New tangle pattern Botanical; Review of Bonnie Jean Woolger Handmade Pen

The winner of this giveaway was Jane Mitcham.
Many of you, who follow the Zentangle flickr group, will be familiar with the flickr name, and many on Facebook or Twitter will recognize Bonnie Jean Woolger.  You may follow her blog Lost and Found.  If so, you probably think 'Oooh.  Yes!  She draws the coolest stuff!'  (Those of you who don't know her--follow the links to her work--you are in for a treat!)

What you may not know is that she also makes handmade pens!  I bought one, and Bonnie donated one for me to give away (see giveaway rules at the end of this post) as part of this review.  Bonnie makes these pens from found wood, and uses bic pen refills--how green is that?  The blurb at her Etsy store says:

"The refills are just clear bic pens. When I started making these my thought was that simple bic pens would be easy for anyone to get and or something that every one has around the house. I looked at the wood scraps and a drawer full of pens and I started making pens."

"Pens that feel good and look good for everyday use. These pens transform discarded wood scraps into little sculptures with which to write and draw."

I wanted to include a sketchbook in the giveaway, and what is the ultimate in recycled paper? Why, the Poo Poo Paper Elephant Silhouette Journal  from the European Paper Company.  (For pictures of the paper and information on how it is made follow the link).

Each of Bonnie's pen is unique.  Some are dark and some are bleached, and some, like my own pictured above, are two-toned.  The designs carved on each are different, dictated by the original shape and softness/hardness of the wood.  

The Giveaway Pen
The Pen I Bought for myself--used in the examples below

The pen is easy to refill.  You simply pull the pen tip with steady pressure and it pulls free.  Then you insert the new refill.  

But--you ask--how does it perform?

I was bit worried that the carving or shape might be uncomfortable, but in fact, I found it more comfortable than most ballpoints.  I have a small hand, so this could differ for others.  

The pen has the usual advantages and disadvantages of most ballpoint pens. The tip isn't sharp, so it won't tear or catch on softer paper, and it doesn't collect fiber and lint from the paper the way fiber-tipped pens will do.  You can get very soft, feathery lines, allowing a wide range of values (very light to very dark areas).  The flip side is that you don't usually get a bold or crisp line and it is harder to get areas of strong contrast.  

As usual, I decided to try out several types of paper so you could see how the pen performs (and you can see more by following the links to Bonnie's work).

First, I drew in an Elephant Poo journal that I've had for a while.  It's different than the one being given away (and you don't know how tempted I am to enter my own giveaway, lol!  Due to spending on other fronts last month, I could only afford to buy the one!) It has colored paper (the green is the paper color), similar to construction paper.  Very soft and easily torn, it also has fibers that tend to clog a soft-tipped pen like the Micron Pigma.  This is paper that doesn't allow strong contrast or sharp lines in the first place.  Bonnie's pen was perfect for it.  I could use pressure to get more flow without any tearing, and I could lay down wispy strokes of ink for a soft textured look.  

The next journal I drew in was my Lama Li travel journal.  The paper in this journal is very thin, almost like newsprint.  It's sturdy as regards tearing, but I have had pens poke through on occasion.  You can get a bold line, but not a crisp one.  Bonnie's pen worked very well, giving me layers of values without poking through even when I added pressure.

I wanted a harder paper for the next round, so I pulled out my Carnet de Voyage Travel Album from Clairefontaine.  The paper is this journal has tooth, but it isn't soft.  The range of values was excellent!  I couldn't get lines as sharp as a Micron would give, but they were dark and sharp enough.

My next choice was to use my Whitelines journal, which has hard, smooth paper, and I did use it.  However, I took it with me on my trip to Florida, and it did not make the trip back to Oregon.  If my brother finds it, I may one day show you the cool stuff I drew in it with Bonnie's pen, lol.  There is a new tangle pattern there, but I can't remember what is was.  Too much going on.  Maybe it will become the Lost Tangle, highly sought after by fanatics for centuries to come. LOL!

Meanwhile, when I arrived home, I had received a cool little passport journal from Renaissance Art.  I'll be writing up a bit more on that later, but my fingers just itched to try my pen in it.  The paper is Arches, a toothed paper suitable for almost anything from pen to watercolor.  I decided it was time to see how the pen worked with color, so after drawing, I used Lyra Rembrandt color pencils.  The Arches paper was soft enough that I had to layer quite a bit to get the darkest values.  I liked the soft, misty look I was getting and even left some areas almost untouched.  I could have gone darker by re-using the pen over the colored pencil, but decided to quit while I was ahead.

For my last example, I chose my Rhodia dotWebbie, a very smooth, elegant paper, totally different from any of the others I had tested on.  I'd been playing with with some of Tim Holtz's new Distress Markers, and, on a whim, decided to see how Bonnie's pen did in conjunction (the area at bottom right side).  For some reason, the result made me think of embroidery.  I decided to go for a look that evokes the feel of embroidered cloth.

I used a Viva Las Vegastamps! rubber stamp (Two Toucans On Branchcolored up with the Distress markers.  At the moment I only have 5 colors, so I used a Pentel white sunburst gel pen to soften and widen my range (and am not happy with the color of the roses--but that is marker, and not the result of the pen being reviewed).  The ink went down in feathery lines that required definite layering for darker values.  But I don't believe I could have achieved this soft, pillowy result with my usual pens.

Note about the tangle: Botanical was created with the help of a 10-year old, who told me what she wanted me to draw.  She declined to have her name or work displayed because she's shy.  There are similar patterns already out there, so I'll call this a tangleation.

So in conclusion, I'm very happy with the results I can get with this pen, but you could get these results with any BIC pen.  The advantage with Bonnie's pen is that you have a unique piece of art that uses found wood and refills with minimal packaging.  They are beautiful and elegant in a way that no ballpoint pen is going to be.

Nothing is perfect.  I do miss being able to get a bold, crisp line on occasion.  The pens don't have a cap, so you need something to put it in if you carry it in your purse or travel bag.  None of the stores I shop in most often have Bic refills, so I will have to make a special trip to buy them.  

The wood on my pen is changing color where I hold it.  Since it is a two-color pen, I think it will just add a distressed patina over time.  The pen I'm giving away is a slightly harder wood, so the discoloration may not occur.  If you decide to buy one of her pens, and don't think you wouldn't like that change, you might ask about the wood or choose a darker color.  

I was happy enough with the pen that I bought two more for gifts.  

The Giveaway (is now closed):
One winner will receive one of Bonnie's handmade pens and a 
Poo Poo Paper Elephant Silhouette Journal (8 x 7.75) (pictured above).  The contest starts today--4/16/12 and ends at Midnight PDT Friday 4/20/12.  Winner will be announced on Saturday.

Please read the rules.  They are simple, but must be followed or your entry will be voided.

  • Leave a comment on this post with an email where I can reach you. 
  • Only 1 entry per person.  I’m running this giveaway at both of my blogs—please only enter on one of them.  If you accidentally comment twice, email me at LifeImitatesDoodles and I’ll remove the duplicate. 
  • If you don’t wish to leave an email in the comments—copy your comment post, paste it into an email and send it to me at:  lifeimitatesdoodles[at]  
Each comment will be assigned a number, and the winning number will be chosen by random generator.  The first number drawn will be the winning number.  

If you don't want to wait to see if you won, you can purchase one of Bonnie's pen at her Etsy store or the Elephant Poo Journal from the European Paper Company.  Good luck, everyone!

Oh--and please pass the word so others know about the giveaway. Open to everyone, and the more the merrier!