Ink Review: Robert Oster Frankly Blue

Ink Review: Robert Oster Frankly Blue

Not just anyone gets their own special ink. But in honor of their first full year of business Federalist Pens and the colloquially know “Federalist Frank” earned a custom ink color from Robert Oster called Frankly Blue ($18 for 50ml bottle). The ink received a special gold colored cap and was unveiled at the DC Supershow 2017.

There were a lot of ups and downs in DC that may have overshadowed some of these wonderful moments so I’m glad that I have the chance to reflect back on them now.

Frankly Blue is shading, sheening blue in the spirit of Oster’s infamous inks but its a bit smokier. Its seems appropriate for an ink for the DC-based Federalist Pens. Everything about DC is a bit more reserved, a bit more cloak-and-dagger, at least as much as I’ve seen.

Where Australia is Bondi Blue and vivacious, DC is dress blues and reserved.

So, Frankly Blue still has a reddish sheen but its dialed back a bit and less baudy and in your face the way Fire & Ice is. Lake of Fire smolders darkly and Soda Pop Blue is dark and zesty bright blue. Frankly Blue, while maintaining the Oster flair, has the subtlety that DC brings to table.

It shades to a teal blue and in finer nibs may look as dark as a deep teal, blue black. The ink is completely water soluble. It has no water resistant qualities in my drip test.

So, if you’ve wanted to consider the world of sheening inks but didn’t want to get too crazy, Frankly Blue is the subtler cousin to Fire & Ice.

This ink is exclusively available through Federalist Pens.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Federalist Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Link Love: Paper Tastes & Pencil Smells

Link artwork by Chris Grine, illustrator of the web comic Wicked Crispy AND Time Shifters by Scholastic! Go, Chris!




Paper & Notebooks:

Art Supplies:

Other Interesting Things:

Giveaway: A Year of Sun Undated Weekly Planner

The Octaveo “A Year of Sun” undated weekly planner ($44.95 AUD)  is a brilliantly sunny yellow, A5 planner with a flexible cover, hand painted yellow page edges and ultramarine blue accents. If anything would make you feel uplifted about planning for the future, it would be this planner.

Made in Barcelona and inspired by the Mediterranean, I think the Octaveo might make everyday feel like a vacation.

The end pages are a gradient blue with a small quote on the back page and a place to write your personal information in the front. The ribbon bookmark coordinates and is finished to prevent fraying.

The inside spreads of the lay-flat binding feature vertical weekly planning with cyan accents and 55 weeks of planning pages.  At the top of each page, you can circle the month, write in the date of the week and off you go! So you can start this planner next week! No need to wait until 2018. Your year of sun can start right away!

In the back of the book are travel planning pages as well as lined pages for notes and other info pages like a world map with time zones and such.  The paper quality seems  decent but I didn’t want to blemish the book as it was too pretty and I wanted someone to give it away unsullied.

Why should it be unsullied? Because I’d like to give this beautiful planner away! I get so many wonderful, lovely things I wanted to share the wealth.

TO ENTER: To qualify to win the Octaveo “Year of Sun” Undated A5 Planner, leave a comment here and tell me where you like to enjoy the sun or where you would like to enjoy the sun in the coming year.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Friday, September 29, 2017. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Saturday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your real email address in the comment form (not in the actual comment) so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 7 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. We are generous but we’re not made of money. US residents only please.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Notemaker/Milligram for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Notebook Review: Back Pocket Notebooks Guitar Notebooks

Notebook Review: Back Pocket Notebooks Guitar Notebooks

There are a plethora of options for pocket notebooks these days so its hard to find a product that sets itself apart. Back Pocket Notebooks sets itself apart in a couple truly notable ways.

First. Guitars (3 pack for £13.50)! I say this because I believe that when Back Pocket picks themes for their notebook cover designs, they choose things they are passionate about and it shows. Luckily, it is also things that certain people in Desk HQ are also passionate about. I was given permission to deface the Ukukele edition which allowed me to channeled my inner Marilyn Monroe à la Some Like It Hot.

Also, the illustrations are excellent!

And… they include facts about the instruments in the back cover and chords and scales in the front. So, even if you buy the notebooks just because you think they look cool you can actually learn a bit.

Best of all? The paper quality is top notch. The cover stock is a sturdy 300gsm and paper stock is 120gsm soft white dot grid. The dots are light enough grey not to be intrusive either.

All my pen tests were successful. The paper was a little toothy which I like but if you prefer skating rink smooth paper, this might not be for you.

From the reverse of the writing sample, looking on the right, if you strain your eyes really hard you might see the faintest hint of a shadow from the ginormous brush pen I used but that’s it. NO SHOW THROUGH. Seriously.

The kind folks at Back Pocket Notebooks also sent over a set of the SpaceX notebooks (set of 3 for £12) but Mr. Skylab Letterpress pretty much said I’d have to pry them from his cold, dead hands and then he sealed them in a pressurized canister for safe keeping. They are that awesome.

The Back Pocket Notebook fit perfectly in my Red Hare Leather notebook cover and actually look quite spiffy. I bought the cover at the airport in KC in the Souvenear vending machine which is an awesome concept created right here and filled with locally-created goods.

So, while the price for the Back Pocket Notebooks might be a bit higher than some other brands, the paper quality is significantly better than most.

Also, this is a UK-based product so if you are in the UK or the EU, this product is probably significantly easier to acquire and less expensive to ship to you than products made in the US. For US residents, shipping starts at £5.50 so its a bit more expensive but these are pretty nice notebooks, considerably nicer than most and the designs are top-notch.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items featured were sent to me free of charge by Back Pocket Notebooks for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Notebook Review: Field Notes “Dime Novel” Edition

Notebook Review: Field Notes “Dime Novel” Edition

Review by Tina Koyama

Field Notes Brand’s latest quarterly edition is out: Dime Novel. The notebook itself is a delightful surprise in many ways, but before I get to that, I’ll mention the theme. An homage to the cheap paperback novel of the mid-19th century, Dime Novel was inspired by both the genre’s form and its history. Go view the video – it’s an interview with a Northern Illinois University librarian who talks about this fascinating category of “literature.” (I use quotation marks because the stories in those books were apparently of questionable literary quality. You can judge for yourself by reading samples online at NIU.) I’m not always a fan of the quarterly editions’ themes (Utility and Workshop Companion did nothing for me), but Dime Novel informs us of a mostly forgotten genre while also reminding us of Field Notes’ initial inspiration of a notebook for the commoner. I like that.

Dime Novel books come two to a pack. Subscribers receive two packs and a collectible button.

Although it’s probably difficult to see in my photos, the covers are nicely embossed – remarkably, even the mouse print on the back cover (I’m going to have to get out my needlework glasses to read it).

The fly leaf is illustrated with a printing press.

Now for the surprises. The first was the size: 4 ¼ by 6 ½ inches. Patterned after the paperback format of the inspiration source, it may be unique in the notebook world. It’s about a half-inch taller than A6 and a smidge wider. Some pocket carriers might have a problem with this larger size (and I know that some collectors who like keeping all Field Notes in the same-size box are taking issue with it), but it fits comfortably in my hand and bag. It’s the “just right” bear between the standard Field Notes form factor and its larger Arts & Sciences size (also available in the Pitch Black Note Book).

The next surprise was the binding: “The 72 body pages are Smyth-sewn in three, 24-page signatures with Coats Dual-Duty thread, then securely glued into the cover.” When I first read this statement on the site before receiving the books, I audibly groaned. I thought it was going to be similar to Black Ice’s glued PUR binding which, although sturdier and more attractive than staples, won’t allow the pages to open completely flat, no matter how much it’s forced. That ridge at the gutter annoys me when writing, but it’s a solid deal-breaker when drawing, so I was skeptical.

The first thing I did when I received my Dime Novel was to open it at random pages and force the book to stay open – and it does! I had to initially bend the two sides of the book backward rather severely to get the page spreads to open flat, but this abuse did no damage to either the stitching or the binding. I can happily sketch across the gutter and write easily on both sides of the page. In addition, there’s no telltale shadow in the gutter when I scan a page spread.

Finally, the third unexpected feature in this edition is the page ruling – none! It’s a blank page! We haven’t seen a completely blank book since Sweet Tooth, my all-time favorite Field Notes for sketching (Arts & Sciences was blank on one side). Well, I shouldn’t say it’s completely blank – the pages are numbered with an overly large typeface and archaic period hearkening to the original inspiration. Given the controversy in the stationery community over Sweet Tooth’s blank page, I doubted that I would see one ever again, so you can imagine my delight. Although obviously I prefer blank pages for sketching, my large, “freeform” (a nice term for messy) writing doesn’t conform well to most rulings, so I also prefer blank for writing. Another win for me!

(If you prefer to write with the guidance of lines, use Ana’s guide sheets. They are happily being downloaded by the Field Nuts Facebook group as members receive their Dime Novels.)

(Editor’s Note: Because I love you and I love Field Notes, I made all new Dime Novel-sized guide sheets in a full range of lined, grid and — wait for it — DOT GRID! Option-click on the page so you can download the PDFs after you read Tina’s review.)

The innards paper choice for this edition is a new one: Strathmore Premium Wove 70-pound Natural White, which has a creamy color. I was thrilled to see a return to 70 pound, which was also used in Sweet Tooth, Workshop Companion, Shelterwood and America the Beautiful. The sizing, however, is slightly different on each type of 70-pound paper. In terms of how well a paper will stand up to various media and writing instruments, I’ve found that sizing is at least as important as weight (often more so).

I abused my first Dime Novel with as many examples as I could of materials on my desk and in my sketch bag. As expected, all dry media and typical writing instruments – pencil, ballpoint, rollerball, gel, colored pencil – fared very well with no bleeding.

The paper also held up beautifully to all my juicy brush pens with no bleed-through.

Even when I gave a swipe of water to a few water-soluble media, nothing bled through. The washed inks aren’t quite as rich as I like, but they are better than on most non-sketchbook papers. As expected, only the alcohol marker and Sharpie came through on the reverse.

Given the performance with all of those, I was disappointed that my Sailor fountain pen with its juicy fude nib feathered. Although it’s my favorite drawing pen, I don’t usually write with it, and it’s probably not a common choice for most Field Notes users. Still, I compared a writing sample on Dime Novel to a sample on Workshop Companion, which contains 70-pound French Kraft-Tone, using the same pen and ink, and Workshop Companion shows no feathering at all. (Despite my lack of affinity to Workshop’s theme, I do enjoy sketching on its paper. It’s the edition that gives me hope that Field Notes will one day return to that heavy sizing.) Finer nib fountain pens such as a Pilot Petit1 and Pilot Varsity showed no feathering, however.

Of course, I couldn’t resist throwing some watercolor at the Dime Novel, too. As expected, the sizing isn’t substantial enough to keep the pigments afloat, so the colors dried looking somewhat dull. However, the page didn’t buckle as badly from brush application as I had expected, and the paints didn’t bleed through. As a final abuse, I sprayed the page where I’d applied watercolor pencils. It buckled badly, and the pigment bled where I sprayed. Cotton, 140-pound cold press it is not.

Although I could probably get away with using all the media I tried except watercolors, I think my favorite sketching media on this Strathmore Premium Wove are graphite and colored pencil. While smooth to the touch, the surface has a light tooth that I find very pleasing with pencil – both for drawing and writing. I like a texture that grabs the media and shows through the graphite or pigment coverage with a bit of sparkle.

Final Impressions

While Dime Novel is not a full-fledged sketchbook by any means, it is perhaps as close to one as any pocket notebook company has offered so far. The size is fully portable while giving just a bit more real estate for sketching, and the binding tolerates abuse when forced to open flat.

It’s an ideal cross-over book: Write or draw, as you please. In fact, I have big plans to use a Dime Novel as a travel journal. Although I generally keep my journals separate from my sketchbooks, traveling is the one time I like to both write and sketch in the same book. Dime Novel’s pages are heavy enough to support glued-in photos and ephemera, and the slender profile is a handy traveler that won’t weigh me down.

Field Notes has said that its quarterly limited editions are a way for the company to experiment with different themes, papers, printing methods and, more recently, form factors and binding styles. Even when I’m not particularly enamored with a new edition, I’m always excited by Field Notes’ willingness to try new things.

What a year it’s been so far in the stationery world! First, Baron Fig came out with its blank-page Clear Sky edition. Then Blackwing released Volume 73, Tahoe, with the soft core, which I adore drawing with. And now Field Notes offers Dime Novel. I declare 2017 to be The Year of the Sketcher.

tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

Paper Review: Baron Fig Mastermind Dot Grid

Paper Review: Baron Fig Mastermind Dot Grid

Sometimes you need more space to think. A notebook is just not enough room. I used to love those desk pads that were sold at big box stores but the paper was crap. Well, Baron Fig has a solution. The Mastermind Desk Pad ($15). It’s a large “scratch pad” with the same quality paper you’ve come to expect from Baron Fig that you can use as a desk pad complete with dot grid.

The Mastermind looks to have been designed to be the same size as my 13″ MacBook Pro. I can lay the whole pad over my keyboard. For home use, this is perfect. At work, the pad is completely dwarfed by my 15″ laptop, my extended keyboard and my ginormous 27″ CINTIQ the size of a full size sheet cake stood on its end.

Each pack of Mastermind comes with two tablets of 35 sheets, measuring 8″x12″. The pages are glue bound along the long edge and are dot grid on the front, blank on the back. The corners are rounded and the back has a thin piece of chipboard backing.

The paper quality is the same as all the other Baron Fig products currently on the market so it can handle an array of pen, pencil, marker, felt tip and ballpoint with ease. I’ve run this stock through its paces in the past.

The number of pages makes the Mastermind pads about as thick to start as your average mobile phone or tablet which makes writing on it pretty comfortable.

Pricewise, the Mastermind is definitely more expensive than the larger desk pads from an office supply store but the paper quality is better and it features the beloved dot grid. Also, if you are working in smaller spaces and tend to work more mobile, the scale is more manageable. You may even be able to use both sides of the paper, doubling your value.

For more detailed reviews, check out “in-action” shots from Alt. Haven and Leadfast.

DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Baron Fig for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Housekeeping: Oops!

There were some WordPress updates and general upkeep and maintenance this week that somehow lead to the accidentally deleting  a bunch of things – not that anyone noticed. Including me! But everything has been restored, including the link to The Desk Shop in the sidebar. Sorry for any confusion or navigational issues this week.

Please do not look in that closet over there or under that rug. Nothing to see there!