James Marshall's Arts Page

While my professional background is in science, I also enjoy some arts. The main ones are music, comics, writing (pens, ink, paper, etc.), ballroom dancing, with a few other arts related topics as well.


I learned to play piano as a child, and music has always been a part of my life. I used to play trombone in school bands, but don't play it much anymore. I do continue to play the piano at home for fun, and am happy to have a full 88-key digital piano, the now-discontinued Yamaha YPG-635, which was a Christmas present from my wife. I also tried learning the harmonica, mainly to play blues, but never got very far with it. I love listening to music of a variety of genres. Jazz, blues, big band, and classical have been long-time favorites, but I also like modern/alternative rock, electronic styles like trance (I usually listen to Digitally Imported for this), some popular music of various styles, and some foreign music, mainly Japanese pop (J-pop) and anime music. Since I like a variety of music, I enjoy listening to a variety of artists, but there only a few whose CDs I buy regularly: Harry Connick, Jr. (see also this fan site), Linkin Park, Daft Punk, some albums by Utada who's also known by her full name Utada Hikaru, and the English albums of BoA (Boa Kwon). I also write music for fun when I'm inspired and have almost 30 songs now, plus some phrases and things that I like but haven't worked into full songs yet. My SoundCloud account has recordings for almost all of my finished songs, so please feel to listen to and comment on them there. More recently, in browsing videos, I saw some on beatboxing that were pretty cool. It's kind of amazing how many different sounds it's possible to make. I'm not sure what the best resources are on this topic, but Human Beatbox seems to be a good general site and Swiss Beatbox, the "World's largest Beatbox Platform", has lots of videos (see also Swiss Beatbox on Youtube).


I always enjoyed reading comics in newspapers when I was younger, but now I mainly read them online. Here are some of my favorites that I try to check regularly, roughly ordered by when I got interested in them: Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, Piled Higher and Deeper, Sinfest, El Goonish Shive, User Friendly, xkcd (see also xkcd what if? and explain xkcd), and Itchy Feet. Some others that have caught my eye include: The Oatmeal, Abstruse Goose, Dorkly, and Work Chronicles. For lots of other comics, try Comics.com or UComics.com. Perhaps not exactly (web) comics, there's some fun stuff at HomestarRunner.com, and the Strong Bad e-mails in particular are fun to watch.

Writing (Pens, Ink, Paper, etc.)

For now, I'm going to split this up into pens, ink, paper, pencils, and related items and topics. FYI, not all links in this section go to English language sites, but most do.


My main writing interest is fountain pens. They're not as common now as they once were, but I enjoy the different feel writing with liquid ink gives, which tends to be more expressive. Also, I don't have to use any real pressure to write, unlike with ballpoints. See also 5 reasons, 8 reasons, and 12 reasons for using a fountain pen, as well as To the Point: What's the Point?, and feel free to web search for more advantages. Also check out JetPens' Total Beginner's Guide to Fountain Pens and How to Write with a Fountain Pen for some helpful tips if you want to join in The Return of the Fountain Pen. For another perspective, here's A Primer on Fountain Pens. Quick tip: fountain pens that use international standard short ink cartridges often (but not always) have room to hold two -- one in the nib for use and one upside down in the body as a spare.

I own a variety of pens from a number of companies that include: Cartier, Cross, Jinhao, Lamy, Levenger, Monteverde, Nemosine, Noodler's, Parker, Pelikan, Pilot, and Waterman. I don't write enough to keep all of my pens inked at once, especially since my collection has grown so much in recent years, so I tend to keep a few favorite pens inked basically all the time and rotate among some of the other pens I have for variety. I also have some extra nibs for the above pens, a glass dip pen by Herbin, among some other writing utensils.

Left-handed writers might think fountain pens aren't for them, but that's not really true. While special pens, nibs, and/or nib customizations may help, they may not be necessary. Check out Fountain Pen Guide For The Left-Handed Writer, FP101: Fountain Pens for Lefties, and Left-Handed Pens and Writing Supplies for more information.

Two other articles that may be of general interest are Let's Reevaluate Converter Filling Fountain Pens on why this method isn't necessarily inferior to others and some of the advantages of using converters, and In Praise of Steel Nibs whose bottom line is "a quality modern steel nib will offer virtually everything that a modern gold nib can, with the exception of flex to provide line variation."

I do have and occasionally use other types of pens, but usually only for particular purposes; my normal writing is done with fountain pens. I will, however, mention the Pilot FriXion pens that use heat-sensitive erasable ink (and are perfect for the Rocketbook heat-erase Wave and wet-erase Everlast notebooks, BTW), and the famous Fisher Space Pen designed to write "in freezing cold and desert heat ... underwater and upside down" as their page says. See related items and topics for some suggested stores and other info.


I often try to match ink brands to my fountain pen brand because I consider this the safest option, but it's not necessary and I don't do it all the time. I use cartridges and bottled ink (often in samples) -- the former for convenience and the latter for color options -- but often prefer bottled. I almost always use blue inks, but also use variants like blue-black and cyan family colors. Less often, I use blacks, grays, or other colors. I may try more colors over time, but blues will always be my top choice. I've tried inks from the same makers as my pens above, but also have/had ones by (alphabetically): Caran d'Ache, Colorverse Ink, De Atramentis, Diamine, Herbin, Kaweco, Private Reserve, Rohrer & Klingner, Sailor, Seitz-Kreuznach, and Sheaffer. I'm sure there are others, and I may try more brands in the future, but if you're looking for inks, I think these (along with by pen manufacturers, some listed above) provide a good starting point. There are so many inks, and they can provide different results depending on the pen and paper, that there are nearly endless combinations to try. Sometimes it's hard not to buy more ink. :) See related items and topics for some suggested stores and other info.


The third major component of writing, paper is something I didn't think much about until I actively used fountain pens for a while. They don't write quite like ballpoints or rollerballs do, and some papers just aren't very good with some fountain pens and/or inks. So I started trying out a variety of papers that are (generally) meant to be fountain pen friendly. I have some pads and notebooks by (alphabetically): Apica, Banditapple, Black n' Red, Clairefontaine, Eighty Pages, Field Notes, Leuchtturm1917, Maruman, Midori, Moleskine, Rhodia, Stalogy, Tomoe River by Tomoegawa (one of their specialty papers), and Tsubame. Some quick comments on my experience, and YMMV of course: Moleskine apparently isn't designed for fountain pens; Clairefontaine was nice a little bit too slick for me; Rhodia, Leuchtturm1917, and Black n' Red were all pretty good; my Eighty Pages notebook seems a bit rough but OK (papers vary though); the Field Notes version I bought was generally good, but papers vary; Tomoe River is almost surprisingly good given how thin it is; and the others were either good enough for my purposes, or I haven't tried them yet. Some other brands I've heard of and might want to try include: Doane Paper. If you have a way of making your own notebooks/pads or like to use loose sheets, you can use any paper you want, giving you even more choices. I found these tips on Writing Comfortably in Thick Notebooks useful, so I wanted to pass them along. This post about 7 Notebooks That Will Help You Get Organized might be of some interest; I suspect you'd be able to implement their ideas in whatever notebook you like though. Also of possible interest, PocketMod and re:PocketMod, which let you print out small, 8-page booklets (with a few cuts and folds). See related items and topics for some suggested stores and other info.


I don't write in pencil much now, but when I do, I use a mechanical pencil. My current favorite is the Uni Kuru Toga, and I have a few different models. The unique feature here is that the pencil automatically rotates he lead to help maintain a sharp point. In order to do so though, the lead has to be lifted from the paper and put back down again, so this isn't the greatest pencil if you're going to do a lot of writing in cursive/script. I've seen other pencils with other interesting features, like lead guards to help prevent leads from breaking or a lead hardness indicator, and may get some of them eventually. I also own mechanical pencils made by Paper Mate, Pentel, Platinum, and rOtring, but may have others lying around. JetPens has a Guide to Mechanical Pencils which should be a good starting point if you're having trouble choosing. There's also a Kuru Toga: A Comprehensive Guide if you like that model in particular. Dave's Mechanical Pencils blog is a pretty good site for information, too, even if it's not being updated any longer.

As for leads, I've always used 0.5mm, in HB or somewhat softer (e.g., 2B or 4B), and now prefer the Uni NanoDia, Uni Kuru Toga lead, Pentel Ain Stein, and Pilot Neox Graphite pencil leads. Each is supposed to have its own unique features, but I don't see a huge difference among them in practice. I do think the Pilot Neox may write a bit softer/darker than other leads of the same grade, being a high graphite lead, but apart from that, I think they're all nice leads. You can get them from JetPens, which is where I bought mine, who also put together a nice Mechanical Pencil Lead Comparison with a lot of info on a variety of leads (including the three I prefer), as well as a guide to Picking the Perfect Pencil Hardness Grade. See related items and topics for some suggested stores and other info.

I've purchased writing items from (alphabetically): Amazon, Fountain Pen Hospital, Goldspot Pens, Goulet Pen Co. (home of the Nib Nook writing samples and Fountain Pen 101 videos), JetPens (who has a nice set of guides on their blog), JStationery, Levenger, Nanami Paper, Pen Boutique, and Pen Chalet (here's my referral link with a discount offer), and have looked at Anderson Pens, Bertram's Inkwell, Colorado Pen, Fahrney's Pens, and Vanness Pen Shop, which also seem good. There are many other stores to check out, though. For discussions, try the forums at The Fountain Pen Network and Fountain Pen Geeks.

I've come across some interesting suggestions or tips for taking notes and such, and although I don't use them all myself, I thought they'd be worth mentioning here (basically alphabetically): Bullet Journal, Chronodex (more of a schedule planning method), Cornell Notes (here's Lifehacker's explanation of the method), a Japanese indexing/tagging tip, Life Mapping (also more planning), Mighty Notes, Note-Taking Strategies for Students, Recovering the Lost Art of Note Taking, and Sketchnotes. I also like Proofreaders' and Teachers' Marks for Electronic Text, at least for working with plain text, and will mention calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing, which is something I do on rare occasions.

Some articles related to writing and such that caught my eye include, in no particular order:

Also worth noting, National Pencil Day on March 30 (origin uncertain), National Notebook Day on the third Thursday of May (started in 2016), National Ballpoint Pen Day on June 10 (origin uncertain), Fountain Pen Day on the first Friday of November (started in 2012). There's also a World Stationery Day on the last Wednesday in April (started in 2012), which is part of National Stationery Week (the last week of April, I assume). And if you like to use wax seals on your letters and such, JetPens has a nice Wax Seal How-To with some useful tips.

Ballroom Dancing

This is the only style of dancing that I really enjoy doing myself, and I've created my own ballroom dancing page with information about this, so I suggest you go there for more, including lists of dance steps and combinations from classes I took. I will provide a link to my local area college club though: Ballroom At Maryland. If you're in the College Park area, they have a lot of classes, social dances, competitions, etc. that they organize and/or attend, so I'd definitely suggest them as a good place to help you start ballroom dancing.

Other Arts

These might not all be exactly fits, but this seemed like the best place for them to me. Among these other art-related things I enjoy are: paper planes, and make sure to check out Ken Blackburn's Home Page because he's held the world record for time aloft with a paper plane; origami, the Japanese art of paper folding -- a few fun links for this are paperfolding.com, Origami Club (English), and Origami Resource Center. on a similar note are flexagons, paper models folded from strips of paper that have multiple faces -- a few links for more information (and some printable/foldable models) are Scott Sherman's Flexagon site, and The Flexagon Portal; juggling (try juggling.org for more info) and contact juggling, including pen spinning (see Pentrix or PenstudioZ for information on this); Parkour or free running, which is a kind of sport/art of moving in the most efficient and uninterrupted way possible, some moves have a gymnastics-like aspect to them, like vaults over obstacles.

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