It's no secret that Baron Fig makes a great notebook. It's also no secret that, at times, their minimalist design can be, well, boring. Special releases aside, you have 2 choices: light gray or dark gray. Everything is well thought out and meticulously designed, but can be overly simple if you're looking to spice things up a bit.
The new Askew notebook is part of their Confidant series of hardcover notebooks...and it is unlike anything they've done before. Available to subscribers and in limited quantities to non-subscribers, the Askew is Baron Fig with no rules. Debbie Millman, New York designer and host of the Design Matters podcast, is the brains behind this project. It's inspired by a project she had done in the past, a series of illustrated essays called Look Both Ways, one of which is a story written on hand-drawn ruling...now that I've mentioned it, might as well get to the elephant in the room...the ruling.
Usually, I talk about covers and packaging first, but the ruling is the "star" here. Every page is different, hand-drawn line ruling that is sometimes straight, and is at other times a giant mess. But more often than not, they are lines that look like they've been written with a blue-ink Bic with a red line margin down the side, similar to standard Mead paper. About every sixth page is drawn to an extreme ruling, sometimes somewhat usable, most times not at all. There are pages where the lines are super thin, pages where they slant. There's a Gregg Ruled page. A page that has no blue lines, but still has the red margin line. A page where the colors are inverted. And then there are pages that just have a giant ink scribble right smack dab in the middle.
The book is built beautifully, like all their Confidant releases. It lays flat, has quality paper, perforated pages in the back. 192 pages, the standard "Flagship" size of 5.4" x 7.7". The cover is the blue-violet color of a blue ballpoint pen, which Baron Fig calls "Blue Pen Blue". The fabric book mark is a straight red that goes wonderfully with the blue. Hell, they could have sat on this color combination until summer and called it an "America" edition, and people would've flipped for it.
The box and cover pages are drawn like someone who was trying to fill out and cover a whole page in pen...who here hasn't done that when they were bored? There's a smell that happens when you do that, and I'll be damned if I didn't remember that smell when I first saw the box.
Those are the facts...here comes the opinion, stream-of-consciousness style:
This is a beautiful book.
Man, I wish the pages weren't like this. I would actually use the hell out of this if it was ruled normally.
Is it April 1st?
How did they think this was a good idea?
What the hell is this scribble in the middle of the page?
Is this art or a notebook?
It's cool to look at, but totally unusable.
Brad Dowdy's tiny handwriting would probably fit in there, but mine won't.
This shouldn't have been a part of the subscription, they should have sold it separately. I subscribed so I would get a usable notebook every 3 months. I didn't subscribe to quarterly concept art.
Baron Fig is responding to all the people who said everything they're doing is the same old, same old.
Baron Fig knows that this will cause a stir within our little notebook nerd community, and will get people talking about them again.
I showed this book to my girlfriend, who doesn't care about stationery too much, only wanting something if it's the right color. She doesn't really know about these things. Her art criticism consists of thinking abstract art is stupid. She liked the outside of the book, but I can't reprint the stuff that came out of her mouth when looking at the pages...it wasn't very nice. Unfortunately, that's how I think a lot of people will think about this book. Overall, this was a cool idea that just was over-executed. The line between branching out into something different and staying with the same old stuff wasn't just crossed, but crossed the ocean and gave the natives smallpox.
We buy art when it speaks to us. We refuse art that doesn't speak to us if it is forced on us. It is unfortunate that this was a subscriber edition. I liken it to something like the Field Notes Flight Plan: that could have been a quarterly edition that just fulfilled another shipment, and people would have went apeshit about not being able to use it. It fills a very specific need, and I think this book does as well. I can't say this enough: this should have been a separate release.
I can't in good conscience recommend this book if you want to use it in any normal way. This isn't one of those limited editions that people will be clamoring over when they're gone, either, so I can't say to buy it as an investment. Ultimately, you know yourself, and if you think this is cool and something you'd like to have, go for it.
Available from Baron Fig, $20.