I’m on vacation in Cambridge/Boston, and I found some cool pencils at the Black Ink in Harvard Square tonight: The Bear Claw, from Koala Tools. It’s a fat, triangular pencil in 2B, with a green eraser. I haven’t had them long, but in I used one in my Moleskine Voyageur tonight at the hotel, with excellent results.
We will conclude our series of posts about maximizing the performance of pencils for long-term writing with a short look at pencil accessories.
For journaling, I almost always prefer a long point. I like a point that starts sharp and is able to continue making neat lines without having to stop and sharpen every paragraph, or even every page. And the concave point produced by a crank sharpener like the Classroom Friendly model fits the bill perfectly. On the go (or if you prefer more control of your point), the KUM Masterpiece makes an insanely long point/longpoint and does not draw as much attention in a cafe’ as cranking a large metal contraption might.
The best erasers for preserving pencil writing will not smear, will erase completely, and they will not mar the paper. Generally speaking, some kind of plastic eraser fits the bill for all three of these requirements. This blog is lacking in eraser reviews, but I generally reach for the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser or the Faber-Castell version for journaling.
As mentioned earlier, I prefer a piece of an old map, a cut sheet from a Rhodia pad, or some other smooth and flexible paper for my blotter sheets. This helps to keep your journal neat in the first place, and stationery nerds seem to gravitate toward maps. Win-win.
Do Comrades have other tips or pieces of gear they use for keeping pencil writing safe for future Revolutionaries?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
While the question of which pencils to use for Nation Novel Writing Month is certainly an important one for pencil fans who are embarking on the one-month writing challenge. But, perhaps almost as important, is the question of what to write on.
There are myriad notebook blogs, on which Comrades can find information about notebooks’ construction, which ones can handle fountain pen ink, etc. What we try to provide with our growing number of paper reviews are pencil-specific reviews. We have a growing stack (er, box) of review samples we are testing for ghosting, point retention, etc. But, I thought it might be helpful to suggest a few great notebooks in which to write (or in which to take notes for) Comrades’ NaNoWriMo work — and, of course, invite others to share pointers.
1) Field Notes. I was hoping my “Raven’s Wing” editions would show up this week, but it is not so. Field Notes are stylish, durable and very pocketable. I might not want to draft much longhand in these (they’re small and not full of much paper), but for on-the-go notetaking, it’s hard to beat a Field Notes book.
2) Rhodia products. There are tiny stapled notebooks (like smaller Field Notes) for your pocket, the beautiful “Webbie” journals for long drafts and all manner of pads to suite your pocket or desktop. The smartphone pocket of my T2 bag usually has a Rhodia pad in it, in some kind of Luddite gesture.
3) EcoJot Workbooks. I was hoping we’d be able to publish a review of these from some samples Mark sent us in time for November, but it’s not to be. The review is coming, but you’ll have to take my word for it that they are like Moleskine Cahiers. Only greener. With attractive covers. And better paper.
4) Whitelines. We’ll have a review of these interesting notebooks in the near future, but I think they bear mention for marathon writing. The idea is that the pages are light grey, with white lines, since dark lines on white paper are harsh for the eyes. It might sound strange, but these are very nice books, and the paper is intriguing.
5) Something FANCY. A big Moleskine. Paper Blanks. Something handmade from Etsy. I have a beautiful journal that my sister-in-law sent me for a birthday a few years ago made from an old library book and big rings that I am considering using, or a giant EcoJot journal.
I thought about listing books I would personally avoid, but I think that’s unnecessarily negative. And, you know, one writer’s graphite mess is another’s silvery-grey paradise.
What are other Comrades planning to write in/on?
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.