Monday, June 23, 2014

Field Test of Field Notes “Arts” Notebook

6/21/14 Zig marker, Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa and Diamine Grey inks, Field Notes Brand Arts & Sciences notebook

If you’re a notebook geek like I am, you’re familiar with the Field Notes Brand of pocket-size notebooks that have a small but loyal following. These aficionados buy, trade, hoard, photograph and discuss the small paper notebooks as if they were rare collectibles. The company does make them somewhat “collectible” by producing custom editions and quarterly editions in limited quantities – “when they’re gone, they’re gone” – but let’s face it, they are just small paper notebooks. The only thing distinguishing them from other notebooks of this type is the inside covers, which include a variety of interesting, sometimes amusing factoids and comments. (“There is __ isn’t __ a handsome reward waiting. But hell, contact us either way. That’s just the right thing to do!”)

Field Notes Arts & Sciences
"Arts" notebook
I have several Field Notes notebooks (as well as other brands of similar pocket-size notebooks); they are among my favorites for keeping in my bag for memos, shopping lists, that sort of thing. Although the handy size and thin profile are ideal as an everyday-carry, the paper certainly isn’t (at least for sketching). It’s the type of notebook that inspired my pocket-size DIY sketchbooklet filled with watercolor paper, which is my actual everyday-carry.

When I saw that the latest seasonal edition, Arts and Sciences, was a larger (7.5” by 4.75”) size and that the paper was the Finch type that fountain pen users praise, my attention and curiosity were piqued. The pair of books in the edition includes an “Arts” book with ruling on one side (presumably for poetry or other creative writing) while the opposite side is blank (presumably for drawing). The “Sciences” book is graph paper on one side and blank on the other. Could it be that the Arts book really contains paper on which art (or at least sketches) could be made? At a 50-pound text weight, it didn’t seem possible. My expectations were very low, but even so, I was up for testing it. If the paper wasn’t too bad, the larger yet thin size could make a decent everyday-carry notebook.

On Saturday’s sunny solstice, I took my Field Notes “Arts” book to Maple Leaf Park, where I knew Mt. Rainier would be visible. I didn’t expect the text-weight paper to withstand a heavy wash of watercolor, but I thought Zig markers and a light wash from waterbrushes filled with ink would be a good test. As you can see (above), the paper buckled badly, even with a fairly light wash. The paper’s not sized the way watercolor paper is, so the ink wouldn’t spread on wet paper; it just sank in immediately and then didn’t budge, even when more water was applied.

Reverse side of sketch above.
The backside of the page I sketched on fared even worse: The ink applied with a waterbrush bled right through, rendering the reverse side unusable (left).

OK, so that test wasn’t so great. It’s clear that these notebooks are not intended for any kind of liquid medium. Not wanting the sketch page to be a total waste, I jotted a journal note at the bottom with a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen containing Platinum Carbon ink (I usually write in them with a gel pen). Surely the paper could handle plain ol’ writing. But I was surprised to find that even writing is visible through the back (below). (I will say that the paper’s smooth surface is a joy to write on with a fountain pen; that must be what fans rave about with this Finch paper.)

Even my writing with a fountain pen and waterproof ink shows through on
the reverse side.
I left the park wondering if the paper could at least withstand water-soluble fountain pen lines lightly washed. That’s usually my medium of choice with an everyday-carry notebook anyway because typically I’m riding the bus when I use it. On my walk home, I stopped to sketch a car with a Sailor fountain pen containing water-soluble Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi ink. I put in touches of color with Zig markers and washed some ink lines with a waterbrush for shading (bottom sketch). The under-car shadow was made with Diamine Grey ink applied with a waterbrush.

6/21/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Take-Sumi and Diamine Grey inks,
Sailor pen, Zig markers, Field Notes Brand notebook
From that light application of water and wet media, the paper didn’t buckle too badly. But neither did the ink wash with rich shading as it does on watercolor paper. And again, the ink bled through to the backside of the page.

So – I can’t sketch in it, and I can’t write in it with a fountain pen (unless I’m OK with being able to see the text through the page on the other side). Hmmm. Then what is this notebook good for? I guess the covers contain interesting, sometimes amusing factoids.

The paper met my low expectations completely. I’m sticking with my handmade sketchbooklets.


  1. I guess maybe pencil would work. lol That doesn't make the notebook very attractive to an artist. I've never heard of these notebooks, and now I have no desire to have one either. I guess it didn't hurt to try it out.

  2. You can always pass it on to another "notebook geek," like ME!! I love to sketch in pencil, and enjoy the Moleskine books for this reason. And, I love sketching with those NERO I will be glad to do a field test for you!!

  3. These work fine with gel and ballpoint pens but I think you've found the reason people collect them :-) I use the regular size Field Notes for writing and use fine-tip gel pens.
    Cheers --- Larry


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