Category Archives: Review

Review: Jane Davenport Butterfly Effect Book AKA Travelers Notebook

Do you love the idea of the traveler’s notebook system? Maybe you’re vegan or vegetarian and the idea of carting around a thick piece of animal hide grosses you out. Maybe you’re crafty and you like the idea of making your own but don’t have time. My thoughts on the BEB haven’t changed much since my first impression post over here.

Enter the Jane Davenport Butterfly Effect Book (BEB). The BEB is a  $13 Traveler’s Notebook knock off made of 2 pieces of nylon canvas stitched around a piece of stiffish card. It’s got a pair of eyelets at the top and bottom center as well as one to hold a thick elastic cord around the center of the book. The cords included with the cover are all pale teal colored. They are also thick and quite sturdy. It is important to note that the BEB is eligible for the Michael’s store coupons, so that $13 can be cut down to $6 with a 40% off coupon. Which is a steal for this fun little cover.

The white nylon canvas isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s intended to be a canvas not the final product. I highly recommend that you look at all the stitching and edges to make sure they are secure before decorating. Use a lighter to heat seal any loose or frayed edges. After which you should gesso the living hell out of the cover. I didn’t gesso my first and it soaked up so much paint that it was difficult to decorate. Whatever card is in the center of the book- it is very absorbent. That said, once gessoed and dried, it is a great canvas for your decorative self. I did mine with a faux copper finish and loads of texture.

I’d recommend sticking to acrylic paint and flexible media for the cover because the cover does flex especially around the center fold. You wouldn’t want your hard work peeling right off.

The insert included with the BEB is garbage. A few sheets of cardstock folded and stapled. You are better off heading down to your local office supply store, buying a pack of card stock and folding up 4 sheets yourself and trimming it down with your paper cutter and rounding the corners with a corner punch.

I really wasn’t sure about using the larger sized TN setup, I’m quite dedicated to my pocket notebook sized books, but really found myself falling in love with the slightly too narrow shape and size of the TN inserts. Adding dot grid to the mix was a no brainer. I’ve been using one insert as a journal, one as a planner for No Brand Notebooks, and another as a reading journal. I’ve since added an insert for reviews and another for planning my new podcast RSVP*. I cannot emphasis how nice the size is for long running entries, or quick notes about the stuff I’m reading**.

I think that the BEB is a good purchase for anyone who wants to test out the Traveler’s size without a huge investment. $6 with a coupon is a no brainer. Continue reading

Review: Nataraj Metallic and Glimo Super Black Pencils

Nataraj pencils are made and distributed by Hindustan pencil company, much like my previously reviewed and adored Casemates (which are distro’d by Walmart). I picked up these two packages of pencils from the ‘zon for $4.99 each with free shipping. Each pack holds 10 pencils, a white plastic block eraser, and a plastic sharpener. For anyone keeping track, that’s about 50 cents per pencil, though factoring in the sharpener and eraser it is about 42 cents per item in the package. The package itself, I should have taken a picture, was well done. The pencils were in a tough plastic envelope, then in styrofoam packaging, and the 2 boxes were wrapped like a gift inside the protective foam package. All in all it was like unwrapping a slightly bizarre gift. Shipping did take about a month. It reminded me of old school mail order. Ahh memories. After unwrapping my gifty to myself I was greeted with Nataraj’s fun pencil packaging. While companies selling in the US seem to have moved toward clear plastic shrink wrap and stickered belly bands, Nataraj uses cardboard boxes. Each package matches the contents well. The Metallics have a metallic box with a pebble finish, while the Glimo has pastel colored diamonds in the colors of the pencils. The Glimo has a diecut window. The packaging is nearly identical except for package date stamps and a line that the metallics meet international quality standards. My pencils were all packaged in 2015, so they aren’t particularly fresh. But then pencils really seem to last forever if stored properly.

Anyway, inside the packages are some nice metallic pencils. The Metallics have gorgeous jewel tones that really shine. The camera cannot pick up the color well at all. It’s seriously glimmery and shiny and reminiscent of dragon flies of nice metallic flake paint on a car. They sport a nicely done and jaunty white and black end dip that looks awesome with the metallic paint. There are blue, purple, green, and red. The Glimo features silver stripes with a coordinating pastel colors of magenta, pink, peach, yellow, and pale teal. The end caps are a nice thick dip of the pastel color. The silver is barely metallic and in some the pastel shade is a touch thin, but overall these are quite well done.

On all of the pencils, either Metallics or Glimo the paint is mostly well done, with the occasional pencil with drips and runs. I had one in each box that had not only visible but runs that could be felt under my fingers. Mostly they were okay. The wood is jelutong and sharpens well in all my sharpeners. The cores are centered in most of the pencils, off in about half, and out of each box one was badly off centered, but still usable.

The core in these is the same, Nataraj’s “Super Black.” The super black core is very dark for writing. It is also nicely smooth and glides across most papers that I’ve tested them upon- from Yoobi Comp books, Field Notes, Story Supply Company, Life, Tomoe River, and No Brand Notebooks. (Handwritten review is done on a NBN dot grid traveler’s size.) They glide, which is the best way to put it. Not quite skate, but glide. It’s smooth dark and a nice feel. I believe this is the same core as the Casemates Premium, which is slightly different than the Casemates Neon. It’s darker and smoother. The Neons seem to have more occasional bits of grit and are slightly harder with better point retention/durability.

Speaking of point retention and durability, there is batch variation. I’ve sharpened a few of each, okay one of each color and I’ve found that most of them are almost the same in terms of how many comp book or NBN pages I get, but one, the blue metallic is super soft and even darker than the others. The rest I’d rate around a Staedtler B in terms of point retention and durability the one oddball is closer to a 4B. The majority are closer to a Staedtler 2B in their darkness. That is to say I’m able to get around 4 composition book pages written before I reach for another sharp pencil.

I love how these look and how they write. Sure they are about 50 cents per pencil, roughly 4 and a half times the cost of most of the Walmart Casemate pencils. The trade off is the better paint jobs, consistent cores, no badly afixed ferrules, and  eraser turds. That said, if you don’t want to spend the money, getting the Walmart Casemate Premium pencils is still the best priced option. That said, I immediately sharpened one of each color way and added it to my novel writing pencil cup. The fun colors and metallic sheen make me smile.

My one worry right now is that these have gone the way of the Nataraj/Apsara Pop, which have an awesome coloring scheme, and have been replaced with the less awesome color scheme of the Nataraj Joi.

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Review: Casemate Neon Pattern Printed Pencils Hex

The current iteration of Walmart’s Casemate pencils are darn good. Made by Hindustan pencil company they feature a top notch HB core that is dark and smooth. I find the neon and multi-colored packages to be better than the plain yellow pencils. The key to getting good Casemate pencils is to look and make sure the pencils are made in India. I’ve heard other reports that these are often round. The package that I picked up is a hex pencil.

I had hoped to pick up a pack of the plain unprinted neon pencils or a package of the premium tinned pencils. Neither was to be found so I took a chance that the 30 pack of printed neon pencils was as good as the neons.

The packaging for the 30 pack is a pillow box made of stiff clear plastic, with a bit of foam at the base to protect the points, and a thick label wrapped around the belly. In a pinch it could suffice as a decent pencil case. Each tube has 6 pieces of 5 colors- pink, orange, yellow, green, and blue. All are neon except the blue, which in my package is a royal blue color. Each 30-pack is $3.24, which is roughly 11 cents per pencil.

The pencils themselves sport a standard Hindustan HB core. That is to say it’s silky smooth across most papers and is nicely dark. I’ve found very occasional bits of grit in some of my pencils, but this is rare and to the same extent that I find them in much more expensive pencils. The core has excellent point durability/retention. I get a few pages from a sharpening with my Carl A5. The wood is jelutong which sharpens well but has no distinct odor that I can detect*. It is lightweight and I have grown fond of the look of this wood. It ranges from pinkish tan to nearly white to speckled. All of my sharpeners handle it well.

The paint appears to be a layer of white, with neon atop that with an overprinting of a very thin coating of black. The black is nearly see through in some areas and the neon colors definitely pop through the black patterns. The black patterns are a pox upon an otherwise lovely pencil. On my pencils- every single pencil the printing is crooked, the grade designation is not only off center of a side, it’s often printed on a hex point and at an angle. Further the crooked printing is overlapped in some areas and not others. The patterns are also everso slightly stretched on some of the pencils. The images I’ve included in this review do not do justice to how truly abominable the print job is. It’s atrocious. It is laugh worthy. It is, as my Grandmother would say, ugly as sin.
The silver ferrules are affixed well to the pencil and hold a pink eraser. The erasers are typical of Hindustan and Casemate awful. This batch of erasers is stiff and gritty. In use they have a hard time removing graphite from even the smoothest of pages, and yet seem to lift the fibers of the page. Through repeated use I could see these erasers tearing a hole in the paper. They remind me of the old grey ink eraser like the Papermate Union.

In short these are great pencils for a very low investment. The core is wonderful, its’ just the exterior that makes these look awful.

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Review: Camel HB Pencils

I have resisted the allure of the Camel HB pencils for quite some time. I told myself, “they won’t be great, they are pretty but they aren’t great.” Finally in  my last CWPE order I broke down and order 4 of them. At $1.50 each they aren’t cheap but they aren’t Caran d’Ache Stinkwood prices either.I resisted them because I’m in complete and utter lust with their minimalist design. The sleek lacquered finish, with a clean white imprint, and a ferrule-free eraser is simple pencil perfection. They are available in 2 color combinations (plus some pastel shades)- cedar with clear lacquer and a grey eraser cap and cedar with a warm honey stain and lacquer, with a off white eraser cap. Stunning. I really love how these look.

I sharpened one of each of the colorways and told myself they were going to suck, this despite the glowing reviews they’ve received just about everywhere. I’ve used them for page after page in my most recent novel in a Yoobi Composition notebook (more on those at a later date.) I’m getting 3 to 4 pages per sharpening in the Carl A5 and the same with the KUM masterpiece. Other than point retention/durability the feel of the core is smooth on all the papers I’ve tested it on. It performs well on Yoobi comp, Tomoe River, Moleskine, and various Field Notes. I like these pencils a lot. I’m bummed I only bought 4 of them. I should have bought 10, or a dozen, but more than the mere 4 I have in my grubby paws.
The eraser works admirably well, though I am loath to use it lest I grubby up the clean lines of these pencils. I purposefully pulled one off to see how it worked and the pencil itself is whittled down to fit inside the eraser just like a regular pencil cap. A dab of superglue reacquainted the two pieces and now even when I try I cannot remove the eraser.

The bottom line on these pencils, is that they have a beautiful clean design, crisp printing, a thick coating of clear lacquer, and that ferrule free eraser cap is a stunner. Overall the minimalist design of these pencils makes me super happy. The fact that they perform well means I can keep using them over and over again.

Review: Curnow Back Pocket Journal with Tomoe River Paper

I’ve been using a Curnow Back Pocket Journal with cream Tomoe River paper for a few weeks now. In fact the one I started with is nearly filled.

Mine has a plain butcher orange card cover. Which has survived and is quite sturdy. It is the standard pocket journal size of 3.5X5.5 inches, with 48 pages of paper. Because it’s filled with Tomoe River paper it’s ultra slim and roughly half the thickness of a Field Notes or Word notebook. There isn’t anything groundbreaking happening with this notebook. The one change from other pocket notebooks is that this is stitched in a traditional pamphlet stitch with 3 holes using waxed linen thread. It’s very sturdy and has stood up to my abuse this month quite well.

The great thing about the Tomoe River paper is being able to use any and all of my fountain pens in it without fear of bleed through. I did have to worry about smudging and dry time. But to be able to use a wet medium nib was really kind of nice. I stuck to mostly using my fine and ef pens as that is what I use while I’m out and about and allows for faster dry times.

I really enjoyed harder pencils on this paper. I’m not sure why they performed so well, perhaps there is some toothiness there that isn’t perceptible with fountain pen. No matter- the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood (aka Stinkwood) and the Les Crayon De La Maison Cd’A (aka Fancy Plywood Pencils FPP) were really amazing on this paper. I actually grew to link the Stinkwood and ignore it’s foul odor of burnt soy sauce on it’s pages. Pretty shocking. Curnow offers some of their notebooks with limited edition covers, some mined from Creative Commons Imagery* and some from artists working with them. They also offer a variety of papers. The prices vary according to the paper inside with the Tomoe River as the most expensive option and it’s the same price as a pack of Field Notes with non-fountain pen friendly paper.

These are a great little notebook and worth the cost if you want to use fountain pens. They are well made and wear well. I have another with the other paper that they use and can’t wait to crack into it.

Oddly the only way to buy these little notebooks is through facebook or email. Honestly, I hate that, but head over to their facebook page, look at their offerings and send them a message and they will send you a paypal invoice.

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Review: Baron Fig Archer

So I’m a few days late and a few bucks short when it comes to this review. I’ve been sitting on it hoping my opinion would change. For the TL;DR crowd- it is pretty, if you like pretty, go ahead and buy them. If you want performance, go elsewhere.

I picked up a few of these from a friend for a few bucks. I didn’t want to spring for a 12-pack of pencils where the whispered undertone to all the reviews read, “scratchy.” I sharpened one up and used it extensively in a cheap Staples comp notebook during NaNoWriMo. I’ve forced myself to use it on slick as teflon Tomoe River paper and silky smooth Maruman and Life notebook pages. I’ve even jotted a shopping list on the nondescript paper in Field Notes.

Ignoring the feeling of the point on paper, the looks of these pencils is gorgeous. The matte finished cool gray paint with a perfectly end dipped darker charcoal gray end is just pretty. It is simplistic and pretty. It works. The imprint is also minimalist- a simple Baron Fig on one flat, with a stylized arrow on the opposite- both in crisp perfectly imprinted white. The pencil is perfectly minimalistic in design. They are gorgeous to look at.

I sharpened mine in, gasp, the Carl Angel-5 with it’s dangerously chewy teeth, which chomped into the soft linden wood body.  I suggest linden over bass based off scent. Linden smells like bay leaves to me and these pencils when freshly sharpened have that dusty odor of impending kitchen magic. Linden is ridiculously light weight. These pencils feel lighter than most pencils. I have not weighed them to be sure. the absence of a ferrule and eraser make them lighter but even compared to other pencils without ferrule and eraser they feel significantly lighter. I should weigh them and and take the subjective out of this review, but I’ll leave this here to let you know they FEEL lighter than other pencils. I prefer a little bit of heft to my pencils

This brings me to the core of these pencils. Scratchy is an apt description of these pretty pretty pencils. I’d lean more toward gritty. They are the antithesis of smooth.  If you are a fan of pencil points gliding over your page like butter on a hot griddle, look elsewhere, these aren’t the fix you are seeking.  They have a durable point that lasts for a good long time. I found myself getting pages in the comp book with the Archer. But it was an effort to write with- I had to force the graphite off the pencil. Compared to *gasp* my penny-per-pencil Casemates, these were a disappointment in use. Going back to kitchen based comparison- writing with these on most papers, even the glassy smooth Tomoe River, is like spreading chilled butter on cold toast- a gritty mess that is simply unpleasant.

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Sunday Study: The Perfection of the Paper Clip

All my stationery nerd friends said, “Read this book, you’ll love it.” Well, I have and I don’t.

When I spot a factual error in a book it makes me question all other information held as facts in the book. The first factual error I found was on page 26 where Ward states that reed pens are “filled by pouring ink into the top of the pen.” Apparently Ward has never used a reed pen because this is  hilariously wrong. Reed pens are dip pens. You soak some reed pens (bamboo) in water before use to activate the capillaries in the bamboo, but even still they are still dip pens. They function similarly to quill and steel dip nibs.. You dip them in ink. After this point I was left wondering what else was wrong.

In the section about Moleskines he writes that the “first” time a moleskine was labeled as “Made in China” was only after the company had been purchased by SGCapital in 2013. I suspect this may be a typo and he meant 2003, which was certainly before Modo e Modo was purchased. Further I remember the online uproar the “Made in China” label created. I remember my first “Made in China” Moleskine. I got that Moleskine long before 2013. In fact 2013 is long after I’d given up using Moleskines due to quality control issues. It is true that the Moley had always been made in China, and had previously been labeled, “Designed in Italy.” Further I have some issues with his “historical” facts of small-m moleskines. Yes there was one Parisian supplier that sold those made by someone Chatwin loved, but moleskines are a style of small pocketable notebooks- not just the one sold in that one shop. Rather, moleskine was used to describe all manner of small pocketable notebooks covered in oil cloth and were available all over Europe.

After this point I began to hate read the book. The section on pencils is quite good, though I’m reticent to take anything he’s written as factual given the previous factual errors. The section on King’s The Dark Half may not be totally accurate.

Ward’s humor is not funny to me. He tries really hard to be pithy and funny but often his jokes fall flat. Where Rees has deadpan down pat Ward’s attempt at humor fall flat and scratching my head, wondering how did he think that was funny? I got what he was trying to say, I just never found the humor in what he had written. Frankly, Ward’s writing style bores me. I’ve read many of the books on his reference list, and while those are boring they are far more informative than Ward’s book and because the writing was solid, well researched and informative with out wannabe pithy commentary, they were good.

I’m sorry, but The Perfection of the Paper Clip is anything but perfect, and I can’t even say it’s good. I’m not including an Amazon link for this one. just because I tortured myself doesn’t mean you should too.

Review: Conte X Bic Coloring Pencils

I picked these up for a mere $7 from the Staples clearance rack. I purchased based on seeing the name Conte on the package. 

The tin is gorgeously printed- the spiral coloring page on the top cover is great. The lid fits very snug and holds the pencils very tightly into their plastic tray. Opening the tin the pencils are gorgeous- black with black “wood” (we’ll get to that in a bit.) And vibrantly colored cores. The printing is silver foil and looks great. Each is simply labeled “coloring pencil” and Conte. 

The color selection is weird. There are five shades of red, 3 shades of brown, five shades of green, three blue, two purple plus white, grey and black. the cores are very smooth but also very hard. It takes a lot of pressure to get a dark line. They are anything but creamy.  They layer and blend well and are nice on rough paper. One smooth paper they are terrible. 

The “wood” part of the pencil is not wood but a foamy extruded garbage.* In use this allows the pencils to bend, especially when using pressure to apply a darker line, they bend in the hand. It’s quite unpleasant. I suppose this is where the Bic part of the arrangement comes in, the extruded garbage reminds me of the Bic Xtra fun pencils. Nasty.

Overall, these are good for kids who might want a nice set for coloring or doodles. For art making purposes they are good for sketching. i’m not sure I’d trust them to be lightfast, and I’m not likely to test them since I’m not adding them to my art tools. Continue reading

Review: Bic for Kids Mechanical Pencil

Wandering the aisles of my local Staples looking for deals I found the Bic for Kids mechanical pencil. At $4.29 it’s not a deal but it was interesting. The package includes the pencil itself, a pack of 6 leads, and an eraser. The pencil is designed to be a finger fitter to help little kids learn how to write. They were available in 2 gendered colors of blue and pink. Sigh.*

I picked it up in the hope that the lead inside is the same as the Bic disposable mechanical but thicker. I wasn’t disappointed. It was dark and smooth for an HB. I quite like the lead. The pencil includes 3 leads inside and the little double ended tube holds 6 more. The bad thing about this pencil is that leads are not sold separately, so you can not refill them once you finish your 9 included leads. So that’s a bummer.

The pencil is tiny, one of the other reason I purchased it, thinking it would make an excellent pocket mechanical. And it is. It fits perfectly into a pocket. For people with large or even medium sized hand, this is going to be much too small to be usable. It is also very lightweight. That said the finger fitting fin is a pain in thumb. With a pencil you need to rotate it to keep it pointed. the fin prevents you from doing so.

So I cut it off. Sow and carefully I used a knife to shave off the fin. This allows me to rotate the pencil to keep the point, pointy. Without the fin the pencil is very comfortable and even enjoyable to use.

The included eraser is color coordinated to look good with the pencil. The blue eraser is a nice dark blue, while the pink eraser looks like bubblegum. The eraser is dust gathering so all the crumbs clump together and make it easy to clean your page. The Eraser also works really well and cleans the graphite entirely off the page. It is very soft and will be quickly used up.

Overall this is a fun little mechanical pencil that is limited by the finger fitting fin and its diminutive size.

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Point Comparison: 2mm Lead Pointers

Sharpeners and lead pointers are giant rabbit holes and I’ve barely touched the surface of the many amazing lead pointers out there. I happened to luck into finding the KUM-onit 233 and 250 pretty early on and they give me a very nice point that I like for my general use or writing and light sketching. The Kitaboshi is garbage for writing but it is nice for sketching particularly if you are shading. The KUM automatic with included lead pointers is okay in a pinch but not my favorite.

The 2mm lead in all image is Staedtler Lumograph HB, what I have on hand at this moment.