Moleskine Studio Notebook (or Cult Pens Paper Box Part 1)

Cult Pens offered a paper box about a month ago. For £25 you got 3 notebooks, 2 sketchbooks, 1 fineliner, 1 marker, 4 pencils, 4 pens and a handful of Smile Clips. I don’t usually buy boxes of stationery (I especially avoid mystery boxes), but as I was interested in trying out the Moleskine Studio that was already part of the box, and as I was interested in most of the rest of the box’s contents, I decided to give it a try.

The box is no longer being offered, but if it was I’d suggest that Cult Pens would do better to pack the notebooks in an actual well-fitted box and not in a zip-lock bag that bumps around in a large box. The result is that the corner of the Moleskine Studio box was crushed, and one of the pads that came in the box was also damaged.

Now for the Moleskine Studio: this is a new offering from Moleskine, made in collaboration with six artists. Each artist’s artwork is featured on the front cover, on the end papers, on a sheet of themed stickers, and on the box the notebook comes in. The box serves as a frame for the artwork, allowing you to hang it if you wish. The notebooks are available in Plain or Ruled layouts, and, here’s the really interesting bit, contain 100 gsm ivory coloured paper.

Here’s the box as I received it:

Crushed corner, weird cling film wrapping – there’s a lot going on here

So the notebook’s box/frame came with a crushed top right corner, which is unfortunate. The notebook itself was covered with cling film, a form of packaging I’ve never seen come from Moleskine before, and a plastic cover that was attached to the box/frame. While the frame is designed to be reusable, I’ve purchased another Moleskine Studio that came completely without it, and I have a feeling that there’s very little chance for the frame to survive shipping without being mangled. As it is, I feel that there’s way too much packaging here.

Box frame, notebook, and plastic cover.

The frame with the artwork inside:

Yukai Du’s “I Dreamed In A Dream”

The flip side of the frame. You can see that there are holes for hanging the frame, as well as information about the paper in the notebook (gasp!). I wish Moleskine would print this info on every notebook they sell.

The back of the frame box.

Here’s the notebook, and here’s where I start having more serious reservations about Moleskine’s manufacturing choices regarding this lineup. The artwork isn’t printed on the notebook cover, it’s glued onto it. I have a feeling that the glue isn’t going to last long, and in general it just cheapens an otherwise premium notebook experience.

Front cover (with paper wrap still on)

The back cover is a bit weird in that the paper wrap doesn’t reach all the way around and is just stuck to the cover with two stickers. The stickers are easy to remove and don’t leave any residue, but it’s the only Moleskine I’ve seen with this setup and I can’t help but wonder why.

Back cover.

Here’s a closeup to the glued artwork on the cover. I’m also a little disappointed that the artwork hasn’t been signed by the artist, Yukai Du.

Closeup on the glued corner of the artwork.

Inside the front covers is more of Yukai Du’s work, and it’s wonderful. This is where Moleskine shines, and I wish these artists could have had their work properly printed or even embossed on the covers of a Moleskine. They deserve it.

Inside the front cover, with “In case of loss”.

The paper is very good (not your standard Moleskine affair, which has its particularities). Ivory coloured, 100 gsm, not glass smooth but not textured, and it lays flat. There’s some writing samples ahead, but spoiler alert, yes it’s fountain pen friendly. There’s also the famous ribbon bookmark, which I wish was pink but in this case is black.

Paper and bookmark.

The back cover end papers feature more of Yukai Du’s artwork, perfectly aligned on the back pocket.

Inside the back cover.

On the last page in the notebook, usually left blank, Moleskine has featured more information about the Moleskine Studio edition. In their marketing they’re calling this a new platform for collaboration with artists, and this page makes me think that this is going to be an ongoing project for them. I hope that they do continue with these, as the overall result is very good.

The last page.

Here’s the sticker page that comes with this edition. Again, very well made:

Sticker page.

Finally, the paper. I was hoping that this is going to be a fountain pen friendly Moleskine and it is. There’s no feathering, no spreading, no bleed through and very little show through with this paper (there’s more show through with the rollerballs than with the fountain pens). Your milage may vary, but I am very happy with this paper, and a Moleskine Studio is going to be my next journalling notebook.

Ink test.

The reverse side of the page:

The reverse side of the page.

Overall, the Moleskine Studio is a strong new offering from Moleskine, one that really plays to their design strengths. It’s not perfect, but I hope to see them iterate and improve on it with time, and I hope that many artists get to have their artwork featured on an iconic notebook.

Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2 Quick Review

I wasn’t planning on reviewing the Karas Kustoms Steampunk Bolt V2 pen because I was sure that it would be sold out by the time I got to it. Somehow, however, there appear to be a few still on sale on the Karas Kustoms site.

Dinges and Cerakote finish work together to create a really unique pen.

The Steampunk Bolt v2 has the same aluminium body and shape as the anodised Bolt V2, but it’s gotten a distressed bronze treatment in Cerakote. The basic Bolt pen has been dinged before the Cerakote finish has been applied, and the result is fantastic. The pen really earns the “Steampunk” title.

Big dent in the end of the pen, smoothed over and covered with bronze coloured Cerakote.

The Cerakote finish is smooth but not slippery, and really fantastic to hold. It’s also nothing like any other Cerakote finished pen that I’ve seen so far: it really gives the pen a bronze look without the bronze weight or smell. The pen is light (for a machined pen – don’t compare it to plastic), and well balanced. The black anodised bolt mechanism is as smooth to engage as ever, and works well with this finish.

Every ding adds to this pen’s looks. It’s just going to look better with time, I think.

There are two caveats to take into account with this pen (and other Karas Kustoms Bolt V2 pens):

  1. The pen comes with a Pilot G2 LG (as in large) 0.5 refill. I haven’t been able to customise it to work with my beloved Uni-Ball UMR-85 refills (the bolt won’t engage). It’s a decent enough refill, but I wish that it had been built around the standard G2, and so had more customisation options.
  2. There is a slight amount of play in the tip which makes it faintly click at times when you write.

All in all this is a very good machined bolt action pen, with a fantastic and very unique finish.

How I Use My Notebooks: Daily Planner Update

I last posted about my planner and to do list setup here. To recap, my planning system includes two large Moleskine hard cover squared notebooks, one in which I plan my week, and one in which I use as a daily to do planner. I started using this setup once Covid hit and I started working from home. It worked very well for a year and a half.

Then I got cancer.

I was hospitalized for a month, in which I discovered that I have zero control over my time or how my day will shape out. When I got out I was already on a Chemo regiment. I had to make adjustments to my life, this time because of my personal health, not a global pandemic.

Score (another) one for self-made planners.

My old system was generic enough that it fit into my new lifestyle with very little adjustment. The weekly notebook stayed mostly the same, as you can see below. The main difference is that I manage less stuff there and more using reminders in Fantastical. It’s not that I don’t like paper planners any more, it’s just that Chemo Brain is a possible side effect of my treatment and I don’t want to risk not getting something important done because I forgot to check my weekly planner at the right moment, or I saw something there but didn’t remember it after I’ve seen it.

So why keep the weekly planner at all? Because it helps me see how the week is shaping up, and because it allows me to do a little long term planning, despite everything. All my plans at the moment are in two week batches (dictated by my chemo regiment), and this layout allows me to manage them.

Another addition to this notebook is a few tracker pages, marked by tabs. Some track purchases that I’m waiting for, some track bureaucracies that I need to take care of, others list things that I want to get done eventually but I haven’t decided yet when or how.

As for my daily planner notebook, I just finished one and started another. Here’s the finished notebook:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars The Last Jedi decal on the cover.

Here’s the new notebook. I love using these decals to make these notebooks my own:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars Chewbacca decal on the cover.

I used to manage every day on a full spread, with personal to dos on one side of the page and professional ones on a another. Since my life is less busy now than it used to be, I’ve downsized my to do to one page per day, with personal and professional mixed in (I work from home). This is a sample of my least busiest day: it’s a chemo day and I wasn’t planning on working after this treatment since it was a long one. Door to door I was in the hospital from 6:40 to 14:00, and completely wiped out after it. I don’t usually list my meals or naps in my notebook, but chemo days are so crazy (in terms of what my brain does on steroids) that I have to write everything down. Things that I didn’t do get a strike in them and are moved forward to another day.

Everybody has different needs from their planner, and those needs oftentimes change unexpectedly, and out of sync with “planner season”. It’s one of the reasons why I find making your own planner, working just a few days or a week or two ahead is the best and most consistent way for me to manage my time. There are some great planning systems out there, but if you’ve struggled with using them, or if your circumstances make you need a very flexible system, I highly recommend picking up a squared or lined notebook and creating your own.

Green Watercolour Mixtures

I’ve been trying to draw better foliage, which made me want to investigate the various greens I can mix from my current palette. So for the first time I dedicated time and a few sketchbook pages to experiment with green watercolour mixes. I thought that the process would be tedious and boring, but it ended up being very interesting. Mixes that looked like mud on the palette came to life on the page. I discovered a whole host of green hues that I had no idea that I had access to. And once again I fell in love with Schmincke’s Glacier Green.

Note: DS stands for Daniel Smith and Sch for Schmincke. The paper is Stillman and Birn Alpha.

Moleskine Winter 2021 Catalog: A Tale of Discontinued Notebooks

A few days ago I found Moleskine’s Winter 2021 Catalog, and was dismayed to discover that many of my favourite notebooks are discontinued (“while supplies last”). So this is going to be mostly a “stock up on these if you like them” review of the catalog, not so much a “look at these cool new things from Moleskine,” mainly because most of the cool new things were published earlier in the year.

So here are the main discontinued notebooks, in order of their (dis)appearance in the catalog:

  • The Classic Reporter notebook, already available only in Pocket is now going to be available only in the Ruled option, both in hard cover and soft cover options. The Squared ruling is long gone and now the Plain option is disappearing from most dealers. This is your last chance to get it if you use it. As I used to use a Plain Pocket Reporter as a PigPog PDA and every few years I return to it, I’ve stocked up on a few for future use. I really wish that they wouldn’t have discontinued these, as they were some of my favourite notebooks from their lineup.
  • Dotted and Squared rulings are being discontinued in the Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue Pocket and X-Large notebooks in both hard cover and soft cover. For some reason they’ll still be available in Myrtle Green in these sizes. Earth Brown and Reef Blue look like they are also being gradually phased out, likely to make room for next year’s spring colours. If you like these colours, especially in Plain ruling and in Pocket or X-Large sizes, now is the time to get them. I’ll wager that these colours are going to be completely phased out by the Spring 2022 catalog.
  • Moleskine Two-Go notebooks, which were my favourite new addition to their lineup are being completely phased out by the look of things. I’ve stocked up on as many as I can justify, as I use them as my reading journals. The size, the paper and the blank/lined ruling were perfect for this use, and I am going to sorely miss them. Moleskine seem to be replacing them with the Classic Notebooks Double Layout (more on that below), but the paper is 70gsm and not the 100gsm of the Two-Go notebooks.
  • Most of the Moleskine Blend notebook collection is being gutted, which is also a sore loss. Nobody makes fabric covers as well as Moleskine does (sorry Baron Fig), and some of my favourites were in this collection. The Denim collection, especially those with the writing on the covers (Hand Wash, This is Yours, etc) were fabulous, and in general this collection was well designed and executed. Only the new black and white checked and patterned 2021 notebooks that are new to the catalog remain. I guess that at leas we have hope that not all the Blend line is being discontinued.
  • Cahier notebooks are also seeing less options in the Squared and Dotted rulings. I have no idea why they seem to be less popular than other ruling options. Tender Yellow seems to be making its way out of the lineup, so if that’s a colour that you like you probably need to stock up.
  • Pearl Grey is being discontinued from the Pro Notebook lineup, and if you like the XXL notebooks not in Black now is the time to stock up on the Forest Green.
  • The Address Book is no longer going to be offered in X-Large. I can understand why – my guess is that the Pocket and the Large ones sell much better.
  • The Sketchbook in A3 is going to be offered only in Black from now on. Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue are being discontinued in that size.
  • The Sketch Album in XXL is being discontinued.
  • As usual, I’m not going to delve into the wild and woolly world of Moleskine Smart and Moleskine accessories. It’s just too much, even for me.

Here are the new additions to the lineup, in order of their appearance in the catalog:

  • Moleskine Studio notebooks, which feature both 100gsm paper and an interesting design concept are my favourite new additions to the lineup. I already purchased one, which for some reason arrived sans box and and artwork, but oh well.
  • Classic Notebook Double Layout seem to there to in part replace the Two-Go, although they are offered in 70gsm paper and with regular and not fabric lined covers. Time will tell how popular they will be.
  • Moleskine Blend gets two additions to the lineup (everything else is being discontinued). They are both black and white patterns, which is classic but also a little boring. I wish they’d kept more innovation going in this part of their lineup.
  • Planners – everything is new here so I won’t go over them. There’s probably a planner option for everyone in this lineup, if planners are your thing.
  • Limited Editions – everything here is marked new, but apart from the Sakura everything has appeared in a previous catalog (if memory serves). The Sakura is gorgeous as usual, the rest of the lineup (Le Petit Prince and Hello Kitty in particular) are going to be very popular (the Pinnochio ones being the exception).
  • Logbooks are getting two new colour options – Coral Pink and Lavender Violet. You’ll often find them sold as “Bullet Journals” and the new colours appear to be flying off the shelves.
  • Moleskine National Geographic Taveller’s Notebook isn’t marked as new but I don’t recall seeing it before. It’s intriguing enough for me to purchase one, even though I wish they would have put thicker paper and less pages in this notebook. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to travelling after my treatment and put this notebook into good use.

Scene From A Local Walk

I’m playing with green watercolour mixtures and drawing better foliage, so I took the opportunity to make this quick line sketch during one of my walks. I worked on the watercolours later, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

Resilience: A Health Update

While I was taking a walk a few days ago I saw this tree branch grow out of a tiny crack in a solid stone wall and I was impressed enough by its tenacity and resilience to draw it. By chance this drawing is on the opposite page of the one I made for my last health update, which seems appropriate.

I underwent a PET CT on the 9th of September, and thankfully the results were good. The treatment is working, kicking my cancer’s ass and not just making me feel bad. I went through another round of Chemo on the 12th, my fifth round so far, and the side effects are stronger and taking longer to fade away between sessions. This is to be expected, as the Chemo’s effects are cumulative, but I’ve decided to be like that tree: resilient. I’m making minor adjustments to get me through the post-Chemo days, working out ways to help me ride out the pain and unpleasantness of the worst of the side effects. It’s hard to pick up a pen or brush in the first days after treatment, and I sometimes lose fine motor control. So I’m using larger and lighter pens, and I take photos of things that I want to draw instead of working on location. At home I can take my time while sketching, take breaks, experiment with looser drawing. The drawing above isn’t large or complicated, but it took me two days to complete (one for line work and one for the watercolour).

Resilience. One treatment at a time.

Yom Kippur 2021

I had a strange Yom Kippur this year, as is to be expected. I decided to commemorate it in my sketchbook, this time using Faber Castel Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils in addition to my usual Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolour mixture.

Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Alpha. Ink is Iroshizuku Ina Ho (lines), Robert Oster Fire and Ice (heading and text) and Sailor 123 (2021).

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass Review

I am a huge fan of the original, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens. They are beautiful, versatile workhorses that are easyto find and affordable, provided you’re not after the rarer colours/models/nibs. If only they didn’t have lever fillers, one of my least favourite filling systems, they would have been my go to vintage pens.

I don’t buy vintage brand reboot pens. In my early days of fountain pen use there was a lot of hype about the reboot of Conklin. Conklin fountain pens had an interesting filling mechanism that I wanted to check out, but they were all too expensive for me at the time. Then came the brand reboot in the mid 2000’s which made the pens more affordable and more widely available. So I bought a Conklin Mark Twain in 2009, and it was terrible. It looked and felt like a $10 pen, it skipped and hard started all the time, and it fell to pieces after the first use. I still keep it as a reminder to be circumspect with my purchases in the future. The experience made me leery of vintage brand reboots, and so when Esterbrook was rebooted I stayed clear of their pens. They didn’t look like Esties, they looked like generic fountain pens, so I decided that this too must be a QC nightmare money grab that would ruin the Esterbrook name.

I was wrong.

My photos do not do this pen justice. The Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. It’s gorgeous, trust me.

After a mountain of good new Esterbrook reviews came in, and after I reconciled myself to the idea that the new Esterbrooks did not look like the old Esterbrooks I decided to give the Esterbrook Estie a try, and picked up a Sea Glass with a journalling nib. I normally don’t buy pens with gold hardware, but this was what was available at the time, and so a gold hardware Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass it is.

First of all, the pen is gorgeous. It has the classic cigar/torpedo shape that many fountain pens share, but the material of the Sea Glass pen sets it apart. It’s partly translucent, partly chatoyant, and vibrant without being Benu loud.

You can see some of the effects in the pen body here, but my photos don’t do it justice.

What took me by surprise is the capping mechanism. It reminded me of a child safe pill bottle, where you also have to push down as you twist to get the bottle to open. The mechanism does work well to make sure that the Estie doesn’t dry up or accidentally uncap itself, but it also means that it takes longer and a bit more effort to uncap the pen. If you write in short bursts this mechanism is going to be an annoyance.

You can see the capping mechanism threads. Esterbrook gets bonus points for making them attractive.

The “cushion cap” mechanism is well made and is attractive and unobtrusive when writing, so I don’t think it detracts from the pen. It’s just something to be aware of, since it is so unusual. It reminds me a bit of the Visconti Homo Sapiens caps.

The cushion cap inside.

The nib has scrolls and the Esterbrook branding on it, as well as a four digit number, like the old Esterbrook nibs. You can unscrew the nib and replace it with a vintage Estie nib, though I’ve been enjoying my Gina Salorino medium stub journalling nib enough to not want to change it. The fact that Kenro industries, the makers of the new Esterbrook, have teamed up with nibmeisters to offer custom nib grinds is amazing. Apart from the journalling nib they also offer an architect grind.

The nib.

The pen is branded on the cap lip below the clip with an “Esterbrook” imprint in gold script. I really don’t like the branding, as I feel like it cheapens the pen. If it were just an imprint then I think it would have been classier.

When the branding calls too much attention to itself…

The Esterbrook Estie is a cartridge-converter pen, and it comes with an excellent converter. The fact that this isn’t a lever filler like vintage Esties is great, as it’s much easier to fill, clean and check how much ink you have left in a converter, plus sometimes cartridges are convenient.

Cartridge converter at work.

The Esterbrook Estie is on the larger side but not heavy, with its weight distributed closer to the nib. It makes for a very comfortable writing experience, especially for me now. The cap posts, but I wouldn’t post it because it makes the pen overly long and unwieldy.

Here’s a writing sample with the journalling nib. It’s a lot of fun to use, and very forgiving to whatever writing angle you use it with:

Writing sample.

The Esterbrook Estie is more than a reboot to an old beloved brand. It’s a fantastic pen to select as your first “more than $100” fountain pen. It’s very well made, comfortable to use, has a classic fountain pen look, and an interesting selection of nibs that you can get directly from the manufacturer. It’s also very forgiving: easy to clean due to the combined cartridge-converter system and nib unscrewing, not likely to dry up or leak due to the cushion cap, and comes with easy and cheap ways to customise the nib post-purchase if you find that your tastes have changed. There are a lot of vintage Estie nib units out there.

The pen that I was leery of buying turned out to be one of the best fountain pens I have.