Enter No Brand Notebooks

For those of you who have been here since the start, you own’t be surprised when I tell you that I’m making books again, specifically pocket notebooks. This was, after all, my bread and butter for a good long time. Hell, it’s why I started the blog- to discuss my nerdy interest in all things bookbinding. Well, age and labor caught up with me and I have carpal tunnel as arthritis runs in the family. There are times when I can’t pull a needle though a signature of paper. The act of making stations in my signatures can be excruciating. The last time I made a serious number of books, well my wrist was in pain for days and I realized that I cannot make books in the same manner that I once did, so I put away my awl, sign vinyl, and stopped hoarding reams of paper. 

Anyway. I picked up a long reach stapler off the clearance rack at staples a few years ago. I let it gather dust until recently I wanted dot grid in a notebook and none of my hoarded Field Notes, Word Notebooks, or Story Supply Company had dot grid. I had some 24lb HP laser Jet from my experiment making my own planner books (still do this, still need to write a post about it) so I printed off some dot grid and pulled out that stapler and started making books.

For the most part this is not bothering my wrists. Which makes me so happy.

that said. I’m happy to begin offering my notebooks again. You can find them on etsy here.

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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.

Sunday Study: Writing Down the Bones

I’m not sure how Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has escaped my attention. I was published back in 1986 and chapter 1 is a blueprint for every writing with a stationery affliction to delve deeper into that affliction.

For 32 years Goldberg has suggested to readers that they find a pen that lets them write fast on  cheap paper that they feel they can write garbage on. Interestingly, without ever reading this book this is advice I’ve given to journalers who have taken my classes- get journals that you will use- that you feel okay slopping paint into, spilling ink onto the pages, a journal where you won’t worry about making mistakes, one where you’ll feel okay simply turning the page. Goldberg adds a snippet at the end of chapter 1 about use of a voice recorder, something even more applicable today when most of us with smart (or even semi smart) phones carry in our pockets. The section about using a computer word processor is pretty cute in that it was written in ’86 when typewriters were the norm. I do wonder what she would say about talk-to-text? 

It’s interesting to think about the pens and pencils we like and why we like them. Goldberg mentions a pen being speedy and allowing her to record her thoughts quickly lest her mind out pace her hand. How many times have we had a thought about something we’d like to write or journal about only to forget it once we get pen to paper?

Goldberg encourages reader to really deeply think about which pen and paper combination allows them to write freely. I see this as a direct outcropping of her Zen meditation practice. For anyone who has practiced mindfulness writing can be a form, but also focusing on the feeling of pencil or pen on page can really bring about a sense of calm, and that can be channelled into the writing of the novel or into the journaling itself.

As a for instance. I’m a fan of rougher paper when writing with pencils. I love the feeling of pencil across the toothy page of a cheap composition notebook. In opposition, my friend Dee of The Weekly Pencil likes  smooth paper with her pencils, like Maruman. Alternatively, I like a smooth page for my fountain pens. I like the skating sensation of the nib across the page. Knowing these things about what we like can encourage us to delve deeper into our SABLE stash of materials and actually use them for their intended purpose- writing and arting.


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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How Much is TOO Much?

I’ve been in this holding pattern of knowing I have enough notebooks and journals to last me for the next several years. I haven’t bought a new edition of Field Notes in quite some time.* I’ve traded and sold some off but felt no need to buy more.  My use pattern is pretty stable. I generally go through 1.5 per month, occasionally less, occasionally more. I use them in the same way every time. I’m a user and not a collector. I’ve blathered on and on about my feeling that the bottom of the Field Notes collectable market is going to drop at some point and the only editions to be worth any money will be the early editions. I still hold to that belief and I still point to Beanie Babies as an example of how this can happen.

Anyway, I was vaguely aware that Field Notes had raise the price of their colors editions and collaborations. Apparently they vary from around $13 to $14. Especially interesting is that the L.L. Bean edition is on the higher end and costs $14 per 3-pack. The Carhart was around $13, adding taxes and what not it was around $15. So if you order them online you are also going to pay shipping. The cost is going to be even higher.  At $14 that’s $4.67 per notebook. At $13 that’s $4.33 per notebook.

Fourteen bucks is too high for pocket notebooks. I don't care if they are special/limited editions. Stupid. #imout

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What is the cost of production of a notebook? It varies based off of the scale of production. If I sit down with a ream of HP LaserJet 24# paper ($9.50 at Amazon) and a stack of Neehah Astrobright Eclipse Black Cardstock ($7.64 at Amazon). I have a total of $17.14 invested. I can make 41 notebooks from the 500 sheets of paper and the cardstock. Without factoring in staples, a long reach stapler or my time. I’m looking at each notebook costing 42 cents.

Thinking about the time that it takes to staple, fold, trim, and check for quality; I know I can make quite a few of these in an hour. I spent 15 minutes stapling and folding 8 full sized Traveler’s notebook inserts. Trimming took another minute. That means in one hour I can possibly churn out 30 hand stapled and trimmed notebooks. Pocket sized notebooks take slightly longer because they are smaller and require 2 cuts instead of just one. So I can also make roughly 30 pocket notebooks in an hour.

If I charge $1.50 per notebook I’m making roughly $1 gross per notebook. Some of that money must be used for administrative fees- paying Etsy and Paypal- we’ll roughly estimate that at 50 cents. so I’m down to 50 cents of profit per notebook. Which leaves me making roughly $15 per hour for my labor. If I charge $2 per notebook, then I’m making roughly $30 an hour for my labor.

This does not factor in time spent packing and shipping items to people.

The examples given above are using relatively inexpensive papers and covers by an individual person. If I were to buy a case of the HP LaserJet paper it would bring the cover down dramatically. The more paper I buy the cheaper it is. Further if I automate the production it gets even cheaper and cheaper.

I digress. Smart shopping means that the bookbinder can find deals and make their own pocket notebooks at a fraction of the price of Field Notes. as someone who has made and sold handmade notebooks in the past I’m rather appalled that the corporate collaborations with Field Notes are $14 a pack. It’s not like FN is doing a great deal of design work here. Every corporation has a “Look Book” or “Design Bible” that details the colors, color combinations, fonts to use, and how the logo can be used. The first LLBean books are LLBean colors and camo over dirt standard Field Notes. The Carhart books are the Carhart logo exploded out and in Carhart colors, with an admittedly cool back cover**. All this stuff would come straight out of the corporate look books. The first LLBean books could have been farted out by anyone with adobe and a mockup of the Field Notes covers. $14 is too much for little more than a kraft notebook with a fresh coat of paint.

With the price hike I submit to you that Field Notes has jumped the shark and diverted far from their initial inspiration. After all the inspiration was promotional notebooks that were often given away free with the purchase of goods. Instead Field Notes and their Corporate Collaborators are now making the consumer pay for the notebooks, at a premium price.

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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.

Comparison of Sharpeners: Long Point

Here’s a little reference of points produced by long point sharpeners.

Included are:

  • Carl Angel-5
  • KUM  Automatic Long Point
  • KUM  5L or Stenographer
  • KUM Masterpiece
  • Apsara Long Point

These are all sharpened on a #2/HB Ticonderoga of som sort. The natural wooden pencil in the various pics is a factory sharpened General’s Cedar Pointe #1