Retro Talk: A Tribute to Gray’s Anatomy


When I was in college I bought myself a copy of Gray’s Anatomy – not to be confused with Grey’s Anatomy, the TV show – edited in the form of a coffee table book. At the time I didn’t own a coffee table, but I really liked the anatomical drawings. The illustrations are something almost anyone can appreciate, as they are an amazing example of functional art. Each drawing takes attention to detail and a lot of study.

So, when Retro 51 released a Tornado design earlier this year named Dr. Gray, I didn’t wait long to place my order. The barrel features an anatomical drawing of the skeletal system with 30+ of the major bones identified. I’m not sure whether this illustration is a Gray’s Anatomy original or if it has been redrawn by another artist, but, either way, it would be good enough for at least a couple of correct answers on a biology exam.


Like the Albert Tornado, this design is part of Retro 51’s “Vintage Metalsmith” series, which mainly means that the metal on the clip, twist, and tip has been weathered. One fairly unique feature, however, is that the Dr. Gray glows in the dark after being exposed to light. Since I usually keep pens in my pocket (and I don’t use them in the dark), it took me a while to notice. Throw it directly under a bright bulb for 10 minutes, however, and it glows quite brightly. It’s a neat little gimmick that gives it a Halloween vibe.

I like the Dr. Gray, although, at $40, it’s more expensive than many other Retro 51 Tornado designs. But if you know an orthopedist or a med student, it would probably make a really cool gift.


Review: e+m Slim Line, Ballpoint, Medium Tip


Wood, for whatever reason, is not a material that’s typically used for pens, but the German company e+m seems to prefer it. e+m makes a handful of wood-barreled pens, one of which is this Slim Line model that comes in three finishes: black, white, and “natural.” It’s this natural look that I like the best, and my girlfriend seems to agree; after I first used it, she snatched this ballpoint off my desk and said, “ooh… pretty!”

The Slim Line is primarily made from beech wood. It’s a good choice –  it feels like a softer wood, so it’s fairly comfortable to write with. The accents are all metal (which makes a lot of sense for the clip), but this natural finish version comes with a wooden clicker that looks like a golf tee protruding from the top. I like it.


The only downside to this e+m pen is that it uses a generic, blue ballpoint refill, the kind that you might find in a promotional pen. It’s okay if you’re comfortable having a scratch-pad handy, otherwise you’ll be annoyed by ink stuttering. This e+m pen design doesn’t work well with other refills either – most are too fat to fit inside the barrel. Cult Pens recommends a Schneider Express 775 refill (they can be found for a little over a dollar a piece), but I can’t vouch for that refill myself.

Regardless, the e+m Slim Line is such a unique-looking pen that I’m still happy to pick it up from time to time. It’s not the type of thing that will fully satisfy a pen nerd, but it would make a good stocking-stuffer. And it doesn’t hurt that these can easily be found for under $10.


Book Review: Pretty Much Everything by Aaron Draplin (+The Everything Else Kit)

Aaron Draplin might possibly be the most prolific graphic designer of our time. He’s best known for making logos, producing a lots of stuff, and creating the booming Field Notes brand of notebooks. This year he decided to cram his life’s work into a book, appropriately titled, Pretty Much Everything.26240629

Pretty Much Everything is an autobiography, a textbook, a coffee-table book, and a vanity project all squeezed between a bunch of black and orange pages. Much of the book chronicles Draplin’s career, from his humble origins in the Midwest, to his snowboarding days in the Northeast, and the steady growth of his Draplin Design Co. brand. He talks a lot about his influences and his family throughout, and he offers up his design philosophy (which can probably be boiled down to something like ‘work hard, enthusiastically, and be nice to people’).

Just looking through the pictures, it’s hard not to be impressed by Draplin’s output. Between his fondness for bright colors, his “thick lines” artistic style, and his aptitude for space economics, it’s easy to flip this book open to a random page and just sit and stare for a while. Practically every inch of this book is filled with stuff to look at.


Aside from a couple of big grammatical errors, Pretty Much Everything is really quite a delightful book. Any student of graphic design will learn a lot, any fan of Field Notes notebooks will get their fill, too, and lovers of Pantone Orange 021 will find a kindred spirit within these pages as well. And beyond that, Draplin comes across as a very friendly person, someone who lives and dies by his friends.

Everything Else Enhancement Kit

If, after closing the final pages of Pretty Much Everything, you long for more Aaron Draplin, then you’re in luck. Along with the book’s release, Draplin began selling an “Everything Else” Enhancement Kit (aka EEEK), which includes a bunch of bonus stuff.


At $55, the kit is about double the price of the book. So it’s probably best considered by hardcore fans only. However, you will get your money’s worth. There are bookmarks, stickers, a handful of prints, a certificate of authenticity (in case you were worried), and a Pretty Much Everything slip case (that, to my eye, looks more red than orange).

There’s plenty of other stuff too; a pencil, a button, a patch – and two 3-packs of a special Field Notes edition. Those Field Notes books are pretty unique, and I’ll definitely have a lot more to say about them in a future review.

Notes on Lunacy Field Notes

Lunacy, Field Notes’ Fall 2016 Special Edition, is what you get when you take a simple concept and go a little crazy on the execution.


Its theme pays homage to Earth’s celestial buddy, the moon, and there’s a lot more than usual going on with these little 3.5″ x 5.5″ pocket notebooks. They contain 60# light gray notebook paper with a reticle grid ruling. They are bound together with black staples that blend into a shimmery, black cover stock, giving it an almost leather-like look. And along with the the embossed Field Notes logo on the front, you’ll find a black moon logo embossed on the back cover.

But, of course, the most noteworthy aspect of the Lunacy edition is their die-cut covers, which open like little windows into a glossy inner photo of the moon.  Each book in the set is cut to represent a different phase of the moon: there’s a waning crescent, a third-quarter (half) moon, and a full-moon. Those who are subscribers to Field Notes’ quarterly additions also received a bonus “new moon” book, which just has a fully-intact black cover.


The glossy inner cover-pages aren’t just for show either, they also include a bunch extra info. In typical Field Notes fashion, some of this information is lightly useful, but most of it is just for fun. Need to know how to say “moon” in German? This notebook has got you covered. Want to know how to kill a werewolf? You’ll have that info in your back pocket too.

It’s a cool edition overall, though I’m not a huge fan of the die-cut covers. While they don’t rip or tear like I initially thought they would, I still find them a little annoying. But beyond that, these books remind me a lot of Field Notes’ Night Sky edition from the summer of 2014. That’s an edition I’ve always wanted to own, but they are now sold out (and much too expensive to buy through eBay). Lunacy, as well, is a little more expensive than usual – $12.95 for a 3-pack – but still worth it for any aspiring astronaut.


Additional Notes

  • Of the 30 “Practical Applications” listed in the notebooks’ inside-back cover, my favorites are the following: “2. ‘That’s No Moon'”; “20. Dark Side Theories”; and “22. Tidal Changes.”
  • Check out  Ed Jelly’s review for lots of good pictures, and Fountain Pen Follies says that these notebooks are very fountain pen friendly.
  • Definitely check out the video that Field Notes produced for this edition. It’s almost as if they were trying to fake the moon landing.

Review: BIC Gelocity, Gel Ink, 0.7mm


Let’s be real; the BIC Gelocity is pretty much just a re-branding of BIC’s old Velocity Gel pen. However, there are a few differences worth noting. First and foremost, the refill inside the pen seems to have been updated. The ink flow is no longer as inconsistent, and it runs a bit smoother – and wetter – than the old Velocity Gel. But like its predecessor, the Gelocity’s ink still smears quite heavily.

There are also some minor aesthetic updates. The knock has been turned white, the trim is a lighter gray, and the grip is maybe a tiny bit softer. But beyond that, it’s hard to tell the two pens apart.


It’s fair to say that it’s an improvement, albeit a minor one, but there’s nothing here that elevates the Gelocity above other mediocre “premium plastic” pens. It’s fine. It’ll do the job. Still, better options are available.