Posts Tagged 'Moleskine'

Custom Office Moleskines

My office is a very Do-It-Yourself kind of place: we make breakfast bars in the Big Fancy Kitchen (BFK), test potential clients’ food products in the conference room, and hike mountains on our staff retreat. And when the Boss wants to make a retreat goodie bag for every employee, we interns get down with our crafty selves.

So that’s how I ended up cutting and pasting through a set of 10 large ruled Moleskine notebooks …despite my general aversion to Moleskine notebooks. Our retreat focus this year was “ReFresh” –note the clever use of company name! –and, as always, green dominates our color scheme.

Note to those interested in attempting a similar project: if you have a laser printer that uses toner oil, Lasertran is a pretty sweet method for transferring images onto the cover. However, if your office has a shiny new laser printer, chances are that it does not use toner oil and you will have wasted $30 on a pack of transfer paper. Not that I’m speaking from experience.

Back to School, and Spreading The Links

I’ve left the South, the humid home of my heart (too much alliteration?). I got in the car wearing shorts and a tank top, and when I stepped out of the car in north-ish Ohio, the temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees.

So here are a few things that keep me grounded in the topics I care about, no matter what state I’m in.

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.

White People Like Moleskines

Finally!

Stuff White People Like recognized the white suburban Moleskine fetish.

“This particular type of notebook is very expensive and was quite popular with writers and artists in the olden days.  Needless to say, these are two properties that are highly coveted in the white community.   In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to know that white people like anything that old writers and artists liked:  typewriters, journals, suicide, heroin, and trains are just a few examples.”

Why I Don’t Use Moleskine

My old Moleskines

My -old- Moleskines

I’ve got a cultural bone to pick with Moleskine.

Most people who criticize Moleskine notebooks complain about the price– i.e., why pay $10 or $14 for a notebook when a less expensive one would do just fine? But I believe that good books deserve to be paid for, and a good notebook or journal can be worth far more than $14.

The fact is, the Moleskine notebook really hasn’t been criticized much at all. When it has, the discussions that result are totally flimsy, ranging from halfhearted acknowledgment to open disrespect (this thread and this thread are good examples). Here are a few excerpts from those posts that “argue” in defense of the Moleskine:

  • the M is the mighty M because it just is”
  • “The point of marketing is to sell, I don’t see the point in critizing that. I can’t say exactly why I use Moleskines, they’ve got a certain charm.”
  • “Who are these critics anyway? They’re probably people who don’t even draw or write.”
  • “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Moleskine ‘critic.'”
  • “…you just don’t get it”

Needless to say, it’s ironic that most people can’t articulate the mysterious quality that makes their journal so unique. I would expect notebook users to be better with words. Perhaps the word they’re looking for is “legendary” –but they would only have to look at the label to figure that out. However, my critique of the Moleskine has little to do with its price, or even the quality. It has to do with the cultural space that Moleskine notebooks occupy, and what they represent. In fact, I think they’re a perfect metaphor for my generation’s passivity and hollow creative sensibilities.

The Basics:

Look, I hate to break the news, but neither Hemingway nor Chatwin used this notebook. The company began in 1996, and is Italian, not French. But that actually isn’t new information; We-The-Consumers are totally aware of Moleskine’s marketing techniques, and yet we continue to purchase their product. In 2006, the company began to manufacture their notebooks in China, contributing to economic inequality and unhealthy environmental standards. Strike two?

But instead of caring where our products come from, and what damage was caused along the way; instead of making a conscious decision to use a product from a more genuine or local source; we (i.e. the journalers) adamantly refuse to care.

…and our defense is: “it has a certain something” ..?

Pop Art

I would also argue that the Moleskine (like many other arts-related trends) has decreased artistic diversity. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy visiting Moleskine forums, the flickr pools and blogs, but after a while I can’t help but notice that many of the posts began to look sort of similar. Even the subject matter of people’s journal entries began to replicate itself: sketches of girls with deer antlers, owls, paragraphs written in Napoleon Dynamite-esque bubble letters, …etc. Shouldn’t journals be an expression of your inner unique thoughts?

I fully support an individual’s right to choose the supplies that make her or him most comfortable to write and create. And I won’t lie– I do love good a good fountain pen. Yeah, a blank page turns me on a little. But when I browse Moleskine forums, instead of being inspired by the array of artistic diversity, I come away feeling the desire to write and draw just like all the posts I just read. Basically, I want to copy them instead of trying something different.

Honestly, I think my paper journaling vision is at its most unique when I give up the internet for a little while.

A Journaler’s DIY Manifesto

Thus ends my critique, for the moment, because I’d rather discuss my personal alternative. After deciding that I would no longer use Moleskine notebooks, I began to make my own books. Which, compared to the social angst of the Moleskine world, felt like– Ahhh, yes! I love having complete control over the size of my journal, the binding, the type of paper, the cover. My design choices are infinite.

People talk about the tactile quality of the Moleskine, but there’s nothing so tactile as choosing the perfect buttery paper, or stitching the binding together yourself. For Moleskine enthusiasts who have gotten to the point of developing “hacks” for their notebooks, I would highly recommend just developing the entire book themselves. It’s totally ridiculous to spend so much effort altering a Moleskine when it’s possible to construct the ideal notebook from the ground up (for less money, I might add).

Binding my own books also means that I decide where my money goes, and what it supports. I have lovely conversations with the owners of quiet little paper shops, and I use my money to help preserve locally owned art supply stores. I can use recycled materials (an excuse to go dumpster diving!). Even at this early phase, I’m doing more than journaling; I’m discovering friendships, asking advice from book artists, being inspired. And that’s just the point– journaling is a process, not a one-time Barnes & Nobles purchase. A book is somehow more intimate when you remember when it was just a pile of paper and thread. It’s sort of like planting a garden. ..and then scribbling all over the flowers.

The beginnings of a new journal

The beginnings of a new journal


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