Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook, Kuretake Zig Mangaka pens, Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 pens, Caran d’Ache Pablo coloured pencils, Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer coloured pencils.
Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook, Kuretake Zig Mangaka pens, Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 pens, Caran d’Ache Pablo coloured pencils, Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer coloured pencils.
This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.
So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.
I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.
I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.
That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.
Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.
That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.
At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.
Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.
I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.
If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.
“Frodo gave a cry, and there was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle.
“Precious, precious, precious!” Gollum cried. “My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone.”
The Mount Doom Moleskine limited edition is the most dramatic of the Lord of the Rings themed notebooks to come out this year, and justifiably so. The red and black provide eye catching high contrast that are in complete opposition to the grey on grey Moria notebook.
This notebook will pop out the moment you see it on the store shelf.
Sauron’s eye gazes upon you. Notice the use of the LotR typeface, and Elven script, on the paper band.
The front cover shows Mount Doom in all its Tolkien illustrated glory, with Frodo and Samwise as little golden dots against its grey and red horror.
The design continues on the spine, with Tolkien’s sign on embossed in red at the top.
The back cover, with the edge of mount doom and Sauron’s all seeing eye in red.
The choice of red elastic closure and a black cover is perfect for this notebook, and the gold embossing of the date, the scene and Frodo and Samwise really pops.
The front end page with Tolkien’s pencil drawings of an aerial view of Mordor. The drawing is very nice, but it does make the “In case of loss” pretty obscure. You can either go extra bold here, or try to blend in and hope that someone will notice.
The aerial map of Mordor continues on the back end page. As usual, but still worth noting, the map is completely aligned with the back pocket.
The extra with this edition is the Cirith alphabet booklet.
The red and black theme continues here.
A closeup on the back pocket, with its red sides and the map that continues into the back pocket.
This is a ruled notebook, and it comes with a red ribbon bookmark. Unless you use inks like Noodler’s bulletproof black, it isn’t fountain pen friendly. Then again, it isn’t marketed as such (Moleskine has other notebooks for that).
The B-side of the paper band details Frodo and Sam’s journey.
I love these Lord of the Rings limited editions (I’m using the Moria one as my daily journal). The mount Doom edition is befitting of the dramatic climax of The Lord of Rings trilogy. If you’re a LotR fan this is definitely a must buy, and probably the best designed notebook of this edition.
A few years ago Moleskine came out with a series of rather plain Lord of the Rings limited edition notebooks. This year they’ve had a redo, and this time they’ve decided to invest a little more in the cover designs. The result is a series of notebooks that really does the LotR justice.
The Moleskine Lord of the Rings Moria limited edition is a proof that even if you choose grey as your colour scheme, you don’t have to create a dull product (I’m looking at you Blackwing volume 10).
Notice how even the font on the paper band has been changed to fit the LotR design sensibility.
Every little detail counts, including the choice of colour for the paper band (it just pops), and the Tolkien symbol on the spine.
I’ve decided to use this notebook as my next journal. You can check out just how many things I pack into my journals by comparing the two notebooks’ thickness. They’ve got the same page count (192).
The front cover features a drawing of the entrance to Moria, in dark grey on a light grey background. The drawing continues on the spine and the back. You can see members of the fellowship (in gold foil) standing in front of Moria’s gates, the monster about to attack from the lake, and the carving of the two trees and the entrance runes. A description of the scene is given in gold foil, also in the LotR font.
The back cover. You can see the gate rune to Moria in detail, and the Moleskine logo hardly at all. It’s just debossed into the cover. The elastic band matches the dark grey of the drawing.
Inside the front and back cover is some of Moleskine’s finest work in terms of endpaper design. The front features a sketch of the Misty Mountains and lands to the south and the east, and also the “In case of loss“. You can see Tolkien debating which name to use for various places.
The back includes a contour map of the Misty Mountains around Mirrormere. Again, the drawing is perfectly aligned with the back pocket (it might not seem so in the photo, but trust me, it is), a small but not trivial design feature.
This is a lined notebook, with a light grey ribbon. The paper works well with pencil, ballpoint, gel ink pen, fineliners and Noodler’s Bulletproof black.
The add on to this edition is also unique: an insert with the Cirth alphabet that Tolkien invented.
Inside the insert:
The B-side of the paper band includes a timeline for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, focusing on Frodo and Sam’s journey.
If you love the Lord of the Rings this edition is a no brainer — I highly recommend it. Even for non-fans this is a very well designed, grey/red/black and white edition that proves that you can create beautiful things even with a limited palette.
A box of these beauties was languishing together with other art supplies in a stall in London’s Spitalfields market. I saw the box, saw their name, “The ‘Golden Master’ Pencil” and I couldn’t resist.
Just look at this design:
Who doesn’t want “Silken Graphite”? Or “A High Grade Pencil in Hexagon Cedar”? I’ve rarely seen a company take such pride in a pencil, outside of the Japanese market.
British made, from an era where Britain made things — and in London, too!
The pencils aren’t really Golden Master HB, but 2B (a bonus from my point of view). They’re labeled as such on the pencil, and strangely enough as two Bs on the box. I’ve never seen 2B pencils labeled that way. I wonder if they printed six Bs for their 6B pencils. I doubt they’d have room on the box.
In any case, the pencils slide out of the box in a sort of cardboard tray that is pretty robust. It works just like an old Eagle Pencil box, and I wish that more modern pencil makers would use this design.
The pencil itself has a good coating of yellow lacquer that has withstood the test of time, and has “Made in England”, “Golden Master”, “Silken Graphite”, “Pencils LTD.” and the grade stamped on it in gold foil.
The hexagonal shape is sharper, has sharper edges, than more modern pencils do. It doesn’t cut into your hand, but you feel it, and I have a feeling that without the lacquer this pencil wouldn’t be as nice to use.
The pencils come unsharpened in the box, and they’re a standard pencil size. As you can see there’s no eraser and no ferrule, but I don’t mind that. I rarely use pencil erasers, but rather keep a block eraser on my desk, or scribble things out if I’m writing.
I drew a journal comic with this pencil. It’s very smooth and holds a point forever, but it’s not a 2B pencil in terms of darkness. It’s closer to a standard B, but there’s a chance that time has done wonky things to make the graphite lighter. It erases well, and every core in the box that I have is perfectly centred. If you can get your hands on these, I recommend giving them a try. They’re great pencils, and I wish that they were still in production today.
One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.
I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.
Until last year.
I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.
A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.
The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.
Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.
You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.
But then I wrote in it.
By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.
So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.
In 1987 Bruce Chatwin published “The Songlines”, his classic travel narrative about Australia. In the book he describes his favourite notebooks, moleskines, which he purchased at various Parisian bookstores:
In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: ‘moleskine’ in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. The pages were squared and the end-papers held in place with an elastic band. I had numbered them in series. I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder. To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.
In 1995 Maria Sebregondi read this account and decided to try and revive those moleskine notebooks as a brand. She approached a small Italian design company, Modo & Modo, and in 1997 the Moleskine (capital M) came to life.
In 2017 Moleskine came out with a collaboration with Vintage Books that celebrated the 20th anniversary of Moleskine and the 30th anniversary of “The Songlines”. The result is stunning, and perhaps a bit thought provoking.
Moleskine created a version of “The Songlines” that looks like a hardback Moleskine, including the elastic band and the back pocket, and contains the full text of the book, an excerpt from Chatwin’s biography about his trip to Australia, an explanation of what they owe this text and how they see their future, and several blank pages for notes. To this edition they attached a plain, large softcover Moleksine. Not a limited edition Moleskine, just a regular plain softcover Moleskine. We’ll get to that decision later.
The paper band on this edition is phenomenal. There’s no B-side (this came out before Moleskine started to play with the B-side of their paper bands), but it’s extra wide and extra long and embossed so I kept it in the back pocket, as it’s so pretty.
As you can see, “The Songlines” book is considerably thicker than the softcover Moleskine that it comes with. The text is 293 pages long, and together with the biography excerpt it comes to 320 pages long. Then add the blank notes pages and you get a considerably larger “notebook”. It’s still very well bound, with the pages opening flat and the standard Moleksine paper. I wonder if the size of the book made them realize that they can create a Moleskine Expanded. In any case, it’s a really fun book to hold.
On the back cover the paper band explains the history of Moleskine with “The Songlines” and what this edition celebrates.
When you remove the paper band you get two simple looking Moleskines, one embossed with Chatwin’s name, the title of the book and the publisher’s name. The second is a regular plain softcover Moleskine, and in between the two is a cardboard separator with “Enjoy your travel writing” written on it.
Here are the book and the notebook side by side.
The spine of the book, with the Vintage books and Moleskine logo.
The beautiful, beautiful endpapers of “The Songlines” book.
The title page:
At the end of “The Songlines” there’s an explanation of what Moleskine’s history with this book is.
The excerpt from Nicholas Shakespeare’s “Bruce Chatwin” biography:
The notes pages:
And the back end-papers:
This brings me to the peculiar and somewhat thought provoking move of including a plain large softcover Moleskine with this well designed and produced book. To be honest, I was disappointed at first. Why wasn’t this a limited edition with the same colourful end-papers? Why was it a softcover and not a hardcover Moleskine, like the original 1997 notebook?
After giving it some thought and reading “The Songlines” I think I can guess why. This edition is about the book, not so much about lionizing Moleskine as a brand. It’s a tip of the hat to the man to whom which the company owes so much. The notebooks he describes don’t seem to be half as well designed as Moleskines (no rounded pages, no back pocket, no ribbon marker), and they appear to be softcover plain or ruled notebooks. Moleskine brought out their equivalent, and I kind of like the gesture. There’s another, much less quoted moleskine scene in “The Songlines” that I think that this applies to:
‘Nice notebook,’ he said.
‘I used to get them in Paris,’ I said. ‘But now they don’t make them any more.’
‘Paris? he repeated, raising an eyebrow as if he’d never heard anything so pretentious.
Sometimes keeping it simple and being aware and respectful of your inspiration is all that’s required.