Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Product Review: Baron Fig Confidant Notebook

1/19/15 various inks, Caran d'Ache Museum pencils,
Baron Fig Confidant notebook
More than a year ago I supported a Kickstarter campaign for Baron Fig, a couple of guys who wanted to produce a new kind of notebook. I liked their attitude and approach – ask potential users what kind of notebook they want rather than simply duplicate products that already exist. They dared to go against the standard dimensions of the typical A5 notebook, used better paper, made sure the binding opened flat and gave it other features that appealed to me.

I knew that the notebook’s paper – though fountain pen friendly and 100 gsm – wouldn’t be heavy enough for watercolor painting, and I’m not looking for a replacement for my current sketchbook system anyway. I mainly wanted to support the fledgling company because it seemed like they might listen to customers (which hasn’t been the case with most notebook manufacturers I know of).

My intention was to use the hardcover Confidant notebook that I received from the campaign as a journal. As expected, the paper is smooth and pleasant to write on with a fountain pen, and the book’s construction is attractive and seems sturdy. (The Pen Addict and Fountain Pen Geeks have thorough reviews of the notebook with good photos, and many other bloggers have commented on it.) What’s more, the paper is a crisp white (instead of ivory), and the books are available with the option of a plain, unruled page (relatively rare in a vast notebook world that favors all types of ruling over plain). After an initial scribble to test the paper, I put the notebook away for future journaling use.

In the year that followed the Kickstarter campaign, Baron Fig became quite successful and put out a few more notebook designs. Since I had a plentiful supply of journals on hand, I didn’t pay much attention.

1/19/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, Baron Fig Confidant
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I had a renewed fit of annoyance with Field Notes Brand, a popular maker of pocket-sized notebooks. Maybe my annoyance wasn’t specifically against Field Notes so much as all small notebook manufacturers: Why can’t anyone make a thin, pocket-sized notebook with decent paper? I know it would be too much to ask for full-on watercolor paper (for that, I’m probably stuck with making my own) – but is it too much to ask for paper that could take a light wash from a waterbrush and be heavy enough that there’s no show-through? Maybe 90 or 100 pound (150 gsm)? (My experience with a hardbound Rhodia notebook last summer convinced me that if Rhodia came out with a thin, softcover version using the same paper, it would be as close to ideal as I could expect to get.) Perhaps my internal rant was directed at Field Notes because last summer it came out with the so-called “Arts & Sciences” series, which gave me high hopes, but even those notebooks had the same paper as the rest – unusable for any kind of sketching.

Fast-forward further to the past weekend, when one of the many fountain pen blogs I read raised my awareness of Baron Fig again – this time about the limited “Time Travel” edition of its Apprentice line of pocket-sized notebooks. Curious about the paper, I e-mailed to ask and was told that it is identical to that used in the Confidant notebook I have.

Hmmm. . . ! All the many reviews I’d read about Baron Fig’s notebooks were written by fountain pen users, not sketchers. Our needs are not very different – we all want non-feathering, non-bleeding paper with a relatively smooth surface (though I require less smoothness than most fountain pen users, since a bit of tooth is fine and even preferred for sketching). The only additional requirements I have are the ability to withstand a light wash and enough weight that I can sketch on both sides. I decided to give the Confidant notebook paper a sketching workout.

Backside of tree sketch (front was saturated with water and ink)
The first sketch I made was of a bare willow tree while parked at Whole Foods (at top). As you can see, the top half of the sketch buckled a bit after I sprayed it with water and took a quick swipe with a waterbrush filled with ink. But the backside of the same saturated page (at right), while buckled, shows no more bleed-through than a page with nothing but ink. (The bottom half of the sketch above reveals show-through from the sketch on the next page.)

In another sketch (the planter and the man on a bench, above), I didn’t use sprayed water or brush-applied ink – just fountain pen ink lightly washed with a waterbrush. As expected, this time there was no buckling, and the backside (below) shows only a little bleed-through. The show-through on the back is more than I would like if I want to sketch on both sides, but it’s no worse than what I experienced with the Rhodia (which is 90 gsm).

Backside of second sketch (waterbrush wash only)
A pocket-sized version of this paper would be ideal as a travel journal (the Rhodia I used in Brazil, though the right dimensions, was a little too bulky because it was hardbound). It might even be acceptable as a catch-all pocket sketchbook (the role currently served by my handmade sketchbooklets because nothing store-bought serves that need)! If only the paper were a bit heavier, it would definitely be acceptable. To express my enthusiasm for a product that comes very close, I ordered a few pocket-sized Apprentice notebooks to try (I might take one on my next trip).

What’s potentially more exciting than the notebook itself is the possibility that Baron Fig might listen to its customers. Here’s what it says on its website:

Our team contacted all types of thinkers around the world and asked them one simple question: What do you like in a Sketchbook or Notebook? Their thoughts and ideas continue to fuel our research, discussion, and design.

I’ve let them know my paper needs. If you have similar (or other) needs, tell them!

Edited 12/13/16: I took a second look at the Baron Fig notebook after I started sketching with graphite!

Updated 4/20/17: Baron Fig changed its paper – and I like it even better now! See my follow-up review.


  1. Good to hear that someone is listening to artist's needs. I haven't tried the Rhodia and never heard of the Baron Fig, but they are worth taking note of. Thanks, Tina.

  2. I suppose it's hard for those creating small pocket notebooks to give up page count for thicker paper, given that the majority of people are using ballpoints and pencils to write in them. Like you, though, I wish they would and dream of 30page (3x5) 100lb smooth stock in a soft cover.


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