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.)

“In The Pines”.


Write Notepads & Co rounded out the first year of seasonal releases this month with their “In the Pines” edition. Considering that we are literally friends with Chris and Co, it’s hard to start writing about how great this edition is and not stop. So perhaps some staccato slowness will get the point across without my friendly and hometown gushing getting in the way.

The Theme/Concept:
When I think of winter, I think of dark green (pine trees) and a striking blue (the sky). These fit the bill perfectly, even evoking some sylvan coniferousness. It could be in my head; it could be that I talked to Chris; but I swear the packing material smelled like pine. The delay on these meant that they were released during the actual winter, not holiday shopping season when the cold really hasn’t set in yet. So I found them especially welcome.


The Box:
Gorgeous. The packs arrived inside of a shipping box this time, which was a boon for such a beautiful package (the Royal Blues got dinged in their padded envelopes). The matte white board with silver stamping brings snow to mind immediately, and the design is just beautiful. I particularly like that “No. 4” is included on the box, clearly numbering the series that has just completed its first year.


The Books:
You get three matching green books with a silver pine tree letterpressed over “In The Pines,” in what might be the perfect font for this cover. The texture and flexibility of the stock make it extremely easy to use and comfortable to pocket. The corners, binding and cuts are all precisely made.

Inside, there is WNP’s fantastic standard 70# white paper with a 1/4-inch dot graph that is ideally spaced for pencil writing. This is my favorite pocket notebook paper by far, even for when I sometimes occasionally rarely use pens (!).


The Pencils:
Unlike the last two releases, you can buy the pencils that match this one right now. They seem like the usual Musgrave custom job at first: a medium quality pencil with top-notch custom design and left-handed printing. These feature a much more crisp silver stamp on their hexagonal face than the round Royal Blue (excuse the terrible photo). What’s really different about these is that they are made of cedar this time. I ordered another six (not only because my better half wanted some to match her books) as soon as I could, but I refrained from stocking up because supplies are extremely limited.


Member Extra:
Included in members’ shipments is a heavy vinyl sticker replicating a pine air freshener. I haven’t had the nerve to stick it onto anything yet because I only have one, but I doubt I can hold out for long.

In conclusion, just go and get a set. I’d like to think folks might refrain from hoarding because of the extremely limited number of these packs. But I’ve seen folks who have saved them help out other people who missed them. So I’ll shut up. If you live in Baltimore, you can get them IRL at a few shops in town without the cost or wait associated with shipping.

Graphite Report on the New Reporter’s Notebooks.

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In case you have either slept through the last ten days or are not hugely interested in notebooks, there were two reporter’s notebooks unveiled last week, on the same day.

The John Dickerson-inspired Field Notes Byline edition is the summer 2016 release. Subscribers also received a laptop sticker of the Byline logo. These books contain 35 sheets (70 pages) of Cougar Natural 70#T vellum, with college-ruled [0.28 inch] lines in the usual Field Notes innards color. There is a pocket in the rear and a concealed spiral binding. The notebooks come in at 3.75 inches by 8 inches — a little more narrow than traditional reporter’s notebooks.

Write Notepads & Co.’s reporter pads are something I’ve been needling Chris to make for a good two years, after I saw the first Ledger prototypes. These contain the new paperstock Write Pads will be using: 60 sheets,  “120 pages of 1/4″ ruled paper printed in our trademark subtle non-reproducible blue-green.” (This paper will be in their own summer release, unveiled this weekend and coming soon to lucky mailboxes near you.) This book is the traditional 4 inches by 8 inches.

Corners show the different cover materials.
Corners show the different cover materials.

Cover/Construction

The Byline’s cover is made of Neenah Environment 120#DTC “Wrought Iron”. There is a pocket in the rear of the book and Field Notes-style information all over the cover. I love the cheeky data, and the pocket is a great idea. In practice, things keep falling out of mine. This book is very flexible and surfs a pocket well. However, the odd concealed binding means that the cover material has to flex both when opening and closing the book, and the covers take a beating in your pocket. If this book had more paper, I am not sure that the cover/seams would survive life in a pocket. On the flip side, like most of my favorite offerings from Field Notes, the beat-on patina of this book looks amazing, especially with the grey cover.

The Write Notepads & Co. book is beefy. It’s the same recycled kraft coverstock we’ve come to expect, with the same bulletproof spiral. The cover is even oriented with the grain such that the book will flex vertically but not horizontally. There are few frills, in keeping with the Write Pads aesthetic. The included (and removable) rubber band is a welcome addition and kept my pages from getting bent up.

Very different approaches to the bindings.
Very different approaches to the bindings.

These two books have not been in existence long enough for me to fill them up completely and to really see how they will look/feel after the last page is full of dumb things from my head. But I suspect that the Write Pads book will survive intact longer because it is made of stronger materials and because the spiral is naked. The Byline’s cover doubles as part of the binding, and I wonder if it is up to the task.

These books have different strengths in their forms. The Field Notes book is easier to carry, but the Write Pads book is easier to write in and to read. I’ve been using them each accordingly.

Aesthetics

Write Notepads & Co., while departing for their subscription series, has an aesthetic that is part of their branding. The reporter’s pad, ledger, and stenography pad (which I keep trying to get WNP to rename The Tablet) all have similar looks. On the other hand, the Byline is a complete departure for Field Notes. I feel stuck deciding which I enjoy more: the dependable gumption of the Write Pads book or the new-for-them look of the Byline.

Lines and paper hue are different.
Lines and paper hues are different.

Writing

These books both perform extremely well for graphite, and I think they serve to illustrate the difference that paper makes for the performance of a given pencil. I’m going to utilize my scanner to look at this more closely.

Interestingly (and I’m not sure if this comes out in the scans), I think that the Write Pads paper brings out lighter pencils, while the Byline brings out darker pencils. Both really shine in the way that they add an extra touch of contrast to mid-range pencils (think Cedar Pointe HB; Ticonderoga; Noris HB…). These are both papers that are a pleasure for pencils.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The Bylines has noticeably smoother paper, since it’s stocked with a nice, cream-colored vellum. I really like this paper, especially for the larger page of a Byline. Pencil still makes its mark, though, and the results are really surprising on such smooth paper. Even a Wopex leaves a nice mark on this paper. The tooth in the Write Pads book still renders it smoother than a lot of papers, and it is sized such that it certainly does not sand down a pencil point. To repeat myself a bit: these are both two very enjoyable papers to write on, and I am not going to call one better on texture alone.

Erasing is almost equal on these two papers. The Byline’s vellum has sizing that seems to make the pencil’s point leave a deeper indentation, and this affects the real erasure abilities here, just a touch.

Graphite stability is also close, but I think that Write Pads edges ahead of the Field Notes here. Vellum’s smoothness usually leads to smearing and ghosting (use a Blackwing MMX on Rhodia paper, and you’ll see what I mean). While the Byline’s paper is definitely better than Rhodia’s at preventing Graphite Soup (TM), it does smear a little. It is no worse than other papers, however, which surprises me for vellum. So the Write Pad’s paper is not more smear resistant than the paper in the Byline because of the vellum; it’s because the Write Pad’s paper is amazing for graphite. I’ll avoid waxing poetic, but Chris took graphite (not just fountain pens) into consideration when deciding on a new paperstock. Pencil stays put. Period.

Which Should You Buy?

Uh, both. For $13, you get two Field Notes Brand Bylines (70 sheets/140 pages total). For $12, you get one Write Pads reporter’s pad (60 sheets/120 pages total), and both are amazing books. If you’re looking for something to stick in your pocket, I’d lean toward the thinner profile of the Byline, though I am not sure how long the cover will stick together. For a bag or for your desk, the Write Notepads & Co. reporter’s pad is a heavy-duty notebook. In fact, I have had a “thing” for reporter’s books for a few years, and this is by far the beefiest I’ve seen (the Bob State “Harvard Square Reporter” comes in second and deserves its own post).

I’m happy to see two great new offerings from my two favorite notebook companies in an oft-neglected format that I enjoy and use more often than, say, a six by nine nook or a legal pad.

Gary at Papernery wrote up his review last week, after we discussed co-posting. I both dropped the ball and received damaged Bylines and am a week late. Apologies for the delay!

[Disclaimer: While the Byline books were part of my subscription and paid for with my own money, I received the Write Notepads & Co. reporter pad for free via messenger on the day it was released.]

Word. Notebooks Dot Grid.

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Back in November, Word. sent us a back of their new Dot Grid notebooks. And, hell, I feel badly that it took so long to review them — especially since I used one up right away.

So, usually, we conclude last. Today, at the start of a new year, we conclude first (which really challenges the definition of what a conclusion is, no?). Should you buy a set of these? Yes.

From what I can tell, we’ve got the same page and cover weight (see our 2013 review) as the usual Word. notebooks. This is a good thing. I love their paper, and they offer a chance to break out your Wopexen and really go to town. You don’t have to be ashamed to enjoy that odd, plastic beast. (Go here, and proclaim it even.)

Instead of the reminder/tracking/note system that I always ignore, there are 5 mm dots on the page. If you’re reading this far into a review on a pencil blog, you probably know what dot grid paper is for. You get the “blankness” of a plain page, with a gentler version of the rigid guides of graph paper.

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That makes them great for the mean cartoons you’re working on, drawing maps to your favorite pencil shops and making lists of books to read in 2016.

I really like that the cover is also Dot-Gridded (can we make that a verb?). I often draw on my blankish Word. books, and this one was extra fun to mark up. My only gripe is that the dots themselves are a little too dark on the page for my liking. But I’ve recently used a notebook whose dots were faint enough to be essentially useless. I imagine this is a fine mark to hit, and I expect that if Word. hears that the dots are too dark enough times, the dots will get a little lighter. Of course, I could be off the mark, and folks might like them fine.

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If I can dig up another gripe, it’s that I used these books up too quickly because they felt good in my pocket and made me want to draw a lot. But that’s really a plus.

Order yours directly from Word.

(Also, check our Gary’s more timely review on Papernery.)

Word. Mountain Edition, in Blue and Black.

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The new Word. Blue Mountain and Black Mountain books had me talking before I ever had them in hand. It’s been a while since they released a new cover on their “regular” books, and these are impressive. Word. says:

The Mountain series of Word. Notebooks puts a modern spin on the great outdoors. Think less rolling hills and more sharp cliffs. Both Black Mountain and Blue Mountain are designed for the adventurous and the bold, those who strive for summits, and they look as clean on your desk as they do at a campsite under the stars.

I love this design, and I’m not alone. Half an hour after taking a few photos, I am down to only one blue version, as members of HQ have absconded with the first two. I have hidden the black ones and made marks in the remaining blue one.

We’ve written about Word. books before, and we’ve even been lucky enough to do a giveaway.* I simply love this paper for graphite. I don’t actually use the note system Word. has developed, but I use the lines, which are nicely-spaced. I’d love a dotgrid or blank version of these books, to be sure.

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One thing that may not be entirely new (we missed the last edition and the Adventure edition) is the cover stock. Up until now, every Word. book I have had has been printed on Kraft paper. These covers are printed on white, though the feel is similar enough that I didn’t realize the paper was different until I opened the books. I do prefer this stock for writing on the insider covers.

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Unlike our last paper review, where we teased you with goods you couldn’t get, you can order these books right now. Tell ’em we sent you.

[Many thanks to Michelle at Word. Notebooks for sending these out to HQ for free! We also received a bunch of stickers, and the first three people to ask (in the USA) get one free in the mail.]

*More Word. goodness.

Baron Fig Work/Play Edition.

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I almost feel badly for posting this, since the books have sold out while this post has sat in the queue, as I was busy moving over the last couple of weeks. But I think that exhibiting the interesting books the folks at Baron Fig keep coming up with justifies what probably amounts to a Teasing Post.

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The Work/Play edition has the same features as the regular Confidant (which I still don’t own for some reason). I love the paper in Baron Fig books for pencil, and I am especially fond of the spacing/darkness of their dotgrid.

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And this book has it. On the left, you have dotgrid paper. On the right, you have a blank page. The Maker edition came in a darker grey than the regular Confidant, and the natural move is to black here.* The bookmark is white, and the effect is striking.

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Keeping in line with the other hardcover offerings from Baron Fig, the box is really a part of the product. While I enjoyed the Juggler’s box, this one takes the proverbial (coconut) cake. The graphics are so fantastic that I might have thought twice about opening the box if I had to destroy this artwork to get to the book inside.

Sorry to tease, but  you never know if you might find another stationery fan to trade with — maybe we can even talk Adam and Joey into printing another run of these. I’m not sure about the size of printing, but these went very quickly. If you find one somewhere, snatch it up! (Caroline might have some IRL.)

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(We were sent this book for review for free — thanks to Adam and Joey for keeping us in the loop!)

*White next?

Baron Fig Maker Edition.

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The good folks at Baron Fig sent a set of their new Maker edition books to HQ recently, and this is just perfect, since I am staring down the last two dozen pages of my current journal.
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I’ve ranted about this paper being Super Graphite Friendly on the Erasable Podcast on more than one occasion. The soft white paper is wonderful on the eyes and fits well with grey writing. While I enjoy the contrast of a very white page, sometimes the soothing paper fits well with the fainter grey of a pencil (vs. a very black pen). The texture is perfect for less-soft pencils. My German HB pencils get more use with this book, and when your humble blogger here grabs a pen first, the paper loves gel pen as much as it loves the Better Angel of graphite.
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I find these books to be extremely relaxing. I have a Pandora station called “pencils and flannel” which revolves around mellow music I enjoy while writing in my journal at night. I curl up on my graphite colored couch with headphones and something caffeinated, with an assortment of pencils, and I just write for a spell. I am finishing up the Three-Legged Juggler Confidant that I received for Christmas. The soft paper and tactile cover fit perfectly with a wind-down session at the end of the day, and I imagine these books would be friendly companions for morning pages as well.
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The covers are fabric-covered, with the fabric being super tight. The lack of stiff backing in the spine really does allow these books to open fully. Completing the Lap Effect, the backing that is in the covers is extremely stiff. I often sit and write on one of those large clipboards used by Comrades with actual Artistic Talent, and this is unnecessary with a Confidant. The Maker edition is several shades darker than the “regular” Confidant. I don’t own a regular one; so I can’t take a comparison photo. But this is a similarly mellow grew, just more…Pencilicious.

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The new Maker Apprentice is darker also, coming in with a nice, warm grey. These put me in mind of a muggy, rainy day. They make me want some strong iced coffee with condensed milk. These little books are handy for toting around, and they have a lot of pages. This makes Charlotte happy, when she forgot to bring something to color in and mooches Daddy’s supplies. I have beaten one of the Lightbulb edition books up pretty badly, and it stayed Healthy and Strong. I enjoy the contrasting stitching.
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A lot. The gold bookmark on the Confidant got me when it came out. These are some of the touches that set Baron Fig apart.
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Many thanks to Baron Fig for the review samples! Get one of these while the getting is good. These don’t last forever.

Field Notes Unexposed: Serious Neon Action.

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Look, it’s, like, a neon color spectrum, dude!

All of my fellow Paper Fiends now know about the latest offering from Field Notes: Unexposed. I will admit that I was less than excited  when I learned that I would not get all six, even as a subscriber. I ordered two more packs from [upcominggreatstorefront] before I saw my subscription packs. So I was not completely undone when I got two sets of doubles — only four of the six. Two more packs were on the way, and odds were on my side.
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But I checked out my two packs, nonetheless, even as An Incomplete Set. Look at this cool sleeve! It’s very well-executed, with the FN logo inside. I imagine that coating this in heavy packing tape could produce a pretty durable cover/case for carrying Field Notes.
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Out of the sleeve, these books kind of smell like chemicals. I imagine it will go away, however. Being packed into a Secret Box would probably make me stink a little, too. The texture feels like the Drink Local edition from last fall, which is a good thing. I like when my Field Notes get cracked and show wear, and I mean that. However, unlike the Drink Local, I would have rather seen these colors in the summer. Even if you don’t like beer, the Drink Local colors were sweetly autumnal. And imagine how great Arts and Sciences would have been for back-to-school!

The inside covers feature contrasting ink — they are the Color Shadow of the outside covers. The paper is the usual, which is friendly to everything it makes sense for a pocket notebook to be friendly to. It has the reticle grid; I was not crazy about this pattern in the Night Sky edition. It was dark enough to really distract me from graphite, especially since it did not “disappear” the way that lines or a grid might. My one pack of NS that I used is in my Big Box of Used Field Notes, and I can’t compare them just now. These do not *look* as dark. But everything is a little Chromatically Crazy after looking at these books for a while.

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I had to get four packs to get all six. I was terrifically…irked by this before I actually had my set of six, to be sure. Of course, when I had them all in hand Monday, I sung like a — I don’t know, a happy guy? We talked a lot about what this might mean to collectors in our Erasable Facebook Group. All four of my packs are open. The only sealed Field Notes in my possession are not really mine; they are my kids’ Birth Notes (Spring 2010 and Summer 2013). The folks at Field Notes print so many books of each edition now that I can’t imagine that the Stationery Trend is going to last long enough in its current zeal for these huge-run recent editions to be very valuable. But I certainly don’t want to start a fight. I am too busy filling my Field Notes.

Now, being a Good Comrade, how could I not pair these up with the Neon Wopexen??
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Check out Andy’s unboxing video and this first look.

(I bought these myself. Ain’t not messin with my opinions, man.)