a new love for dip pens & other found art supplies

by | Jun 5, 2018 | All Things Home, Antiques, Art, art supplies, Artistic Endeavors, Favorite Finds, sketches | 20 comments

I have found a new favorite thing…  dip pens.  Yes, they are completely impractical by modern standards and you have to get used to the rhythm of stopping to dip your pen every couple of lines, but there is something about the scratching sound on the paper and the grace of the delicate nibs that captivate me.

I recently bought the D Leonardt & Co Drawing & Mapping set and it comes with a nice wooden nib holder, a small tin for storing nibs, and five nibs made for drawing and mapping (as opposed to calligraphy nibs.)

It’s a great set and I’m hooked.  Now, I’m on the hunt for antique dip pens, inkwells, and nibs.

I actually had an antique inkwell with a sterling lid that belonged to my great-grandmother.  I didn’t know it was a inkwell until I started searching for antique ones on Etsy and eBay.  I always thought it was a little pill box or something.  It’s a nice little size, but it’s not very heavy and I could see the ink spilling if I’m not careful, so I wanted to find one that was a little heavier and the ink sat lower in the well.  (I polished up the lid since this picture and it looks even better!)

When I went shopping in Cannon Falls, an inkwell was on my list.  It was actually a fun thing to hunt for, because I had an excuse to peruse the locked cases.  I don’t usually bother too much, because it’s kind of a pain to have the case unlocked and I’m not usually looking for the things that are locked in the cases.  We found a bunch of old ink bottles and ink wells without lids and desk sets, but nothing that was quite right.

I finally spotted this heavy glass inkwell with a nice brass lid for $12 and it was a winner.


While trolling the glass cases, I also found an antique divider…

It is in perfect working order (it tightens and the spring still works, etc.) and it’s a nice size.  I have a new divider, but it’s smaller and I find it’s sometimes too small for what I’m working on.  The point of a divider is to measure something you’re trying to draw.  So, I can take a measurement on the divider of, say, the width of a subject’s mouth, and then I can use that as a measurement to check the rest of the face.

Anyway, it was a great find and something I’ll actually use.  I think it was $14.

I also bought a small tin ($8) to hold art supplies and it’s just the right size for my gouache tubes…

And I couldn’t pass up these vintage Windsor & Newton varnish and oil bottles.  They were $4/each.

I don’t know if I’m actually going to try to use them or just keep the bottles as decor…

I’m so tempted to open them up and give them a try!  Doesn’t that rich amber color just beckon to be used?

I’m definitely going to be more of a case-hunter from now on!

I also thought I would share some of my favorite art supplies I’ve acquired in recent weeks…

I bought this brush roll by Vensk off of Etsy and it is so beautifully made.  I was even able to get the size customized, so it will accommodate my long-handled oil brushes.  And, of course, it’s fun when anything has your name or monogram on it!

Calvin watched as I unwrapped it and he asked if he could have it for his brushes.  I told him he couldn’t have it, because it has my name on it.  He agreed that he didn’t want a brush roll with my name on it!

The leather and workmanship are both gorgeous.  I loved it so much that I ordered a pencil roll as well.

Even with the size adjustment, a few of my brushes are still a little too long, because of the length of their bristles.  This will fit almost all of my brushes, though, and will be great for traveling and plein air painting.

I also bought a small backpack from a local store.  The bag is by What Daisy Did, but I wasn’t able to find this exact one online.  It’s a gorgeous leather and I love all of the pockets and buckles.  It’s a perfect size to carry around some basic art supplies and the necessary contents of my purse.

As far as art supplies, I have been testing out some new sketching mediums.  One that I’ve enjoyed is these Cretacolor artist leads and wooden holder.  The leads come in different colors and materials from graphite to charcoal to conte crayons.

The holder “opens”, so the lead can fall inside, protecting it when it’s in a pencil pouch, which is nice.  The texture of the crayons takes a bit of getting used to, but I like the strong values I can get with it.

Can you tell how much I love art supplies?!  It’s a whole world to discover and I’m thoroughly enjoying the expedition…


  1. Brenda

    I really enjoy your blog. This post has some very helpful information. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Kathy McDermott

    Love all your finds. You have a whole world to explore with your new interests. I was lucky enough to find mother of pearl nib holders years ago at an estate sale. They are beautiful.

  3. amy joanne mogish

    Lovin’ your artful side….and how it connects with your playful vintage side! Great finds…great tools.

  4. Sandra

    Quill pens and 5th grade. We had to learn how to write with a quill pen before we were allowed to use a ballpoint pen. The ink bottles fit into a hole in the top right corner of our desks and were filled about once a week from a huge – maybe half or whole gallon glass bottle of dark blue ink. Everyone was issued blotters to press over the wet ink so that it didn’t smear. You wrote all of your subjects using the quill pen. Our report cards even had penmanship listed as a graded subject. Ah, those ink stained memories.

  5. Lisa

    We learned how to write with pen and ink when I was in the 6th grade (1962). Each month we had to memorize a poem, then write it out on paper with the pen and ink (done again and again until perfect) and find an illustration to go with it, then mount the whole thing on construction paper. Then we had to get up in front of the class to recite the poem. The inkwells were in a hole in the corner of our desks. We also had penmanship, the Palmer method, which was graded each quarter. Wasn’t a huge fan of the process then, but have great appreciation for it now!

  6. Beth

    Do you know the old children’s poem, ” Hiding” by Dorothy Keeley Aldis ? I though of it when you mentioned inkwells . Lovely

  7. Kat

    Your space looks amazing….mine looks like pigs have been in a mud fight😂 I use to do pen and ink cross hatch drawings at school😊good times!

  8. Melissa Mundy

    You are hooked!!!

  9. Elizabeth St

    “Art as a reason to go shopping”

    Marian, you should teach that course. I have a feeling it would fill up fast (with you as instructor). I love that you make the need for supplies and storage solutions an artful pursuit in itself. The pieces you bought are lovely.

    Calvin is sooooo precious to ask if he could commandeer your new, custom made, leather case for his brushes. How adorable. You had the perfect response. Even better, it was true.

  10. Grace Woodring

    Is it possible that you’re grandmother’s inkwell is actually a rouge pot? I collect them and it looks like many of mine, approx 1-2 inches in diameter. Check eBay under silver lid jars.

    • Marian Parsons

      Maybe! It’s possible people listing these as inkwells are misinformed. I never thought it was a inkwell, but I saw many listed as such. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Lisa from MT

    Yep, you’ve got the bug! Check out Judson’s At Supplies for the best pochade box I’ve ever found to use for plain aire painting. They have quite the setup. Utretcht is great for saving $$ on paints. Gorgeous foot, by the way! Very nice rendering.

  12. Sheri

    I have some of my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather’s old tools and you have solved a mystery for me. I apparently have an antique divider as well, yet didn’t really know what it was. Just loved it. Now maybe I can actually put it to some practical use someday.

  13. D.

    Maybe that could be a sewing project for you and Calvin to do together – cut out and then sew a brush/pencil/marker roll for him out of denim from some old outgrown jeans of his Dad or even his own or his brother. He could have his name monogrammed on it or just stitched on by hand.

  14. Shelly

    As an antique dealer, we always put our best smalls, or things that can be pocketed easily in our cases. I used to hate to ask to see something locked up as well, but the cases are where some really nice things are, as you discovered.
    The staff usually welcomes the chance to look at things as well, while helping you therefore they welcome the request.

  15. Sandy Kime

    I have an ink well with a sterling top with initials on it. Until I saw yours I had no idea it was an ink well. I also thought it was maybe for rings. But it’s one of my favorite pieces on my dresser. Glad to know what it really was used for!

  16. Debbie

    I worked in an office supply/artist supply/school supply store in the 60’s, and we sold the nib pens and bottles of Sheaffer ink, India ink, and all kinds of wonderful papers to go with them. The ink bottles had a small “well” inside them so that you could tilt the bottle and fill this well with ink. That kept you from dipping into the whole bottle and kept everything a bit neater! Never developed talent to be an artist or calligrapher, but my love of office and artist supplies has never left.

    Really love the bottles of oil and varnish….and, like you, I’m not sure I could open and use them! I wonder if inkwells wouldn’t be more likely to have a hinged lid (I have one that does) than a totally removable lid.

  17. Frances

    I just love your studio space Marion! I expanded into some attic space behind a spare room upstairs and put a door in to access the unfinished area over the garage last year. After moving up from the parlor where I was dodging piles of supplies and work in progress, I took a break from unpacking to work on several painted furniture pieces for a show and participated in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project.
    We hung the show on Monday and I have been trying to take some time off, but I am itching to start working on my studio. I have been trying to be more intentional about how I style the space because I find I want to be in here more now that I have been looking for furniture that appeals to my love of old things.
    I started with a lovely pink velvet couch that I bought from a friend, then a steamer trunk that I put casters on. I already had a great old standing desk from a local machine shop and another friend gave me a lovely china cabinet that I plan to paint at some point. I have been making little boxes for my collections of feathers and dried botanicals, unpacking and arranging my small ironstone and tea cup/pot collection and thinking about how to hide all of the clutter. I really want to start inviting girlfriends over for creative jam sessions and I’d like the room to appeal to them too.
    The attic room is purely storage and messy painting, but I would love to start working on the aesthetics in there. Aside from some cool old lockers I have, the rest of the storage is ramshackle and ugly. It’s a process though, and I need it to function as a working studio first.
    All of this is fluff for my real point, which is, you never have to have an excuse to buy supplies! I love them all and try to experiment as much as possible. I really branched out a lot working on the sketchbook project.
    I haven’t used a nib pen since art college, but I still have some cheap ones and a vintage bottle of emerald green ink I picked up in an antique store years ago. Maybe I will play around with them a bit again. My husband recently gave me a lovely writing desk that needs some work because he was just piling mail on it in his office and my old desk, which was my fathers, then mine as a child, is starting to come apart. Anyway. it has a pull out leaf with a leather inlay that really begs for a quill pen and nice paper.
    Thanks as always for your lovely story and insight into your studio. I find the more I see of your creative exploits, the more I am inspired to be intentional in my own.

  18. barbara

    I think that is a rouge pot too, mine still has rouge in it. We started with quill pens in grade 3 – imagine 40 8 year olds with pen and ink!

  19. Cynthia

    This post is nummy, soothing, and I learned a few things!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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