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It all started with a Valentine’s Day gift. In 2010, art teacher Shawn Newton received a fountain pen from his wife. He immediately fell in love with it and took it to school to show his students. He soon started buying fountain pens to give to his students, but “cheap pens don’t hold up well in the pockets of high school kids.” So Newton took what he calls the next logical step. He would make his own fountain pens.
Shawn Newton grew up in Pine Bluff and Hot Springs, Arkansas. He always loved art but he had no plans to attend college after high school until a conversation with his friend’s mother. She asked Newton what he would study if he could go to college. He immediately responded he wanted to study art and become an art teacher. She offered on the spot to pay for his first two years. He attended National Park College in Hot Springs before transferring to Henderson State University, where he graduated with an Art Education degree. Along the way, Newton received the support of many people. He deeply appreciated their help and was determined to pay it forward in some way. He taught art for the Centerpoint School District for two years, then switched to Mountain Pine.
It was at Mountain Pine that Newton had the idea of rewarding students with handmade pens. As his interest in fountain pens grew, he learned of the custom pen market, where makers craft unique pens for buyers. He studied YouTube videos on designing pens and reached out to several pen makers already crafting their own. In 2012, just two years after receiving his first fountain pen, Newton sold the pens he had since collected to buy the equipment he needed to make his own pens.
He also ran a Kickstarter fundraiser, hoping to raise $800 to help purchase a lathe and other materials. He received $4,350 from donors. He continued to teach and hone his skills as a pen turner. Pen turner is a term referencing how the artist shapes the pen on a lathe.
Determined to make a difference, Newton also began raising money for scholarships by selling raffle tickets online. The winners received Newton’s handmade pens. Then he started auctioning note cards designed by his art students on eBay. In 2013, Newton awarded his first two scholarships of $1,000 each to two Mountain Pine seniors. He continued to sell artwork and increased the number of scholarships the next year to six students from various schools for the next few years. In 2018, Newton was able to give out nine scholarships and also create an endowment to continue to fund his scholarships.
Newton raises money from June through May of each year, then awards scholarships for that year’s applicants. To apply, students must be high school seniors in a U.S. school program, whether public, private or homeschool. Students must be planning to attend a full-time post-secondary school program, which includes colleges, trade or technical schools. More information is available on the Newton Pens website.
When Newton first began crafting pens, he couldn’t imagine leaving his job to pursue the work full time. He had gone to college to become an art teacher and he loved his students. However, his scholarship work and participation in online pen forums earned a reputation for the art teacher turned pen turner. He started receiving orders for custom pens from people he interacted with on the forums or who heard how he donated pens to his students. Newton’s timing was also serendipitous. “I’m really lucky that when I started doing this there weren’t a lot of other pen makers out there. Today there are dozens around the country and more around the world.”
The last two years Newton taught, his income from pen making dwarfed his teacher’s salary. Demand for his pens had grown. In 2015, Newton stepped away from teaching to pursue the craft full-time. Five years later, his business continues to grow. The wait time for a custom Newton pen is over two years. The options for customizing a pen are numerous and Newton includes detailed descriptions on his website on how to select everything from the model, pen size, material and nib. Newton also offers other pens he has crafted for sale on his website and his social media accounts. He uses Instagram for quick sales.
To see Newton’s latest work, follow Newton Pens on Instagram and Facebook. Visit his website newtonpens.com for his online store and more information on how to customize a pen or become involved in his scholarship efforts.
At one point, Newton couldn’t imagine he would attend college, teach art and start his own business with his art at the center of it all. Now, with beautifully crafted pens and a heart to give back because of the help he received, Shawn Newton is in a position to craft pens and impact lives for many years to come.
All photos courtesy of Shawn Newton and used with permission.
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