If you decide to write by hand, one of the pleasures of the process is using a fountain pen. Fountain pens write a more interesting line than your standard ballpoint or gel pen (practical as those are), and give you a much wider range of ink choices. You don’t have to press hard on the paper to leave an impression. Once you get the hang of the light touch, this can help reduce fatigue. The problem is, most paper for journaling and note taking isn’t fountain pen friendly. My beloved Moleskines and my fountain pens never get along. The wet ink feathers on the page, and bleeds through to the other side.
I’ve shown off one fountain pen friendly paper option already — Tomoe River – and now I’d like to share some more. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it covers most of the paper I use on a regular basis.
Far left: the Allan Journal in red goatskin. Middle: Smythson Panama-size journal in red lambskin. Right: Smythson Panama journal in tan pigskin. The fountain pen is an Edison Herald.
Starting at the high end, my favorite bound journals come from Smythson and R. L. Allan. The pricey Smythson journals include the legendary pale blue featherweight paper, while Allan paper is white and features very tight ruling (i.e., not a lot of space between lines). Both papers handle fountain pen ink well. Because the leather bindings are so nice, you might feel reluctant to write in the books. Overcome this feeling. Your thoughts are worth recording, and are certainly more valuable than a blank page however nice it may be. (NB: I’ve written more about the Allan Journal and the technology that is paper on Bible Design Blog.)
I use bound books for capturing and developing story ideas, and loose-leaf pages for drafting manuscripts. The nice thing about bound books is that your notes stay together in one place and are available to flip through later. As a writer, I’ve found keeping bound creative journals invaluable.
Left: Clairefontaine Triomphe pad. Right: Rhodia letter-size pad. The two-pen holder in green leather is from Pierotucci.
Two of the major brands of paper for fountain pen users are Clairefontaine and Rhodia. The Clairefontaine Triomphe pad works similarly to the Tomoe River pad I’ve written about already. A ruled page nests underneath the blank page so that you’re handwritten lines look neat and tidy. This paper is intended for correspondence, but I like using it for manuscripts, too. Wire-bound Rhodia pads come in various sizes and have become a staple for me as well. The paper is smooth and shiny, a pleasure to write on, and the pads are inexpensive enough that I never feel bad using and abusing them.
Rhodia webnotebook in a leather sleeve by Byron Design. The fountain pen is a Pilot Custom 823.
Rhodia also makes Moleskine-style hardbound notebooks that work well with fountain pens. The one in the photograph was purchased at Penchetta in Scotsdale, Arizona, and it came with a leather sleeve by Byron Design. I’m not a fan of the bright orange cover, so I like being able to hide it away in the sleeve. Fortunately, Rhodia now makes different colored covers, and I intend to avail myself of the option once this book is done.
While notebooks like this probably don’t need leather sleeves for protection, I’ve been a sucker for such things ever since I bought a Gfeller leather cover for my Moleskine journals. The leather adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. In some cases, it does serve a practical purpose: if you like to slip a thin staple-bound notebook into your pocket, a leather cover protects the binding without adding too much bulk.
Field Notes Traveling Salesman edition with a Davis Leatherworks cover in Horween olive chromexcel. The fountain pen is a Bexley Intrepid.
This Field Notes journal, from the limited Traveling Salesman edition, now resides in a leather cover from Davis Leatherworks. It’s a simple cover made of Horween’s olive chromexcel leather. I have some boots made of this stuff, and like them so much I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a matching notebook cover. Unfortunately the standard Field Notes notebooks in craft paper aren’t very compatible with fountain pens. Even the nice paper used in their limited editions doesn’t always play well with wet ink. This particular one does, though, and I really like the light green paper with its ledger ruling.
Left: Apica notebook. Right: Clairefontaine. The fountain pen is an Edison Huron.
My favorite inexpensive bound books are from the Japanese brand Apica. The styling harkens back to the old-fashioned schoolroom, and you can find them in a variety of sizes. Also nice: the Clairefontaine 1951 notebook, recently released to celebrate the company’s anniversary. I snapped up a few of these when they came out because, while I like Clairefontaine paper, I’m not usually a fan of the cover styling. These I liked, so I stocked up.
If you’re a Moleskine devotee looking to find a fountain pen-friendly alternative, my suggestion would be Leuchtturm. This German company makes a colorful variety of hardcover and softcover journals in the Moleskine genre, only the paper is good for fountain pens (look for the icon on the package confirming the paper is FP-friendly, since some of the older ones aren’t).
Needless to say, there are plenty of paper options to explore and obsess over. At the end of the day, pen and paper are simply a means to an end, but when you spend as much time as I do with the tools, you can’t help wanting them to function well. Finding the right combination saves you from having to pay attention to the tools as you work. They disappear, getting out of the way so you can focus on what you’re writing.