So the idea is to have affordable notebooks that are great for use with fountain pens.
One of the joys of having different inks and fountain pens is to be able to use them daily, all the time, for every purpose. For note taking, for sketching, for journaling, for taking down lecture notes, for action points in meetings, for creative mind maps, for everything involving ideas, nothing beats the delightful flexibility of pen and paper. But this can soon become expensive, very expensive. Little notebooks, even the high priced ones from leading brands, fail miserably when confronted with fountain pen ink: the writing feathers out (lines become spidery), the ink bleeds through the page onto the next one, medium nibs do broad lines, shading inks become dull and flat.
What to do? If we lived in Paris, or in New York, we could go to the corner stationery store and get a Rhodia, or Clairefontaine, or Leuchtturm notebook. But in most places here, all we get are notebooks made of cheap offset paper of 56 g/sqm weight. A paper that works well with paste ink (used in ballpoint pens) or gel ink. Rollerballs and fountain pens, which use with liquid ink, will not work here.
Trouble is, even expensive notebooks such as those by Moleskine or Tilibra or Cicero (the lat two are beautiful little notebooks made in Brazil) are less than ideal for liquid ink. But there are two possible alternatives to solve the price and quality problem.
One solution is this: in Rio de Janeiro one can buy excellent, inexpensive old fashioned stapled notebooks from Casa Cruz in 1/4 size (230 x 155 mm), from the Silhueta line, or in 1/8 size (114 x 154 mm) from the Caderneta Ginasial line. For about a dollar each, one is able to buy the pretty notebooks that look exactly like the notebooks that were used by one’s grandparents more that 50 years ago, down to the boldly printed cover of light blue, green, pink or yellow paper. The Silhueta line is only available with unobtrusive light blue graph lining (5mm, 8mm and 10mm grids), in versions with 48, 60 and 80 sheets. The Caderneta Ginasial line is available with straight lines, with 60 sheets. The paper in those notebooks used to be better, and one may find some old stock with that smoother paper (easy to spot, because the grid is printed lighter); but the new paper, of 60 or 63 g/sqm is good enough.
The other solution is more labor intensive, but it lets you choose the paper to your heart’s desire: one can make one’s own notebooks from large sheets or from A4-size sheets. This is the solution I prefer.
To make pocket notebooks, I use large sheets of tracing paper, which we call “papel manteiga” (butter paper) in Brazil. Tracing paper is good for tracing – and for baking – but lets you see through it. Except when used with pencil, one can only use one side of each sheet.That may be a disadvantage, but I have always found it bothersome to write on the back of the sheets (the left page) anyway. So I prefer that my pocket notebooks are of that paper, which is really, truly wonderful for fountain pens.
The large sheets of tracing paper cost about US$ 0,40 each, and their size is 40″ x 28″ (or 3ft4 by 2ft4). By folding the sheets four times over, one can cut them into 16 sheets of 10″ x 7″, which are then folded in the middle, covered with a kraft paper cover of the same size and stapled in the middle to make handy notebooks of 7″ x 5″ (roughly 17,7mm x 12,7mm). Each sheet will yield a notebook having 32 sheets (or 64 pages considering both sides). I like that size very much. I go through one every few weeks in each of the purposes for which I use the little notebooks.
To make a beautiful cover for the notebooks, Midori-style, only costs a little money as well: we can easily get scraps of leather from, for instance, the Eurocouro leather store, bought by the weight (3 to 6 dollars a pound). In large bins in that store, located on Buenos Aires Street in downtown Rio de Janeiro, there are scraps of all colors and thicknesses of good leather from which covers can be made. It is very easy to make the covers: a cutter blade and a steel ruler will do the trick. The leather cover is cut a little larger than the notebooks that will go into it, two loops of cloth covered elastic cords are passed through holes punched in the spine, and two notebooks can be fitted. Additional elastic cord loops will hold extra notebooks alongside those two.
I usually buy one sheet of heavy kraft paper and ten sheets of tracing paper to make ten notebooks. To staple them, I have bought a long reach stapler, which costs around thirteen dollars at good stationery stores. If you find it hard to get one, it is possible to staple the spine with a common stapler using the edge of a plank, but you’ll have to close the staples by hand.
Finally, it is possible to make smaller notebooks (A6 size, 105mm x 74mm) by cutting A4 sheets in half and folding over the resulting A5 sheets. Because you can use heavier paper (75 or 90g/sqm), it is advisable to keep the notebooks thin (for example, 8 A4 sheets will yield 16 two-sided sheets, or 32 pages, which is enough for most purposes). Thinner paper of fountain pen compatibility is hard to come about, but good special papers are readily available anywhere. I prefer recycled paper, bought in 500 sheet packs for about four dollars (125 notebooks, which is a lot!).
For covers, I use old soap boxes – an excellent cardboard that makes my little notebooks smell veery, very good!
It is fun to make those notebooks and covers, and in the long run you save considerable money, and you get everything personalized. If interested, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll gladly send you further details.
That’s all for today. Till next week! And write always, by hand, with conviction and pride.