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.

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.

Tactile Turn Nautilus Quick Review

This is a super quick review because the Tactile Turn Nautilus is available only until the 8th of September, and I can’t write a more detailed review in my current circumstances (more on that in a later update).

This is the Tactile Turn Nautilus (the standard version), a limited edition Tactile Turn side click pen. Photographs do not do this pen justice. It’s stunning in person:

The Tactile Turn Nautilus

It’s a titanium bodied pen with a metallic, colour shifting Cerakote finish, and it’s that finish that transforms this pen from a good machined pen into a triumph of craftsmanship and design.

It’s impossible to photograph the colour shifting of the finish.

There are gold undertones to the finish that, coupled with the grooves on the pen body, the glittering gold clip and the Cerakote finish texture on everything, make this pen mesmerising.

The clip.

The clip has a gold Cerakote finish that evokes the golden undertones of the blue metallic Cerakote finish on the pen body. The gold is muted, and helps make the pen classy not flashy 🙂

The finish adds texture to an already textured pen (due to the Tactile Turn rings that are engraved on all the body). This makes the pen easy to grip, as it has an almost sandy feel to it.

The Tactile Turn Nautilus isn’t a light pen and is top heavy, but it’s still a pen that’s a joy to write with. If you’re considering a Tactile Turn pen, or any machined pen for that matter, I recommend giving the Nautilus a try.

In lieu of a longer review, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll be glad to answer.

The Field Notes Sketchbook: Field Notes Maggie Rogers

I am a big fan of Field Notes, so when I saw that they came out with a sketchbook in collaboration with musician Maggie Rogers, I had to give it spin. The Maggie Rogers Field Notes are in the “Dime Novel” size, and are bound with and contain Strathmore paper. That is a promising start: an uncommon sketchbook size, with artist quality paper inside.

The Maggie x Field Notes edition comes with two sketchbooks in each pack, one with a red tinted spine and one with a blue tinted spine. On the cover of each is a Joshua Meier photo that was featured on Maggie Rogers’s first two albums: Blood Ballet is on the red tinted one on the left, and The Echo is on the blue tinted one on the right.

Blood Ballet is on the red tinted one on the left, and The Echo is on the blue tinted one on the right.

Beyond the normal “Pertinent Coordinates” design on the front cover, there is a vellum fly-sheet in each sketchbook featuring Maggie Rogers’s original hand-written lyrics. It’s a nice touch that really adds to this edition’s design.

Hand written fly-sheet in the blue The Echo sketchbook.

I also like the decision to print these on vellum and not on Strathmore paper that is in the rest of the sketchbook. It gives the words an airy feeling that doesn’t weigh too heavily on the user. You don’t feel the need to compete with them, so to speak.

Reverse side of the vellum fly-sheet in the blue The Echo sketchbook.

The inside of the back cover features Field Notes’ usual spiel and some information about Maggie Rogers and this collaboration. As usual, it also lists all of the technical details of this sketchbook, which I love. It would have been nice to get the Strathmore paper weight in a more standard gsm notation.

The inside of the back cover of the The Echo edition of the sketchbook.

The red, Blood Ballet edition of the notebook is the same as the blue one, just with a red brown tint to it.

Front page of the Blood Ballet edition. Vellum fly-sheet and pertinent coordinates.
Reverse side of the vellum fly-sheet with hand-written lyrics.
The back page of the Blood Ballet edition.

So, to business. How does the Maggie Rogers Field Notes perform as a sketchbook? For that I tested it with some Uni Pin fineliners and brush pen, a Fixpencil with 2B lead, and finally with light watercolour use. Unsurprisingly, considering the paper inside is light weighted Strathmore, it’s a good sketchbook to have in your bag or coat pocket. It’s versatile and not too precious to make you feel bad about “ruining” pages.

The first sketch that I made was done with a grey Uni-Pin 0.5 fineliner. The paper isn’t entirely smooth, but I no problem using the fineliner on it. The ink doesn’t spread or feather, but it does show through and even bleed through to the other side. I won’t be using both sides of the paper here.

You can see through the relatively thin paper to the drawing on the next page. Not ideal, but that’s part of what makes this sketchbook not precious.

You can see the show through and even a spot or two of bleed through here. I really don’t recommend drawing on both sides of the page here.

Show-through and bleed-through even with a 0.5 fineliner.

The next drawing was done with a Uni Pin brush pen. The paper isn’t glass smooth, and that actually makes it more fun to draw on. There was no spread and less bleed-through than with the fineliner somehow. I still wouldn’t use the other side of the page, because it will show through.

Brush pen drawing.

The paper shines with pencil, and I had a lot of fun sketching this palm using a Fixpencil with a 2B lead. If pencil is your medium of choice, you are going to love this little sketchbook.

This paper made even a relatively pedestrian subject like a palm tree really fun to sketch.

As for watercolour, you can use the Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook for light washes in a pinch, but it’s clearly not made for this. Washes come out patchy and grainy, and while the paper holds and doesn’t buckle too much if you are vey careful and only use a small amount of water on it, I really wouldn’t use it for watercolour.

Watercolour sketch featuring the work of local graffiti artist Erezoo.

The reverse side of the paper shows just how much it buckled under the strain of even a small amount of water (pun intended).

Buckling on the left is the reverse side of the drawing in the previous picture.

I think that the Maggie Rogers Field Notes is a nice sketchbook to try out quick ideas and vignettes in. It’s a nice sketchbook that’s not too nice, the vellum fly-sheet actually reduces the pressure of the first blank page, and so long as you don’t insist on using watercolour with it, it’s versatile and will do as your main pocket sketchbook in a pinch. Its main weaknesses (the thinness of its paper and the binding that doesn’t allow the pages to open flat so you can’t use a whole spread) actually work together to make this a sketchbook that encourages you to burn through it. It’s not precious. It’s not too nice. It’s a workman-like sketchbook, which works perfectly with the Field Notes brand.

Caran d’Ache x Nespresso Swiss Wood Pencils Set Review

The Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood is one of my favourite pencils. There are those who hate its burnt caramel smell and have nicknamed it “the stink wood,” but I am not one of them. I love how the Swiss Wood smells like, how it looks like, and especially how it writes like. The pencil is a joy to hold, the tip lasts forever, and it puts down a dark and smooth line that is great for writing and sketching. Its only real downside for me is its price — the Swiss Wood is expensive, and only getting more expensive with time.

So when I saw that Caran d’Ache was creating a Swiss Wood in collaboration with Nespresso, I added it to my Cult Pens basket together with the Nespresso Fixpencil. What can be more cool that the Swiss Wood with a Nespresso theme and some added recycling thrown in? This three pack of pencils was very expensive, but I decided to treat myself.

Boy do I wish I hadn’t.

The front of the recycled box.

As with the rest of the Caran d’Ache x Nespresso collaboration, the pencils come in a 100% recycled box. The box is cleverly designed with coffee bean shaped cutouts that show glimpses of the pencils inside, and debossing that shows off the pencils’s shape and coffee beans to highlight what the recycling story in this collaboration is about.
The rest of the “recycling story” is in the pencils’ lead, which is made of 25% coffee grounds. The pencils are made of FSC certified beech wood, which is the same as the normal Swiss Wood. You can find all this information on the back of the box:

The back of the box.

Inside the box are three very expensive pencils. They look (and smell) just like the Swiss Wood except for the imprint on the pencil body, and the dipped end-caps.

Three very expensive pencils.

The end-caps are metallic, and come in golden yellow, light green, and a bronzish red. They aren’t metal end-caps, but simply end-caps dipped in paint, just like the red Swiss Wood end-cap, only in different colours.

Closeup on the end-caps.

The imprint on the pencil is very similar to the original Swiss Wood, with the addition of the Nespresso logo, and the sentence: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”. The imprint is very crisp, and I like the font they chose for it.

The imprints on the pencils.

Here is where things started to go downhill. The clever and beautifully designed box that holds the pencils chipped into one of them, taking out a chunk. Not great for such an expensive set.

Damaged expensive pencil.

The end-cap is only dipped in paint. For this collaboration, especially considering the price, I expected the end-caps to be made of aluminium from recycled Nespresso pods. As it is, painted end-caps are a disappointment. Here are a bunch of modern and vintage pencils that cost much less and have better end-caps than the Nespresso Swiss Wood:

End-cap comparison.

Here’s a close up of the end-caps. From top to bottom they are: Nespresso Swiss Wood, Tombow Mono 100, Eberhard Faber Colorbrite (vitage), Mitsubishi Hi Uni, General’s Kimberly, Eberhard Faber No Blot (vintage). If they could do it why couldn’t Caran d’Ache?

Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood painted end-cap vs cheaper, more premium end-caps…

Here’s the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood next to the original Swiss Wood. They look very much alike, apart from the imprint and the colour of the end cap. However, it’s not what’s outside that makes or breaks the pencil (pun intended) — it’s the core.

Caran d’Ache Nespresso Swiss Wood (top) vs the original Swiss Wood (bottom).

The core of the Nespresso Swiss Wood is made of 25% recycled coffee grounds from Nespresso capsules. The Nespresso Fixpencil had a similar recycled coffee ground core and was terrible. Is the core in these pencils as bad?

Writing sample of the Nespresso Swiss Wood vs the original Swiss Wood. Written on a Baron Fig Confidant.

It’s not that bad, but it isn’t great. The original Swiss Wood has a dark and smooth core that holds a point for a long time. The Nespresso Swiss Wood has a fragile core that is scratchy and lighter than its counterpart. It isn’t unpleasant to use to the point of being unusable, but it feels cheap, it looks cheap, it’s everything but a premium pencil in a world full of excellent premium pencils that cost less. There are actual white streaks in the writing it produces. If I want white streaks in my writing I can pick up a cheap ballpoint. For the price of these pencils I expect a better writing experience than the Swiss Wood, not a worse one.

Close up the writing, where you can see the white streaks.

The Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 collaboration produced some stunning pen designs. So far the pencil part of the collaboration hasn’t gone so well. I’d buy the Nespresso Fixpencil and toss out the lead, but I’d utterly avoid the Nespresso Swiss Wood. You get a worse pencil for a higher price, and the veneer of being good for the planet. Reduce, reuse, recycle are said in that order for a reason. In this case reduce, as I wish I had.

Caran d’Ache Fixpencil 22 Nespresso Ochre

Caran d’Ache’s Fixpencil is their legendary clutch pencil offering. While the classic Fixpencil has a plastic body, the Fixpencil 22 is made of aluminum, giving it both an added weight and a more luxurious finish. The Nespresso Fixpencil 22 is also made of aluminum, hence the 22 in the name, but it’s aluminum body is partially made from a recycled Nespresso capsule, and it comes with a lead that’s partially produced from recycled coffee grounds. Just like the previous Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 pens, this brand collaboration is all about recycling with class.

The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box. ​A recycled cardboard box, in light brown, set on a green background. There’s a cutout in the box that shows the orange coloured Fixpencil.
The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The box that the Nespresso Fixpencil arrives in is similar to its 849 counterparts: it’s made of 100% recycled cardboard and there’s a Nespresso capsule shaped cutout in the box that shows off the colour and texture of the Fixpencil. Clever embossing and tasteful design and branding make this a superb gift to give to someone who enjoys using pencils (with a caveat that I’ll get to later). The box is the most recycled thing about the product (being 100% recycled), but at least Caran d’Ache is honest and transparent about the quantity of recycled materials inside the fixpencil and lead: 25% of each, respectively. So there is a fair bit of “greenwashing” going on here.

Back of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The clever design of the box continues once you open it. It really shows off the beauty of the Fixpencil design and just how vibrant and warm the orange “ochre” colour is. It glows. You can also see the subtle texture the Fixpencil has.

Gorgeous orange Fixpencil nestled in a cardboard box.

Here is my first, albeit minor, quibble with this product: it’s not ochre. It’s reddish orange. It’s mandarin. It’s anything but the yellowish brown that ochre brings to mind. I have no idea why it was so poorly named.

Fixpencil ochre? More red than yellow by far to be called that.

Caran d’Ache 849s and Fixpencils normally have very little branding on them. The Caran d’Ache brand is tucked discreetly under the clip and generally all that you see is the “Swiss made” with a white border around it just above the clip. The Nespresso collaborations are different in that Caran d’Ache adds an additional imprint to the pen/pencil: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”.

A recycling story (of sorts) is in your hand.

Of course the normal logos are where they usually are, with the addition of the Nespresso logo to the Caran d’Ache logo under the clip.

Logos discreet and visible.

The Fixpencil is a joy to use because of its form factor, which is just like the 849, and the wonderful finish on the pencil body, which adds subtle texture that makes the Fixpencil fun and easy to hold.

A close up on the Fixpencil’s texture.

And now we come to the worst part of this collaboration: the pencil lead. The Nespresso Fixpencil doesn’t come with the normal fabulous Caran d’Ache pencil leads. Instead it comes with a pencil lead that has 25% coffee grounds in it and is supposedly a B grade lead. It’s terrible. The lead is scratchy, so light that it writes like an F or even an H grade lead, and hard to erase. After testing in on my standard pencil testing Baron Fig notebook, I threw it out and replaced it with a standard 2B lead from my regular stash. Not recycled, but actually usable.

Terrible pencil lead in action.

Here’s a close up where you can see in the word “scratchy” where the lead actually dug into the paper.

Closeup on the scratchy writing and some lead comparisons.

The Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil is a joy to use and will make for a fabulous gift once you pair it with a box of good quality B or 2B pencil leads. It’s a beautiful take on an already great product that I just wish also included the normal Caran d’Ache lead lineup.

Dingbats Notebook Review

During my trip to London this year I managed to buy a few Dingbats Wildlife notebooks (the elephant, tiger, hippo and deer). They appealed to me because they present a vegan friendly, fountain pen friendly journaling option, with a unique take on the classic “Moleskinesque” notebook.

Purple front cover with hippo debossing.
Front cover

So while the Dingbats A5+ Wildlife notebook has rounded corners, an elastic closure, a back pocket and a ribbon bookmark, the textured vegan faux leather cover is here to make a statement. There’s a different animal debossing and different cover colour for each animal. Currently there’s a Cream Wolf (new), Grey Elephant, Green Deer, Orange Tiger, Purple Hippo, Blue Whale, Brown Bear, Black Duck and Red Kangaroo. Once again, I got a little carried away and bought the Elephant, Deer, Tiger and Hippo – all the Dingbat notebooks that I saw in WH Smith in Heathrow Terminal 5. If I had to choose just one I would go for the hippo or the tiger, depending on how much attention I felt like drawing to myself carrying the notebook around.

Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook.
Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook

The faux leather cover has a nice texture to it, and the debossing makes it stand out from more generic faux leather notebooks that you might find in stationary shops. It’s clearly there to call attention to itself.

Hippo debossing on a purple faux leather, textured cover.
Hippo on a purple faux leather, textured cover.

The front endpaper has hippo footprints on it (they differ by animal), a “This Dingbats notebook belongs to” box to write your details in (always to that. Here’s why), the Dingbats logo and two notices: one that 2% of its UK revenue is donated to the WWF, and another that the notebook is made with FSC certified paper and vegan materials only.

Front endpaper, with notices on the bottom left, logo on the bottom right, a "this notebook belongs to" box in the middle right and a background of hippo footprints, all printed in warm grey.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper also comes with the hippo footprint, and it has a back pocket. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook also comes with a pen holder which can hold standard pens just fine but is too small to hold most fountain pens.For a notebook that caters specifically to fountain pen users that’s a strange oversight.

The notebook has 100 gsm very smooth acid free fountain pen friendly paper. There are 96 sheets (192 pages) in the notebook and all of them are micro-perforated. The pages can have either 7mm lines, a 5mm grid, a 5mm dot grid, or be blank, but in the WH Smith that I was in the only option was lined. The lines are printed in a neutral grey that isn’t too obtrusive but is also clearly visible.

Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines on a page.
Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines.

This is an expensive notebook (around £16 per notebook), and so I wouldn’t bother using gel ink pens, rollerballs, ballpoints or pencils in it (if you want to see a test page of that, you can find it here). There are cheaper alternatives for that. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook is built for fountain pens, and it handles them very well. The paper isn’t as glossy as Rhodia paper, but it’s still silky smooth and ink takes several seconds to dry on the page. I don’t have a lot of pens inked up at the moment, and I spread the ink tests on multiple notebooks, but I can assure you that there is no feathering or bleed through with this paper, and there’ very little show through. It’s a fountain pen friendly notebook, as advertised. Here’s a small sample written with a TWSBI Eco fine nib and Diamine Inkvent Solstice, which is a very saturated ink.

Page with alphabet handwritten in black ink once in uppercase and once in lowecase with an ink smudge on the top left.
I spilled some ink at the top of the page, and that made a mess but also assured me that there really is no bleed through with fountain pen ink.

If you are looking for a fountain pen friendly, eco friendly, fun notebook, or if you want a notebook full of perforated pages, then I highly recommend the Dingbats Wildlife notebook. It’s not a cheap notebook, so if pencils are your thing, maybe look into a cheaper alternative with toothier paper.

Moleskine: I am New York Limited Edition Notebook

I haven’t posted a Moleskine limited edition review in a while, mostly because I stopped journaling when my mother was diagnosed with a new kind of cancer in the beginning of the year. Once I realized that I had cancer I chose the nicest Moleskine limited edition that I could see, grabbed a Kara’s Kustoms Render K and started writing.

This is the notebook I chose:

Photo of the cover of the "I am New York" limited edition Moleskine notebook.
Moleskine I am New York

The Moleskine “I am New York” is the second of the “I am” series that I’ve tried out (the first being “I am London” which I bought in the Moleskine Covent Garden store). There’s another notebook which I haven’t been able to purchase, the “I am Milan” one. In any case the cover design on these notebooks is stunning, with a vibrant illustration of an iconic architectural aspect of the city they represent. In the case of New York, it’s Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge illustration on the front cover of the notebook, with yellow band on.
Front Cover Illustration.

The covers are made of fabric, which Moleskine has excelled at in recent years. This one is no different – the cover is very well made.

The spine. Can you guess where these photos were taken?

Here’s a look at the cloth covers without the yellow paper band. You can see how well the elastic band’s colour and the ribbon bookmark fit with the design even though lavender may not have been the most obvious choice.

Moleskine I am New York front cover without the yellow band. Colours are mostly grey and orange.
Front cover.

Here’s the back cover and ribbon:

Moleskine I am New York back cover without the yellow bookmark, and with the lavender ribbon bookmark showing.
Back cover with ribbon bookmark.

Here’s the front endpaper. It features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we’ll be returning to that later on.

Front endpaper which features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we'll be returning to that later on.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.
Back endpaper.

The Moleskine “I am New York” comes with a lovely postcard in the notebook’s back pocket, with a drawing by Carlo Stanga(who also illustrated the front cover) titled: “Where Fifth Ave Starts”.

Postcard with a watercolour drawing of Fifth Avenue.
Where Fifth Ave Starts postcard.

It’s a functional postcard, but I’d just hang it as a small work of art in my cubicle or on my fridge.

Back of postcard.
Functional postcard if you need it.

The B-side of the paper band has a bagels recipe (remember the bagel from the front endpaper?). I haven’t tried it but it’s well drawn and a cute addition to this already great notebook.

I’m going to be using the Moleskine “I am New York” as my daily journal through these next few tough months, and I can’t think of a better notebook for the job. It’s a beautiful notebook that makes me smile whenever I pick it up.

Sketching Tools: Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah

As I’ve recently overhauled my sketching tools and have grown to like my new setup, I’ve decided to document my current sketching kit, as a reference to myself and others.

Sinclair on top, Tallulah on the bottom.

First up are my pen and pencil cases, the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah. I used to use the Sinclair as my main sketching case because:

  1. It can hold much, much more than three pens. Much more. Mine had four Staedtler Fineliners, two or three Japanese brush pens, a white gel ink pen, five Faber Castell Pitt brush pens, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, a woodcase pencil, a sharpener, a waterbrush, and a folded paper towel square.
  2. It has two zippers, which means that you can sneak in extra large pens, like the Sailor Fude ones, or full length pencils, and still zip the case around them.
Partially full Sinclair.

The Sinclair is no longer my main case and I now use it to store a more extensive selection of sketching tools (mostly Faber Castell Pitt brush pens). The reason is that it can hold so many pens that I was tempted to fill it to the brim and bring all those pens with me. As I decided that to gain speed I needed to pair down my sketching tools and expand my watercolour palette, I replaced the Sinclair with the much slimmer Tallulah.

Tallulah ready to work, on top. Sinclair on the bottom.

The Tallulah is marketed as a two pen case. Oh, Brad. I have four Staedtler Fineliners, a Uni-ball Signo Broad white gel ink pen, a woodcased pencil, three (!) Sailor Fude fountain pens and a waterbrush. If the Tallulah had two zippers instead of one I could have closed the case. As it is, I keep it open and propped up in my sketching bag, as sort of a pen organizer. If I need the Tallulah to close, I can pare down my pens to one or two Sailor Fude pens, lose the waterbrush (if I keep two Sailor Fude’s in my kit), and replace the woodcased pencil with a mechanical one, or lose the pencil entirely as I generally work directly in pen and watercolour these days.

See, I can close it if I need to.

The Tallulah is so slim and light that it really works with my low profile sketch kit. It’s actually the anchor around which I built my new kit, with the other two being the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook that I’m using, and my Schmincke watercolour tin.

If you are an artist looking for a storage solution for your pens and pencils, I highly recommend giving the Nock Co Sinclair and Tallulah a try. They are handsome workhorses that can take a beating (especially the zippers) and can hold many more pens than you would normally imagine.