Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.

Review: Pilot, Muji and Uni <0.4mms

I most enjoy writing with pens that produce a fine line. My writing is fairly small and I need a fine line to help make the letters stand out. When I have a choice of fountain pen nibs I always choose fine or extra fine and I generally don’t buy any ballpoint, rollerball, gel pen, hybrid etc with any wider a line than 0.5mm. I find the sweet spot for my handwriting to be around 0.4mm. Equally I have tried 0.2mms and 0.25mm and find that the cons of fine line pens are more noticeable when you go much below 0.4mm, such as ink skipping and resistance or scratchiness on the page. I find fine pens to be such a versatile part of my toolbox. I use them mostly for writing and jotting but I find I often reach for them to sketch and shade, outline and add accents to brush lettering or calligraphy.

So in the spirit of not having done a pen review for a little while I thought I would review three 0.4mms in my arsenal. These are the Pilot G-Tec-C4, Muji Erasable Pen 0.4 and the Uni Jetstream SXN-150-38 (which is actually a 0.38mm). The title of the post says <0.4mms and I have it on good authority that this means less than 0.4mm. My year 3 maths is a little rusty.

What, you ask, makes a successful 0.4mm pen for me?

  1. No skipping. Fountain pens or felt tips may have a fine nib but are able to compensate for this through ink flow. 0.4mms need to produce a consistent line without any wetness of ink flow (which is why many use polymer inks I imagine). I hate it when 0.4mms skip and I need to go back and refill sections of words; it’s really obvious where you’ve retraced letters.
  2. Saturated ink. Again, other pens with a fine nib benefit from interchangeable choices of ink brands, the saturation of which are down to your preference. Often 0.4mms don’t have the flexibility to allow changing ink brands as refills are standardised. So I think it’s really important that whatever colour you’ve chosen produces that colour effectively on the page.
  3. Every touch of the pen on the page has to leave a mark. Dotted i’s and full stops for example need to be made clear on the first touch of the pen. The alternative to this is having to draw a little scribble every time you need to make a dot. NOT acceptable as I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’ve tested all of these pens out in my Field Notes Shenandoah edition. Normally I would use a Rhodia pad or one of my notebooks with better quality paper inside, but Field Notes work great with fine line rollerballs, gel pens and ballpoints and I’d normally reach for a pocket notebook when I’m using one of these pens; they’re being tested in their natural environment.

Pilot G-Tec-C4: Black

This is a readily available rollerball pen with a needlepoint that you can pick up online or in stationery shops including Paperchase for about £2.50. There is a much wider range of colours available than when I first started using these pens and I’ve tried the purple version too. I really like the simplicity and solidness of the pen’s build and design, although I would say that when writing with it for a long time that the inside of my middle finger can get a bit sore because of the grip pattern. There aren’t any obvious design accents on the pen apart from a Pilot stamp on the barrel (I find this can collect dirt around it! Does anyone else find this?). The pen is really lightweight and this makes it very easy to use posted, which I almost always do. I find the length of the pen unposted slightly short.

This pen sticks in my pencil case pretty much all the time and I find it writes well on the variety of paper that I come across. It meets my key criteria of consistency, blackness and laying down ink even with the slightest touch. I find I don’t need to apply much pressure at all to achieve the line I want. If anything lightening the pressure I usually use has achieved the smoothest line.

Muji Erasable Pen 0.4 

I picked this up on a whim while I was waiting to meet some friends near Tottenham Court Road. There’s a Muji shop not too far away and I had a nose around while I had some time to kill. I like using Muji’s hexagonal twin pens at work and needed to replenish so I thought I would give this pen a go at a cost of £2.50.

Sadly I feel it is £2.50 wasted. When you can spend the same amount of money on the Pilot G-Tec-C4, the Uni or even spend a little bit more to get a fineliner drawing pen such as the edding 1800 profipen, there really isn’t any need to have this in your toolbox.

The pros of this pen are that it looks fairly smart, has a needlepoint like the Pilot and has the trademark Muji label which covers most of the barrel. The eraser is well-integrated into the pen lid and the pen posts well. The ink is more of a grey (and not even a very dark one at that) which I find off-putting and I find to achieve a definite line I need to slow down my writing pace and apply more pressure than I usually would when writing. Dotting I’s for example just doesn’t happen with this pen. It won’t produce ink for such a tiny dot. There’s just not a clear smoothness to the ink on the paper. Also compared to the Uni and Pilot it feels broader than a 0.4mm. Perhaps the ink spreads slightly more on the page.

The erasable ink is interesting. I’d never used it before – it’s novel and I admit it can be useful to avoid blemishing pieces of writing. However I’ve realised I don’t really use fine line pens to produce pieces of writing to share or to display in any way, I’ll generally reach for a fountain pen in that situation or make sure I’m using a pencil to draft. I use them for note taking, brainstorming, making lists, drawing map sketches; generally all uses that relate to my work or to everyday usage, and I don’t feel that erasable ink is necessary for these purposes. A little bit of scribbling out all adds to the authenticity of writing things on the go and trying to keep up with your thoughts. I’ve never felt like not being able to erase ink is a shortcoming of any pen I’ve used. If this is important to you though, admittedly it does erase well, although it does leave an imprint on the paper if you use heavy pressure to write. Apparently the ink can be erased because of the heat and friction caused by the built-in eraser, and if you put it in the freezer the ink will reappear! I haven’t tried this but I’d love for you to let me know if you have!

Erased ink up close.

Uni Jetstream SXN-150-38

Unlike the other two pens we’ve discussed this pen is a retractable which is handy for the situations in which I use fineliners. This pen probably feels the least solid, which is often the case with retractable because you’ve got internal parts which are looser than a lidded pen. Also the overall build quality just looks slightly less professional than the Pilot and the Muji (could be partly down to my choice of the baby pink body… although to be fair all the shades in JP Books on the day were pastel shades!).

For those very inconsiderable shortcomings though I think this is my favourite of the lot, but it is a very close one when pipped against the Pilot. It’s smooth, lightweight, compact, simple, the ink is nicely black, dries basically on contact and I don’t think the line has ever skipped when I’m writing with it. I picked this pen up for £2 and I use it all the time. Performance wise it is quite similar to the Pilot, and I think the two key differences between the Pilot and the Uni Jetstream are that the Uni has a slightly wider barrel with its rubber grip which feels more comfortable to write with for a longer amount of time, and the Uni feels more balanced between a ballpoint and a gel pen than the Pilot.

Overall

I always have the Pilot G-Tec-C4 and the Uni in my daily toolbox. They’re both high-performing, easy to use, affordable and fulfil my essential criteria of super-blackness and line consistency. Unless you’re really feeling the lack of being able to erase your writing (in which case I would recommend you buy a pencil…) what more could you ask for?

HAY Bookbinder’s Notebook

I work very close to London’s South Bank and I like to go walking during my lunch hour. Southwark, although it may not appear so on first glance, is such a historic area of London with so many hidden treats around every corner. I love walking around this area using my own sense of direction rather than relying on Google Maps and more often than not I will end up on a street I haven’t walked down before. I went to see the Danish Girl recently and was doing a bit of reading about it afterwards and I came across this interview with Eddie Redmayne where he talks about how much he loves this part of London. In fact, about three years ago I actually walked past Eddie Redmayne right outside my office and I started saying the word “Eddie” over and over to my companion. Not cool.

When I head north and west on my lunchtime walks I sometimes happen upon the National Theatre Bookshop and have a nose around. I love the NT Bookshop because it’s full of stationery goodies for all price ranges: they do a great selection of pencils (including Blackwings and Midoris), inserts for Travellers’ Notebooks, Kaweco products, washi tapes, cards, etc. They very often have different stock each time I go.

I popped in earlier in January and they had a small Christmas sale section. I picked up two HAY Bookbinder’s Notebooks which were literally a pound each. I’ve often seen HAY products in department stores or placed in “luxury” stationery sections and I feel it is a fairly aspirational brand. Their products, which span several different uses for the home, look quite functional and aren’t covered in brand names or any other giveaway logo that would catch your eye from a distance.

I’ve been using the small red Portrait Bookbinder’s Notebook as part of my daily tools since the beginning of January. which measures 18cm by 12cm and is sized somewhere in between a Field Notes memo book and a Moleskine ruled cahier.

The colour

I love the red of this notebook! It’s somewhere between a red and an orange. In fact, just for fun I had a look at Mac lipsticks to try and find one that matched the specific colour of this notebook. I found the shade and it’s called Lady Danger which I find really appropriate for this colour! One thing I appreciate with “blank slate” notebook covers are that they can always be customised with a bit of washi tape or a sketch.

The bookbinder’s stitching is a dark gold colour and has a slight shine to it. I love the symmetry of the horizontal bind. Internally though I find the bind slightly restrictive because obviously you get over a centimetre’s less paper to write on and as you move through the book the crease becomes more pronounced.

The size

The notebook measures 18cm by 12cm and is sized somewhere in between a Field Notes memo book and a Moleskine cahier. It’s also ever so slightly squarer than other notebooks because of the extra space allocation for the bookbinding.

Overall it’s a good sized notebook. Having started using Field Notes notebooks during autumn last year I have come to appreciate that this is the size I would consider a “pocket notebook”. I wouldn’t place this notebook in the pocket notebook category because it’s just that fraction too large. Also it doesn’t fold over very well to use on the go like a Field Notes. But it is a very soft cover and so quite a malleable notebook in the hand, so if you were using it with something to rest on like a clipboard then it could very well be used for a pocket notebook purpose. I have gravitated towards using it for pocket notebook purposes, such as jotting things down, taking notes on site and making short-term lists, rather than it being one of my “for keeps” notebooks. I’m actually thinking about writing a future blog post about what I define as “pocket notebook purposes” and “for keeps” notebooks because increasingly I categorise notebooks that I buy and try into one of these two categories.

The paper 

Having done a bit of online research I can’t find any particular claims about the paper used. It becomes apparent why when you start using it. The paper feels quite thin and I feel a slight resistance when I run my fingers over it. The paper is a subtle cream shade similar to the Moleskine ruled cahier and for general writing I think I prefer a slightly shaded paper. I find opening a notebook to find a bright Xerox white slightly strange and offputting for some reason.

The paper is of average quality. It seems pitched towards ballpoints, pencils or fine gel pens but I find it hit and miss with my fountain pens and I don’t think this notebook has been designed with fountain pens in mind. Diamine Sargasso Sea and Claret particularly showed feathering on the page. The paper is also thin enough to demonstrate bleedthrough pretty much with all the pens I tested.

Bleed through on the reverse of my tester page.
Bleed through on the reverse of my tester page, particularly with the fountain pen inks. 

Overall

I’m glad I picked this up (especially at such a bargain price) but I probably won’t buy it again to use as an everyday notebook. It’s simple and professional-looking and adds a fun pop of colour on your desk, and performs all the functions of a notebook just fine. In between these purposes I don’t have too much of a space on my desk for the HAY Bookbinder’s Notebook as a repeat purchase. It’s been fun to use and good to try out a brand of stationery that I haven’t used before. Buy this if you’re looking for an everyday notebook for your everyday needs and expect to use mostly ballpoints, gel pens and pencils. When they’re full priced they cost around £4 and also come in a medium and large size in a range of bright or subtle colours.

Review: Frankie Diary 2015

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 brings you good health and fortune, wherever you may be.

Back to business. Every year for Christmas my boyfriend buys me a yearly diary / planner and unfortunately the ones I lust after tend to be difficult to source. 2015’s choice was the Frankie Diary, produced annually by Australia’s Frankie Magazine. He had it shipped all the way over from Australia and probably had to order it in October to make sure it arrived in time for Christmas, but arrive it did and I fell in love with it.

The Frankie Diary falls in the middle of being beautiful and functional. It’s a little larger than A5 size and bound in a dusky blue cloth linen with lovely organic texture. After using it for a whole year, I’ve compiled some thoughts on it.

The Upsides 

Good size and sturdy

Vital statistic time – as I’ve mentioned the diary is just over A5 which is a good handbag and desk size. It’s just over 2 centimetres thick and doesn’t gain much height over the course of a year through paper wear. Importantly the Frankie is solid enough to withstand a year of wear and tear without detracting too much from its look and feel, and in my case, spillages including orange juice and salad dressing!  You’re not going to have any paper tears, bending or rippling of paper. Also on a sidenote, although this was a gift, the Frankie Diary comes in at $26.95 (Australian) which is a very reasonable (and approximate) £13.50 without shipping charges.

Monthly views

I love the monthly view pages. They’re a big enough size to get quite a few words in and with a little creativity and time I customised some squares to make them stand out.

The monthly pages don’t have the rest of the diary’s paper designs meaning that there is quite a bit of blank space on the page. I love this because I can add little mementos from things I’ve done that month or use washi tapes to give the diary a scrapbook look. I went Christmas shopping with one of my best friends and found a photobooth in Selfridges where we got this sepia snap.

Beautifully designed with good quality paper

This diary really looks the part. It’s feminine and simple, and the Frankie illustrators have put thought into some of the diary’s elements, such as a full-sized envelope at the back to store all your loose scrap paper. The fonts are also beautiful and a lovely mixture of traditional typewriter style text and hand-lettered lower-case text. The paper quality is excellent; really silky and thick, and I’ve mostly used my Kaweco Sport and vintage Parker for the weekly entries, and a finer-nibbed Iconic Knock pen for the monthly calendar entries. Fountain pens work absolutely fine on this paper with minimal feathering. Here’s a close up of my writing with the Kaweco Sport using Diamine Claret.

And here’s an example of the back of a page that I’ve written on with Diamine Claret. On the third to bottom line you can see some slight bleedthrough.

I’ve even used a brush pen on the paper without any feathering. Apologies for the amateurness of the writing – this was before my brush lettering class and I was tinkering with a brush pen! This was with my Kuretake brush pen, which has a very wet ink, and as you can see there’s still no feathering.

The design of the diary is lovely too. I love all the different paper illustrations used from month to month. Here are some of my favourites:

The Downsides

It gets dirty! 

I appreciate that a diary showing its use is a big sign of love and in many other diaries it could even be an upside that it shows its wear. Sadly though the gold lettering on the front has faded over the year and the dusky blue has become a more grey, dark grey at the edges. It’s hard to keep it looking its finest for a year!

Weekly view to two pages makes the balance between a planner and a journal difficult 

Here’s an example of a week when I tried to journal instead of plan – this was during my holiday to Greece.

As you can see it’s a little cramped (although I could have used the notes section). Fine for the purpose of noting the bare bones of the day which I enjoy looking back on at a glance but the Frankie Diary definitely rests on the side of a planner rather than a journal or traditional diary. I haven’t rued this with the Frankie because it means I’ve had an opportunity to fill a plethora of notebooks and pocket notebooks this year with more elaborate thoughts and tested a few new brands in the process. Generally I spent the year carrying my Frankie and a notebook of some description around at all times. I can understand however why some users might want just one singular book that fulfils both purposes.

I also think that the Frankie designers have got around the diary’s potential lack of flexibility by its additions which include a budget planner, address page, tear-out “forget-me-not” lists, tear-out gift tags and tear-out list pages such as films to watch, places to visit, etc. I didn’t use any of these elements to any great extent which tells me that I’m not looking for an “organiser” type diary which acts as a tool to assist aspects of life such as personal finances or as an address book. To make these additions useful they’re probably needed in greater quantities (e.g. enough budget planner pages for once a month or similar) or the diary needs to be usable for a longer amount of time than a year – I didn’t see much point in noting addresses in this diary knowing I won’t be carrying it around with me next year and that I won’t be storing it next to the phone. Why are address books always stored next to the phone?! 

I made the Frankie diary more flexible for me by using good old post-it notes to add value. Something I do every month following a new year’s resolution a few years ago was to look up seasonal fruit and vegetables at the beginning of each month and try to use them in my cooking.

Final Thoughts

I can imagine that the Frankie format isn’t ideal for a person with a considerably more hectic lifestyle than myself, the week-to-two-pages view makes it difficult to draw out a daily schedule if there are several activities that make up a day. For me it works fine because my days consist of work + evening activity (usually singular!) or weekend plans involving daytime activity + night-time activity; noting this type of schedule doesn’t require much writing space.

It’s also not ideal for those among us who want to journal rather than plan or schedule. It will still meet the planning function for the year but you’ll need to either try out a more concise style of journaling (such as a “one-line journal” or gratitude journal) or consider what accompaniments will join your Frankie for the year.

I came very close to asking for another Frankie Diary for 2016 because I don’t mind having Frankie and a notebook and, well, it’s so pretty and user-friendly. It’s a beautifully designed companion to the year and its build quality is impeccable. You need a sturdy hardback to take a whole year’s of handling and rubbing along other things in a normal day’s handbag and apart from some discolouration and softening of the book’s edges, the Frankie has stood up to the challenge. I really appreciate the look and feel of the diary and I like the week-to-two-pages format so that I can see what my week looks like at a glance and look back on what my week consisted of. It’s also been great using a wide variety of writing tools as the paper generally stands up well to a variety of inks and fountain pen nib sizes.

The 2016 Frankie Diary looks like this:

product-1469-101033.jpg

It looks like the words on the front cover are going to be more resilient than the gold lettering of 2015 which has faded considerably on my diary.

For me personally, although one of the Frankie Diary’s key selling points is that it is very pretty with unique paper designs and fonts inside, I think the key reason I didn’t ask for another Frankie Diary this year is because I’m looking for something to which I can add more of a personal touch with my own designs and fonts.

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So what diary did my boyfriend order for me for 2016? It could only be…

A Hobonichi Techo. I had been following fellow stationery bloggers’ Hobo journeys throughout 2015 and the clean look and flexibility of it appealed to me. Although you can buy the planners in the UK now from various sources, you can’t easily buy the range of Hobonichi produced accessories designed to work with the Techo. For this reason he ordered it from Japan with a lovely range of accessories including a cover, a cover-for-a-cover (which makes me chuckle), a frame stamp for the monthly calendar view and some thin 6mm washi tapes. I’m already showing my Hobo lots of love and will endeavour to post updates on my usage as I really enjoy reading other users’ experiences and examples. I’ll go into more reasons behind this choice and my initial impressions of the Hobo in another post soon.

Happy new year again all!