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Reaching Ralph’s grind

They turned a plastic straw into a pen.

In the middle of a pen meet in Quezon City, someone brought out a straw, exactly the ones used for bubble milk tea drinks. The wild idea was to use it as a dip pen, and the owner already made a cut for the nib. But it could still use a touch from that night’s guest: US-based Ralph Reyes of Regalia Writing Labs. He gamely took the straw, made a certain grind on the tip, and handed it over for testing.

Ralph Reyes (middle) waits for a reaction after grinding a straw tip.

That was not the craziest nib that night

Ralph had his arsenal of unusual nibs on hand: two nibs stacked and welded together, another had three. One had a cross cut below the breather hole for added flex, the next was etched to resemble Damascus steel.

He would start making a nib with a preferred tip but not an actual intention, randomly welding nibs to create a “canvas of tipping” for his own brand functional art.

“I really have no structure to how I do it. My philosophy for designing nibs, I like to say, is pushing to a thousand and then reducing to 100,” said Ralph. “I push an idea as far as I could go, something absolutely ridiculous like stacking seven nibs on top of each other to make the Ragnarok prime and then reducing it to something that makes sense like a three-layer nib.”

But his method of nib creating was not always free-wheeling. His first creation was born out of academic necessity, being the “kid just double fisting a whole bunch of fountain pens” just to write notes with different nib sizes in class. After hearing about the Sailor King Eagle nib’s versatility and its three layers of 21 karat gold beauty, he knew it was exactly what he needed.

“It allowed you to write, with any line size you desired depending on how you held the pen. And that blew my mind,” he recalled.  Its price and its rarity, however, meant it was almost impossible to get.

He’d go to class, look at his fist of pens and think “damn I wish I had a King Eagle right now.” His obsession reached a certain point that he’d lose sleep over the nib. Then one day, he realized, if he couldn’t buy a King Eagle nib, he can make his own version instead.

With 100 Jinhao steel nibs and brand new equipment bought through sizable loans, he locked himself in a room and swore never to leave, except for bathroom breaks, until he finished his nib. After three weeks of hyper focusing in self confinement, and depending on his worried mom’s food deliveries, he left his room with the Trilogy: a three-layer nib that writes a juicy triple B on his usual angle and an EF when reversed.

“That’s kind of like how Regalia started,” said Ralph. “It started from obsession. And a little bit of insanity.”

Ralph’s Trilogy nib

Ralph’s first fountain pen was a Jinhao 163. His hand would cramp during school work so he got a fountain pen, Aurora Black, and “crappy notebooks.”

“It just feathered all the time.”

But in his mind, the real fountain pen journey started in Japan. Japanese extra fine nibs were the true extra fines, he heard, but there were no fountain shops in Ashikaga, Tochigi. Only mountains. On his last day in Japan, back in Tokyo for the flight home, he heard that there was a shop just 5 minutes away. The bus to the airport would leave in an hour.

Ralph’s Crossflex nib

“I ran out of the hotel. I left my luggage with them and sprinted over the Kingdom Note.” He stepped out with a Pilot Decimo, a Faber-Castell Ambition,  a bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-Oro, and a ton of inspiration.

Between this Japanese haul and his first handmade nib was the Sailor King Eagle, created by the late Nobuyoshi Nagahara.

Ralph’s own Nagahara Crosspoint

“But the thing is, what I feel like that Nagahara really created wasn’t the King Eagle, the Cross Concord, or the King Cobra,” shared Ralph. “What I really feel like he created, was the idea. The idea that you can add additional pieces of metal to a nib, or multiple nibs, and kind of create works of art. Almost sculptures that had multi functionality.”

What Nagahara started was to “push fountain pens beyond the boundaries of what we normally expect them to be constrained to.” Ralph wants to share that magic, and the expressiveness it creates.

He creates nibs for a living, yes, but he believes that fountain pens are special tools. You can find one that fits your hand perfectly, one that extends your thoughts onto paper just right, one that makes the experience of expressing yourself accurate.

Ralph’s mission is to protect the legacy of Nagahara’s idea, and to protect the art of nib grinding. There’s not a lot of nibmeisters around, he said, but it is up for the remaining few to keep it alive.

 “I have a fear that this art is gonna die someday,” said Ralph. But not today.

Nibs help him feel alive after all.

“I actually struggle a lot with anxiety and depression,” intimated Ralph.  “Especially at the time that I started fountain pens. I was not in a good place at all. And still to this day I struggle very much with social situations and being in crowds.”

He does well in small groups, but bigger ones make him anxious. His mind would race all over the place, he said, fearing anything, everything, “or something like that.”

“But what fountain pens really offered me was that whenever I write with a fountain pen, all of my worries, all of my thoughts about the future, about the past, they would all disappear,” said Ralph.

“When writing with a fountain pen, the only thing I’m paying attention to is the moment where ink exits the nib onto the page.”

The author’s writing sample of Ralph’s Trilogy nib.

“With every consecutive stroke, with every like stroke of the pen forming into each shape of the letter, I’m in that moment and nowhere else.”

The ink allows him to take the chaos from his head onto tangible paper. Call it escapism, he said, but to him it is meditation.

“After writing it down, I can I could tear up the page, I could crumble it, I can I could put it away to remember it.”

Writing his thoughts down gave him control. He wouldn’t feel afraid. “There’s a certain joy of writing with a fountain pen, and whatever you write with a fountain pen is of your mind.”

What matters most are the words he would pen. Words with himself.

“That’s what fountain pens brought me. Peace. In my heart.”

Ralph’s personal Skeleton Sequel nib.

Back at the Quezon City pen meet, Ralph was talking to everyone. He’d ask if you already tried any of his pens, and happily hand over one in between tuning nibs. “You have to try it!”

Opposite Ralph, one Fountain Pen Network Philippines member tried his personal Skeleton Sequel. It laid down a nice crispy cursive italic. There was gasp.

Flip it, Ralph prodded. The person obliged, and the nib wrote in BB.

“What the hell? This is crazy!”

Ralph looked back with a huge smile, then turned to this writer.

“I live for moments like that.”

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Beyond all the pens and ink, the community behind fountain pens is what I find most beautiful, extending worlds away. I wanted to thank everyone I met in the Philippines this last few weeks, for all kindness and compassion you shared. The Filipino pen community is inspirational, truly one to behold – the fundraiser to help a member in need was a tremendous success, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for those who came to support a member of this inky family. . International donations were astounding as well; shocking, really. People from the US to the Netherlands, Australia to Malaysia, all donated towards the surgery of a fellow pen lover, across oceans. The kindness of those with inky fingers is boundless. There are no words to describe how moved I am. . Thank you so much, Manila and beyond – I’ll never forget the memories you shared with me, and for helping me to remember what this hobby is all about. . These ink wands are tools of the soul, bringing us closer together in ways unimaginable. . No matter how distant you may be, you are family to me. I hope that by sharing this, if you don’t already, someday you might feel the same – a part of this pen family. . Photocreds: @dapulisman @fugalmind @ Melissa @ Mona . . #fountainpen #fountainpens #fpnp #kasamapen #kasamaph #shibui #vintainks #ultem #regaliawritinglabs #fpgeeks #fpn #penaddict #writinginstruments #handmadepen #community #penshows #penfamily

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Update September 7: Ralph Reyes will be be back in the Philippines for the Manila Pen Show on November 16-17. More details on that soon

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