Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Penmen's Journals -- TWSBI

the TWSBI comes with a black leatherette cover (embossed with the company's distinctive logo) and black elastic 
close (the red logo was my feeble attempt to match that of my Mini with a bit of Golden Pyrrole Red acrylic paint) 

Following the end of what might be labeled the Golden Age of Fountain Pens in the late 50s and early 60s many paper makers turned away from the production of fountain pen-friendly stationary and notebook journals. However, with the rebirth of interest in nibbled writing instruments more and more of paper mills -- both large and small -- have seen a new demand arise for papers that would "play nice" with vintage and new fountain pens alike.

fountain pen enthusiasts now have an extensive range of sizes and paper finishes to choose from, including: (A) Fabriano Artist's Journal with toned, laid paper, (B) TWSBI Notebook with lightweight wove paper, (C) Moleskine landscape format with heavyweight (watercolor) paper, (D) Exacompte Sketchbook with G. Lalo laid paper, (F) Clairefontaine's softbound sketchbook with intermediate paper (which complements their Rhodia and Quo Vadis hardbound lines), and (G) Stillman & Birn hardbound journals with wove paper (available in a variety weights, finishes, and light tones) 

The newest fountain pen-friendly journals to arrive on the scene enter a field already teaming with high quality competition but brings a few unique qualities that the pen-loving community may find of interest: it is the only company that comes to mind that currently offers both pen-friendly journals AND manufactures its own highly popular line of fountain pens; and the new journals contain what may be the lightest fountain pen-friendly paper in the mass produced, modestly priced range.

If you've already looked closely at the first photo you know that I'm talking about TWSBI's new notebook, which is currently available in three sizes (3.75"x5.5", 5.25"x8.25", and 7.5"x9.8") and three "options" (blank, lined, grid). I recently had an opportunity to "test drive" one of the medium-sized, blank versions of the TWSBI notebook and would like to share my initial impressions with you.

the structure's design facilitates the book lying completely flat when open (ideal for working on double-page spreads)

First, the notebook is softbound in a black leatherette that is embossed with the company's logo on the front and back, and with the company's name on the back. It sports a permanently attached red ribbon bookmark, and an expandable pocket (with sturdy red fabric accordion side panels) inside the rear cover. The individual signatures of the structure are securely stitched together using a heavy double thread and cheesecloth has been adhered to the paper spine to protect against damage due to repeated openings and closings over time. The front and back covers are adhered to heavy (almost card stock) end papers that have then been partially glued to the first and last page of the structure. The cover spine is not attached directly to the structure spine and this acts to facilitate the notebook lying completely flat when open.

the paper is translucent enough to allow use of a line guide when writing

while I, personally, would not opt to work on both sides of the notebook's sheet, bleed-through was nil

some minor smudging was experienced during clean-up with an eraser about an hour after penning this sample -- not completely surprising considering the amount of sizing a lightweight paper might require to be rendered pen-friendly (in future I'll just let it set overnight before do any clean-up)

It's my practice to begin each new sketchbook with a favorite quote. And, in this case, I chose a short poem by Robert Service, which I penned with my Eversharp Symphony loaded out with J. Herbin Éclat de Saphir. With virtually no pressure applied the pen glided smoothly across the paper and I experienced no signs of feathering. Upon inspecting the reverse side "show-through" was quite clear due to the thinness of the paper but there were absolutely no "bleed-through" areas to be seen.

TWSBI Mini EF with Noodler's Cactus Flower Eel

For the second writing sample I switched to my TWSBI Mini loaded out with Noodler's Cactus Flower Eel, and again the writing experience was a smooth one with no feathering or bleed-through evident.

watercolor over Sakura Micron pen

As stated previously, this paper is unique in its light weight -- falling somewhere, I believe, between that of Moleskine pocket notebooks (which do not have a reputation for fountain pen friendliness) and the legendary (and rarely seen in North America) Tomoe River paper. So, I figured even the lightest, driest application of color washes would constitute something of a "torture test". Some buckling was experienced while applying wet over dry, but the fibers remained intact and undamaged. Wet-in-wet and scrubbing/color lifting were not attempted as I think it would be totally unreasonable to expect such a lightweight paper to withstand such abuse and I'm pretty sure the outcome would be a foregone conclusion.

pen & ink, TWSBI, Sakura Microns, and watercolor (the paper handles light washes beautifully)

The last of my "first impression" tests was a straight writing/line drawing field exercise -- drawing another one of my botanical studies on location. Once again the paper handled very well and offered no unwanted surprises, and even the most minute details were captured crisply and with ease.

A clarification and a few reservations

Shoppers may find the TWSBI Notebook's web pages a bit confusing. On one page it is stated that the sheets in all three notebook sizes are perforated (this is incorrect), while in the more details/more info area it is stated that only the small size is perforated (which is correct).

While most (if not all) paper manufacturers today are up front with details concerning specific weight (in pounds per ream, grams per square meter, or both), acid-free status, pH level, fiber type, chlorine status, sustainability, etc., this information (any of this information) is surprisingly absent from TWSBI's website and FB page. I know that archival quality may be of little interest to some users, but to many in both the writing and art communities these are critical considerations. I have enquired regarding these points and am hopeful that TWSBI will be as forthcoming with this information as they have been with all other aspects of customer service in the past. (I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything.)

Update: Philip Wang, at TWSBI USA, returned my email this morning and let me know that "the paper is just between 70 and 80 pounds" but was unable to answer the other questions at this time. Given TWSBI's outstanding reputation for responding to customer feedback (and allowing for the fact that they are the first pen company to venture into the field of paper and notebooks) I wouldn't be surprised if the other information was made available soon.


  1. Thanks for this. I am interested in the response from TWSBI and will look back at intervals. Very good, thorough review.

  2. Thank you for this review. I've recently purchased a TWSBI Eco, and I'm curious about the quality of their notebooks. :) I use pencil/markers/gel pens/watercolor as well in my journals -- so it's good to see what is compatible with the notebook.