 swab and a water resistance test - all in a very compact format.


Inkxperiment – radiant madonna

As a personal challenge, I try to create interesting drawings using only the ink I'm reviewing. Limiting myself to one ink allows me to creatively showcase all its colour-range nuances. It's often quite a challenge, but always great fun. For this drawing I started off with HP Premium photo paper. I created a background by pressing the photo paper on a water-soaked kitchen towel on which I splashed some ink. Next I used pure Honey Bee to paint in the subject. The radiant halo surrounding the madonna was added with Q-tips and different water/ink ratios. The resulting mini-picture gives you an idea of what can be achieved with this yellow-orange Honey Bee as a drawing ink.



Robert Oster 1980 Honey Bee is a pastel-toned yellow-orange-sepia chameleon, that mostly excels as a drawing ink. Personally, I didn't care much for its chameleon nature, which results in a completely different look under day- or artificial light. The ink also has technical issues, being dry and undersaturated. You really need wet pens and broader nibs to get a good-looking result. Overall, I'm not impressed by this ink - I've seen nicer ones with better behaviour.

Technical test results on Rhodia N° 16 notepad paper, written with Lamy Safari, M-nib


Back-side of writing samples on different paper types





From idea to drawing

Although Honey Bee disappoints as a writing ink, I found it to be a beautiful ink for drawing. In this appendix to the review, I'd like to give you a bit of insight into my drawing setup & process. This inkxperiment was born with some doodles, started during a lazy weekend-afternoon. I liked parts of different doodles, so I decided to combine them. I'm really bad at drawing, so I put together parts of different doodles on my computer, printed out the result, and used a light-box to transfer the resulting pic to the HP photo paper. The photo paper was already prepared with a Honey Bee background, created by pressing the paper on a water-soaked kitchen towel to which I added some splashes of ink. After finishing the Madonna picture with a fine brush and pure Honey Bee, I used Q-tips to draw in the radiant halo with multiple water-ink ratios. The end result is the inkxperiment drawing. Oh... and to protect my writing desk, I use a plastic kitchen placemat (white backside up) as a drawing surface - no accidents yet ;-)


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A review par excellence! I love the new insights into the creative process!


Thank you!

“I admit it, I'm surprised that fountain pens are a hobby. ... it's a bit like stumbling into a fork convention - when you've used a fork all your life.” 

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Great review! I appreciate all the time that you have taken with this.

"Today will be gone in less than 24 hours. When it is gone, it is gone. Be wise, but enjoy! - anonymous today




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(Another dry and scratchy ink from Robert Oster, why am I not surprised?)

In my limited experience "dry and scratchy' is not limited to RO in this general hue sector.

Add lightness and simplicate.


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