leather journal pen retro51

"How I Journal" with Cindy Villegas

When we write in our journals, we are recording timeless memories, thoughts, and dreams. The hope is that these entries will last a lifetime. Here, at Rustico, we’re all about encouraging you to leave your mark, and what better way to do so than with a unique, high-quality writing instrument?

According to Cindy Villegas, there’s a writing instrument to best fit your hand, your mood, and to keep your creative mojo flowing. Currently, Retro 51's Dr. Gray Pen is her favorite. Our interview with Cindy revealed that she values the unique and the antique (check out her Instagram). Handwriting is more personal to her than modern methods of communicating the written word.

If you are an experienced journaler, see if Cindy can teach you to innovate and personalize the physical process of writing. You may even become inspired to seek out a writing instrument that best suits you. If you are new to journaling or considering starting the journey, take Cindy’s advice and just start!

journal journaling

When did you start journaling?

It’s so funny to think back to my childhood, when a tiny little lock with a mass-produced key was seemingly the most private and personal thing to me. It provided that sense of false security that every kid should have! So safe; no one could ever break that lock, right?  Of course I’m talking about that little cardboard diary that everyone had with the little latch on the side. I started journaling in first grade when I found a cool-looking book that I was allowed to write in. It was so amazing; I felt professional and official with my little book.

My sister, Ava, got me into reading quite young, so books became very important to me early on. I have a big family and privacy was hard to come by. It was also a very traditional and strict upbringing. I felt I couldn’t easily express myself without being worried about getting in trouble. Naturally, written and documented evidence seemed the way to go---so I wrote it all down. After all, I had that magical lock to keep my secrets safely hidden. Journaling was my way of speaking without eye contact; it was honesty without judgment and it made me feel like I had someone to talk to who always agreed with me and might have even thought I was pretty “cool”. I had SO MUCH social time that I needed to hide under the coffee table or behind the giant stack of bricks behind the garage to write.

leather journal art notebook

What does keeping a journal mean to you?

As I got older, journaling became important in different ways; it was no longer about hiding or keeping to myself. I found my voice and I’ve never been afraid to talk out loud for any reason as an adult. In fact, my career forced me to talk to different people every day and involved a lot of public speaking. I was a personal trainer for 13 years and I wrote out plans and diagrams for a living. I was able to be creative and talk to different people daily---great job for a multi-passionate type. Journaling became more of a way to connect back to the feeling I had when I would journal as a child. I would take out my journal and I would immediately get this excited feeling about writing. From the moment of choosing which pen I would use to which nook I would hide in (yup, even as an adult), it was this fun little adventure from the beginning.

As life changes and becomes more real, journaling takes on a whole new and deeper meaning. I’ve always loved seeing notes people take in class, handwritten letters, etc.  I used to collect Bibles at thrift stores just to flip through and see what people highlighted and circled and what notes they took in the pages. I recently found a handwritten recipe that my mom copied for me because she knew it was my favorite. Seeing her handwriting, along with the memory of her making that meal just for me, brought back so many good feelings that I can’t imagine having that same visceral reaction if it were typed out or photocopied.

I’m constantly reminded by family members that my hands look almost exactly like my mom’s. Somehow, now, even watching my hands writing in my journal brings an indescribable feeling. I’ve never stopped to think about what journaling means to me; this has been quite the emotional response for what seemed to be a simple question. I’d like to insert a small thank-you for making me think about that.

leather expedition journal notebook

When it comes to writing instruments, what do you look for? What type of pen is your go-to (rollerball, gel, fountain, etc.) and why?

When it comes to writing instruments, I admit it: SELF-PROCLAIMED PEN SNOB! I need a perfect pen for the paper and perfect for my mood. I like the feeling of a weighted pen that feels like I’m handling tools (I’m about to handle the “ish” out of this journal). The way the pen glides is so satisfying to me. I know my penmanship is better when I like my pen. I generally prefer a rollerball because of the smooth ride. It’s like a classic car… you can’t beat it. I do have a weakness for nice packaging and vintage style, which is why the Dr. Gray is my current FAVORITE.

What about your favorite pencil? Why?

I don’t have a very extensive pencil collection, but I do have my quirks about them; I enjoy the clicking of a mechanical pencil too much to deny that. Mechanical pencils with the lead on the softer side are just heavenly. The darker lines provide this beautiful contrast on crisp, white paper that just makes me tingle. My true weakness, though, is carpenter pencils---nom, nom, nom!

My godfather was an architect and he was just super cool. He had that look about him: a white T-shirt, ripped jeans, and a carpenter pencil resting atop his ear at all times. He smelled like sawdust or car grease and never dared to taint that aroma with cologne. Growing up, he was my favorite person in the world (I know, secretly, I was his favorite too) because he didn't treat me like a fragile little girl. He let me help him fix his ‘57 Bel Air and I was allowed to use his tools on wood projects too. We used to get in trouble together for sharpening carpenter pencils with the kitchen knives. To this day, I’ll find any excuse to break out that giant, flat pencil just to have that inner chuckle.

pen retro51 write

There’s an argument, “There are pens and there are writing instruments”… Do you agree? How do you interpret this saying?

I AGREE with this statement wholeheartedly and I’ll make it short. I carry two pens at the minimum: one is my favorite and the other is the one I’m willing to lend out. I think that sums that up.

What makes a great writing instrument?

I think a great writing instrument does its job but feels good in your hand and doesn’t cause a lot of interruptions. Have you ever gotten perfectly cozy and your pen runs out of ink? Or your pencil breaks? It just puts a gap in the flow of mojo. Yuck!

pen glow in the dark retro51

What was it about the Dr. Gray Pen that attracted you?

Dr. Gray Pen, oh, how I love thee. You feel like you have substance; you move so smoothly with me like a waltz on a dancefloor made of glass. Your style is so elegant with a hint of danger. You have an industrial quality that matches my whole house. You simply belong!

Okay, okay, in all seriousness, I love skeletons and when I found out the Dr. Gray Pen was a rollerball instead of ballpoint: SOLD!!!  I spent years learning anatomy for my job. I also studied crime scene investigation and was certified in forensic photography. I suppose I’m morbidly inclined. In short, someone designed him just for me, but you all can buy him too… I’m totally not the jealous type.

From your IG page, it looks like you are charmed to vintage, old-world things like typewriters and classic books :) where does this addiction come from?

AH! The vintage and antique mashup! I absolutely love anything with a history and the slight chance of antiquity. In all honesty, the style came first from growing up with hand-me-downs and thrifts. I wish vintage had been “cool” when I was in high school because, let’s just say, I rocked that look daily! This new terminology for industrial-chic and vintage-glam make me chuckle because it’s just what we had to do: be creative with what we had. That said, the nostalgia is a huge factor, but the freedom of repurposing and, in a sense, designing your own style from the ground up is what entices me most.

Consider this: a letter that was hand-typed on a metal, 20 lb. typewriter with variations in the ink is much more sentimental than a text message or a computer-printed letter. Even though it was the new machine at the time, typewriters still required work and the hands are just more apparent in the process. I have a couple of vintage typewriters because I like to add small details to the junk journals I make. One was given to me by my godfather, too, so it’s very sentimental.

Tools of the trade leather journal

What's your advice to someone starting a journal?

If you plan to start journaling, my advice to you is: START! Don’t wait until something “interesting” happens. Don’t wait until you have cool pens or the newest planner/journal. I started making junk journals out of vintage books and added all kinds of scraps. I wouldn’t spend a dime and I had a way to use the leftovers from other projects. Find ways to start and then start shopping! Happy mail does make for a great afternoon.

I love all my leather journals because I know they’ll last much longer than anything else and I can pass them on to my daughter one day. I’ve collected journals throughout the years, so don’t feel like you need EVERYTHING on day one. A sturdy journal and a great writing instrument should suffice to start and you can get that all from Rustico, along with a gorgeous aesthetic.

Any tips to picking out a good pen?

My trainer/anatomy days are coming back to me in my first thought. If you have weak hands or past injuries, etc., try to avoid a thin pen because your smaller muscles will become aggravated and you may feel cramping or fatigue. It seems wrong, but also avoid a pen that is light weight. You may find yourself gripping tighter when the pen is light because your hand doesn’t feel in control. I like a heavier and thicker pen. I love writing with a felt tip, but a roller or fountain may be better options for both ease and comfort. I think you should consider where the pen will be held as well. For example, in a perfect world, I’d use a beautiful fountain pen at all times; but in THIS world, I don’t want to ruin the bottom of my purse or the inside of my leather binders. Go out and find your one-true-love in pen form. You’ll be happy you did!


If you haven’t yet found your “one-true-love in pen form,” hopefully Cindy’s insight can inspire you to do so. If you are struggling to start a journal, start where you are with whatever materials you can get your hands on.

In a world with seemingly endless options, we shouldn’t have to regard writing instruments as a one-size-fits-all product. We can experiment, discover our likes and dislikes, and appreciate unique craftsmanship. Explore our collection of pens and pencils and write on!

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