A view Askew: a review of the Baron Fig Askew Confidant

A year or two ago, I noticed a coworker of mine taking notes from a meeting in a “Grids and Guides” notebook. You may have seen these before — a simple, cloth-bound A5-ish sized notebook sold in a lot of hipster gift stores. They come with several pages each of unusual lines or grids. She was writing on a page that had a big Fibonacci spiral gridded on the inside.

Throughout the meeting, I saw her follow the spiral until it got too tight to write in, and then she just started writing below it.

After the meeting, I brought it up. She says she likes using that notebook because it gets her mind working. Like with doodling, keeping your mind engaged can sometimes help one activate their brain and concentrate on the meeting around them.

I don’t think I’ve thought about that again, until my Baron Fig Askew showed up.

The Askew has been pretty divisive around the stationery community. Between the Field Nuts group and the Erasable group, people gave their opinion instantly, and at least half of them gave an immediate “nope.” Much of the other half was all, “Ooh, this is really pretty, but unusable. It’s more of a collector’s piece.”

I think there are a few of us in a third camp — people who think, “hmm. This is interesting. I wonder what it’s like to use it.”

I’ll try to walk you all through this thought process.

Aesthetics

As the box and inside pages indicate, this is ballpoint-pen blue. It looks like someone took a Bic Cristal and scribbled it in. The fabric cover is a rich, bright blue. The bookmark is deep red as well, and together, the notebook has a superhero vibe to it. I love it.

It gets weird immediately when you open to a blank page. You see the layout, and although it emulates a piece of loose leaf paper, with blue horizontal lines and a pink vertical line to the right indicating the margin, you notice that it’s hand-drawn.

There have been a lot of questions by people who haven’t seen one in person yet. I’ll try to answer as directly as I can.

Are ALL the pages hand-drawn?
Yes. Some are more straight and consistent than others, but no page is truly even.

I see photos of pages that are just scribbled. What’s up with that?
Baron Fig says about 10% of the pages are “unruly”, meaning that they’re a lot wackier than the 90% of “ruly” pages. Sometimes the unruliness manifests in the form of a scribble, or else all the lines are stacked on top of each other, or something else entirely.

Like this one:

Or this one:

Or this one:

I won’t spoil all the views; there are 192 pages after all, but there should be 15-20 “unruly” pages in there.

“Unruly.” I just got that pun.

Is each, individual notebook hand-drawn and unique?
I don’t think so. Debbie Millman, the artist, hand-drew a notebook’s ruling, and then Baron Fig duplicated that same spread in all their Askew notebooks. I did an Instagram live unboxing video, and Michael Hagan from Lead Fast confirmed it — his copy had identical spreads.

How am I supposed to use those “unruly” pages?
That’s up to you! Me, part of the usefulness of those pages is to think outside the box and figure out how you’re going to use it. Also: you could just leave it blank and ponder it.

Performance

Using this notebook is an interesting experience. Generally, the slightly crooked lines don’t bother me — without lines, my writing is slightly crooked anyway.

I do actually appreciate that, in most spreads, the lines are wider than those in a typical Confidant. I have a bit more room to write bigger.

The left margin is also an interesting addition. Typically, Confidants and other similar notebooks don’t have a margin divider like this. And I never really paid much attention to it before, but I didn’t consistently keep my own margin. This prompts me to keep a comfortable distance between my writing and the edge of the notebook, which can be a visual relief.

Quality

I’m not sure how the artist originally drew the lines, and how Baron Fig reproduced them for their notebook. But man, they did a good job. I was expecting slightly pixelated digital art, but the lines, for as crooked and hand-drawn as they are, were crisp and clear.

I recognize that this notebook is not for everyone. Some people need a consistent, straight line to plot their output. And I can respect that.

Joey and Adam took a big chance with this book. It’s not just the same old Confidant, but with a different colored cover and bookmark. They truly reinvented it. For me, it was effective — like with doodling, following the slightly askew grids helped me open my mind up to what I was listening to or thinking about.

Joey and Adam: if you’re reading this, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, GUYS. I want a Confidant with this exact exterior look; this rich, Bic Cristal-blue fabric cover and scarlet-red bookmark, but with regular lining. That would be such a beautiful addition to my (ever-growing) Confidant stash.

In the meantime, though, this is perhaps not my every day notebook. I know I’ll pull it out when I need to take notes but don’t mind being a bit playful. The unique whimsy of the crooked lines and the surprise of the “unruly” pages put me in a mindset that I definitely don’t dislike.

(This notebook was given to me at no charge by Baron Fig for review purposes.)

Review of the Bookblock Original

Just about a year ago, I got an email from Stefan Johnson, the creative director of a design agency in London, who was planning a Kickstarter campaign for a notebook. It stood out to me because, unlike most other Moleskine-style notebooks, this was for a completely customizeable notebook — from the cover to the spine, the elastic band to the bookmark, you could pick the design and the color, and you could do it without being required to order in quantity — each was completely one-off.

The Kickstarter campaign

I was intrigued, so I pledged £10 (disclosure: I pledged at a level that had a discounted rate for bloggers who reviewed the product. And here is that review). The campaign launched on August 18, and closed a couple months later on October about £600 over the £10,000 goal.

Pretty soon after, Stefan sent me a template to fit into my design. I really wanted to put the production process through its paces, so I wanted a fairly complicated, precise design. Which led me to this, based on TJ Cosgrove’s amazing reproduction of an old Eberhard Faber Blackwing box for Erasable:

image-7

In addition to this design, I chose a black elastic band, and a red bookmark to accent the red on the cover.

That was in mid-August, right after the campaign ended.

And then, everything stopped.

I heard back from Stefan again in March, apologizing for being silent for seven months, and letting me know my notebook was ready.

I responded, and then there was silence again for a couple months, when I heard from someone else from Bookblock — Phoebe — that she was going to send me the notebook.

A week later, 10 months after the campaign ended, the notebook came.

image-6

The notebook’s production quality

Well, first of all, the order was wrong. I asked for a black elastic band and a red ribbon, and got a navy blue band and a white ribbon.

However, the design itself was implemented from the template with exacting precision. I lined it up so the spine had a pencil right in the center — if it was off even by a fraction of an inch, it would be pretty noticeable.

The Bookblock Original came pretty darn close to the original design I submitted. Excellent work by whomever set up the template.

The quality of the printing is… decent. It has the resolution of maybe a nice color laser printer, and although the color is pretty true to the digital design, it was finished with what looks like a clear, matte coating that just dulls the whole design.

The Bookblock Original cover is covered with a dull finish and bubbles have appeared in places.

This is just a guess, but it looks like the design was printed on paper that was applied beneath some kind of contact paper — there are multiple instances where there are bubbles between those layers, especially around edges. It cheapens the looks significantly.

The notebook’s materials

Phoebe told me that Monsieur Notebooks was a “sister company” of the Bookblock Original, which looks to mean that they produce the notebook itself — the binding, the paper and the materials. If I were to guess, Bookblock Original wraps their designs around the Monsieur journal.

The Bookblock Original inside cover, with the Monsieur logo.

Monsieur’s a pretty popular producer of custom notebooks — if you’ve ever gotten a pretty nice customized journal that seemed nicer than and more personalized than a Moleskine with a stamp on the cover, it could very well have been a Monsieur.

The Bookblock Original inside spread. The paper is of decent quality and is pretty pencil-friendly.

The paper inside is really nice. It’s medium-heavy weight, about 90 gsm, and has some tooth to it (but not too much tooth), much like the Baron Fig Confidante. This means it’s pretty pencil-friendly. My General’s Cedar Pointe #1 wrote in it like a dream, smooth but dark.

The Bookblock Original page closeup.

The signatures of the book are visible and are pretty noticeable. I’m not sure what that indicates, but it seems to me to indicate that it’s been hastily assembled. Even most Moleskines, which have dropped in quality over the years, seem to be bound and cut carefully enough that it’s hard to pick out where the signatures in the binding start and end.

The price and market fit

Now that the Kickstarter is over, these notebooks are available publicly. The Bookblock Original’s website says that the notebooks start at $18, though they aren’t clear up front what features cost more until you’ve completed the process to design your own.

It’s also unclear what Bookblock Original’s relationship is to Bookblock, or what their relationship is to Monsieur. The original Kickstarter mentioned nothing about differentiating the “Original” from the brand name.

If Bookblock Original improves their production, $18 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the amount of customization you’ll be able to do to a reasonable quality notebook. It’s great for one to, say, five notebooks decked out with your favorite design.

I was hoping to be impressed by this enough to buy Johnny, Tim and TJ all a copy of this Erasable Podcast notebook, but until the dull finish is more vibrant and there are no bubbles in the cover, I don’t think I’ll be spending more money here. Now that they’re in regular production and out of the setup phase, hopefully that’ll be soon.

Unboxing the Field Notes Fall 2015 edition, Shenandoah

TJ Cosgrove from Wood & Graphite and I are falling into a good pattern here, I think — I send him some raw video of an unboxing, and he makes it look good and publishes it! Here’s this month’s release of the newest Field Notes COLORS edition: Shenandoah.

This is one of my favorites for a while, I think. I love the varying shades of green on the outside, with the brighter, “turned” colors duplexed on the inside. Time will tell how well that duplex holds together. This marks the first edition I’m using with my Field Notes Stuff Sheath to keep it nice in my back pocket.

The paper, for pencil, is very nice. It’s a little thicker than the old #50 stock paper, but thinner than the thicker, fountain pen-friendly #70 usually found in the summer editions.

My very favorite thing, though it’s kinda silly, is the belly band. They used a shaved wood on a substrate paper, like with Shelterwood and Cherry Wood, and that natural woodgrain with the green is just gorgeous. I think they captured the look and feel of autumn in the Shenandoah Valley really, really elegantly. This, to me, is why Field Notes stands out — great quality implementations of beautiful, simple themes.

This edition finally got me to convert to a COLORS subscriber, in fact — for the next three releases, I’ll be getting a couple packs automatically, along with a goodie or two. I’m definitely excited about that.

Buy a three-pack for $9.95 or subscribe, starting with this edition, at FieldNotesBrand.com.

Story Supply Co.: the TOMS of the stationery world

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Erasable community? Well, a lot, I’m sure. But this is something special. One of our group members, Vito Grippi, recently launched a (successful!) Kickstarter campaign for his new company, Story Supply Co.

In a nutshell, they source and give away “story supply kits,” for kids to learn the art of creative writing, storytelling and journaling. They’re partnering with 826, a series of fantastic arts nonprofits that help kids with many of the same goals.

Here’s the video from Vito’s Kickstarter campaign:

Did you notice the cameos from a Mitsubishi Hi Uni and a couple Palomino Blackwings? I sure did.

This is the kind of thing I love — admittedly a pocket notebook and a pencil aren’t the most original offerings ever, but they’re tools for creation! It’s not about creating specialized notebooks with one purpose and one layout. It’s about making a good quality notebook, a good quality writing utensil, for a great cause — helping give kids the same opportunity.

I also love that they’re partnering with 826. I have a couple posters from 826LA, and I’m not too far from the original, 826 Valencia, which is in the Mission district of San Francisco.

Full disclosure: I pledged already, and Vito sent me a pack of notebooks and a pencil early for review purposes. So while I haven’t really paid for them, I am already a backer of this campaign.

I’m a bit late to this review (Johnny talked about it over on the venerable Pencil Revolution, and Gary Varner’s very active new upstart paper blog Papernery has a great review,) but I will mention a few things.

The Notebook

I’m definitely loving the simple, navy blue cover with the Story Supply Co. logo on the front. It’s clean, and the navy-over-cream cover stock seems thick and rugged. The cover has a bit of tooth, as I noticed that there’s a subtle fiber interwoven in the paper, sort of like a dollar bill.

pencil-and-notebook

I’ll mention that the cover itself is pretty bad at closing completely once opened, and when it’s open, it wants to fold up pretty bad. It’s not dissimilar from Scout Books in that regard, though I know for sure that this is not a Scout Books product.

The inside is a creamy, thick graph paper. According to Gary, it’s a luxurious 70# weight, which is more than enough for the darkest of pencils, and perfect for all but perhaps the thirstiest of fountain pens.

IMG_4165

The 5 millimeter grid is a great size, though it’s laid out strangely on the page. It doesn’t quite meet the top of the paper, though there isn’t enough space for a non-gridded headline, and there’s a slightly thicker line running a quarter of the way in from the outside of the page, and a quarter of the way up. See?

grid-paper

Maybe that was intentional? I have no idea.

Still, though. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a damn fine notebook, especially considering it was their first run. As the company matures, I’m sure it’ll get better and better.

The Pencil

pencil-sharpened

Now, this is an interesting one. Vito was kind enough to include one of their later offerings, a round, natural-finish pencil! It bears the name, tagline, and some other information about the company, and on top of a golden ferrule, it has a navy blue eraser that matches the silkscreen on the barrel! Swoon.

While it physically resembles the Field Notes pencil, I’m convinced it’s better quality. The wood isn’t as splintery when I sharpened it (with my KUM Masterpiece!) and while the pencil itself isn’t as fragrant as the Field Notes pencil, the shavings are more so.

shavings-comparison

I’m not sure why that is, but I’m guessing that there’s an ever-so-thin layer of clear lacquer or sealant over the Story Supply Co. pencil. It’s thin enough to leave you feeling like you’re gripping a natural-finish pencil, but it’s not splintery at all, like I find the Field Notes pencil to be.

(It’s worth noting that this is a Musgrave-sourced pencil, so there’s a good chance it’s basswood, which seems to be confirmed when the shavings are next to the more pink Field Notes pencil. I also see a definite woodgrain, which makes it seem like the Story Supply Co. pencil isn’t processed wood.)

They leave very similar marks, but the Story Supply Co. pencil is noticeably smoother to write with than the scratchy Field Notes pencil.

point-comparison

In fact, the only things I think the Field Notes pencil has over this one is a) the typography is better (because, duh, Aaron Draplin) and the ferrule is more unique. Though maybe not as effective — a lot of people have told me the eraser comes out easily.

Story Supply Co.’s ferrule isn’t particularly special but it seems to do it’s job, which is what it’s all about, right?

The Kickstarter

The Story Supply Co. Kickstarter campaign successfully reached its $5,000 goal four days after launching, which is impressive and commendable. At the time of this writing, it’s at $7,167, which seems like it’s still got a lot of momentum in it.

For five dollars, you’ll get a sticker and a pencil, which is a pretty fantastic deal. For just double that, you can get a pack of notebooks in plain, ruled, or graph, and donate a kit to “a kid with a story to tell.”

I can’t wait to see Vito’s stretch goals!

This is the way to do it, folks. I’m loving Vito’s vision for the company, and his Kickstarter prowess.

Check out more about Story Supply Co. at their website, or go straight to their Kickstarter page.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS: Field Notes Unexposed Edition Unboxing Video

Warning, if you don’t want the new, mysterious Field Notes edition spoiled for you, don’t want this video. If you do, then, ONWARD!

There are a few more observations I’ve had, after looking at the Field Notes for a bit longer.

The first is that I think this is the first time Field Notes has had a registered trademark symbol (®) next to the Futura’d “FIELD NOTES” mark on the front. That bums me out a bit, partly because, well, it means that some lawyers got ahold of it, but also because it’s moving one more step away from the original intent of a pocket notebook like this. It’s more of a brand now.

I completely understand why they did it, and if this was my product, I’d probably do it too.

The notebook comes in six varieties:

  • Purple with green words,
  • Green with orange words,
  • Orange with blue words,
  • Blue with pink words,
  • Pink with yellow words, and
  • Yellow with purple words.

Here’s a photo. SPOILERS:

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

They’re all very bright, made from flourescent soy-based inks printed on a white 100# silky paper. The inside color is the inverse of the outside.

One of my favorite things about it is that it resurrects the paper used in the “Night Sky” edition — a 50# bright white paper with a light grey application of their “reticle” graph — basically, it’s a dot grid, but instead of dots, they’re little “+”s.

Here's a Night Sky Field Notes I'm in the middle of, and its "reticle graph" paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

Here’s a Night Sky Field Notes I’m in the middle of, and its “reticle graph” paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

What I was expecting

When Field Notes sent the email teasing the edition, they included this image:

Field Notes teasing email

And then when they announced the name of the edition, “Unexposed,” I naturally thought about photography. After all, this is a very “art school” photograph, and it’s almost like a pinhole camera. They said the edition was sealed in an opaque paper, so I was hoping that the cover was photosensitive — maybe they changed color when opened and exposed to light.

That would have been so cool, wouldn’t it?

Schrödinger’s Notebook

Schrödinger's NotebookOkay, bear with me here, because I’m going to wayy overthink something.

A friend and I had an interesting discussion about this edition on Facebook. When Field Notes announced it earlier this week, they didn’t give away any details of each notebook. But they did say that each three-pack will be sealed with an opaque paper, and the colors in each three-pack will be chosen at random.

That’s right: no one will know which three of the six colors are contained therein — only by opening it (and thus devaluing the set), will they know if they have all the colors.

This sets up a conundrum: Do collectors keep them sealed, maintaining maximum value, or do they open them, and trade until they have all the colors?

I theorized that this is an anti-collector’s edition: that Coudal and Draplin are trolling the collectors by introducing this conflict into their acquiring.

My friend brought up an interesting counterpoint, however, and rightfully so — that in fact, this is the ultimate collector’s edition, and because collectors will be tempted to open the sealed packs, the number of the sealed pack will seriously lessen over time.

This would create a meta-collectability — that eventually, those who don’t care about the colors, but care only about the sealed notebook packs, would pay top-dollar.

For those collectors, the unknown factor of what colors are inside is a bit thrilling — the colors are unknown, for as long as they are in that meta-collection, they cannot be known.

Erwin Schrödinger might say that the colors on the notebook both exist and do not exist.

Regardless, these notebooks are a joy to look at, to touch, and eventually, to use (I have a Night Sky to work through, first).

Rite in the Rain Notepad Paper Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted a video review. But this one just begged for it:

Basically, I took the review page from my Rite in the Rain mechanical pencil review, and a page from one of my favorite notepads, the Ampad Retro Gold Fibre (available online or at Staples), and gave them a good soaking from the hose. Right away, the Ampad paper soaked up the water, became limp, and tore very easily.

The rather more hydrophobic Rite in the Rain paper resisted the water, which beaded up on the surface of the paper. It took just as much effort to tear it as it does a dry piece of paper (even dry, Rite in the Rain is thicker and offers more resistance than most writing pad papers).

I wrote on both sheets of paper with pencil, which is already water resistant. But if you use a fountain pen, especially with normal, water-soluble ink, the Rite in the Rain paper shouldn’t completely protect you from smearing when wet. Since the ink has soaked into the paper somewhat, it should perform better than the regular notebook paper, but still — I like to think pencil performs best under wet circumstances. Especially on a Rite in the Rain notepad.

Thanks to my lovely partner, Katie, for running the camera and the garden hose!