Nataraj HB Marble Pencil

My favourite continent for stationery products is Asia, particularly because of the wonderful Japanese and South Korean products I regularly use. (Shameless plug: I mentioned this during my question and answer session on the Pocket Notebooks blog). The Nataraj HB Marble pencil also hails from Asia but is one of the first Indian products I’ve tried.

Barrel with printed branding.
Barrel with printed branding. This side of the pencil has more of a vibrant yellow and red marble.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect. There’s more pink and white on the reverse!

I was drawn to this pencil because it was affordable (I picked it up for £1.50 from Choosing Keeping) and a unique, colourful object. I also favour HB wood cased pencils because I mostly use pencils for writing and the occasional drawing.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

Look and feel

The Nataraj Marble comes pre-sharpened and is about 7 inches long. It’s eraserless and in place of the usual ferrule and eraser there is a long white tip, ever so slightly glossy. The remainder of the pencil is a delightfully colourful marbled lacquer, blending reds, yellows, pinks, greens and blues. It reminds me of a psychedelic art project or the colourful swirls found in a pool of petrol. A bit of research on the Nataraj Marble indicates that each pencil is actually unique. The most noticeable colours in mine are reds, oranges and yellows but I’ve seen images on the internet with dominant blues, whites and pinks. I think this uniqueness is a nice element to buying this pencil and adds a little bit of surprise particularly if ordering it online.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

 

The Nataraj branding is stamped simply and effectively in black along a single side of the barrel. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not too averse to a printed barcode but those of you among us who are will be pleased to know that there is no barcode and only one barrel side with any printing on. The lovely marble lacquer is the star of the show on the rest of the hexagonal barrel. The Nataraj Marble measures up in width similarly to my trusty Staedtler Mars Lumograph.

I think one of the loveliest things about this pencil though is the colour of the wood casing. It has a natural grain left to see when sharpened and is a great, vibrant pink-red hue. I read on the CW Pencil Enterprise blog that the pencil is made from Indian vetta wood. I can’t find much out there on vetta wood so I’d love to know more if anyone has any information. The Hindustan Pencils website which manufactures the Nataraj brand clearly have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and only use wood from their own plantations which they replenish to ensure they aren’t deforesting, which is a really admirable statement to make. Anyway – the vetta wood used looks gorgeous in this pencil.

Look at that gorgeous pink-red woodcasing.
Look at that gorgeous pink-red wood casing. I really like that the natural woodgrain can be seen too.

Performance

Firstly I would say that the Nataraj Marble is more of a B grade, or possibly even 2B, than the HBs I usually use. It smudges fairly easily and produces a smooth black line. I think this would make it a good pencil for drawing and outlining. It’s also good for writing and doesn’t require sharpening too often – rotating the pencil provides the good sharpness required for writing. When I have sharpened it though it sharpens very well – very smooth with no breakages.

Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad.
Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad. Can you see the smudging in the second paragraph?
Close of up of graphite smudging. You've got to be careful if you're left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.
Close of up of graphite smudging. You’ve got to be careful if you’re left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.

I really like writing with the Nataraj Marble. It’s smooth without blunting too easily although the smudging issue may be something to note if you’re a leftie. There isn’t any scratchiness or strong resistance on the page when writing (although I have to admit sometimes I find a bit of scratchiness quite pleasing). It erases well with my Milan synthetic eraser – which is rapidly becoming my favourite eraser – and can be layered to produce a really black effect.

Eraser and smudge test.
Eraser and smudge test.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.

In summary

This has been a really easy and simple review for me to write. The Nataraj Marble looks lovely and unique. I love the lacquer, reddish pink hued woodcasing and the fact that it has no eraser. I find pencil erasers generally rubbish to use a technical term and sometimes I wonder why anyone really bothers adding them! I think it really stands out on my desk and in my pencilcase. I’m also really pleased with the blackness and smoothness of the pencil to write with and I think it may be an even better companion for someone who draws more often with pencils. Be warned if you’re a leftie because of the smudging issue, but otherwise for approximately £1.50 in the UK and even cheaper in the US I would definitely recommend that you add this to your toolbox.

Ballograf Chrome Epoca

On my recent trip to Amsterdam I discovered the lovely Ballograf Chrome Epoca pen. I had never heard of Ballograf before and I’ve learned a lot about the brand since buying my first product.

Ballograf is a Swedish producer of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils and is based in Gothenburg – set up in 1945 by a lone Austrian. Apparently Ballograf employ thirty employees but produce four million writing implements a year. That’s 133333.3 pens per employee! Its main market appears to be Scandinavia and western Europe although I haven’t come across this brand during my usual stationery jaunts, neither online nor in person.

Look and feel

This pen features a simple push button mechanism and is refillable with Ballograf refills. Pushing the button has a nice resistance to it which kicks in about halfway down.

The pen has several simple details which really make the look and feel of this writing implement. The pen clip features the Ballgraf symbol, the silver barrel is lined on each hexagonal face, the join between the barrel and the grip section features, very very finely, the words Ballograf Epoca Sweden. I’ve seen a few websites where you can have your Epoca engraved and sure enough, there is a short section of barrel which is waiting for your name. There’s an overriding historical vintage feeling about this pen – like it’s something that hasn’t changed since the 50s – even though it’s brand new and looks brand new. Its design is timeless, simple and honest.

Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It's there!
Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It’s there! This section says “Sweden”.
Close up of the lined barrel.
Close up of the lined barrel.

I love the cornflour, lavender blue of the grip section. It’s untextured and has a softly rounded taper towards the end which suits me just fine, and really complements the surrounding silver. It also adds a touch of brightness and femininity to the pen, which is a good contrast against the straight sides of the barrel. The only downside of an untextured grip section might be that it could get uncomfortable writing for long periods of time particularly if, like me, you don’t hold your pen close to the nib or ballpoint.

Lovely blue grip section.
Lovely blue grip section.

The ink in my pen is archival blue. I rarely choose a blue ink, particularly with ballpoints as they tend to be a very obvious blue, if that makes any sense. Luckily the pen is refillable: there are medium and fine refills in blue, black, red and green. I don’t find this blue offensive at all though. Apparently early in the brand’s history, the ink used in their Epocas was certified as archival, meaning that it could be used widely for official purposes in Sweden and this increased its popularity in offices.

Performance

Ever since reflecting on what I want from a 0.4mm gel pen in this post, I have thought about what I expect from several different stationery items. The things I expect from a ballpoint are a smooth writing experience without any ink stickiness, an ink that writes dry on the page and also no ink skipping – this is a common expectation among all pens for me. I think a stationery mantra everywhere should be “every touch has to leave a mark” because it’s so true among all writing implements for me. Finally I really dislike ballpoints where the refill “wobbles” inside the pen casing. I think you’d have to experience this one to understand what I mean but I think it’s caused when the refill isn’t supported properly by any mechanism inside the pen casing or barrel leaving it free to move depending on the pressure you apply.

So on those expectations. Every touch of the pen leaves a mark! Even the dot of an i. You don’t need to apply much pressure to achieve this. I’ve used this pen in a Word notebook, Rhodia dotpad, Field Notes notebook and my Tsunami Fools notebook and I haven’t experienced any pressure marks on the reverse of pages I’ve written on. I’m not sure I would ever risk a ballpoint pen with my Hobonichi though or on paper any lighter than found in your business as usual notebooks.

Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.
Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.

This pen gives you a really smooth writing experience even on cheap copy paper and whether you’re writing on a single sheet directly on a hard surface or whether you’re writing in a notebook. This is so important for a ballpoint because I think this is one of the main things that makes them compete with gel and fountain pens. Thankfully there’s no wobble either. There is, very infrequently, a pleasing squeak of ballpoint on paper.

Obviously you can’t post a push button pen. It is comfortable to write with but I personally wouldn’t want to write with a much shorter pen. Overall it comes up at a slightly shorter length than my faithful Uni SXN 150-38 and about a centimetre shorter than my Uni Signo .38. Unless it’s a mini-sized fountain pen, I notice the pen’s length much more with push button ballpoint and gel pens because of the clip – I generally only hold a clipped pen in one position with the clip facing upwards rather than rotating it in my hand if necessary.

Length comparison against some of my other push button pens.
Length comparison against some of my other push button pens. As you can see it’s the shortest of the lot.

In summary

I’m really glad I chose the Epoca as my first foray into this brand. Ballograf don’t produce a huge selection of products and are confined to pens and mechanical pencils. I think I’m happy with having this as my Ballograf toolbox addition rather than trying out a range of their other products as I may normally do when discovering a new brand; my impression is their products are likely to perform similarly. In all honesty I think investing in the Epoca and sticking with it without needing to collect the rest of their products is a testament to the brand and pen in this case. It’s timeless in appearance, refillable and writes smoothly and comfortably. It’s also clearly designed to be reliable, apparently each Epoca Chrome will give you 8000m worth of writing. I’d love to know how many Field Notes this equates to!

I am generally shy of ballpoints because I find them to be similar writing experiences whatever the pen is that you’re using. The design, weight and smoothness of the Epoca make for a really enjoyable writing experience. It’s not a standout revelation moment for me with ballpoints, I didn’t expect it to be, but I’ve come away with a product that is unexpectedly high performing, is lovely to look at and use and is a great reflection of a brand I’ve never experienced before. Although four million of them are produced a year I feel it is a unique addition to my toolbox and one that I’m going to keep in my regular collection for the near future.

I can’t find many UK retailers of Ballgraf products but if you’re interested in buying one I suggest you do a bit of googling and find a retailer which suits your requirement best. I bought mine at Like Stationery in Amsterdam where there were a few different colour options including one with a pale pink grip section, and a gold version with a black grip section. 

Mark’s Tokyo Edge Mechanical Pencil Review

Sometimes I feel like a slave to free shipping! Having recently ordered some limited edition Field Notes I found I was close to the free shipping minimum spend and decided that it would be wise spend the money on an extra product rather than postage. I added a Mark’s Tokyo Edge purple mechanical pencil to my basket.

I have seen Mark’s Tokyo Edge products on several of my favourite stationery websites and I think their range of products is pitched at a fairly young demographic; there is lots of block lettering, prints, colours and textures. As a fan of Japanese brands though I thought I would give one of their pencils a go.

Design

Clearly the unique selling point of this mechanical pencil is that it is designed to resemble a wooden pencil! Which, in fairness, it does do well. The ferrule in particular looks very realistic and is the pencil’s push button. The barrel is slightly wider than a traditional wooden pencil and hexagonal in shape.

Realistic ferrule push cap.
Realistic ferrule push cap.

What gives it away is the end cap and lead sleeve! I wonder why they haven’t elongated this part of the pencil, a la Staedtler 777 or Pentel P205 to continue the wood cased pencil disguise. It seems a little strange to design a pencil to look exactly like a wood cased pencil and then not put any thought into the end cap.

End cap length of the Mark's Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is very stubby and I'm not sure why this couldn't have been longer to keep up the wood cased pencil disguise.
End cap length of the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is very stubby and I’m not sure why this couldn’t have been longer to keep up the wood cased pencil disguise.
Width of the Mark's Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil compared to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph B grade. As you can see it's slightly wider all round.
Width of the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil compared to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph B grade. As you can see it’s slightly wider all round.

The deep purple colour of the barrel is attractive and the pale green is a nice contrast. On each of the hexagon’s sides there is a day of the week and combined Saturday/Sunday with an idea of what to do on that day. Monday: watch a film, Thursday: write a poem, Saturday and Sunday: go on a little trip. This makes me feel like Mark’s Tokyo Edge is pitching itself closer lifestyle brand than a quality stationery brand and makes the barrel look quite busy. I don’t have a deep aversion to printed barcodes; this pencil doesn’t have one on the barrel but it does have a sticker with a barcode on which I found ridiculously difficult to remove and managed to indent the barrel doing so (very annoying).

Indentation left on the barrel where I removed the label.
Indentation left on the barrel where I removed the label.

The Pros

  • It’s lightweight. Compared to some mechanical pencils I think this is a lightweight choice and feels similar or even possibly lighter than a wood cased pencil.
  • It’s refillable. If the lead performance is something of a consideration to you then you can replace these easily and cheaply.
  • The hexagonal barrel is comfortable and similar in feel to a wood cased pencil. I like the purple and green colour contrast.
  • The design is quite funky and I do think it’s a fun touch to disguise it as a wooden pencil. *see continuation of this point in the cons section below.

The Cons

  • *The fact that it’s a novelty that it’s a mechanical pencil that looks like a wood cased pencil is something of a non-consideration for me though, similar to my feelings about the Muji erasable 0.4mm pen I talked about in an earlier post. If you want something erasable, why use a pen? Why not use a pencil? I think it’s the same with this product – if you want something that looks like a wood cased pencil, go for a wood cased pencil!
  • The eraser is pitiful. To be fair I have never yet tried an eraser-tipped pencil though and marvelled at the effectiveness of it.

  • You’ll only be able to use 0.5mm leads in this pencil. This is fine if that’s your preference but I prefer a sharper point which is why I enjoy mechanical pencils with 2mm leads that you can actually sharpen to a point. I found that I had to apply a strong pressure to achieve the line darkness I wanted from the leads that come with the pencil. This is one of the reasons I see this product as a “lifestyle” addition rather than a specialised stationery product; the leads included are quite generic compared to a better performing lead.
Close up of some companions with sharpened wood cased pencils.
Close up of some companions with sharpened wood cased pencils. Note again the poor eraser performance next to my blog title – I originally thought I’d put my Instagram username down but replaced it with the blog!
  • The label it originally came with was so tough to remove and my efforts to get it off left an indent on the barrel. I could have left the label on but I think this made it look a bit plasticky.
  • The Rattle. I’ve put Rattle with a capital R because it’s the overriding impression I’m left with from this pencil. The ferrule / push cap rattles noisily and continuously while writing. It’s tremendously annoying and unfortunately is the reason that I wouldn’t reach for this pencil often.

In summary

My impression is that the Mark’s Tokyo Edge mechanical pencil is a little of the old style over substance. It’s a bit of fun and novelty on the desk but at the end of the day it performs the same as any generic mechanical pencil would. It costs around £5-6 which I feel is pricey for what you get and for the same price you can get some great quality mechanical pencils such as the rotring 300 or the OHTO Promecha. Also – that Rattle; I can’t get over such an oversight in the testing of this product before it went on sale. You may have noticed the pros I’ve noted of this pencil are similar to any widely available mechanical pencil and I think this says something – there’s no one great quality about the pencil that makes it stand out in a busy market. Overall I’ve been left a bit indifferent and I wouldn’t recommend you buy it before other, better quality mechanical or wood cased pencils for the same or much cheaper cost.

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:

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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!

#yellowbluepink

[Full disclosure – expect a post with pictures that basically show, well, nothing! Apart from colour and the odd blurred object!]

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A few weekends ago I visited the Wellcome Collection’s #yellowbluepink installation, a temporary contemporary visual arts exhibit by Ann Veronica Janssens. The concept is simple: a gallery full of opaque coloured mist removes the most normalised method of perception (i.e. sight). In doing so the individual cannot perceive distance, depth or surfaces and is effectively isolated, relying mostly on their other senses to navigate around the gallery. It is partly an experiment with consciousness, too; I had to wait for approximately fifteen minutes and there are iPads with some interesting exercises to do with how perceptions can be distorted based on your dominant expectations.

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I found that much of the anticipation about this installation comes from the actual waiting itself! Secondly, the way in which staff facilitate entry into the gallery builds expectation, you’re put in an “isolation chamber” in between two doors to stop the coloured mist from escaping and you have to walk through some 70s style plastic door hangings to enter the gallery.

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I found the experience really enjoyable and fun, although I spent much less time in the gallery than I thought I would. Realistically my partner and I spent most of the time disappearing into the mist and reappearing from another direction, and getting worried that we were approaching walls. In all seriousness though there is a lot that is very interesting and creative about this art. Some questions I left with were to do with the actual colours themselves – unsurprisingly the gallery is mostly filled with yellow, blue and pink mists, but they are extremely well defined with very little mixing. Visibility between colours is also non-existent owing to the opaqueness of the mist, so in certain spaces of the room you’re unaware that there is any other colour but the one you’re experiencing.

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It’s strange also that voices are audible just as normal. Although the mist feels “heavy” around you, it doesn’t do anything to muffle or blur voices. This had the curious effect of making me whisper, partly because of the self-consciousness of not knowing who might be around you hearing how ridiculous you sound wondering if a wall is looming, and partly not wanting to disturb other peoples’ experience. The only niggle I have is that the room is, well, a room, with windows and strip lights and plug sockets et al. Up close you can still see all of these things and they shatter the illusion somewhat.

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I would recommend stopping by this installation if you can, although my advice to you would be to go early. As with all free things in London, there are a lot of other people competing for the space. We arrived first thing on Sunday when the Wellcome Collection opened at 11am and had a very short wait which was fine. Be warned, they don’t have Disney style queues ready for no reason; during our 10-15 minute wait the wait joining the queue escalated to an hour and a half. They limit the number of people in the room for good reason though, so be prepared to be patient if you can’t get there early. I’m not sure I’d make the pilgrimage to Euston on a weekend morning for this as a standalone event though, so join it up with a look around the Wellcome Collection’s other galleries and their great shop, and have a weekend walk around Bloomsbury. It’s open until the 3rd January 2016 and you can find out more about the installation here.

Brush Lettering: Workshop and Brush Pen Review

In late October I attended a wonderful brush lettering class run by Quill London. The session is for beginners and is hosted by Emma Block and Teri Muncey who both use brush lettering in their careers in illustration, styling and design. I had a great time, met some lovely people, came away with a piece of wall art (!) and some good quality supplies, and indulged this newfound hobby of mine.

The class flew by and over the course of a couple of hours we practiced upper and lower case lettering, numbering styles, pattern-making with the brush (useful when producing cursive letters like S and lower case E) and created our own statement piece. I chose the sentiment “work hard, stay humble” because it’s a solid motto in life (and nice and short in case I was terrible at brush lettering). When I got home I decided I would put it up above the desk as a little motivator to carry on with this hobby and as a small piece of decoration. I think it fits, and seeing it makes me very happy, especially because it’s not perfect.

An evident part of the class was the demonstration of individual style. Everyone’s brush lettering style was different, whether it was through letter spacing, darkness of the ink used, difference between thick and thin brush strokes, slant, etcetera. This is definitely one of the appeals of brush lettering to me; each person’s is unique and I genuinely don’t think you could produce “ugly” script. I’ve definitely developed my own style and I’m not really sure where some attributes of my “font” come from, as I don’t necessarily write with these decorations with other pens. Tall letters like D, L, and H have a small loop at the top, and long letters like G, J and Y have a small loop at their tails.

Although we used a paintbrush and bottled ink during the class, I have actually acquired a few brush pens during my stationery shopping sprees. I have tried them out and doodled with them, but I wanted to hold back on judging their performance until after I’d taken this lettering class so that I could get a better grasp of the basics. I certainly didn’t want to judge my lettering using brush pens in case I could use them for better results; a bad workman always blames his tools, after all.

Since the class though I have been doodling away much more with the brush pens and have put together some thoughts on how they write according to my preference. Disclaimer! I am no expert at brush lettering and very clearly need to continue practicing. These are my efforts after practicing for a couple of weeks.

The pens I’ve been trying out are:

  1. Muji calligraphy pen.
  2. Kuretake brush pen. I can’t actually find a link for this online, mostly because the Kuretake packaging is all in Japanese. Its vital statistics are probably very obvious on the packaging to a trained Japanese eye. I picked it up at JP Books in Soho.
  3. Tombow ABT brush pen. I’ve got this in black, green and cerulean.

I’ve tried these pens out on bog standard printer paper because ink generally has good contrast against it and it doesn’t attract any particular soaking in.

This pen has a very soft, flexible brush nib and is the closest brush pen I’ve tried to an actual paintbrush. The ink is very black and the pen is clad in signature Muji style.

The pen is a good shape to hold and takes pressure well. You need to use this fairly slowly to get a consistent line and the brush fibres are quite obvious, particularly when writing round letters. Writing quickly or getting carried away with flicks means that you lose the density of the line easily and although. this can provide a pleasing handwritten effect, for me I find it makes my script look messier, like my brush was running out of ink and I didn’t think ahead to ink it up.

I found this pen the hardest to control and I think it shows in my script. I find it difficult to keep my sizing consistent and differences in thick lines vs thin lines seems more evident with this pen than with the others.

It is priced at £2.50 so is a good way of getting started with brush pen lettering and Muji shops are quite accessible in London and online. I’m not sure I’m going to continue using this pen for script too often, but I’m going to give it a go with brush sketching; the natural brush look may be better suited to this use than lettering for me.


 

The Tombow ABT is a dual ended brush pen with a fine tip at one end and a brush tip at the other. The fine tip writes very smoothly and produces a very clean line.

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This brush nib is not as flexible as the Muji brush pen, which is better for my style of writing. However, I find it difficult to achieve a striking difference between thick and thin lines to give that authentic brush lettering look. I’ve seen several videos on Instagram of brush artists producing some absolutely beautiful script with these pens.

So far I have found the hardest aspect of brush lettering overall to be achieving a consistent and yet thin line. My thin lines tend to get a little jumpy and broken and the Tombow pen shows this disjointedness. With this pen however I actually really like the effect of not trying to achieve the thick and thin contrast, but instead applying a consistent pressure. I used this pen for lettering my boyfriend’s anniversary card and used this technique rather than an alternating heavy/light pressure. This is how it came out on the envelope.

The ink runs very well and doesn’t jump. Writing at speed does not seem to affect the consistency of the line and it blends well so that if you need to go back and fill in a small line or join two letters together, the overlap in ink isn’t immediately obvious. This is very useful for me because I’m not quite there yet with joining up letters and my natural brush lettering style seems to be more isolated letters.

So far I would recommend this pen. It comes in a huge array of colours which means that getting used to using the Tombow will come in useful for all kinds of writing and crafty needs. Looking at the pictures of all three sets of script I think it’s close between the Tombow and Kuretake as to which pen wins on overall lettering appearance.


 

Is it just me or can you just tell from the lettering of the pen name that I like this one best? Or does the word “Kuretake” just lend itself well to being written and looking pretty? I was a bit afraid of using the Kuretake pen at first because it seemed very stiff and I didn’t want to apply pressure to the nib for fear of bending it out of shape. Once I’d got over this ridiculous fear though and used it as it is meant to be used… I loved it.

For the same amount of pressure as the Tombow and Muji, this pen produces the thickest and blackest line and the blackness does not fade with speed or with less pressure. It has a pleasing squeak against the page that makes you feel like the brush fibres aren’t going to come apart and produce any scratchiness in the letters, and the resultant line is extremely smooth. I’m quite prepared to admit that I like this pen so much because it’s very forgiving and it’s certainly true that inconsistencies in thin lines in particular are not as obvious using this pen – in my opinion this makes it a great choice for a beginner to use and get good results from fairly quickly.

Close up of Kuretake lettering

I also think the Kuretake is most satisfying to use because it has the best contrast between thick and thin lines which gives the script its artisan look. However it seems quite hard to come by, and strangely I haven’t managed to found it online yet.

So those are my thoughts so far! Kuretake is an easy winner, and the performance of the Tombow pen makes me want to keep trying because I’m convinced I will achieve lettering perfection with it if I apply a good few more hours to practicing with it. I’ll carry on trying out the Muji pen but I don’t think it’s for me with my lettering style and pressure. I’m going to keep my eye out for affordable brush pens and continue trying them out as I think they are a very adaptable way of using brush lettering in everyday life, whereas the paintbrush and bottled ink duo seem more suited to large lettering or specific designs. Do you have any suggestions? Which out of the three I’ve tried do you think looks best with my style? I’d be thrilled to hear any feedback!

If you would like to try out Quill London’s workshop you can find them here. They sell out quite far in advance so get your name on a waiting list of pop it in the diary for a few weeks time to look forward to! I’m going to their Modern Calligraphy class this month and I’m excited already!

Diamine Claret Review

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So that’s that. I intend on trying this ink out with my vintage Parker 45, the nib of which is closer to medium than fine with quite a wet flow, which might bring out the richness of Claret more than the Kaweco Sport has. Next I’m moving onto the Pilot Iroshizuku shin-ryoku shade of green and really looking forward to it.