Notebook Review: Baron Fig Metamorphosis

Baron Fig has become a product releasing machine. Metamorphosis ($20 for individual purchase or $74 per year for quarterly subscription) is the second release in 2017 in the subscription series for the Confidant. This time, they are making fewer waves than they did with the Askew, which ruffled quite a few feathers.

The Metamorphosis treads more familiar Baron Fig territory with a peach book cloth cover and cobalt blue end papers and cotton ribbon book mark. The design message with the Metamorphosis is comes from a quote by Van Gogh, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

The colors are striking. Springy peach on the outside and shockingly vivid on the inside. The graphics are as sleek and clean as any edition previously. Tasteful and understated. Kudos to the design team.

Inside the on the right side is a space for name or a title or a doodle.

I love the bubble graphics. The germination of an idea… or is it the filtration of particles? Your call.

On the inside of the back cover, the trays are blank. I love the boxes that Baron Fig uses. They are sturdy and are endlessly reusable.

The ribbon bookmark matches the cobalt blue exactly. Quite the design feat. I just wish Baron Fig would make their ribbon bookmarks a little longer.

The dot grid remains the same as previous books and the paper is good quality and fountain pen friendly and well as friendly to a lot of other pens and pencils. Baron Fig is really doing simple and well-designed notebooks right.

So, all in all, the Metamorphosis notebook is a winner.  So, I’d like to pick a winner.

THE RULES: In the spirit of Metamorphosis, what would you like to bloom, change or grow this spring? Are you working on a new project? Training for a race? Watching your garden grow? Watching your new baby grow? Growing out your hair? Leave a comment below on what you want to metamorphosize below to be entered to win this (one) Baron Fig Metamorphsis dot grid notebook.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Monday, May 8, 2017. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Tuesday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form (not in the comment itself) 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 30 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 and APO residents only.

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.

Atlanta Pen Show Recap and Looking Forward to Chicago

I ate from the wrong side of the mushroom! Thanks @colonel4god for the awesome photo! #atlantapenshow2017

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It’s taken me almost a week to recover from the Atlanta Pen Show.  I was so busy working behind the Vanness Pens table, I forgot to take photos but luckily, everyone else took tons.

During the day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I sold ink, pens and paper with Lisa Vanness and Christa at the Vanness Pen table in “the Cool Kids room” as Brad and Myke deemed it near the Karas table, Carolina Pens and the ink testing station. In the evenings, we spent time sharing pens, eating and drinking. Friday night was a cookout by the pool for vendors and 3-day pass holders so we spent time outside until it was so dark we were looking at pens and ink by the light of our phones.

Saturday night was the recording of the Pen Addict podcast in front of a live studio audience. It was nerve-wracking but not as stressful as last year. I thought I was going to pass out last year. Luckily, there were other guests to interview this year; Vito from Story Supply Co. and Jonathan from Carolina Pen Co. so I really didn’t have to talk much. I just sat around, easy peasy.

By Sunday, we were all getting tired and the weather got cold and rainy which made the show pretty slow. It was disappointing for the vendors and everyone started packing up early and had to load up in the rain.

Awesome time! After the @atlantapenshow. #atlantapenshow2017

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As always, the best part of any pen show are the people you meet and get to spend time with.

@franklinchristoph prototypes at the #atlpenshow2017 #atlantapenshow2017

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But, of course, the pen love was strong!

New additions to my Skripsert collection.

And I wasn’t the only one who fell for the Sheaffer Skripserts!

Fuyu-gaki Col-o-ring meet-up! Me and sweet! #atlantapenshow2017 #coloringinktestingbook #coloringink

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And there was lots of enthusiasm for the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Books too!

Getting ready to go live! ……. #penaddict #penaddictlive #atlantapenshow2017 #atlpenshow2017

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Of course, the Pen Addict podcast recording in front of a love audience was both a highlight and a moment of sheer terror. Do we look nervous?

Nightmare coloring pages at the ink station! @penaddict @imyke #atlantapenshow2017

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There were some pretty scary coloring pages left at the ink testing station too.

So, if you’re in the Midwest, I hope you’ll be coming to the Chicago Pen Show this weekend. We’ve been madly making more Col-o-ring books to bring to the show. Once again, I’ll be at the Vanness Pens booth. This time, it will be Lisa, Matt Armstrong of the Pen Habit and I and we’ll be right next to Brad and Nock Co. so it’ll still be the “cool kids,” right?

The show is way out in the northwest suburbs but, trust me, it is totally worth the trip. Its near a great big Target too so you can get a toothbrush and TP while you’re schlepping to the suburbs. No sense in paying those toll and not get your money’s worth. If you’re coming in from Wisconsin, Michigan or Iowa, the hotel is not far from an Ikea so add that to your agenda and leave a little space in the car for pens and some build-it-yourself bookshelves.

Looking forward to another great pen show weekend even though the forecast is predicting another rainy one! We are made of tougher stuff than that, right? Italian beef will make us strong! If not, I’ll pack the Malort.

Fashionable Friday: Cocktail Hour

First, three tips from the Waldorf Astoria Bar Manager, Frank Caiafa, compliments of Bon Appetit.

  • Rieger’s Midwestern Dry Gin (via J.Rieger & Co)
  • PIUMA Minimal Fountain Pen in Titanium $90 (via Ensso)
  • “Gitter & Be Gay” Polish $15 (via 1898 House)
  • Pelikan Souverän M800 fountain pen Renaissance, special edition € 490
    (€ 404,96 Outside EU) (via Fontoplumo)
  • Pilot Custom 823 Fountain Pen $288 (via Anderson Pens)
  • Barstock Fountain K Fountain Pens, starting at $80 (via Karas Pen Co.)
  • Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey (via J. Rieger & Co.)
  • Tom’s Town Eli’s Strongarm Vodka $25 (via Tom’s Town)
  • Inkaren Memo Clips, Box of 30 for $5.50 (via Fresh Stock Japan)
  • The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book $13.60 (via Amazon)
  • Original MT Diagonal Cobalt Green Stripe Washi Tape, $3.50 per roll (via CuteTape)
  • Sailor Jentle Four Seasons Waka-Uguisu (Japanese for “Cocktail Olive?”) Fountain Pen Ink (50ml Bottle) $18 (via Anderson Pens)
  • Monteverde Scotch Brown Ink (30 ml Bottle) $8 (via JetPens)
  • Retro Cocktail Glasses On Sale for $10 (via CapeCodGypsy on Etsy)
  • Parker Jotter Ballpoint in Classic Stainless Steel $13.05 (via Pen Chalet)

May I recommend trying The Foghorn, a drink made famous at the Waldorf-Astoria?

Pour 2 oz of your favorite, ice cold gin into a tall (Tom Collins) glass full of ice. Fill with good quality ginger ale or ginger beer. Add 1/2 oz of fresh lime juice and garnish with lime wedge.

I know De Atramentis makes a slew of scented inks in an array of wines, whiskeys and such but I couldn’t find any currently in stock through my favorite online pen shops. If this is something you would be interested in purchasing, please ask your favorite pen shop to order them or leave a note in the comments and I’ll put in requests to get them restocked. But there are many ink colors that look like good cocktail colors that won’t make you smell like you’ve been having a three martini lunch. KWZ Honey is a good whiskey color, for example, as is Callifolio Huere Doree. Keep the ice tray full and the liquor cabinet well-stocked!

Update: This time, without the oops!

Notebook Comparisons: Dot Grid Showdown

Left to right: Leuchtturm1917 100th Anniversary in Silver, Rhodia softcover A5 in silver and Baron Fig Confidant Plus in Light Gray

I finally have the great triumvirate of dot grid notebooks at hand to do a side-by-side comparison: the much-loved Leuchtturm 1917 A5, the Rhodia and the Baron Fig. While the editions aren’t entirely identical, they are awfully close and the paper is all dot grid and each brand’s “flagship” size. The Rhodia is in the Rhodiarama softcover version with a metallic silver cover ($18.95). The Leuchtturm 1917 is in the 100th Anniversary metallic silver edition ($25.50) and the Baron Fig is in the standard light grey book cloth in their new Plus size ($22). Color-wise, the light grey book cloth on the Baron Fig is almost the same color as the silver of the Rhodia and the Leuchtturm. Freaky!

Top to bottom: Baron Fig Confidant Flagship in Metamorphosis, Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary in silver, Rhodia Softcover in silver, Baron Fig Confidant Plus in Light Gray

I also included the standard Flagship-sized “Metamorphosis” edition ($20) for size comparison. The Baron Fig Flagship is ever-so-slightly shorter than A5 giving it slightly squarer proportions.

All the books open flat, lay flat and have good stitched signatures that seem to hold up pretty well to daily use. They are well-built and look good. I always feel like I get my money’s worth when I buy from any one of these companies. The materials all look and feel high-quality.

The length, top to bottom: Baron Fig Confidant Flagship in Metamorphosis, Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary in silver, Rhodia Softcover in silver, Baron Fig Confidant Plus in Light Gray

Both Rhodia and Leuchtturm include gusset pocket in the back and elastics to keep the books closed. Over the years, I tend to loop the elastic over the inside back cover most of the time unless I’m trying to keep stuff from falling out. Baron Fig is the least “adorned” in its simplicity.

The width top to bottom: Baron Fig Confidant Flagship in Metamorphosis, Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary in silver, Rhodia Softcover in silver, Baron Fig Confidant Plus in Light Gray

All the notebooks include ribbon bookmarks. The Leuchtturm 1917 is the only notebook that has two ribbon bookmarks and they are the longest and easiest to use to open the notebook. This is a big thing with me. The short ribbon bookmarks I find kind of pointless. They look nice in a photo but they don’t do anything. (For an example of what I mean by ribbon bookmarks being too short, check out Boho Berry’s video from the 23:30 marker. I’ve kindly marked it for you so you can just watch the minute or so I am talking about.) I have the same pet peeve.

The ribbons, top to bottom: Baron Fig Confidant Flagship in Metamorphosis, Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary in silver, Rhodia Softcover in silver, Baron Fig Confidant Plus in Light Gray

Both the Rhodia and the Baron Fig notebooks have short ribbon markers. The Baron Fig ribbons are thick cotton ribbons that have finished ends so they don’t fray and colors that pop and coordinate with their design themes but they are stingy short. Rhodia uses their signature orange in satin with finished edges as well but the ribbons are still a bit too short to be really usable.

Top to bottom: Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary in Silver, Rhodia Softcover in silver and Baron Fig Confidant Plus
From top to bottom: Baron Fig Plus, Rhodia softcover and Leuchtturm 1917 100th Anniversary Edition

Now for the true heart of the matter. The paper and the dots. I’ve talked independently about the paper for all these notebooks before. Rhodia paper is epically fountain pen friendly. Leuchtturm paper is decently fountain pen friendly and Baron Fig and upped its game for fountain pens to be on-par with Leuchtturm, maybe a tiny bit ahead. So, if I was grading on paper quality alone, Rhodia would be a gold medal winner. But there are the other factors to consider…

Looking at the dots, they are all spaced at 5mm. The Leuchtturm 1917 has the smallest dots. The Baron Fig dots might be a bit lighter but they are larger. And Rhodia’s dots are the darkest and most obtrusive. When you see them side-by-side, its really noticeable.

Writing samples: Leuchtturm1917 on the left and Rhodia Softcover on the right.

If you write with a wide pen and very dark ink, the dots on the Rhodia may not be an issue for you but if you write with light ink or have tiny penmanship like I do, it might be disruptive. I find the Leuchtturm the easiest to use, followed by the Baron Fig. I prefer using Rhodia blank paper best as I find their ruling lines, graph and dots to be too dark for me.

Writing sample: reverse of stock, on the left Leuchtturm 1917 and on the right Rhodia.

Very light show through occurs with the Leuchtturm 19171 and of course there is no show through with the Rhodia.

Baron Fig writing sample

For the most fountain pen friendly notebook, Rhodia is still where its at but the dots will get ya. However, the more fountain pen friendly your paper is, the longer your dry time will be which is not always optimal for those on-the-go notes and lists.

For simplicity, Baron Fig has the dot grid notebook locked down. With three sizes in simple light grey or dark grey book cloth, Baron Fig has gelled down the formula for the notebook into its perfect essence. The paper is good and the dots are not distracting. I have a love/hate relationship with the book cloth. It looks great but if I so much as think about my cats, the covers collect cat hair. If you want any “extras” like pockets or elastic closures though, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

But for all-around perfection and usability, Leuchtturm 1917 reigns supreme. Available in a multitude of colors, hardcover or softcover with elastic, pocket and TWO FULLY-FUNCTIONAL ribbon bookmarks, acceptable paper for most writing tools, numbered pages and an index, the Leuchtturm 1917 is the Swiss Army Knife of notebooks.

Link Love: Atlanta Pen Show & Hippo Purple

Post of the Week:

Of course, I couldn’t resist making the post of the week the live episode of the Pen Addict podcast recorded live in front of studio audience in Atlanta with special guests Vito from Story Supply and Jonathan from Carolina Pen Company. And of course, I got to sit in the third chair and laugh a lot. So, hop on over and give it a listen!



Notebooks and Paper:

Other Interesting Things:

Pencil Review: Viarco Vintage Collection Box Set

I’d been putting it off for sometime but I couldn’t wait any longer when I realized there was only one Viarco Vintage Collection box set left on the CW Pencil Enterprise web site left. I had to get it. Viarco is a small pencil manufacturer in Portugal that is still producing pencils and has been in business since 1907.

The only difference between the box set and buying the boxes individually is the outer box with the matte black box with the gloss black foil stamp. You can still get all six different varieties of Viarco vintage pencils by the dozen.

The set includes reproductions of Viarco’s pencil varieties made between 1940 and 1960. They have reproduced both the pencils and the packaging to a tee. The pencils are:

  • 1950 #2/HB (all yellow, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)
  • 1951 #2/HB (2 each of six solid colors with pinstripes, hex-shaped coordinating dipped ends)
  • 2000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, hex-shaped with yellow dipped ends)
  • 272D Violeta Copying Pencil (round, unfinished end)
  • 3000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, round with yellow dipped ends)
  • 3500 #2/HB (all red with pinstripes, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)

I love the script lettering of their logo type. I’d say 60% of the reason I purchased the pencils was for the design of the packaging. As a designer, I love the look of the vintage packaging. The way that the tail of the V curls around the pencil on the box of the 3500s alone was worth the purchase of the box.

All the boxes have the scores on the inner box so it slides out and can them flip down to more easily access pencils. They may be simple paperboard boxes but they are still nicely engineered to be useful.

I had one or two pencils out of the six dozen that had a bad foil stamping on the pencil, on the 3000 round, I think, but overall the quality of the painting and printing was pretty consistent.

The 272D Violeta had the least amount of paint and shellac and felt the most utilitarian but since these were supposed to be reproductions of pencils made between 1940 and 1960, I suspect that war-era and post-war pencils were probably not super-posh to begin with. Resources were limited then and this pencil probably reflects that specifically.

I took the pencils for a test drive. All the standard graphite pencils came pre-sharpened so I used them as is. All were listed as a standard #2/HB. The 3000, which is the only round barrel in the lot, is definitely a softer lead and darker than the rest.

The 1951 “Super” Desenho does feel like the most premium of all the pencils. It has the most lacquer on the barrel and feels weightier. The lead feels similar to the other hex pencils but the wood and the finish makes it feel “super.”

In terms of writing and hand-feel, the 2000 is pretty similar to the 1951. The metallic finish softens the hex shape a bit but the weight and lead is the same. the lacquer is very smooth.

The 3500, with its unfinished end, is the lightest in the hand. It also felt life it had the least amount of lacquer so the hex-shaped felt most pronounced in the hand. I found myself reaching for the 3500 most often. Its just a clean, true hex pencil.

The 1950 is the Portuguese “yellow pencil”. The color is more yellow-orange than what I normally think of as the Dixon-Ticonderoga yellow and the lacquer and lead quality of the 1950 puts the Viarco way above the modern Ticonderoga by leaps and bounds. Unadorned, its the perfect companion for a kraft Field Notes in a all-business sort of way.

Lastly, is the 272D Violeta Copying pencil which writes is a lovely purple color. It erases but doesn’t smudge terribly and when wet with water it makes a lovely violet color. I tried to transfer the color to another page with no real results so that didn’t quite work. What I did discover is that after the scribbles were wet and dried, they were permanent. I couldn’t erase them. So that’s what the magic is. If you want to write or draw something and make it permanent, spritz it with water and let it dry. It’s not going anywhere.

Each box of Viarco Vintage pencils is available from CW Pencils for $15 per dozen.

Pencil Review: Baron Fig Snakes & Ladders

Review by Tina Koyama

When Baron Fig’s standard edition Archer pencil came out a while back, I thought it was fine as far as writing pencils go – attractive matte finish, lightweight, not smeary – but somewhat blah in appearance. As a Pacific Northwest resident who sees gray skies much of the year, I generally stay away from gray products of any kind simply on principle, but I was happy to have a couple of them to use.

A few weeks ago the New York City stationery maker released the first in its quarterly limited-edition Archer pencil series – Snakes & Ladders. Upon seeing photos of that brilliant vermilion barrel, my pulse quickened – it matches my favorite Field Notes Sweet Tooth perfectly!

Like its gray brother, it has a lovely matte finish with an elegant dipped end cap in a darker shade of the same hue. Adornment is spare: snake and ladder symbols and Baron Fig’s simple logo near the end cap. The two pencils are similar enough in basic design that they look like they belong together. Like many of BF’s products, the clean, confident design is very appealing.

Of course, there’s also the tubular container the pencils come in. I like it so much that I would be willing to buy an empty tube just to store other pencils in.

With a matte finish to match the pencil, it has the same tone-on-tone design, simple branding and a brief description of the theme. When the gray Archer first came out, I saw many photos of how the 12 pencils fit perfectly inside, and I almost bought a box just for that (but I resisted because I just couldn’t bring more gray into my life).

I have to admit that before seeing promotional info about this edition, I was not familiar with the Snakes and Ladders ancient Indian board game (though I did play Chutes & Ladders as a child). “The symbols help to encourage you through obstacles you may slither into your life as you climb to find success,” says the product description page, and I appreciate the way that ties into Baron Fig’s basic mission “to champion thinkers in their journey to create and inspire the world.” In fact, I’d say it’s the one thing I like best about all of BF’s product lines (which I can’t say about some other stationery companies’ subscription-based products): They stick to a basic philosophical theme related to creativity, exploration and inspiration.

If the Snakes & Ladders design is a template of future pencil editions to come, I started imagining a growing set of similarly matte-finished pencils in a range of colors, and my subscription finger started to quiver. I was close to tapping the button – but then I started hearing rumors and reading reviews in the stationery blogosphere that something was amiss.

The cores were breaking even without being used, as if they were already shattered inside their casings. People showed photos of entire cartons of Snakes & Ladders pencils that couldn’t be sharpened properly because the cores snapped repeatedly. Apparently Baron Fig’s customer service department was busy taking care of the problem, so subscribers eventually ended up with useable pencils.  But were these random anomalies? Or evidence of a fundamental problem?

Ana sent me a couple of Snakes & Ladders to try, and I sharpened one with trepidation. As I often do with an unfamiliar new graphite pencil, I simply stuck it into an electric sharpener. (No point in babying a product of utility, I say.) It sharpened just fine. I used it to write two pages in my Rhodia journal that evening. I didn’t care much for how it felt, but I’m accustomed to my fountain pens gliding along on that smooth paper, so that seemed like an unfair test. Before using it again, I sharpened it, this time with my Blackwing long point. Again, it sharpened just fine – no breakage at all.

Next I wrote a page in my Plumchester sketchbook, which I knew to have a pleasantly toothy surface that I enjoy when sketching with graphite. The tooth gripped the Snakes & Ladders graphite nicely without feeling scratchy. Even better was a page written in my Baron Fig Confidant, which also has a slight tooth that’s just a touch less toothy than Plumchester paper. Some have said that the Archer pencil feels pleasant on BF notebook paper when it feels scratchy on other similar papers. I don’t know if BF designed its pencils to mate perfectly with its paper, but I have to admit that I’m more likely to write with it in the Confidant before other notebooks now that I know how it feels.

I must say, however, that the writing experience is nothing to write home about. It’s quite average. I suppose you could say that the Snakes & Ladders pencil does not call attention to itself in any way, which suits its unpretentious exterior appearance. It’s not silent, but it doesn’t make enough noise to annoy me. It feels pleasant but doesn’t make me swoon (as, say, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B does). Perhaps the only exceptional feature is that matte finish, which feels wonderful in my hand (and this is difficult for me to acknowledge, but I like that matte finish even more than the glossy lacquer on my swoon-inducing Hi-Uni).

Finger smudging is typical for a core that I would guess is an HB grade, and erasing is also typical. My left hand did not smudge my writing across the page, so that’s a bonus.

After four pages of writing and two sharpenings, it hasn’t broken once yet.

Anomaly or issue? It’s hard to say. I might subscribe, just for that tube if nothing else. But in any case, I’m going to wait for the next edition to come out. Given the customer service and responsiveness that BF has shown, if the pencil core has an issue, it will be addressed before the next edition comes out. Although I applaud innovative designs in subscription-based services, I would be very happy if all future pencils look like they belong with this one and the standard Archer. Even the gray one looks better when standing next to the vermilion one.

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

DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Baron Fig for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.