Why We’re Here — How Pens And Paper Helped Save My Sanity.

A stack of active notebooks and notepads including books from Clairfontaine. Rhodia, Life, Goulet Pens, and More

The Ace of Pens is a blog aimed at exploring how analog tools fit into modern digital creativity. I started this project out of a sense of being disconnected from my creative side during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic that put my commercial photography business into a total holding pattern for the better part of a year.

I had spent the last several years of my creative life either on set, on a plane, or sitting in front of a computer — either retouching photographs or developing new workshop materials. I was attached to a digital device at all times to manage my schedule, communications, and even to organize my thoughts. When the first lockdown went into effect, I had just returned from a trip to Cuba (a return trip to Havana is high on my list of places to travel to once I can do so safely). But soon after I got home the world became a very different place.

Dealing with massive anxiety issues, unable to properly grieve or gain a sense of closure regarding those I had lost, and being cut off from most of my family due to border closures was mentally and emotionally taxing. And without my regular outlets of social interaction, travel, and the personal photographic projects that I use to balance my corporate and advertising workloads left me with little more to do in my evening hours than compulsively doom-scroll the news or binge Netflix.

As someone who has often described themselves as “chronically allergic to boredom,” I was ready to crack, I knew that I needed to make a positive change to pull myself out of this funk. I also knew that I needed to throw myself back into something to give my listless creative energy some focus and motivation — so for the first time in years (and at the suggestion of my wife, Erin, who had been pushing me to do it for ages), I started to keep a daily journal again. At first, it was to track habits that I wanted to institute during quarantine to give myself some structure: Did I exercise today? Go outside? Read? Meditate?

It helped to keep me accountable during a time when the days all started to seem to blend into one — but it quickly grew into a habit of its own. Suddenly I had two journals — one for daily task tracking and accountability and one that served more as a traditional diary. I was also keeping stacks of legal pads and open notebooks around the house to record thoughts, creative inspiration, reminders, and more. I went from being an Evernote power user to maybe logging into the site once a month or so to reference a note from a few years back. 

I started to realize that keeping a paper journal and writing with a pen in hand was beginning to alleviate that anxiety and restlessness I had been feeling. It helped me regain a sense of connectedness and became a therapeutic outlet — a place to dump all the mental baggage of the day I didn’t want to carry with me. It was also a key catalyst in reclaiming my creative motivation and restoring order to what at the time was a very, very disordered mind. 

My journaling time became something ritualistic and soothing. Sitting down at the table with a favorite playlist and a mug of tea in the morning and evening to write and order my thoughts was a panacea for me. I also started to fall more in love with writing tools — pens are a defined form, a simple concept with a stated and easily understood purpose. But within the parameters of that construct, I have come to appreciate them as marvels of engineering, innovation, craft, artistic expression, and in the case of some vintage pens — tangible artifacts of history that still have practical use and purpose. I went from almost exclusively using a keyboard to record my thoughts to be the type of person who had a favorite pen (and later to be the type of person who has SEVERAL favorite pens)

A few of my every day fountain pens: PenBBS 456, Esterbrook Estie, Platinum Century #3776, Schon Pocket Six, as well as a Schon Notebook inside a Galen Leather Pen Case in Crazy Horse Green Leather

Why Fountain Pens?

They are a lot of fun to write & tinker with, are more environmentally sound than frequently tossing disposable pens away, are more pleasurable to write with, and I love the idea that I can change inks on a whim to suit my mood or the purposes of a letter or journal entry. Fountain pens also suit my writing style, and help me be more relaxed when I write, which helps with my legibility as well as wrist and shoulder problems — I can use far less pressure writing with a fountain pen, which I really appreciate.

I also think that some fountain pens’ intended permanence/non-disposability allows you to have real emotional connections with them.  I will always cherish my BENU Briolette because it was the first fountain pen my wife gifted to me (and it has a funny story behind it). Some have served as markers of milestones in my life — something I bought myself to commemorate accomplishing a particular personal challenge or crushing significant assignments at work. Some look cool and appeal to the side of me that loves aesthetics (hence my love of Sheaffer pens with inlaid nibs). Others may represent something different entirely — for instance, I’m currently trying to find pens from each of my family members’ birth years: ’44 ’47’ 66′ and ’81 to create something of a family archive in writing)

I like my tools to be useful, engaging, and thought-provoking, but I also want them to feel like they have a purpose. I am not a fan of status buys or flashing around precious pens that you are too afraid to write with. That’s not to say an expensive pen can’t be well designed, a great writer, or stunning, but I’m going to be a lot more concerned with how something writes, feels, and how I connect to it rather than how I relate to its brand cache and marketing.

Where did the name come from?

I’ve disliked my handwriting for years (and there will be several posts on this blog about how I am trying to reteach myself cursive down the line). I also have some nasty shoulder issues (from years of lugging camera bags and lighting cases), so sometimes writing with proper whole arm movements can be painful for me, making me write with my wrist a lot more than I should be. One of the best hacks I’ve found for improving my writing and making it less painful has been to write with a card under my wrist to reduce resistance and let my hand glide a little easier and freer as I write, rather than anchoring it statically in one place. I tend to use playing cards or tarot cards for this. When brainstorming titles with my wife, I was writing with an ace of spades under my hand, which ultimately sparked the idea for The Ace of Pens. 

A portrait of buffalo NY based commercial and editorial photographer Luke Copping

Who Am I?

My name is Luke, and I’m a commercial and editorial portrait photographer.

I grew up in Canada but now live in Buffalo, NY, with my wife and kids. We love it here, and a lot of my personal work focuses on the creatives and entrepreneurs who are busting their asses to make this Rust Belt city thrive again – and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of telling this story.

I love black licorice, Indian food, horror movies, hunting down cool pens, travel, journaling, making wood-fired pizza, watching Miyazaki films, and taking aimless late-night drives with my wife to listen to music.

I create images for advertising agencies, magazines, and corporate clients across the US and Canada – Making quirky and dramatic portraits of subjects that range from corporate innovators to counterculture rebels is what I’m best at. You can see my photographic work here. I’m one of the co-creators of Project Prescription for Photography — a toolkit of professional photographers’ forms and workflows. I also teach business workshops for creatives across the US and Canada (but I just use it as an excuse to travel around and visit stationary and pen shops)

I’m scared of dolls.

I have the same birthday as Louis Daguerre.

Cheers, and keep writing!

-Luke

2 thoughts on “Why We’re Here — How Pens And Paper Helped Save My Sanity.”

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