Posts Tagged 'journal'

Softcover Leather Sketchbook from ToBoldlyFold

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a paper or pen object!

Behold— the Softcover Golden Brown Leather Sketchbook from Etsy bookbinder ToBoldlyFold.

Handwritten thank-you notes and homemade packaging: the perks of buying handmade.

I haven’t had the time to bind my own books lately, but buying someone else’s handmade book is the next best thing. I put in some long research hours on Etsy, the handmade equivalent of ebay, before settling on this beautiful leather book from ToBoldlyFold’s Cyprus collection. Alas, if you do decide to shop Etsy for a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that most Etsy bookbinders don’t provide detailed information on the type of paper that they use– for these sellers, I recommend messaging them to ask about their paper.

I’ve been dreaming of a leather sketchbook for a few months now. Not one of those Wiccan-looking leather sketchbooks (although they are friggin’ works of art) or one of those fake-wilderness, rugged-leather-but-I-really-live-in-downtown-LA sketchbooks. Just a simple, well-made, hand-bound leather book.

Oh, and I need the paper to take both watercolor and fountain pens (which, as it turns out, is no easy task).

A handmade leather sketchbook on Etsy is going to run you anywhere from $25 to $90, depending on the dimensions (and quality) of the book. Tiny books make my hands cramp so I ruled those out, but there’s no way that I can drop $70 for one of the beautiful journals from Moonbindery. But! Huzzah! ToBoldlyFold announced a birthday sale, which dropped her (already mid-price) books to an “Affordable Splurge” level for me.

So that’s the tale of how I found my newest book. But, as with any journal, the search is only half the battle. So let’s talk specs— and please feel free to ooh and ahh over this sumptuous piece of work.

I was hoping for a warm brown leather cover, but I was intrigued by the 170g “artists” paper, which only available with golden brown leather.

Ain’t no tragedy. The golden leather with turquoise stitching makes a stunning combination.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the button at first (I preferred the look of a wrap-cord), but it’s definitely growing on me. It reminds me of an old-fashioned pair of good leather boots, or a briefcase. It also reminds me of this adorable art print from Etsy seller Eva Juliet.

Many bloggers in the journaling/fountain pen community tend to dislike bulky covers, or covers that overhang the pages (check out this comparison from Notebook Stories). This is definitely not an issue with this book: the covers are cut square with the paper. The downside of this is that it doesn’t offer much protection– but leather sketchbooks are meant to be worn in, so maybe it’s okay if the edges of your pages get dirty.

Journal: unwrapped and exposed

When unwrapped, the soft pages easily fold under for compact writing, or spread out in an artsy fashion on a table. If this were bound with a thin paper, the soft leather cover wouldn’t provide enough support for writing– but the thick paper and sturdy long-stitch binding make it easy to write on laps or in trains. (Doesn’t it seem like one should be traveling on a sepia-tinted train when writing in this book?).

(The long stitch also means that every page lays perfectly flat. No exaggeration.)

But let's talk about the paper. 'Cause, uh, damn. That's some nice paper.

As it turns out, ToBoldlyFold mainly uses two papers in her books: 115g Rives BFK Lightweight paper, or another paper that she only describes as “High-quality, acid-free 170g artists paper.” I know from experience that the Rives paper is excellent, but I was intrigued by the heavier 170g paper, and hoped it would hold watercolor.

I still don’t know who makes this paper– I’m going to ask the seller and I’ll get back to you all with her answer. We know at least that it is cream-colored and 175 g/m². I tried to convert that to lb paper weight, but the internet is telling me that it translates to only 65lb, which seems awfully thin. This paper is definitely thick, creamy, and hand-torn for fashionably rugged edges.

Like all good handcrafts, this one is stamped by the maker.

two different italic/stub nibs

I did worry that the paper might be too porous for fountain pens and water-based inks. A quick test of all my fountain pens did show some feathering, but far less than I expected. In fact, dry-writing nibs performed pretty swell on this paper. The sample above compares my Pilot 78G italic nib (filled with J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche) with my Parker 45 stub nib (filled with J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage). The dryer combination of the 78G/Bleu Pervenche definitely out-performed the wetter Parker/Lierre Sauvage.

Lamy Safari EF with Aurora Black ink

By far, the best combination of Pen&Ink on this paper was my Lamy Safari (EF nib) filled with Aurora Black (at the top). This is kinda interesting because Aurora Black is a super wet ink, compared to Bleu Pervenche, which is quite dry but performed the second-best on this paper. It’s well known that Aurora Black is a super-lubricated ink, though, and I wonder if the greater surface tension kept the ink from soaking in and feathering on the paper. I’ll have to try some other lubricated inks and see if it’s a pattern.

In general though, this is a paper for dry nibs and inks. The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to stick to fine nibs– one can still use a dry-writing italic nib with great results. Check the image below for other pen and ink combinations, with varying degrees of feathering.

Oh hey there, messy handwriting.

Of course, if fountain pens aren’t the biggest priority in your life (let’s hope not; they’re just pens, after all), then this is a fantastic paper for basically every other type of pen, as well as both wet and dry media.

watercolors and Pitt artists pens

Although this seems to be a fairly porous paper (i.e., it’s not coated like Rhodia/Clairefontaine papers), it’s definitely not fibrous. It won’t catch on your nibs or disintegrate with wet media. You can see in the above image that Pitt artists pens didn’t feather at all, and watercolors also performed well.

Watercolors did absorb into the paper almost immediately, so you won’t be able to blend anything on the page itself. This is a paper more suited to glazing techniques.

Overall, this paper seems like it would make a perfect art journal: lays perfectly flat, strong enough to stand up to acrylics and pastels, sturdy enough for watercolors, and smooth enough for pens and fine nibs. Combined with a beautiful leather cover and beautiful stitching, this is a killer book and I’m excited to keep y’all updated on how I use it.

Finishing My Second Exacompta Sketchbook

a filled Exacompta

*EDITED: I decided to include the images that I had previously posted, just to keep it all in one place. Enjoy!*

I purchased my first Exacompta sketchbook, and won my second from a Rhodia Drive raffle giveaway. (Remember how cute they were together?) I admit I had my doubts about using the same book twice… I tend to get a little claustrophobic with my art supplies if I’m not head-over-heels in love with them… and I did have few frustrations with the way that some of my more delicate nibs would catch on the Exacompta’s laid paper.

But now that I’ve finished that second book, I’d have to say it’s one of the best all-purpose books I’ve used thus far. In fact, I’m having a lot of trouble finding a replacement. I want many of the same characteristics: thick, unlined paper, a nondescript cover, and medium size. I’d like to have smoother paper this time around, though. And apparently, those requirements don’t come together too often in one book. I need to gather up the energy to bind one for myself again.

Here’s the visual summary:

ink therapy 🙂

testing Caran D'ache Museum leads

More Pages from the Exacompta

Page 2page 3 copypage 4page 6Page 7page 7 copy2

End of the Exacompta

Once upon a time there was a girl who decided to use an Exacompta sketchbook as a journal.

She wrapped it with a blue rubber band that originally held a bunch of asparagus, tucked some liberty stamps inside the cover, and set off. Over the next few months, she wrote a poem with her sister, added an ID label to the front cover, and test-printed her own hand-carved stamps. Postcards from a friend in Vanuatu began to accumulate inside the back cover. She tested all kinds of pens, and a great number of inks, inside its pages.

In short, she beat it up, bit it, scribbled it to death.

Some Selections from recent months

(click to view larger)

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Clearly, I don’t use fixative in my journal.

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Latter half reads:

I think I’ll finish by pasting in all the rejects from the roll of film out at Holly Tree. Because of course, they’re memories too.

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On to the next book!

Sisterpoet & The Act of Creativity

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My little sister and I write poems together, one word at a time. Her word choices, silly and brilliant, free me up in my own poetry. I am reminded of the fun in writing: “baking poisonous toadstools into ovens..”. Sometimes we compose the most inspired phrases, and I make sure to remember them for the future: “doughy birdcalls” and “rise into the loaf of a moment.”

In the modern world, few people know how to collaborate creatively. Plagiarism rules and intellectual property laws discourage us from working with other creative minds; the creative act becomes solitary, secretive, and high-pressure. 

No fun at all.

Exacompta Sketchbook

I posted about my new journal the other day, and have been trying to find some free time to post some pictures. Technically, I purchased the Exacompta sketchbook, not the matching journal, but I prefer to write on a blank unlined page.

In the past I’ve discussed my distaste for both the Moleskine corporation and the moleskine “culture,” and my transition toward making my own books. I’m still binding books for friends and for myself, but I wanted to experiment with a store-bought book that was:

  • of superior quality to moleskine (particularly the paper quality)
  • not overpriced
  • not over-marketed (i.e. no “legendary” claims)
  • produced by a fairly ethical company
  • classy, customizable, and unique.

Of course I know that no store-bought book is going to be unique, and it’s silly to make that claim about any mass-produced product. By “unique,” I really mean basic enough for me to fill, alter, and abuse it to the point where it becomes mine.

img_0734Enter the Exacompta sketchbook. By now I’ve spent a few weeks with this delicious book and I can say that it’s hands down my favorite store-bought basic black book (BBB).

The sketchbook (5.5″x8.5″) is cloth bound, and sewn, so the pages open completely flat. A lot of small and medium sized books have trouble opening flat so this has been a total blessing for a carpal-tunnel-stricken scriptophile like me. I thought that I wouldn’t like the embossed “sketchbook” logo on the cover, but I’ve found that I don’t mind it too much. I added a label with my name to the front, and I’ve been holding the book closed with a plain rubber band.

The book is filled with gorgeous off-white laid paper. It’s lighter than moleskine-yellow, which means that my colors show up brighter. The laid lines result from the pattern of the screen against the paper pulp during the paper-making process. I really love the texture that these lines create because it reminds me that paper doesn’t just appear out of nowhere– it goes through a process of creation, beginning with harvested trees. I’m not enough of a treehugger to stop using paper journals (and besides, computer laptops have a larger carbon footprint than a Hummer, so paper journaling is not my greatest sin), but it’s good to be reminded that the products we use everyday don’t come from the store; they originate from nature somewhere.

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gilded edges

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The paper takes well to my fountain pen, and also surprisingly to watercolor. I used my sister’s cheap watercolor set to play around a little while I was home over break. I had forgotten how neon those basic elementary school watercolor sets are! I’m looking forward to painting some more with my own set when I have the time.

Regarding my desire for a book “produced by a fairly ethical company,” I haven’t yet found any evidence one way or the other for Clairefontaine/Exacompta. I found a company profile, but there doesn’t seem to be much underground networking regarding their history. Nevertheless, I do know that their production has remained in France (not shipped over to China, a la Moleskine).

After searching a bit online, it turns out that a few others have discovered the beauty of this book before me: both Inkophile and Spiritual Evolution of the Bean raved about this sketchbook as well.

New Journal

Opened a new journal today, an intended sketchbook that I had to gnaw on with my thoughts instead because of the smooth smooth paper– sturdy, no-bleed, with gloriously tactile laid lines. I use my Lamy Safari to write even if it is cliche, because it’s the only fountain pen I can afford right now. 

I keep hoping someone will take pity on me and mail me some delicious art or writing supplies, for me to caress and abuse in the name of the creative spirit. But really, all artists should be poor because it breeds resourcefulness– digging through the recycling bin for paper to bind together into a new sketchbook, squeezing out every last drop of Mod Podge and then using the jar to hold your brushes…


Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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