I’ve been interested in pens and inks and paper and all things stationery for a long time. As long as I can remember, really. I loved back-to-school time as a kid because it meant I could go and get new pens and notebooks. I would spend hours prepping for the first day. Organizing my folders. Stacking my papers. Labeling my… labels? Anyway, you get it, nerd central over here. Suffice it to say I didn’t exactly woo the girls with my organization and color-coded homework filing system.
But I loved it. Especially the pens. Gel pens were an awakening for me in middle school. Good notebooks were like (insert mind-blown emoji). I was smitten with all of it. And I sort of felt like I was the only one. Even into adulthood, with the exception of just a few people, I didn’t know many folks wiling to spend any money, and especially not tens or hundreds of dollars on pens or pen-related paraphernalia.
And then I learned about the Atlanta Pen Show. A multi-room event in a hotel in Atlanta where stationery retailers and pen makers and bloggers and aficionados can get together to talk about all the things they love. It’s 100% where I love to be and the three days I spend there are some of my favorite throughout the year. It’s something I always look forward to and something I hope to continue to do for the foreseeable future.
So what is it? And why?
It’s hard to explain what a pen show does or is. For me, I guess, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s family. It’s folks that I see once a year and it feels like this great reunion. We talk about life and kids and family and jobs. And pens. There’s camaraderie around the makers. There’s show and tell. There’s Waffle House (too much) and lunches and dinners and car rides and Spotify playlists. In a largely digital world, I get to put an actual real-life face with a username. Get to hug the folks that have inspired me, supported me, believed in me. And then There’s Pen Shows After Dark where we nerd out, but with alcohol. I’m sure the hotel staff just loves that. Waterproof ink, alcohol and pen nerds. What could possibly go wrong?
The pen show is also a great way to see pens and stationery products that you otherwise wouldn’t get your hands on without being local to a particular maker or store. There are some very, very high end pieces on display that retailers are gracious enough to share with the community. It’s hands-on and it’s a plethora of pens and all things pen-related, both vintage and modern.
If you’ve never been to a pen show, I would encourage you to try and find one near you. The fellowship and hands-on time is worth the price of admission alone. Many times, I don’t even buy anything. I just go for the friends.
So what is the pen show? It’s a family reunion. It’s a three-day experience where I get to find new music with Doug Beal (@murderofcro.ws) and Katherine Axon (@inkykatwrites). Hug Brad Dowdy (@penaddict). Hang with Jonathon Brooks (@brooks803), one of my absolute favorite people on this planet and the best damn pen maker I’ve ever seen. I get to sit in awe as Mark Bacas (@nibgrinder) works with surgical precision to modify my nibs and make my pens perfect. I get to shake hands with people that have supported my past projects and talk about food and bourbon and life, things we had in common outside of pens that we wouldn’t have known about without the pen show connecting us — looking at you Sam Kane (@samuel.l.kane). And, of course, no show would be complete without the decadent baked goods from Sandra Ross (@wf_cupcakegirl). I seriously don’t know how she does it, but she feeds the entire lot of us for several days, both with her cookies and cupcakes as well as with her charm and her wit and her love for the community.
It’s a whirlwind three days of everything we love and it’s a nice reminder that in a constantly digital world, even if we’re 1,000 miles apart, this hobby connects us, binds us, makes us family. The Pen Show Experience isn’t to be missed. And I look forward to many, many more.