What’s the Point of Pencils?

If you are enjoying our Erasable, you might also enjoy a listen to this program which features some fine Comrades of Pencildom.
Also, have you heard episode 8 of Erasable yet? There’s information about a nice giveaway at the end. We present the first round of Pencil Heroes. I picked Hemingway, of course.

Finally, do join our new Erasable Podcast Pencil Community group for the growing discussion of All Things Pencil.

Hemingway Scrapbooks Made Public!

EHC385tApologies that this took so long to get out (and many Comrades probably already know about it, but just in case…). But, as Brian tells us, Hemingway’s family scrapbooks are not just available to the public. They are digitized and available to view for free online via the JFK Library, home to the Hemingway Collection! Check out the scrapbooks, where it looks like many passages are written in pencil. (And look at how that ink has faded!)

[Image credit.]

Review of Whitelines Perfect Bound Books.

A month or so ago, we received a package of books from Whitelines (see also the US site), a Swedish company who makes very fine books with a unique feature: WHITE LINES. That’s right. The lines are white, while the paper is a very light grey. Does it make a difference to this pencil user? Read on!

Cover Material: Coated cardstock.
Paper: 80 g acid-free; grey-tinted paper with white lines.
Binding: Sewn.
Size: Assorted; A5 and “pocket” as tested.
Page Count: 48/36 sheets (96/72 pages).
Unique Characteristics: White lines on grey paper.
Origin: Sweden.
Availability: Online, even on Amazon.

We were sent two of the Hard Bound books and two of the Perfect Bound books, one each in black and white. What’s immediately striking about Whitelines books is both the color scheme and the construction. Covers are strong. Corners are rounded precisely (even more than Moleskines and Field Notes, to tell the truth). The bindings are tight. The package containing our four review samples was actually pretty badly damaged by the mail service; the stuffing was everywhere from a large hole, etc. The A5 Hard Bound book suffered minor damage, but the A4 Hard Bound book had two corners badly crushed. I know this was not Whitelines’ fault at all. I mention it because, although the package went through hell, the large book’s binding was completely intact. Intact enough that we’ll do a second review of the Hard Bound Whitelines in the near future, featuring more of the company’s history. These books merit it, for sure.

What I’ll mention in this review of the Perfect Bound books is a little about the concept behind Whitelines.

“Whitelines® is the new generation of writing paper. The concept is patented and yet very simple: Since markings from pens are dark they interfere with the traditional dark lines of ordinary paper. On Whitelines® there is no visual interference between the lines and the pen colour. Whitelines® makes your writing and sketches stand out.” (More.)

The lines also disappear under copymachines, and the paper comes lined or with a graph print. We tried both. The graph spacing is just right, and the lines are also very well-spaced for graphite writing.

I have to admit that I was skeptical of two things. First, I didn’t think that slightly grey paper and white lines would really be easier on my eyes. On the contrary, I assumed that they would be more difficult to see (especially since my daughter broke my unbreakable titanium glasses, and I haven’t had time to go to the eye doctor yet). I was also nervous that graphite (which is grey-to-black) would not show up on grey paper very well.

I was wrong on both counts. The lines are not difficult at all to see, and the paper just seems, for lack of a better word, mellow. Rather than shining up at you, begging you to write on it, it’s just grey and relaxed. And, while I was afraid that graphite marks would be more difficult to see, the opposite was somehow true. I checked with my wife, and we both agreed that writing stood out at least as well as on white unlined paper – perhaps more. (If more, don’t ask me how that works. My degrees are in philosophy, not physics or physiology.) In my own experience, the claims of the benefits of Whitelines’ paper prove wonderfully true.

But how does the paper handle graphite? Ghosting is not perfect, but it’s on the better side of standard, that is, very good. Graphite ghosts less than Field Notes (way less than Moleskines) and us up there with much thicker paper like EcoJot‘s recycled paper. To be clear, I’ve never found anything (even cardstock) that doesn’t ghost at least a little with some of my favorite softer pencils. The texture of the paper is similar to a Field Notes book, which is to say smooth, but with a nice tooth. Writing in a Whitelines book is as easy on one’s hands as on the eyes. Aside from Whitelines’ own special features, where this paper really shines is its smearability, which is on par with Rhodia paper – paper that lots of us know is very very smear-proof. It took some very soft leads and hard rubbing to product any smearing at all. In short, Whitelines books have nice paper that resists ghosting and smearing much better than most papers, with gentle white lines and grey paper to boot. You can’t lose.

Add to this the tight and durable binding of the Perfect Bound book (which spent no less than two weeks in my backpack) and the thoughtful sizing, and you’ve got a very nice book. The A5 we tested fits well for meeting and reading notes; that’s what I used it for during the test period. The “pocket” size is similar to a Moleskine or Field Notes, only thicker. The pocket version is no less durable than the A5 version. As we promised Whitelines, I beat them up quite a bit. And they survived, looking pretty new, too. And stylish.

In our up-coming review of the Hard Bound books, we’ll talk about Whitelines’ environmental commitment also. Stay tuned.

Happy Holidays, and Hemingway!

In the spirit of the holidays and of Hemingway (a pencil champion!), we present A Visit from Saint Nicholas, In The Ernest Hemingway Manner, by James Thurber.

“It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.”

(Read more.)

Coming up with new versions of this poem of your own is a favorite holiday pastime. I finished my Raven’s Wing Field Notes book yesterday, with my own version in native Baltimorese. But it’s way too foul-mouthed to post here.

Happy Holidays to all!! We’ll be back after the holiday with a look at a pencil-friendly selection of planners/organizers, a review of the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener and even an interview with the legendary Pencil Hero Aaron Draplin (of Field Notes!) in the New Year.

Best and warmest wishes to you and to yours, for the best holidays yet.

Field Notes Review, Part II: The Notebook.

Earlier this week, we reviewed the fragrant pencils that Field Notes sent us for review. Today, we will review the ubiquitous brown notebook. Field Notes thoughtfully send us a Mixed Pack, with one lined, one graphed and one just naked. We’ve put one through a good number of pencil tests and offer this pencil-specific review.  (And thanks for Field Notes for the great mention on their site!)

Cover Material: French Dur-O-Tone 80#C “Packing Brown Wrap.”
Paper: Boise Offset Smooth 50#T “White.”
Binding: Three-staple saddle stitch.
Size: 3-1/2” X 5-1/2”.
Page Count: 48 pages.
Unique Characteristics: Witty information printed in front and back of cover, including reward/address blank; possibly also being made in the USA.
Origin: United States.
Availability: From FieldNotesBrand.Com and select online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

When you first open a three-pack of Field Notes, you might notice that the package resembles a certain “Cahier” produced by a company whose products and historical claims are not without controversy. There are three identical, soft-covered notebooks held together by a central, horizontal band. However, the notebooks diverge there.

For starters, let’s compare the claims. One notebook claims to be the favorite of Hemingway, Chatwin, et al., although the company was founded in the 1990s and produces its notebooks in China. While I don’t have a problem with Asian production in itself, and while the company in question has revised its statement to call their notebooks the “heir” to the classic used by some of my literary heroes, lots of people have felt intentionally duped. For myself, I have a softspot for Moleskines that I can’t seem to quit. The claim made by Field Notes is that they are inspired by classic pocket ledgers and farm notebooks. No one is claiming that Field Notes will boost anyone’s creativity. Field Notes claim to be useful. The premium price ($10 + shipping for three thin notebooks, unless you’re lucky enough to live where you can get them in person) seems to run contrary to the simple and down-home heritage. However, I honestly have no idea how much old farmers’ notebooks used to cost, let alone with taking inflation into consideration.

So, Field Notes are useful pocket tools for writing down information on the go. Their size and weight definitely lend themselves to this purpose, and their solid construction continues in the same vein. There are myriad other reviews on the net (see Field Notes’ site for a list) which call them durable, practical, attractive and a pleasure to use. I found all of these claims to be more than true.

First, the cover is stiff, with clean printing. Even after rolling around with graphite pencils, in a vintage Army bag and being stuck in piles of other books and notebooks, my Field Notes book actually looks barely used. The book tends to stay open as a result of the stiffness of the cover. This doesn’t bother me, but I can imagine it bugging the heck out of some Comrades. There is no bookmark, which did bother me a bit, but a tiny binder clip did the trick nicely and actually looked very good doing it. (A Field Notes binder clip one day?)

The paper is white, with lines that match the cover (in this case, brown). They are well-spaced and even throughout the notebook. The last time I bought a pack of pocket “Cahiers” with graph paper, two entire books were off-center, one so much that it was difficulty to use. The Field Notes’ paper feels both thicker and stiffer than a “Cahier,” and it has a better tooth and more consistent texture. That bodes well for pencil lead being able to make nice and dark marks. I noticed that lighter and harder pencils are difficult to use on this paper. Anything lighter than an HB Mirado or Grip 2001 didn’t leave a mark that I could read. The paper works very well with soft pencils and exceedingly well with pencils with a bit of a scratch factor. As you might remember, I said that the Field Notes pencil had a little scratch to it and that I thought it made sense, so that Comrades could write on the run and know they were leaving a mark. I think something similar can be said about the paper. Pencil doesn’t glide across it the way that it glides across Rhodia paper, but that’s not what Field Notes are made to do. They are made to travel in your pocket and help you to remember things, solve problems, etc. A durable pencil and durable paper, especially when the “feedback” indicates that you are, in fact, writing down legibly the name of that author your Comrade mentioned on a hike or the contact information of someone you met on a trip. Besides — overly creamy paper in a rough and stiff brown cover seems like a bizarre contradiction somehow. One problem I found with using pencils in these notebooks is ghosting. “Ghosting” is what I call the transfer of graphite from one page onto another by means of the pressure from writing on the backs of pages. This happens with soft pencils all the time in notebooks. But it feels like Field Notes are especially prone to this messy graphite shadowing. However, I’m sticking with my idea of these as practical notebooks, not pieces of art. As such, ghosting is only a moderate issue, when writing is still perfectly legible. Unless you actually pet your notebooks and re-read them often, it’s not likely to bother you.

Not only that, but the notebook and pencil make a great pair, with their matching aesthetic (not just the print), durable and practical design, and slight edge.  I like to think of Field Notes products as akin to bags made of Army canvas.  Their roughness amounts to, as I said, an edge.  They are hardy and do seem to sacrifice delicacy for practicality.  That’s what I personally like about my vintage Army map case (shown above) and, often, about pencils in general.  They always just work.

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