Thursday, April 20, 2017

Follow-Up Review: Baron Fig Paper

Baron Fig Vanguard: standard edition at left (the plain gray covered
with my own stickers) and the limited-edition Infinity.
Ever since I supported its Kickstarter campaign several years ago, New York stationery maker Baron Fig has captured my attention on and off. The hardbound Confidant I initially reviewed held more promise than usefulness, but I was happy that I held onto it. Nearly two years later when I became interested in sketching with graphite, that notebook’s paper turned out to be one of my favorites.

Spotting my review about graphite sketching, Andi at Baron Fig got in touch asking permission to tweet it. I mentioned that I was considering trying a more portable softcover Vanguard, and she kindly offered to send me one in the same A5-ish Flagship size. (She also sent an Archer pencil, which had been recently released.) All winter as I sketched the graphite-gray landscape, the Vanguard became my everyday-carry pencil sketchbook.

Fast-forward to a couple of months ago, when Ana at the Well-Appointed Desk noted that the paper in the limited Black Box edition had changed – it was now toothier and more creamy than white. I was actually fond of the old Vanguard’s slightly-but-not-overly-toothy surface, so I wasn’t sure if I’d find the change to be an improvement or not. A short time later, the next Vanguard limited-edition Infinity came out, and I was curious enough about the new paper to order one.

Initially I was a little disappointed by the additional tooth, but I got over that quickly because I discovered other differences that were definite improvements. I ran through my usual battery of media tests – graphite, water-soluble colored pencil, fountain pen, brush pen, Pitt marker. Although the weight (unspecified by BF) feels the same, the new paper has more sizing, so the water-soluble materials washed nicely when brushed lightly with water instead of sinking into the paper immediately. On the old paper, the reverse side shows a little bleed-through where I gave the scribbles a wash. The new paper shows almost nothing. The paper is still not intended for wet media, of course, so the page buckled where I got it wet, but not too badly.

Old paper
New paper

Old paper (reverse)
New paper (reverse)

Perhaps a more significant consequence of this paper change is greater durability where the binding is stitched. When sketching on location with a softcover sketchbook, my habit is to fold the side that I’m not using backward, making the book easier to hold with one hand. When I did that with the old Vanguard, I noticed that the pages would tear away a bit from the stitching, especially near the bottom. I’m not seeing that at all with the new Vanguard. Perhaps the binding is exactly the same, but the paper might be slightly stronger, so it’s not tearing from the stress of bending the page away from the stitching.

Old binding
New binding

Incidentally, one thing I really appreciate about all of Baron Fig’s notebooks (hardcover and softcover) is that the bindings open completely flat, which makes them easier to use as well as scan.

Tombow marker on new Vanguard paper
Since the paper is not appropriate for heavy washes, I wouldn’t make the Vanguard my standard, everyday sketchbook. But now that I know the paper can stand up to various media besides graphite, I’m using it more. Last month when I took Sue Heston’s urban sketching workshop, she had suggested tonal markers, so I grabbed pigment-ink-based Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens and water-based Tombow Dual Brush markers to use in the new Vanguard. The paper held up to both types of markers beautifully with no bleed-through at all, even where I applied the markers solidly. (I don’t have any alcohol-based markers to test, but I’m guessing they would still bleed through.) It’s great for fountain pen line drawings washed lightly for shading, too.

While the gray cover, standard edition Vanguard is available in a choice of rulings, including blank, the limited-edition Infinity is available only with dot-grid ruling. (Strangely, the pale gray dots apparently resist water-based marker ink, because the dots show up white. The Pitt markers obscured the dots completely.)

The standard edition pocket-size Vanguard is also available with blank paper. Hmmm . . . that might be worth trying now.

Updated 5/30/17: Baron Fig just came out with a limited-edition Vanguard called Clear Sky. Not only are the covers beautiful – the paper inside is blank! I’m going to grab some before they sell out.

Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens
Fountain pen ink and colored pencil

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