The Cartography of the Field Notes “Coastal” Edition

How great is the new Field Notes Coastal edition? Seeing the science of geography and stationery come together is really exciting for me, because I am a geographer in real life. Bryan Bedell of Field Notes gave me a little bit of insight into the design process for this lovely edition, too.

I haven’t actually used the notebooks yet, so this isn’t a review per se, but I wanted to talk about the theme and show you some insight I received from Bryan about the Coastal design process. I really can’t imagine this edition will be on my desk for long. Also, as you may be able to tell, I got carried away photographing the chameleon-like holographic foiling. I just started a Balsam Fir single, so as soon as that’s done I’ll choose one of these Coastals. Then I’ll explore the insides in more detail, too.

The “Coastal” Edition

Coastal is Field Notes’ 38th limited edition. A set of six regular-sized, stapled notebooks in two sets, they celebrate the east and west coasts of the USA. Design-wise, there’s a lot going on. The coastlines are divided between the three notebooks in each pack, and run roughly centrally vertically through each notebook. This line is the foundation of each cover – highlighted in a relatively broad line with some of the most beautiful holographic foiling I’ve seen on a piece of stationery. Next to it, the shoreline fades into the ocean with four waterlines, also in holographic foil. The waterlines are most broad close to the coastline, almost fading through line width into the sea. Field Notes say that this foil could catch several colours in the light, but that the coastline generally appears gold, and the water appears as a sea blue.

I love those little islands on the California notebook. They show up beautifully with the holographic foil detailing.

After this, the rest of the cover comes into beautiful view. The land is highlighted by sinuous contours, and the sea by a series of reticle crosses. The notebooks themselves are quite a dark grey, which is a good contrast against the cover detailing, particularly when the foil appears brightly in the light. The Field Notes logo looks grey to me, too, but is not reflective like the foiling, and it doesn’t distract from the other cover detailing. On the back of the notebooks, the reticles fade out into the grey cover. The belly band it comes with is a dark, navy blue, which looks great when all the notebooks are together because it really allows that holographic foiling to shine.

Why I’m so pleased to see a cartographically-inspired Field Notes edition

Something I have always found fascinating and wonderful is that maps, as well as being very useful, are fundamentally visual in nature (I actually listed a paper map as one of three objects I would use to describe myself back in 2016). It’s called cartography for a reason – it means to write or draw of the earth. My view is that maps call to all of us as a piece of graphic design that we can all relate to. Cartography is really just a way of visually communicating the relationship between things. Usually that’s done using a scale (it wouldn’t be useful to create an earth-sized map, so we have to scale things down), a projection (the earth is three-dimensional, and maps are two-dimensional, so we need to project that space as faithfully as we can), and a combination of visual tools (colours, lines, spots, numbers, words, symbols, etc). For physical things, one of the most basic ways of doing that is to use the distance between them. Topographic maps do this, and may go a great deal further with detail so that you can tell not only the distance between them, but also height differences on the terrain (elevation), the type of land or place you’re looking at (is it water? Vegetation? Roof?), natural and man-made boundaries, and much more.

All maps are simplified to some extent, but topological maps abandon the idea of showing quantified information and just visually represent basic relationships between things – the most famous example is probably the London Underground map, which is a highly simplified representation of London’s metro rail network. In that map, you can’t tell anything about the distance between places, but you can tell roughly where they are in relation to each other and where they are in relation to the city itself. Fundamentally, the cartographer can choose to put anything they wish on a map, using physical things to contain and contextualise whatever they’re mapping – here’s a map showing places in Europe that have “saintly” place names, for example. The cartographer is highlighting the number and distribution of places with “saintly” names, but he could have also chosen to highlight just places with “saintly” names with over 10,000 people, or towns that have a “saintly” name but don’t actually have a church, or ones that have only been founded since the year 2000. Anything at all, basically. I find that really exciting.

Gold, lava orange, sunset orange and lime green are amongst the coastline colours I can see in this picture. Dreamy.

Field Notes chose to focus on the shape of the coastline, at a scale which removes most of the intricate detail. The contour lines are there to represent land and its rough, rather than exact, elevation. The reticle crosses represent the sea, but don’t indicate anything other than that (such as depth, for example). I think that is a very good thing. The edition is called “Coastal” and it really prioritises that feature. Interestingly, I think the only notebook that is instantly recognisable is the one from the East set with Florida on it. You can tell the difference between the East and West coastlines (by the positioning of the land and sea on each of the sets) but it’s difficult to make out where exactly on each coastline each notebook is from a glance.

The reticle crosses show gorgeous colours in the light, too, but don’t distract from the coastline because they’re much narrower and more delicate.

Anyway, it’s vindicating as a geographer to see cartography being celebrated in this way (at university, we were a supposedly doing a degree in colouring in, sad face). And I know that Field Notes don’t tend to do things by halves, so I wondered how far they went with cartography. Is the Coastal edition cartographically driven, or straight-up graphically driven? What, if any, logic is there behind the contour intervals? I actually wrote to the Field Notes team to ask them about this, and I got a helpful email back from Bryan Bedell:

We started with a stock vector outline map of the United States from an older project, it didn’t include the few bits of Canadian and Mexican coastline we needed, so i matched up overlays of other maps to trace those small bits, then we experimented with cropping out the sections needed, we tried it a lot of ways, (we tried to include the Gulf Coast, but that just didn’t work practically).The edges of the books do line up and the coast should be accurate, but to make the design/printing work, the coastline needed to be centered down the middle of the book, so we did rotate things a bit, and if I remember correctly, to make the full coastlines fit just right, the scale of the East coast is about 90% of the West Coast.

After that was nailed down, we added the ‘ripples,’ ‘reticles,’ and contour lines. Aesthetically, the contour lines needed to be exaggerated and stylized quite a bit, so those were hand-drawn (well, tablet-drawn, loosely based on real elevation changes from regional maps.

Thanks for asking, ha, it was a lot of work so I’m glad people seem to be enjoying them!

In summary

On appearances alone, this is probably my favourite edition since Shenandoah (my all time favourite). I’ve seen some thoughts that the internal reticle grid is quite dark, so I can’t wait to start using these so I can see how Coastal works for me and my writing setup. Also, my query to Field Notes was driven by pure curiosity, and not some issue with the coastline maps – I’m fully aware that these aren’t going to be replacing Google Maps anytime soon! Considering all of this and my query is just a bit of fun. Can we start a new aesthetic category called cartostationery now please?

Doodle of the Field Notes Coastal edition.

(Also, I just noticed that Cult Pens tweeted the arrival of the Coastal edition to its warehouse, with this amusing picture checking the science of the edition… )

5 thoughts on “The Cartography of the Field Notes “Coastal” Edition

  1. What a great post! Appreciate the insight into cartography in general, and the Coastal edition in particular. I think a lot of us had similar questions…

  2. I love this edition too because of the cartography aspect (I studied history and used maps a lot), but they are just so darn pretty. Thank you for adding the bit about your email to Brian, that was really interesting and makes me appreciate this edition even more!

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