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Inside Stationery (Pt. 03): Robert Oster – RO Signature Ink

Inside Stationery - series background (click to expand)
I have been doing stationery reviews for a few years now. While I will continue making these, I sometimes feel that the focus on the products and their specs tends to take over.

Although the artefacts of stationery are the products we buy and use, hence there is a rightful interest in their goods and bads, there is more to stationery than the artefact.

The purpose of the ‘Inside Stationery’-series is to illuminate stationery beyond the artefact – and talk to the interesting makers, designers, and founders behind all the pens, notebooks, and inks.

I hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I enjoy talking to all these people!



with Robert Oster 

Part I: Robert Oster & RO Signature Inks

Scrively: A few words about yourself: What is your background and what is it that you are doing?

RO: My mother and father immigrated in the 195os, arriving in Australia by boat from Austria where my sisters were both born. I was born in the Barossa Valley, South Australia where the Santos bicycle Tour Down Under travelled. The south-east tip of South Australia is where I live and work in a purpose-built studio attached to my home. My lifestyle is fairly simple.

Many may have guessed, but I am quite eccentric, which is an endless source of amusement to myself. I have a wacky sense of humour which affects even my colour sense and the – seemingly – strange names many of my colours have. I have a cat, Pussycootis. She actually rules my life and whimsically creates my daily schedule… 

Scrively: Can you tell me how you decided to start making inks? What were the thoughts behind that? 

RO: I was sitting at my desk in 2015, looking out over a sea of ink bottles. I wanted to know I was using an ethically produced, eco-friendly ink, but I couldn’t be sure.

So, I thought
“Why don’t I do it?”

After some research (with some of my family involved in ethically produced wine making), Robert Oster Signature® was born. I sourced everything I needed from producers or manufacturers known for their high ethical standards and honesty, including Australia’s first fully carbon-neutral plastics plant. Even the shipping was carbon offset.

Scrively: Looking back at the tremendous success of how well RO Signature inks are received in the fountain pen community over the past few years – what do you think/feel? 

RO: The popularity of the brand, and the swift uptake throughout the world, wasn’t by accident. It was only possible because of the amazing support from family and friends dotted all over the globe. I’m sure they will know in their heart who they are. They inspired me and I love them all.

Something I decided very early was to depart from the generally applied nomenclature. Who needs to know that a colour is “blue” when the inspiration from that colour artistically drives the user. So many of the colour names – though they may still include the colour name – , use names evocative of the mood, not merely the aesthetics. Take Thunderstorm and Great Southern Ocean as examples. The colours are inherently “obvious” in an artistic sense.

Part II: Robert Oster & Stationery

Scrively: What meaning does stationery and (analogue) writing/note-taking/journaling have for you personally?    

RO: I am of Germanic lineage; so analogue writing – recording information, doodling, “thinking” on paper – come as second nature. It is fulfilling to enjoy writing, especially with a fountain pen or dip pen, which digitally is just of no comparison. The satisfaction of creating a perfect “e” or “d” as the ink flows over one’s favourite paper stock is fulfilling.

I share my love of ink and stationery as often as humanly possible. As a business policy, we share ink products with friends and customers who have shown resilience in the face of their need, and if we know that someone is doing it tough, we will quietly step in and be a giver. We also share stationery – hence the BlotterCard™ which started life very early for our brand, and the SwatchCard™ and our personally gilt-pressed Tomoe River writing stationery. Only the best paper card stock has been sourced for the cards and they are produced specifically for us. These have always been given freely. We love to share – it’s not just the paper and ink which is my passion – it’s the people and their inspiration in my life.

Scrively: What is your personal favourite pen or stationery item?

RO: My favourite writing instrument is my least used. In my early years I bought a Montblanc 149 from Tafts The Pen People, Melbourne AU. Sadly, that store closed in 2019. RIP Tafts. You inspired me. It still remains my favourite. And it still uses the original Montblanc Turquoise I bought with it. From time to time I use the 149 to write a letter or jot down some thoughts. It is my least used fountain pen because I now use a number of fountain pen types and brands in my daily work. It helps to know how different styles and brands work with the liquid, and as a matter of passion for ink it is a joy, anyway.

Scrively: May I glance at your desk? What’s on there/what do we see there? Please go ahead and describe a little!

RO: My desk is a thorough mess. Yet I can pinpoint where anything might be at any moment. It reflects my mind, of course, thoughts jumping and morphing from idea to idea. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD. It explained everything, especially my desk. This, plus double-bypass heart surgery in the very early days of my ink making journey, serve only to drive me. Life only tastes sweeter when we do what we love, and we love what we do. That is true for each one. We all can write, and create, with our own hands something unique which can live on.

Links: Deep dive, if you like

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