Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: The @BaronFig Confidant Notebook - Dot Grid

Baron Fig Confidant Review

Sketchbooks and notebooks for thinkers

After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, the Baron Fig Confidant sketchbook is now available to the public.

Size: 5.4" x 7.7"
Color: Grey
Ruling: Dot Grid, 5 mm
Paper Weight: 100 gsm
Sheet Count: 192 pages
Price: $15.95USD (free US shipping)
Where to buy: Baron Fig

Fig Confidant Review
Usually I include "packaging" only with fountain pens, but this time, I have to include it with this notebook, because the Confidant comes packaged in a classy "Baron Merlot" coloured box. Inside the box is the notebook, a soft grey notebook with a smooth linen hardcover. Sticking out is a braided sunshine yellow braided bookmark. The corners of the notebook are rounded nicely. The binding is stitched, which I prefer over a glue binding.

The paper is off white and easy on the eyes. The dot grid pattern is in a light grey, dark enough to be seen but not so dark that I find it obstructive. I also like the appearance of the paper, with its rounded corners to match the cover.
Baron Fig Confidant, Rhodia R, Clairefontaine
Top to bottom: Clairefontaine (white), Rhodia R (yellow), Baron Fig Confidant (off-white). 

I love the size and weight of the whole notebook itself. Bigger than pocket-sized so nice for larger projects, but not a giant notebook that is cumbersome to carry around and open on a table at your local coffee shop. You don't want to be one of those people who take up all the space. The paper feels like that you would find in a sketchbook, some kinds of sketchbooks anyway - heavy, fairly smooth, but also with a little bit of tooth.

The notebook lies flat, but not without cracking the spine. It does lie flat, yes, but it's not like you open it anywhere and it just stays that way. This isn't a bad thing. You also want the notebook to stay closed when you're done, however, having to crack the spine means it's a little difficult for it to stay closed. Personally, I like the look of a well-used notebook, so this suits my tastes. Others prefer a pristine notebook so this might not be your thing.

Pencil: Pencils worked well on this paper, handling the tooth easily, especially pencils with soft lead like the Palomino Blackwing 602. It would be suitable and enjoyable to sketch and draw in this notebook with pencils because the paper is heavy but allows for smudging of pencil lead
Fig Confidant Pencil
Marker: As expected, and as with pretty much every notebook out there, Sharpie markers bleed through the Confidant's pages. No feathering though. Stick a sheet in between the page you're using and the next page to prevent the marker from bleeding to the next page though, and it's perfectly usable. Some Sharpie art is pretty cool.
Confidant Sharpie
Gel: Gel pens work well on this paper, although as the tips get finer, they feel particularly scratchy as a result of the tooth of the paper. From 0.4mm tip size and up was about as far as I was willing to go without sacrificing smoothness, but hey, some people actually look for that bite from the gel pen writing experience, so this may be the perfect combination for you. Gel inks behaved well on the paper - no feathering. The ink did show through a little bit, but only one was bad enough that you might not be able to write on the other side (Dong-A Miffy 0.5mm). There was no bleed through.
Confidant Gel Rollerball Ballpoint Pens & Back of Page
Liquid/Rollerball: Liquid inks were absorbed into the paper more quickly than the gel inks were, so there is show through and it came very close to bleeding through. Wider tips, such as that on the Stabilo Easy Original rollerball exhibited feathering.

Ballpoint: Ballpoint pens, not surprisingly, were just fine in the Confidant. Honestly, I popped a Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 refill into a Retro 51 Tornado in the stainless lacquer finish. Looks pretty fine, hanging out with the soft grey Confidant. Also, the ink smells amazing. Okay, but this is a notebook review...

Drawing & Calligraphy Inks: Tolerated well by the paper - very little feathering, very little show through, and no bleed through, barring exceptional cases where I actually applied way too much ink. The feathering is not visible to the naked eye either.
RK Drawing Inks
Liquid Acrylic Inks: I was surprised to find that these inks were well-tolerated by the paper, too. Even heavily applied, there was no feathering, no spreading, very low show through, and no bleed through. Artists rejoice! This is pretty impressive.
Baron Fig Confidant Drawing Inks & Liquid Acrylic
Daler Rowney Liquid Acrylic Waterfall Green
No feathering!
Fountain Pens: Ah, the part you're all waiting for. How do fountain pens perform? Well, here's an answer that will drive you nuts: it depends. From my results, it doesn't really seem to depend on the nib or its wetness, but more so on the ink. And the funny thing is, if you just glance at the paper, you would probably think the paper is completely fountain pen friendly. It's only when you actually pay attention that it becomes a little bit confusing.
Confidant Fountain Pen Samples
Baron Fig Confidant fountain pen writing samples.
You could get away with extra-fine and fine nibs on this paper, so long as it isn't extremely wet. There is low amounts of feathering, no to very little show through, and no bleed through. Medium and broad nibs aren't terrible with bleed through but there is feathering and that annoys me, though on the bright side, there is very little show through because the paper is so thick.
Confidant Safari XF - 1.9mm
Flex nibs? No way. Nevermind the show through and bleed through, the feathering will drive you crazy. In a Namiki Falcon soft fine semi-flex nib, this Pilot Iroshizuku Kosumosu feathers, whereas Pilot Ku-Jaku does not feather in a broad italic nib
Namiki Falcon + Pilot Iroshizuku KosumosuPilot Ku-Jakue
How well inks behave seem to vary. Inks with a sheen seem to have some sort of surface tension that allows them to sit on the surface of the paper better, so they seems to feather less. Sailor Jentle Sky High, Diamine Graphite, and J. Herbin Rouge Hématite anniversary ink, all of which display a sheen, feather little, and do not show through or bleed through. Pilot Iroshizuku, which is quite well-behaved in general, showed little feathering.
Sailor Jentle Sky HighDiamine Graphite Grey
On the other hand, Akkerman Pulchri Pink, Diamine Ancient Copper, despite having a sheen, feathers like crazy. De Atramentis feathered a lot, but this was also in an oblique broad nib. Whereas Sailor Jentle Sky High behaved quite well, Sailor Jentle Apricot feathers far more.
Akkerman Pulchri Pink
Sailor Jentle ApricotDe Atramentis Silver Grey
Diamine Ancient Copper
J. Herbin Rouge Hématite does well and feathers very little, but J. Herbin Green Apple, a much more watery ink and one without a sheen feathers like crazy. This was tested using a Waverley dip nib.
J. Herbin Rouge Hematite/Green Apple
A random selection of inks, tested with a Waverley dip nib, is applied quite wetly to the paper. There is a fair amount of bleed through and feathering with all inks if it is wet.
Confidant Dip Pen FP Inks
De Atramentis Magic Unicorn
Fountain pen ink dries pretty quickly on this paper, as there is no coating on the page and it is absorbed quickly. You can expect to wait 10 seconds or so for normal nibs and 30 seconds or so for calligraphy nibs. Drying times may vary depending on nib wetness and ink properties.
Baron Fig Confidant Drying Times

How does The Confidant compare to the Gold Standard of notebooks for fountain pens? Rhodia and Clairefontaine - for most users - though I'd argue Tomoe River for myself because I don't care about bleed through, but that's an argument for another day...

The Confidant is a whopping 100 gsm, making each page feel quite thick and heavy, hence the art/sketchbook feeling. Rhodia paper, some of the top-tier fountain pen-friendly paper, is 80 gsm, and Clairefontaine, right alongside Rhodia in terms of its fountain pen-friendliness, is 90 gsm, so at 100 gsm, my expectations were high. What the Confidant lacks, however, is that smooth coating that Rhodia and Clairefontaine possess. That coating stops fountain pen ink from soaking into the page and results in the feathering and bleed through that seems to be extensive here. The advantage to not having that coating is drying time is much faster on the Confidant than it is on Rhodia/Clairefontaine.
Confidant Rhodia Clairefontain FP Comparison
First page: Rhodia R, second page: Clairefontaine, last three pages: Baron Fig Confidant. 
Confidant Back of Pages Comparison
Paper-wise, if you're a hardcore fountain pen user, the Confidant cannot be your number one fountain pen notebook. Quite simply, it does not hold up to the majority of fountain pen inks, and you would have to pick and choose your nib and ink combination, which would become tiresome and annoying after awhile. If you're a gel pen, ballpoint, or pencil user, or an artist (think artistic mediums...) even, you're going to be pretty lucky in this department because the Confidant tolerates these mediums well. If you look at this image below, you'd likely not notice any difference in behaviour of the ink across the three papers. If you zoom in (click on image), you can see the feathering in the third panel). Fountain pen friendly should not feather so often, that's my take.
Confidant Three Notebook Comparison
  • Available in blank, ruled, and dot grid. 
  • Opens flat - no wasting space against the inner margins because you can't reach them. 
  • 12 perforated pages (6 sheets) at the back.
  • Acid-free archival quality paper. 
  • Dot grid allows you to use the ruling in any orientation. 
  • Tolerates liquid acrylics really well - really nice for artists (not that I'm an artist). 
  • Sheen can be seen for those inks that have one. 
  • Lacking an elastic closure - especially if you use it for artistic purposes, the paper gets crinkly and the notebook doesn't close as well.
  • After a week of use, the bookmark started to fray. Concerned about its life. 
  • Not completely fountain pen-friendly. 
Baron Fig Confidant, Rhodia R, Clairefontaine

I must say, this is a very attractive, simple notebook, in the best way possible. I love its simple elegance and minimalistic appearance. I picture 20 of these lined up on my shelves, all full of clever writings and drawings, looking awesome. I love uniformity. No, I don't have OCD, why?

The thick paper tolerates many utensils very well - gels, pencils, ballpoints, some roller balls (easy on the liquid inks), liquid acrylics, and drawing/calligraphy inks. I'm hesitant to say this is entirely fountain pen friendly because of bleed through and feathering. While the feathering is not always visible to the naked eye, the way the paper accepts the ink changes the writing experience, and micro feathering can be felt. With a loupe, that feathering is very obvious. Personally, I use a lot of flex pens and those pens are very wet writers, so I expect the paper I use to tolerate the ink very well. On the other hand, the paper does show off the sheen for those inks that have it.

Is it fountain pen friendly? My requirements are: no feathering, sheen must be visible if the ink displays one. I will accept bleed through and show through (I know, I may be insane). This paper has very little to no show through, sometimes there is bleed through, you can see the sheen, but feathering is an issue, therefore overall, I cannot say it's completely fountain pen friendly.

Still, I would highly recommend this to replace your Moleskine. Highly.

Follow Baron Fig

Baron Fig Confidant
I was provided this notebook free of charge to sample, play with, get accustomed to, and review. I was not compensated monetarily to write this review. All opinions are my own. There are no affiliate links in this review.


edjelley said...

I was really curious about these, as they started popping up all over the place. I still don't understand what about a dotgrid notebook makes it "for thinkers", and I definitely don't get how a notebook promotes "community". Great, thorough review. I wish I had this much patience for paper reivews!

pajhurley said...

Excellent review Azizah!
In fact I would say that this is the "Gold Standard" of notebook and stationary reviews - thorough, objective, detailed analysis based on your extensive knowledge (and pen/ink collection), and comparison with well known notebooks are the market.
I especially appreciate the information on how high-sheen ink perform.
Thanks so much for taking the time, care and your skills/talents to produce this review.

Anna said...

Thanks for your very thorough review! I got one with blank paper, and really like the looks of it, too. I thought the box it came in was a really nice touch, and I was very impressed by the presentation. However, I also worry about the ribbon fraying, and I have not had great results with fountain pen ink in mine. I use a lot of De Atramentis inks, which tend to feather pretty badly on this paper, and sometimes bleed. But oh well, it's a nice notebook that opens flat and feels nice to the touch. I'll use it for something!

Owen said...

A tip for preventing ribbon fray: Apply a (very) small amount of clear nail polish to the end at a 32nd or 16th inch width-ish. Allow to dry. Good for the duration of most books I've used.

Azizah Asgarali said...

Awesome. That makes sense - thank you for the great tip :)

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