Pens for the Backs of Photographs, More Ink

I tested three new writing media for the backs of photographs. I recently went through some 2 or 3 year old pictures I had marked with Higgins Black Magic. In exactly one case I found one photo that had picked up pen marks from another. I do not know if I put them together while the ink was still wet, or if the ink adhered over time. I was displeased, though no harm was done to the pictures.

I suspect the cause is that Higgins Black Magic is a latex-based ink. Like latex paint in a house, it never fully loses its stickiness. I decided to round up a couple more candidates, and I have two new winners and a loser to add to the mix, and one more loser.

I bought a Copic Multiliner SP pen in 0.03 mm (very, very, fine line) and tried it. This pen uses a fiber-filled cartridge refill, so you can’t change the ink. As the unaltered scan shows, after one minute it smeared badly. After an hour or more it seems pretty stable, but it is such a light grey that it is miserable to read.


The second test was a product labeled “Royal India Ink Encre de Chine” by Reeves & Poole Group. This smells like alcohol and is almost certainly a shellac-based product. Like Higgins Black Magic the Reeves & Poole leaves a slightly embossed feeling on the paper, but goodness it writes well on photo paper. I do not know if it is archival. Shellac cleans easily with denatured alcohol, which is cheap in a gallon drum from the home center. I doubt it would be safe in a technical pen.


The clear winner is the Rapidograph Black India Universal 3080-F.BLA ink, which left less embossed character on the photo paper, dried almost instantly, and is safe for technical pens. Or at least as safe as anything can be in a pen that requires cleaning. This ink may also be shellac based, it smells of a solvent that is more lacquer-like than latex-like. As with most other inks, I can find no data about archival quality.

The technical pen is much easier than a dip pen and inkwell when your desk is cluttered with photos you are scanning. I am pleased to report this is probably my new go-to ink for photo work.


Hot-Smoked Salmon


This afternoon I made hot-smoked salmon in my father’s MasterBilt smoker. The Web did not provide me with good resources on smoking salmon in a MasterBilt. Or rather, it provided many different and vague recipes. My result was excellent but not perfect. This article details exactly what I did and exactly what I plan to do the next time.

My target dinner time was 6 pm. I started with a 1.5 lb skinless salmon fillet about 1 inch thick at the thick part, still partly frozen, and 4 ounces of dry hickory chips. At 11 am I made a brine with 1 quart (4 cups) of tap water, 3/8 cup of iodized table salt, and 3/8 cup of packed light brown sugar.

The fish soaked for 90 minutes in the brine. I removed the fish from the brine, and dried both sides with paper towels. I placed the fish on a cooking-spray coated double-layer of aluminum foil. The fillet air-dried for 30 minutes, until 1 pm. I put the fish in the smoker, and then turned the smoker on to 210 F. The smoker started producing smoke with residual chips after about 20 minutes. At 1:30 I put in about half the smoked chips, and at 2:00 I put in the remaining chips.

I left the fish completely alone until 4 pm—at which time the fish had been cooking for 3 hours. I brushed the fish with maple syrup, about two teaspoons. I tested the temperature and at the thickest part it was already up to about 170—well over the target temperature of 165 F. Dinner was still two hours away, so I dropped the temperature to 140 F and left the fish in the cooker until about 5:45 pm.


The result was beautiful to look at, and smelled enchanting. The thick parts of the fish, oddly, were overcooked and dry—a texture like papier mache. The thin parts were moist and rich. My guess is that the brine did not penetrate and protect the inner parts of the fish. Of course it was obviously overcooked too.

You can see the dark smoky coating on the fish. The inside stays the pale color of poached salmon. The flavor was excellent. My 5 year old and 8 year old both ate it and wanted more. They seemed to like the smoke and the slightly sweet coating. My wife and I enjoyed it too, so the meal was a success. Next time it will be better.


Next Time

  • Start with fully thawed salmon.
  • Make only two cups of brine, and use a freezer bag to brine the fish.
  • Start brining the night before.
  • Use 4 oz hickory chips (same as this time)
  • Give the fish about an hour to dry after pulling from the brine
  • Put fish in cold cooker at 2 pm (4 hours before serving)
  • Cook with MasterBilt set at 210 degrees F.
  • Put first load of wood chips in once temperature reaches near the set point, about 30 minutes.
  • Put the second load of wood chips in after the smoke stops, about 3:30 pm.
  • Go running (optional)
  • At 5 pm, glaze with about 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
  • At 6 pm, remove and serve immediately