No, really notebooks are so hot right now. As you guys may know, I’m a big fan of diaries, sketchbooks, notebooks and all things handwritten and vaguely journal-y. Last week I posted a wee photo album of my current notebook setup, and I often post pictures of my sketches and various doodles on my Tumblr and Instagram accounts. Unsurprisingly both these platforms are where the majority of attention for my work comes from due to the large artistic and image-sharing base of these websites. Sites like Penaddict, Tumblr blogs and online communities dedicated to discussing the art of diary and notebook keeping are becoming ever more popular. It all ties in to the hipster, thrifty new-age alternate lifestyle subculture that sort of rejects modern products and fetishizes the outdated and less efficient but nonetheless nostalgic & capable technology such as film cameras, typewriters, record players, paper notebooks & diaries, single gear bikes and other outdated items (obviously only to a point- we still need those fancy iPhones to update our Instagram and Twitter feeds to tell you all about the old stuff we use!). Basically, the kind of still that you might pick up in a thrift shop, see propped up in trendy bars or coffee shops, blogged about on new-age news sites, or in the skip behind an Artisanal Portland Kale Garden & Free Range Hemp Chickpea Commune. As much as I’m not a fan of a lot of the arrogance and pretentiousness that goes hand in hand with hipster subculture (though I think I probably despise the ‘cool-to-hate-hipster’ sub-subculture even more, if that makes sense), I am a bit crazy for all things old-fashioned and vintage. Growing up with a grandfather who has literally sheds of old tools, equipment and hoarded pieces of technology from the past 80 years that he still uses day-to-day, I have a bit of a fascination with ‘old stuff’ and trying to adapt or use it in everyday life. This entire movement is very heavily rooted in steampunk and dieselpunk too, of post-war technology and historically anachronistic designs that also appear in a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, something that I’ve always been very interested in. We’re focusing on notebooks today though, more particularly a style of notebooks people seem to love. Describing it is hard, but the consistent ideas and forms people seem to like most in my own notebooks are:
Pages that are overflowing with content– streams of consciousness and entire pages filled it up with drawings and tightly packed words, with no spaces left empty. This idea that paper is at a premium and that each space must be filled gives your pages a historical, valuable feel- as traditionally often paper was at a premium, and those with an expensive diary or notebook would not waste space or paper, or that on their travels it was the only book they had with them, and were forced to fill each square inch with as many observations as they could.
Excessively random or Obsessively neat and academic– both of these approaches emulate an academic look to your notebook. The first presents it as a constant stream of consciousness, an artistic approach in which all your ideas are spilling onto the page. It has an eccentric, artistic approach that you might expect to see from a traveller or explorer, filling up each page with observations and ideas coming in faster than there is time to writer. On the other hand, an academic, super neat approach speaks to the scientific- it’s sometime you’d expect to see in a maybe Mary Ward‘s journals, or the sketches of an inventor in the industrial age.
Annotations, Annotations, Annotations – notes, subnotes, references, margins, bibliographies, notes and observations, corrections and hastily pasted in notes from other journals- these are the hallmarks of observation and study. Old journals are stuffed with these, with hand drawn illustrations and diagrams then carefully annotated and explained. Not only does it make your journal appear like a work that can be studied and instructed, but it shows that it’s a constantly evolving work that isn’t a work of art but rather something used to learn and teach. Check out How to Train your Dragon 2– does he care if his notebook looks neat? Hell no! It’s stuffed full of notes and extensions and crudely pasted on maps- it’s a journal being used! Which leads me to…
Well Traveled, Well Worn, Well Used– This is something best described as “What Indiana Jones would carry in his satchel“, is something that applies not just to notebooks, but also to satchels and clothing. People like the idea of stuff getting used, worn out, hastily fixed and flecked with rust and grit. They want things not simply sitting on a coffee table waiting to be looked at but not touched, but things that have a history, that can make them feel like they got their hands dirty and worked at something. It’s all a part of the distressed, recycled and well-worn fashion that spreads from everything to clothing, automobiles or interior design. Your notebook should not be handled like a religious text, but shoved in bags and stuffed in your pocket, torn and ripped when the time suits it, and treated like apiece of equipment. You want your notebook to tell the story of where you traveled just by looking at it. Indiana Jones didn’t have time to worry if his notebook wasn’t getting scratched, he was busy fighting nazis! When he got wet, burnt or covered in grime & old mummies, he just dusted himself and his notebook off and got back to work!