The Lawn, from Write Notepads & Co.

 

Pencil Revolution is 13 years old today, and we celebrate with a look at a Baltimore Summer Treat. Following up the Sakura edition from the spring, we have another quarterly release from Write Notepads & Co. for summer 2018: The Lawn.

And here is something that I particularly enjoy about this release, and the last: they are seasonal releases. While summer is…not my favorite season of the year, all-in-all, it’s my favorite season for Write Notepads books. The Kindred Spirit and Chesapeake both tickled my Steamy Summer in Baltimore Fancy in 2016 and 2017, and the concept of The Lawn more than lives up to the streak of great summer releases from Write Notepads. If you are a Baltimorean (or even a Marylander), you know that summers here are special and that lawns in Baltimore (especially Baltimore city) are often adorned with beach chairs, gnomes, and — of course — flamingos.

In the hand, I love these books. Like last time around, the dimensions of a Write Notepads pocket notebook combined with the saddle-stitched binding result in a larger canvas for a book which Comrades can carry comfortably in your pocket. You get the same amazing paper to which we have become accustomed/by which we are becoming spoiled. This time around, we get Write’s lovely lines, in a fine green. There are no margins this time. While the usable area might be a little larger, I kind of miss them.

The grass blades on the covers are all letterpressed onto the stock. I really like lighter cover stocks for pocket notebooks, and this 70# stock does not disappoint. It’s stiff enough to survive in a pocket, but it keeps the book flexible. It has a certain smoothness that sets it apart from, say, kraft paper. The design of the bellyband is spot-on, though I wish there could have been a sticker of this little picnic blanket included.

Speaking of stickers, one’s lawn is not always pristine. Each three-pack of notebooks comes with a locally-designed sticker sheet featuring objects one might find hiding in/on a Baltimore lawn. The heavy representation of flamingos is perfect. The fact that the cut-outs of the stickers feature blades of grass helps the decals to blend into the covers and is a welcome and very thoughtful feature.

I bought a set for my Mom, a true Baltimore Hon, and she loved them. Show Charm City and summer some love, and get a set while they last.

(These notebooks were purchased with our own money; no one influenced this review.)

Baron Fig Atomic.


Baron Fig is on another roll full of beautiful new editions. The Computerworld Vanguard books are colorful and perfectly produced, and we talked about them on Episode 96 of Erasable.

The first Baron Fig product I ever used was an Apprentice, the former range of pocket notebooks. I love the dimensions and paper, and I was a little disappointed that the limited edition Vanguards always come in the “flagship” size (near A5). I had all of the Apprentice series, aside from the tri-color set given to visitors to the studio in New York. The Seer is one of the loveliest pocket notebooks I’ve ever filed.

The newest release is Atomic, a return to the old Apprentice books that I loved from three-ish years ago. I read on Facebook from Joey that these were produced before the re-brand (of Apprentice into the Vanguard line, which comes in three sizes). Therefore, the older paper (which I still like) is in these books, but the design looks fresh. The color is perfect. Everything that I loved about the Maker Apprentice is true here. The dotgrid is perfect.

I have mentioned the “off” stitching on Erasable before, but Baron Fig has gotten their manufacturing to the point that the Vanguards come out looking about as perfectly as books can look. Computerworld has perfect stitching, perfect cuts, perfect corners. It’s really impressive. I wonder, if the Atomic is successful, if they might bring back the limited edition Apprentice books. With their new paper and new QC, these would challenge any other brand of pocket notebooks.

(These notebooks were kindly provided to me free from the folks at Baron Fig, but the opinions are my own.)

Sakura from Write Notepads & Co.

Spring release season continues with Write Notepads & Co. and their latest release: Sakura. Since they have discontinued their membership/subscription plans, I had to order these manually. I’ll admit that I like when these types of things automatically ship, and it eliminates (or, at least, reduces) the anxious question of how many I should order, since two are not automatically shipped. On the other hand, ordering is always fun, too. Chris & Co. split the difference here with the deluxe pack; you save a buck with the purchase of two packs and get a cool treat to boot.

The specs from Write Notepads read:

  • Sold as a set of 3 notebooks
    3.75” x 5.5” saddle stitched notebook with rose gold staples and graph pages
    80# cover stock with tri-tone letterpress details
    48 pages of 70# paper stock, selected to perform best with most writing implements
    Printed graph size: 4mm, printed with vegetable based inks in our trademark blue-green
    100% American made in Baltimore, MD

This release is the third (behind Chesapeake and Walden) to feature a belly band. It’s a Moleskine style, tucked into the first and last covers of the pack, rather than a Field Notes style, which works like a belt. But this release is a first in several ways.

First, the wrapping. This is a resealable bag, rather than shrink-wrap. I tossed mine right away. I have a feeling that the folks are Write Pads are thumbing their noses a bit, with a wink, at hoarders. While these are all sealed, they also are not; they could have always been opened. The easy solution is to just unwrap your damned notebooks when you get them. Always.

Second, the binding. I have read multiple times that folks like the themes/covers of Write Pads books and the paper but not the PUR binding. These are saddle-stitched with rose-gold staples. They open completely flat[ly]. The dimensions keep them from feeling like another notebook brand, though.

Third, the page-count. Instead of the usual 64 pages, here, there are 48. I’m assuming that the thick paper Write Notepads uses would be unwieldy if 64 pages were wrapped around two staples. I don’t mind this. With the flat binding and the graph running to the edges, there’s plenty of space on which to make marks.

Fourth, the covers are letterpressed in three colors. This is no small feat, and they look AMAZING.

So how do these work out? I have held off on reviewing them until I got through a book, and it held up super well. The thinner-than-usual cover stock did not pop off of the two staples, and neither did the center pages pop out. I prefer the lighter cover stocks because they keep the books flexible; the paper Write Notepads uses is a little stiff. I don’t think these need the reinforcement of heavy cover-stock. They carried well in my pocket, and even the baby failed to damage one when she got “stabby” with a heavy bullet pencil.

The paper is printed with a graph, a narrower grid than that featured in Field Notes books. I have used a black and white high contrast image to compare the Sakura to a Field Notes County Fair book.

In practice, the graph is a little narrow for my taste, but it hits just about right if I skip lines. Even better, this graph is printed very lightly, and it’s easy to ignore. Using softer pencils and writing quickly this past weekend, I found myself treating this almost like dot-grid in that I was aware of the lines (they kept my writing from going aslant), but I almost mostly ignored them.

The “extra” in the deluxe set is a letterpressed envelope containing two cherry tree seeds. Not having several years in which to plant and nurture them, I have not tested these out yet. But I know from talking to Chris that they are actually the real deal.

This is easily my favorite spring notebook release this year. You can’t get more spring-like than cherry blossoms, in my book. And I love the extra real estate I get from the wider pages that open flat. I am not going to start hating on the PUR binding, but I really do hope that Write Notepads puts out more staple-bound books in the future, even if they do not switch over entirely.

(These books were not review samples. We are  happy to support our hometown stationer.)

Baron Fig Show & Tell.

 Baron Fig continues their indefatigable series of limited edition releases with their newest Confidant, the Show & Tell:

In collaboration with Dribbble. Designed to give you the space to express your ideas through image and words. Half blank, half ruled.

First, the cover is gorgeous! Like the Blackwing 54, this color seems difficult to capture in a photograph. I’ve seen it range from a very dark blue-violet to lavender. I think an apt description would be be Deep Purple (as opposed to Dark Purple). It’s gorgeous. As soon as a I saw a teaser of the cover, I had to have one. But the attractive cover is only half of the draw of this addition for me.

Some of the Confidants that came out a year ago drew criticism for having interiors that were too weird to be useful. I’m not sure I agree ; I enjoy their experimentation. This edition has an usual format, and that’s half the other half of the draw for me. Trying to kick-start myself into some creative endeavors with little success this winter, this spring-like notebook with a format for someone working on a project involving visuals and text looks like just the thing to get the graphite flowing.

My daughter turns 8 next week, and she is a Serious Creator of graphic novels and cartoons, and I already ordered another of these to accompany the set of Blackwings with some other writing/drawing supplies in store for her. (Their cards are nice, too, and I picked one of them too.)

Go here to read more of our thoughts on the Confidant in general (tl;dr: cuddly book with very graphite-friendly paper).

Grab your Show& Tell while they’re still available, and do some showing and telling of your own.

(This edition was received for free from Baron Fig, but that has not influenced this review. We have bought at least one more so far!)

The Goldfield: Winter Release From Write Notepads & Co.


Joe Gans was the first African-American to hold a world boxing title. When he took home $11,000 from 1906’s Match of the Century in Goldfield, Nevada, he opened the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore, where the main USPS center now sits near the Shot Tower. Gans was a legend in Baltimore, along with The Goldfield, where Eubie Blake played regular gigs and where Jack Johnson liked to hang out. Today, Gans is largely unsung in his native Baltimore, and Chris Rothe from Write Notepads & Co. has been part of an effort to change that for years. I hope I’m not giving away privileged information, but I know that this edition has been in the works for at least over a year, and I think the care that went into this edition shows.

The details from Write Notepads’ site:

Our winter 2017 pocket notebooks take users on a journey to the turn-of-the-century jazz club at The Goldfield, the exquisite hotel in Baltimore owned by boxing legend Joe Gans. The outer box is foil-stamped in 24kt gold on a spot-UV pattern. Each notebook echoes this Victorian-era pattern in a spot-varnish and features letter-pressed gold ink on an 80# black cover. Inside of the books, you will find 70#, bi-color ruled stock. These sets are proudly made in Baltimore, hometown of Joe Gans.

The box of these books is very stiff, and they arrived in perfect shape. The gloss of the varnish is difficult to photograph (not that I know anything about photography anyway), and the image of the boxer is perfect. The flap to open the box is improved in this model, too.

Inside, you are greeted by a card featuring Gans in front of the notebooks. This is a lovely touch, reminiscent of Lenore.

The notebooks have a subtle echo of the varnish on the covers and a heavily letter-pressed image stamped in gold on the front. I really like the choice of 80# stock here. Write Notepads pocket books have an initially stiff PUR binding and have more pages than other pocket notebooks. The 80# paper provides some flexibility and avoids over-killing the beefiness of the notebook.

Inside, Comrades will find a new paper: cream-colored with two colors. The horizontal lines are blue, while the vertical margins are red. The effect is lovely here, where bright white paper might be jarring.

The pencils are bridge pencils, which are thinner and shorter than regular pencils. Made in the USA by Musgrave, they sharpen well in a crank sharpener prone to producing longer points and also in the KUM Masterpiece (shown). These came out beautifully, and the tiny ferrules are as bright as holiday lights.

The extra in the deluxe pack (which also ships to members) is something you might spot, but I won’t comment on it. I was tickled when I got it though.

There’s something very…BALTIMORE about this release. We are not a city that gets a lot of positive attention, when we get noticed at all. Crime statistics and TV shows skew what it’s really like here on the ground. We live in a place full of hidden gems (like Blackwing beer) and fascinating stories. Poe is buried here, and we have the most literary of any name for a sports team. If Comrades ever pass through, you might find someone (ahem) very happy to share a coffee/tea/beer/water with you over some pencil chat.

Hurry, while you can buy the bridge pencils, the regular pack of notebooks, and the deluxe pack. And shipping is free until the end of the year.

*I feel like it at least deserves a footnote to mention that this is the first release from the major subscription/seasonal/membership models that is dedicated to a person of color. We’ve had two Blackwing Volumes dedicated to women, which is fantastic. I hope the trend continues toward honoring folks of all identities.

(These products are part of a membership paid for from PR funds, not a sample from Write Notepads & Co.)

Pencil for Long-Term Writing, Part 3: Paper.


(Continued from 2010 and also Part 1: Pencils.)

We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.

There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.

Binding
Spiral bindings  can allow pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field  Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into  your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!

Tooth
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to such glassy paper.

Ruling
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!

Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.

Balance
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.

Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books really are that good.

Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.

Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.

Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.

Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.

What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?

Best Pencils for Field Notes Utility Edition.


I received my subscription pack of Field Notes’ spring release about two weeks ago, the Field Notes Brand Utility Edition. I had been pretty excited about the design from the start, and the books are the colors of the Maryland state flag to boot. The quality control issues were a bit of a let-down when my books came actually torn on the spine, and there were a few spirited exchanges going on over the weekend on social media. Of course, Brian at Field Notes sent me replacement books right away. Seems that the thick paper causes trouble with cutting/trimming. Some blamed the size of this release, the contractor, postage. I think a lot of the books just came out very badly. Field Notes made a bit of a mistake, and they (as they always do) have been making it right where necessary. I’d be happy with their now standard 60# paper myself. It’s wonderful for pencil and still works in a pocket.

With all of the…talk about the quality control of the Utility, I forgot about the paper being so very different from the usually smooth paper Field Notes uses. The paper in Utility is Mohawk Via Vellum 70#T “Pure White,” and it’s toothy as all get out. With the fall 2012 Traveling Salesman release, it took me until my fifth (of six) notebooks to identify the perfect pencil for that toothy green paper. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in HB was perfect on that Mohawk Via 70#T “Light Green” paper. I suspect that list would be longer now, but those books are gone anyway.

Just as I do not enjoy soft pencils for very smooth paper (think Rhodia), I really do not like soft pencils for toothy paper — crumbly pencils doubly so. Being on a bit of a Blackwing kick lately, I had to put these aside when I set about to write in my new Utility edition books.

Some pencils that worked very poorly were immediately:

All Blackwings
Natarag Deep Dark
General’s Layout
Anything soft

I certainly haven’t tested more than a few dozen pencils, but this is a short list of pencils that have worked extremely well on this paper for me so far:

Viking Element 1
General’s Draughting
General’s Cedar Pointe #2/HB
Staedtler Wopex*
Faber-Castell Castell 9008 Steno 2B**
Mitsubishi 9000 HB
Apsara Beauty
America’s Pencil (USA Gold) Natural
Camel Natural HB

When looking at this toothy paper, I thought right away about harder pencils, but this was not ideal. The Castell 9000 in HB writes even more like a nail than it usually does, for instance, and the Mexican Ticonderoga (Target exclusive, 2014, blue) I tried was even worse. There is something successful in the target of a pencil which is smooth but generally leaves something to be desired in the darkness column (Element 1, Wopex, Draughting) and even a few that just seem to perform well on most papers (USA Gold, Cedar Pointe, Camel). Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been enjoying the Viking Element 1 the most, largely because it matches the covers of these lovely books so well.

And, if you’re feeling inky, the Uniball AIR is amazing and does not bleed through this paper.

* (If you make jokes about this evolved pencil, you might try one on this paper. It’s actually the smoothest on this list, and it won’t smear.)
** (I need a source for more of these F-C Steno pencils. Anyone know any?)

Review of Baron Fig Askew.


This unapologetically blue notebook has been making the rounds for the last week on social media and The Stationery Blogosphere. Baron Fig was kind enough to send a review copy over; so I thought I’d weigh in. Let’s take a look at the Askew Edition.

First, what is it?

“A ruled notebook unlike any you’ve ever used.
Every line is hand drawn, and while some cooperate—others are downright unruly. This limited edition is designed to inspire thinkers to bend the rules and follow even their most meandering ideas.”

This is more than a Baron Fig Confidant in a different color. This notebook challenges the definition of blank/lined journal to some extent.

The cover is Blue Pen Blue and looks like someone painted the fabric with the ink from a Bic Cristal. The color caught my attention first when it came out. The box looks like someone tried to color it in with a Cristal, and the bookmark must be Red Pen Red. It’s a beautiful book. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the paper quality for pencil again. (Check out our take on Baron Fig paper here. tl;dr: it’s awesome.)

There are good number of folks who…don’t like this edition. If a subscriber expected to get a different Confidant each quarter that worked basically like a regular one (lined, dot, blank paper), I can certainly understand the frustration. They are not getting what they paid for under that set of expectations. But did Baron Fig actually promise four different versions of the same, or were they vague? (I have no idea.)

I think the question comes down to whether or not this book does what it’s supposed to do. Can you write in it? Most of the pages come with relatively parallel lines and could be used like a regular notebook for the most part. Some pages are nutso. I can imagine using these to doodle, to test pencils, or even to paste things onto. But they are also “lost” pages if you’re after lined paper on which to write.

But that’s asking if the Askew does what the Confidant does. Does the Askew do what the Askew is supposed to do?

Wait: What IS this notebook supposed to do? It’s supposed to get you to try something different. I don’t want to say “think out of the box” — but maybe write off of the line. And in this regard, I think it’s successful and a hell of a lot of fun.

This book got me to pull out some pens (Bic Cristal Bolds, sign pens, bold Uniball Airs) and go nuts because I write with pencil so much that it can be stifling. And writing mostly in pencil also has the effect of inviting me to over-analyze each piece of graphite I write with. Pens were a welcome change, and I wrote some…different stuff than I usually do so far in this book.

I think this is the Nice Stationery version of Wreck This Journal, a book I enjoyed enough to get the expanded edition when it came out. If nothing else, it is an invitation to have some colorful fun during this dim time of year. I can certainly get behind that.

(We received this notebook free for review purposes, but the opinions expressed do not reflect that we scored it gratis.)