‘…back to the roots’ – testing small portable notebooks – Part 1. Grizzly Bears!

The first two notebooks kindly sent by Stuart from Pocket Notebooks (UK) I would like to discussed today are exclusively made for Pocket Nonebooks by Curnow Bookbinding & Leatherwork small US based company  (Dixon California) who does handcrafted leather goods and journals. I know from social media for a while now, but I never had an opportunity to try notebooks made by them. Amount of custom materials and designs they do is pretty impressive. They look and feel handcrafted which I really appreciate, especially if these notebooks can be used as an inserts for traveller’s journals, which I am a big fan.

To some extent, two ‘California‘ notebooks I received are very similar to each other but at the same time are also very very different. Stay True, Staome as blank, lined, grid, or dot-gridy Wild edition are filled with creamy TomoeRiver  thin paper (80 pages), whereas California Medallion cover if filled with thicker 28lb (105gsm) HP paper (48 pages). Notebooks I received came blank, but these with HP paper Pocket Notebooks have in blank, lined, grid, or dot-grid.

Let’s brake them down and see how they performed. However, please bear in mind that all my comments about performance are is limited to fountain pens and fountain pen inks only and I am pretty sure overall performance and writing experience will vary depending on what writing tool you use.


Both California notebooks are the same size 3 1/2” by 5 1/4”, which I found quite bizarre size to be absolutely honest. They are shorter by quarter of inch from  very popular pocket notebook ‘standard’  – Fieldnotes. This may be particularly important if you have already a leather cover and you wish to fit these from Curnow.  Most of them are custom made anyway…but still I would prefer it to be Fieldnotes or Midori passport size, but not in between.  Obviously, they are fine to be used stand alone and you can make your own leather covers as well (by the way – this great fun and I highly recommend to do these).

Curnow  Bookbinding and Leatherwork has included additional small white line guard sheet, which is a nice touch and really helps with writing. It really works with thin TomoeRiver paper.

Both have identical white fairly thick white cardboard covers which very cool looking imprints, which give an extra character and make these notebooks distinguishable from the rest.

The front cover features an image of California’s state animal – a Grizzly Bear (two different designs), whereas back cover has Pocket Notebooks logo. The inside back cover has the Curnow logo too. 

All pages are hand stitched with thick durable thread, but I am not entirely sure how long this type of binding will last and keep all pages together. After few days of carrying these notebooks around and using them hard nothing happened which is great.

Corners are rounded and look OK. No complains here. However, I have noticed that cover on ‘Stay True, Stay Wild‘ notebook is 1 mm shorter than insert. Not a big deal, but maybe it should be checked before shipping.  The one with California Medallion was OK, so I pretty sure this is rather accidental.




 Well, ‘Stay True, Stay Wild‘ notebook is definitely my personal choice between these two little brothers.

The reason is TomoeRiver paper which is known to be superior quality and really fountain pen friendly. Most inks look amazing on this paper, which enhances all welcome ink features like additional sheen and shading. Inks do not feather and in general they do not bleed through either. However,  TomoeRiver paper is not without flaws. Because this is extremely thin paper,  ghosting and show though on reverse side are considerable, but from the second hand thin paper allows to fit much more pages. This particular model has 80 pages (40 sheets) which is plenty for such small and thin notebook. Another problem is potential marks (rails) made by nib tines which my scare the page underneath. Again using additional lined guide is a good idea to avoid that.

Let’s see some examples with different inks and pens I used.

Pilot Iroshizuku – Yama Budo and Sailor Jentle – Tokiwa Matsu.  The sheen looks incredible.

The same with Robert Oster’s Signature – Fire and Ice ink which additionally gives interesting ‘halo’ effect at the edges which gives an additional dimension to your writing.

Diamine Shimmering inks – Golden Sands and Blue Lightning look great too.

Lovely gradual shading with Diamine Terracota and Diamine Safari



as well as Robert Oster Signature – Khaki and Pelikan Edelstein – Topaz

As I mentioned above, because TomoeRiver paper is so thin, considerable ghosting is apparent on reverse page and ma be distracting.

As an ‘Ultimate test’ I am using pretty looking sapphire  Noodler’s – Baystate Blue ink, which notoriously tends to feather and breakthrough most less quality paper types. It does not feather here at all, but as expected ghosting is apparent. Some bleed through occurred too (mainly where I did intense ink splatters or lines crossed each other), but having in mind the paper thickens, this is still not bad result in my opinion.


  • Nice design,
  • Great fountain pen friendly Tomoe River paper
  • Great volume (80 pages)
  • Smooth and seamless writing experience


  • Some QC issues with trims
  • Potential ghosting may be an issue
  • Not ‘conventional’ dimensions


  • Quite unusual binding

OK, Let’s look at the second notebook with white 28lb (105gsm) HP paper.

This is interesting story. When I picked up this notebook and opened it and touched this paper I was very  positively surprised how smooth it feels. My ultimate thought was that this is going to be a killer notebook for fountain pens. How deceiving it was I realised as quickly as I started to write in.

Basically, despite of its lovely smoothness HP paper is very absorbing. With finer nibs is not too bad, but once you have broader nib and wet writing pen, inks start to feather and showing though on reverse page.  I have seen much worse than this (for instance famous Moleskine) but for me as a fountain pen user this is not what I would like to deal.


Some inks combined with EF or F nibs do not feather and show through as much as the others and looks rather acceptable. So if you  decide to use this notebook with fountain pens make sure that you picked the right tools. Here is an example with Private Reserve – Orange Crush and Diamine 150 anniversary – Carnival. PR Orange Crush gave some light shading too.

Another issue which raises from the fact that HP paper is so absorbing is the way how inks look on this paper, especially when compared to TomoeRiver. All colours look flat and matte with very little  (or none) shading, sheen not mentioning. The most striking example is beautiful Robert Oster’s Fire and Ice ink which on HP paper looks really really sad and dull. The same is with Sailor’s inks.

As expected with Noodler’s Baystate Blue the ‘Ultimate test’ has failed, but to be absolutely honest I was expecting much severe bleeding through.

 Concluding, 28lb (105gsm) HP paper is not the best option  for the fountain pens around. It works with some inks and definitely dryer pens, but even that inks look flat and not exciting. For me personally, this is not a notebook /insert which I would be using. However, if you are ball pen, gel pen or even pencil type of guy you should not have any issues with it and I am pretty sure you will be very happy. This paper is definitely not for wet pens and some inks like Diamine Shimmering inks  which look particularly bad.


  • Nice design and overall decent built quality
  • Smooth and rather pleasant writing experience (no feedback)


  • Not quite for fountain pens. Definitely not for wet ones
  • Quite absorbing paper and some inks may feather and  severely bleed though.
  • Colours look flat (not much shading and no sheen at all)
  • ‘Unconventional’ dimensions


  • quite unusual binding

Where to find these? They are available directly from the Pocket Notebooks web store as packs of three notebooks. The version with creamy TomoeRiver paper is  slightly more expensive (£ 14.00), whereas  these with white 28lb (105gsm) HP paper costs £ 10.50.


(*) Disclaimer/ I have no affiliation with the all brands and companies mentioned above and this short review reflects only my personal views and findings about the product.


Posted in Notebooks, Review, Uncategorized.