Monthly Archives: November 2017

Start Bay Navigator A5 notebook cover

A little bit of history  Notebook covers, also often referred to as traveller’s notebooks, have become first a fashion, then an enduring feature of the portable stationery scene. Start Bay notebooks started out as one man working from his home in, naturally enough, Start bay, a scenic cove in Devon, and people like the results so much that the range has  grown since then.  There is room for a bit of confusion, as Traveller’s Notebook is misspelt as a sub-brand by another manufacturer, while TN is used to denote a particular size of Start Bay notebook – but not the one we’re reviewing today. Just for clarity, this is the A5-size notebook cover, referred to by the makers as the Navigator.

How it looks  In many ways this is a fairly simply constructed product, which looks similar to other notebook covers like the Paper Republic alternative we reviewed a few months ago. It’s a sheet of folded leather, with four elastic threads inside the spine to hold notebooks in and one closure band to keep the whole thing together. The range of ‘charms’ which Start Bay also sells are optional, but quite tasteful. Those of us who have had one in use for quite a while find the leather attracts a few minor marks, but they add character – and the cover also comes in a rather nice canvas back should any extra protection be required.How it feels  Supple but solid, essentially; this is a pleasant cover to use and a good platform to write on, while giving the impression that it will take quite a bit of use and abuse if you need it to. Exactly what one wants from such a product, really.

How it fills  This is the detail which sets this product head and shoulders above its competitors. Unlike all the other ready-to-buy alternatives which claim to be A5, this one actually is; it’s big enough to accommodate up to four proper A5 notebooks without any of the edges poking out beyond the cover, meaning that  your writing is always protected – and you’re not limited to proprietary paper sizes when the time comes to buy a refill.  Several other manufacturers fail on this criterion.

Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Naturally that depends upon what notebooks you choose to put in it! Start Bay sell FP-friendly Clairefontaine notebooks at extremely reasonable prices from their own website, and there’s a range of British alternatives available from Personalised Stationery, to name just one of many sources. You’re unlikely to have much difficulty finding something which both fits this, and which loves your favourite fountain pen.

Bay! What is it good for?  Whatever you want to use it for, really. Having room for notebooks of different types means that it’s quite possible to accommodate a dot-grid to-do list book, a diary, a ruled journal and a plain sketch book, for instance.  As the name Navigator suggests, it also travels well.

VFM  Surprisingly competitive – this is a hand-made, well-thought-through product which you can get for less than £50.  That’s pretty impressive, really.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Start Bay offer a different ‘duo’ arrangement which allows for the fourth noteboook to be a top-hinged A5 pad (like the Rhodia n.16, for instance). They also have some limited-edition finishes, including some splendid-looking paisley patterns and, more recently, a special all-black edition. For those who can wait, a number of readers have pointed-out that there are several specialists who will custom-make a similar notebook cover to order – and we’ll try to review some of those next year.

Our overall recommendation  We think this is a well-constructed, useful product which we would have very little hesitation in recommending.

Where to get hold of one  Start Bay initially sold through a number of retailers, including many of our favourites, but the operation is increasingly focused on direct sales. Given the high standard of customer support we’ve observed, we think that’s probably a good thing – so if you want one, head straight to Start Bay itself.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Peter at Start Bay for lending us an A5 notebook cover for this review. Gillian will be hanging on to to it for a little while longer to assess how it fares during longer-term use.

Modern Calligraphy book review

Modern Calligraphy, it appears, is an actual thing. Whether it is the sort of thing that it sounds like is possibly another matter.  Calligraphy (‘beautiful writing’, for all the classical etymology fans out there), can mean anything from zen masterworks to that nineteenth-century business hand which looks like copperplate but was seriously intended for everyday use. So a book featuring just those two words as its title could relate to any point within that wide spectrum – but we were pretty sure it was going to be something which would interest us.The author is owner of Quill London, a combined design studio and stationery shop. What becomes clear on an introductory perusal is that the definition of calligraphy in use here is very much at the ornamentally decorative end of the scale. Bluntly, if you’re looking for a calligraphic hand which you can practise, perfect, and incorporate into your daily note-taking to the amazement of colleagues this probably isn’t the book you need. But if you’re called on to label floral arrangements, wedding place settings and hipster chocolates, it might be exactly what you want – as long as the style suits you.Lucy refers to letter-forming, not writing, and that’s a useful indicator to the type of art-form expounded here, which perhaps owes as much to sign-writing as traditional pen calligraphy.  The advantage of this is that the approach recommended offers lots of scope for variety, from reminding readers that brush pens are a legitimate tool, to actively encouraging us to ‘fake it’ when large features such as drop-capitals are required and a two-inch ginormoflex nib isn’t readily to hand. The disadvantage is that the book’s main dependence upon dip pens overlooks the range of flex nibs available in modern fountain pens – indeed, the text gets this factually wrong by suggesting that the only flex FP is the Noodler’s Nib Creaper, but this is the only complete howler and we can hopefully help if there’s a reprint.

The book features a range of practice exercises and ample space to rehearse your moves. That may not be so comfortable for anyone raised to avoid ever writing in a text-book, and it also means paying full price for a book which is only half composed of actual text, but it also makes it is easy to get started. Importantly, the publishers have wisely chosen to use fountain-pen-friendly paper, so the exercises are accessible and give a quick feel for whether this is a hand which suits you. The verdict from our test panel was it may or may not be quite everyone’s favourite lettering style, but that it is at least fun finding out.

So, we’d perhaps like to see something like this book covering a hand which could be tackled with a flex fountain pen, but that’s for another day.  In the meantime this is a good example of how a lot of ideas and experience can be conveyed quickly by a well-designed manual, a great advert for Lucy’s in-house training courses, and a pretty good stocking filler for anyone you know who is more into the eye-catching end result than the rarefied details of ‘serious nibbage’.

This meta-review draws upon brief reviews by:

Thanks to Lucy and her publishers for sending a few review copies our way.

 

Diamine Shimmertastic new colours

A little bit of history  Diamine were the first manufacturer to produce a range of affordable shimmering inks following J. Herbin’s innovation of introducing tiny sparkling particles to their inks. They launched with a range of 10 different colours, added another 12 later (reviewed here), and the new ones take that up to an impressive 32 colours.

How it looks  Diamine are well-versed in shimmering inks by now. They could do this in their sleep. However, they’ve not rested on their laurels here. Rather than just adding more sparkle to more ink, they’ve upped their game. What makes these new inks stand out is not only their strong, saturated colours, but the sheen many of them display. This adds a new dimension to the inks. The sparkle itself is subtle yet visible.

The blues and greens  The new range features four blue and green inks.

Arctic Blue is a bright, cool blue with a frosty silver shimmer. It also has a pinkish-red sheen.

Spearmint Diva is a bluish-green with silver shimmer. It’s similar to Tropical Glow from the same range, though the latter is more of a greenish-blue. It’s good to see that Diamine have those of us who love a good teal covered! However, Spearmint Diva also has a bit of a red sheen on some papers.

Golden Ivy is a traditional deep green with, again, a reddish sheen, set off with gold shimmer. This would make a lovely Christmas ink.

Cobalt Jazz is a saturated cobalt blue with a red sheen and gold shimmer. This is a gorgeous colour that looks pretty spectacular.

The reds  There are three new red inks in the range.

First off, there’s Electric Pink. This is no cute Barbie pink. This is take-no-prisoners pink: it’s rich and saturated, with silver sparkle.

Citrus Ice is a warm, saturated orange with a contrasting cool silver sparkle.

Firefly is an orange-toned red with gold sparkle. Another festive ink.

The purples  The three new additions at the purple end of the spectrum are a real treat.

Arabian Nights is a deep purple-black with silver shimmer. It’s probably the most usable of the inks for everyday writing. The shimmer is subtle and the dark ink is readable and utilitarian while retaining a lot of character.

Frosted Orchid is a slightly lighter purple ink with red tones and silver sparkle. This will be popular.

The last of the new inks is Wine Divine. This is a lovely addition to Diamine’s already well-stocked wine cellar (with Merlot, Syrah, and Claret). The ink is a rich burgundy with gold shimmer.

 

Crucially, how it writes…  Diamine have been on the go for over 150 years. The quality of their ink is sound, and these are no exceptions. They flow well and benefit from a wider nib to show off both sheen and shimmer. 

Ink! What is it good for?  These are unusual inks, and the sparkle makes it unlikely you’ll want to use these for business documents. They’re great for cards and letters, especially with Christmas fast approaching. As usual with shimmering inks, be sure to give the bottle a gentle shake before filling a pen. Similarly, gently agitate a pen that’s had the ink in it a while to mix up the settled shimmer particles. There’s also a caveat: any ink with particles like this has the potential to clog up a pen, so use this ink in pens that you can disassemble relatively easily to clean out properly.

VFM  Although more expensive than Diamine’s standard inks, the Shimmertastic range is an affordable way to get some seriously interesting inks. In the UK, a 50ml bottle retails for around £9-10.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  J. Herbin make a variety of premium shimmering inks. De Atramentis also offer a new line of shimmering inks, with each ink available with gold, silver, or copper shimmer. Robert Oster are soon to launch their own sparkles, too.

Our overall recommendation  These are great, fun inks with some unusual and interesting properties, available at a good price. Where to get hold of some  The usual suspects have these inks in stock (or soon will!). You can also purchase from Diamine directly.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for kindly providing samples as the newly expanded range was launched.