Going analog in the digital age

As our world grows smaller by instantaneous communication and we march steadily into the digital age, I remain amazed at the demand for things that are decidedly not digital. I accidentally started Chesapeake Pen Co. a few years ago as merely a creative outlet while I was going through a health issue. I didn’t have grand plans of turning my turning habit into money or websites or television shows. I did not start out with a plan of creating custom fountain pens using historic and unique materials or individually custom cast resins. But here we are, starting our fourth year with demand for analog connections to our digital stronger than ever.

I appreciate the opportunity you all have given me to imagine, create and produce hand-made custom pens.

New ideas, new equipment

The last six months since my last blog post have passed in a blur.  As interest in my pens has increased, so too has the number of new orders.  As more and more of my precious commodity of time is spent on custom orders, I've had to very nearly stop making pens for my online store, disappointing many potential customers. This "double-edged sword" of making things for people has also illuminated several glaring shortcomings in my arsenal of tools and equipment.  When I starting making pens a few years ago, I had a pretty good woodworking shop already, but it was geared more to larger pieces of furniture rather than the very precise world of pen making. Since starting this passion with my first lathe, I have since added another wood lathe, a small metal lathe, and small metal milling machine.  I've re-invested most of the profit into better and more capable tools and equipment.  Predictably, I hit the point of maximum output from the machines I had in my shop and the result has been a predictably longer and longer time between order and delivery.  It's easy to make small investments in things like a new chisel or digital caliper, but the need for a more capable lathe could no longer be ignored.  This substantial expense represents most of my profit for the last six months, but I thrilled to announce the arrival of Chesapeake Pen's newest lathe, the Weiss WLB29F!  

Wabi-sabi

What a truly fascinating six weeks!

My last entry on this blog was about the overwhelming interest in Chesapeake Pen Co. and our offerings to pen enthusiasts.  The segment featuring Chesapeake Pens had just aired the week before on "Handcrafted America" and the response was incredible. And it remains incredible.  Funny things happen when funny things start to happen.  Inertia.  Momentum.  Synergy.  I'm reminded how capricious and random things can become.  I'm reminded of the fascinating and inexpiable realities of reality. I remind myself to enjoy the ride.

In addition to turning pens, I gather the wood used in many of them from the beach to take to the shop to dry and cut and cure and stabilize before I ever get near a lathe.  I design and cast my own blanks, the wooden or synthetic part of the pen that you hold.  I cut and drill and glue and turn and sand and finish. Often, I explore.  Like most explorations, most of mine end without discovering anything new or useful.  But occasionally, serendipity makes her presence known.  Recently, I made a discovery.  Perhaps better said, a discovery found me.  

I was casting a series of pen blanks that emerged from the end of the process nothing like I had intended.  A mistake. An exploration gone awry. I turned the seemingly undesirable blank anyway and posted a picture on Instagram.  That's where a funny thing happened.  Funny things happen when funny things start to happen.  Someone at the world's premier publication for pen lovers, Pen World magazine, noticed the picture of my so-called mistake.  

In a glorious exchange with the writer at Pen World, our discussion meandered through philosophical hallways and landed in the room marked "Wabi-sabi."  I just looked up wabi-sabi on wikipedia and here's a great description:  In traditional Japanese aestheticsWabi-sabi () is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.[2] The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"

Wabi-sabi.  I love it.  

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“The glorious essential Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, whereby one celebrates asymmetry, imperfection, and transience, is on its finest display in this dazzling creation, this great fusion of sea and earth, whose creation exemplifies the very nature of life and art. Bravo @chesapeakepenco (as always)!
— @penworldmagazine

Overwhelming!

Last Friday night, Chesapeake Pen Co., was extraordinarily blessed to be profiled with two other artists on the television show "Handcrafted America."  The response has simply been-

Overwhelming.

We at Chesapeake Pen are so blessed to have been a part of the show and the exposure the show has given us is nothing short of remarkable.  What I thought was a robust inventory and well-designed online store was tested as only real-life can test you.  I ran out of many popular items and even some that were so particular that I didn't know if they would ever sell were snapped up quicker than I could update my inventory.  My storefront on the web showed some weaknesses and unfortunately a few buyers slipped away.  But overall, the experience was extraordinary.

Thank you to INSP and Handcrafted America and thank you to the wonderful people who took a chance on one of my pens. Your response and kindness has simply been -

Overwhelming.

Serendipity

Words that sound happy are wonderful things.  That's probably why I like the word serendipity - it sounds happy.  It also has a wonderful definition.  Mr. Google just said that serendipity means the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. It even has happy in the definition! 

Through what I can only call serendipity, Chesapeake Pen Company makes its television debut tonight on the wonderful television show "Handcrafted America" hosted by the lovely Jill Wagner.  To see the level or artistry and craftsmanship this program showcases each week, it's more than a little humbling to find myself among them.  It was an incredible experience from start to end and the people associated with the show and the INSP television network were all marvelous and patient professionals.

Thank you Jill, and the entire Handcrafted America production team for my moment of serendipity.  I know I got more than I deserved!

Unintended consequences

As I work on yet another page of this website, I can't help but think about "unintended consequences."  When I started turning pens a few years ago, I didn't have a master plan. I didn't have a plan at all.  I just started turning because it was challenging and creative and new and mostly because it was fun.  Now I find myself creating very specific and very personal turned objects that carry meaning far beyond the effort that I can put into the piece.  That's pretty amazing.  

I'm currently working on a new page for this website called "Custom Shop" or something equally contrived.  Really, I'm hoping to reach out to people who might have an idea about a very specific something that truly resonates with the receiver of the gift.  I can make pens all day long that I love, but what I really want to do is make a pen that you love. Or someone you love is going to love.  

Coming soon is my "Custom Shop" page.  Or we can name it something else.  Any ideas?  On this page we can talk about what you want and what I can do. And unintended consequences!

Going Live!

After dragging my feet for over a year, the Chesapeake Pen Co., website is finally live.  It's live, such as is, because eventually you can't let perfect be the enemy of the good.  It's live also because I don't know what I don't know.  It's mostly live because in a few weeks, Chesapeake Pen Company will be featured in a segment on the INSP Network's "Handcrafted America" with the lovely Jill Wagner. Next week, Chesapeake Pen is being interviewed by our local newspaper, so there's another reason to go live even though the site needs work especially in the Gallery pages.  With the exposure coming to us, having a place on the web is crucial.  So here it is, in all it's coltish, clumsy glory: A place in the world (wide web)!

When I started turning my first "Slimline" pen years ago, I hadn't the faintest idea that one day my designs would receive global reach with the spectacular retailer UncommonGoods.com.  Little did I know that I would have the blessing of appearing in the wonderful television show "Handcrafted America."    I had no reason to suspect that I would soon be casting custom pen blanks and creating hand-built fountain pens.  

What an adventure it has been!

I wonder where we go next?

New technology meets old

It's funny to think about how long men and women have been communicating with written symbols.  From the crude drawings on cave walls to our near instantaneous digital mediums, I find myself presently working in both worlds.  I make hand-turned pens out of wood - not much different in purpose and principle than the charcoal pieces used thousands of years ago.  And now I find myself creating a way to share my passion of building pens through the transmission of ones and zeroes too numerous to count.  This first blog entry on this new website is oddly about the process of creating a digital representation of a tangible tool.  This is the first post on the internet!