Brownie planner A5 Slim

No, we do not have a crossover between pastries and stationery (though I wish that combination will happen more often); my planner pick of 2018 is named after a dessert. I have been dragging my feet on talking about this planner, partly because it is not as accessible as Hobonichi, Midori, Maruman, and other arrays of Japanese planner; nonetheless, Brownie was voted by users in Japan as number 2 planner just right after Hobonichi. So what is the allure?

Two features jumped out at me after reading various unboxing and reviews posts shared by stationery community (mostly from Asia): the paper was described as baby’s bottoms and the planner format accommodates those who track different tasks/projects. Since the size is comparable to other planners I have used in the past, Brownie appeared to be a viable switch. It is available in A6 (same as Hobonichi Techo) and A5 Slim (a slightly taller but narrower version of Hobonichi cousin). Each measures 105 x 148 x 9mm (4.13 x 5.83 x .35 inch) and 130 x 210 x 9mm (5.11 x 8.27 x .35 inch) respectively.

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Planner totem pole (from the bottom): Hobonichi cousin, Brownies, and Hobonichi Techo

The planner comes with a polyurethane cover that protects the book from being soiled. Similar to Hobonichi’s basic cover on cover, it has two inner pockets that are spacious enough for ID and other knickknacks. The cover is plushy to touch and is washable, but soils fairly easily especially for the lighter color ones. Every year, Brownie releases cover with different colors, usually based on a theme. The one for 2019 is Japanese traditional colors, as seen here.

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Front cover
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first page
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Inner pocket. There is an identical one on the back cover as well.
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User guide

Here comes the interesting tidbit about Brownie– it comes with its own usage instruction (only for A5 Slim). Even though the sample pages are in Japanese, the visual cues give new and returning users ideas on how to use the planner.

Paper

The first thing I did immediately is to touch the paper. Its incredibly smooth surface adds an air of luxury to this aesthetically simple planner. The texture of the paper reminds me of Midori notebooks/planners and Rhodia pad, but amazingly it is not bulky. For a 14-month planner to be only 9mm (.35 inch) thick is truly extraordinary. Some paper may increase in volume after usage, but after one year the planner is not visibly bulkier. The ivory-colored paper are easy to the eyes yet not dull the vibrancy in colors. Even though I received the planner in early November of 2017, I could not resist to test out the paper with media that comes to mind. So far, the paper is highly resistant. There is no show-through or feathering; it does buckle slightly with a lightwash of watercolor.

To describe paper in Brownie as buttery is no exaggeration. In addition to the smooth texture the paper is cream in color. The picture below will show where it falls on the creaminess spectrum:

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Paper color comparison (from left to right): Midori MD, Brownie, Hobonichi

In the competition of “who is the fairest of all,” Brownie will definitely be eliminated. To my eyes, they are even a tint darker than Midori Notebook Diary. Despite that, the hue of the paper did not absorb or diminish vibrancy of colors.

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Grid size comparison

Similar to Hobonichi Techo, Brownie has grid-ruled pages for its monthly and weekly sections. Not all of us have ant-sized, super neat writing and it seems that Brownie’s grid size is more accommodating to most mortals than Hobonichi, as shown above.

Layout

The encounter between the user and the planner is interactive, in ways that the aesthetics of the planner appeal to the users and the layout of the planner can dictate how it will be used. The inherent risk is at times, the fitting period may last longer than expected and at times, the layout just does not mesh with user’s styles. Besides the doom and gloom, the layout can also inspire new ways of recording one’s life and tasks.

The first section is a two-year calendar spread. To me, this can be an apt section to chronicle important events or due date, as the spread is designed to give that bird’s eye view of the current and following year. The way I utilize this spread is much smaller in scale; these pages are dedicated to keep track of vacation and sick time I have used. The open layout can give users a quick glimpse of what they are tracking, without fumbling pages.

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Two-year spread. Suitable in tracking milestones.

In most planners I have used, the monthly section is almost always fashioned in grids. While I understand the larger grid format provides an overview to upcoming events, I usually find these grids rather restrictive, even though I have tiny writing. Brownie monthly section answers to my quandary (if you would call it that). In the monthly section, you can always see something that is particular to Brownie: the three-column set up.

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Most of us use planners to track multiple trajectories in life and these three-columns are meant to facilitate that. It offers a viable alternative to toting multiple planners and potential solutions to manage multiple projects, deadlines, and commitments. As one may notice, the dates are printed both horizontally and vertically. Yes, you can use entire planner in either direction to visually distinguish various activities you wish to record. The grid paper with different date orientation also make habit tracking easier, as one can devise a variety of charts with this combination.

Here is an example on how I use the monthly spread for the first three months. One section tracks the duration of my exercise routine; the middle denotes any work related; the left records upcoming bill due dates. In some examples I have found online, users forego text and dedicate the entire spread to track project, habits, or personal spending.

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The grids are natural friends for graphs

The Weekly section formatted similarly to the monthly section. A small calendar locates on the upper left hand corner, with the current week circled.

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Handy calendar of the month in the corner helps placing the week in context

The border that demarcates date also serves as time axle, in 24-hour time. Along the time line, each grid represents 30 minutes which I find marking duration of appointment a lot easier and to an extent, a more realistic representation of time elapsed. Since the time axle is printed vertically, it naturally guides the users to record their time-specific engagement in the same manner, which makes the appointments stand out from other scribbles on the page.

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Here is how a typical day looks on a weekly spread. Because the planner can be used both vertically and horizontally, there is ample space for me to keep track of weekly projects and their progress. Given the nature of my position most projects last about a week or just a tad longer. By drawing arrows, it gives me an idea how long I roughly spend on projects in addition to existing tasks. Different colors are used to denote appointments of various nature.

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Brownie is designed with project tracking in mind and this concept is particularly prominent in this yearly spread. Each column represents a month, with numbers of days in each month. This page can be useful for those who are managing projects with many moving pieces over long span of time.

It is obvious I did not use these pages as they were originally intended, as I do not have projects that usually last longer than a week or two. Instead, I use this section to keep a record of which watercolor pencils that are in my possession. It comes in handy especially when I tend to buy single pencils rather than sets.

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Overall, Brownie paper takes water fairly well, besides slight buckling. No seep through to the next page.

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Similar to Hobonichi Techo, Brownie also has 10- blank pages after the planning section. I use these pages to jot down books I would like to read and knitting patterns that I am interested. Even though there are communities like Goodreads and Ravelry, I am still partial to jotting down anything that caught my eyes partly because the act of writing helps with remembering.

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Followed by information pages.

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In case you want to calculate the golden ratio, Brownie will have your back

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Similar to most Japanese planners, owner’s information page is the last on a planner. Even though I never use this section, it gives me the feeling that trust still exists around us, albeit in small way. Planners, for some, are quintessence and integral to their lives.

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In addition to 5 note pages in the back of the planner, Brownies also has a separate booklet nested in the back cover. Similar to Hobonichi’s Download City, Brownies offers a variety of additional templates that users can print and paste onto these free pages. The booklet can be looked at as an extension of space for the planner, as for some it may be a bit limited compared to other planners.

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Even though the paper is similar to Midori, Brownies remains fairly slim even after a year of use.

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Even though Brownie planner does not have all the customization options as Hobonichi, after almost a year of use it has an air of understated elegance. The paper quality and overall feel is impeccable– feeling almost as an upgrade to Tomoe paper, as the see-through effect is not as obvious. The format is definiltey more project driven yet flexible enough to anyone to adapt to their preference and liking. Brownie in a way, allows users to present pertinent information in different manners, let it be text, graph, or something in between. The capability of being able to use the planner both horizontally and vertically may seem challenging at first, but I found it useful to separate tasks of different natures visually, while keeping everything in one book. Compare to Hobonichi original or Weeks, Brownie’s writing real estate may appear to be limited, but with the enclosed booklet and versatality in orientation, the space can be maximized. With all elements combined, Brownie truly embraces its 365/1 logo, embossed on the cover. One book can captured all.

Unlike Hobonichi, Brownie planner can only be purchased from oversea retailers. Plain Stationery, Homeware and Cafe in Taiwan does ship internationally (approximate shipping fee is $10 USD). The official Brownie website does have a store front; however, it only ships within Japan.

How do you like a multi-tasking planner?

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Hobonichi 2019

It is hard to believe that August is already here, let alone the next year. I am a bit late to the scene but as usual, Hobonichi has announced previews and releasing schedule for 2019 planners. If you have purchased from Hobonichi directly, you may recall that on the first day of release (September 1) the “traffic” is as bad as grand opening of a highly anticipated store. One important change this year is that Hobonichi will release planners for purchase over three days, in effort to ameliorate the overall shopping experience and to alleviate the traffic. Similar to past year, Hobonichi will unveil the 2019 line-up, as well as changes made in next year’s planner in the month of August. For more details, visit the Hobonichi page. For those of us who cannot attend the actual preview of the line-up in Tokyo or Kyoto, Hobonichi will also host a live 2-hour Q&A session on August 18 on Facebook to answer any questions you may have.

I am eager to see the changes implemented in 2019 based on users’ feedbacks. My current plan is to purchase a Techo Week Mega for task tracking and planning. Instead of purchasing a separate planner as a journal, I will opt for a Midori 10th Anniversary notebook. The generous size will accommodate clippings that I regularly gather from day-to-day life and the paper will also take a wide range of media.

Hopefully I will get around to talk about my planner set up this year. Life often occurs faster than what we can realistically keep up.

Yak Leather Pen Case

Even though pen pouches in various formats are reviewed a few times in this blog, actual fountain pen case/storage is a rare sight. Besides the one I have cobbled together several years back, most of my fountain pens still live in their original packaging and are collectively stored in a plastic tub. Thanks to staff at Pen Boutique, I received a black 12-pen leather case by Yak Leather, as well as a brown mini pen sleeve by the same company for review.

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Platinum Century with SF and UEF nibs

I have always wondered how similar are the Pilot Falcon and Platinum Century soft fine (SF) nibs. This curiosity was left on the back burner for several years because many fountain pen enthusiasts commented on how Platinum’s SF nib does not flex as much compared to Falcon. Curiosity kills a cat. More than a year ago I purchased a Platinum Century with SF nib on Amazon on a whim and it is a road with no return.

Both Platinum Century SF and Pilot Namiki Falcon have 14K gold nibs and they do shape slightly different. Falcon, as its name indicates, resembles a falcon’s beak, while Platinum Century has a rather normal looking nib, sweetened by a heart-shaped breather hole. The Platinum SF works right out of the box and seems to be easier to use compared to Falcon. This perception can be skewed since I have more exposure to flex nib now than five years ago, but it is amazing how easy it is to achieve line variation with Platinum SF than Pilot SF, probably because the Platinum nib is stiffer. In my opinion, the Platinum SF nib is more beginner friendly, since users can easily control a hard nib than a soft one. The hardness of the nib also discourages one to press down further. It is significantly easier to write normally, without flexing, with a Platinum Century than a Faclon. When I used Falcon for the first time, it took me awhile to print or write cursive normally without flexing; in fact, I adjusted how I hold the pen and slow down significantly to get a hang of the pen. In contrast, I can write with a Platinum SF nib at a normal speed without skipping and with a finer line.  In this light, Platinum SF nib is a bit more versatile if your end goal is to be able to print normally and add a bit of flourish from time to time.

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Platinum Century on the left and Pilot Falcon on the right. Century is definitely bit chubbier in comparison but still comfortable to hold
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Side-by-side comparison of Platinum Century and Pilot Falcon (Paper: Brownie planner)

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Nib choices with the Platinum Century series also make the pen a salient choice. The body shape may remain the same, but one can choose from UEF (ultra extra fine) to Music. It also comes in a variety of standard as well as limited edition colors (Have you seen the newest release?) Because I had such a great experience with Platinum Century (and because I am such a sucker for colors), I picked up another Century with a UEF nib while going home in 2016. With the exchange rate at the time, the pen cost roughly $84 USD and it came with a cartridge, a converter, as well as a complimentary One over One Studio ippitsu-sen (short correspondent paper; Sola has written a post about this uniquely Japanese stationery here) made with bank paper. UEF is favored by many artists and illustrators for its crisp and delicate line. In addition, the UEF nib allows one to write legibly in a small space. One note of caution, finer the nib, scratchier it may feel on paper because the point of contact between the nib and paper is minuscule. The nib also picks up paper fiber easier given how sharp it is, so when using a UEF nib (or a finer size for that matter), use smoother paper to be on the safe side.

When I first picked up the UEF, I was afraid that I have fallen into the pitfall of “the finest nib quest” but my doubt was quickly dispelled. Compare to other Japanese F or EF nib, UEF feels significantly firmer. Since it is a harder nib, when writing quickly, you can hear the sound of nib gliding over the paper surface.  A notable concern for a fine nib is that it is prone to clogging, especially when one uses a metallic ink (J. Herbin 1670 series, for example). Though I have not yet inked the UEF with any shimmering ink since Platinum’s nib can be easily removed in the same fashion as a Lamy (with a piece of tape), deep cleaning would be a non-issue.

From the pictures below, one can observe the similarities among Platinum Century UEF, Preppy .2, and Pilot Kaküno EF. I would recommend a Preppy .2 if UEF has been on the wanted list, but you are unsure whether you would love it. The downside of Preppy is its flawed body material; the plastic seemed very brittle that cracks start to show even though the pen has never been dropped. Kaküno is far more superior in terms of material, but the nib can be dry because Pilot does not have the famed slip and seal mechanism. UEF has the most feedback among the three and pair with paper such as Midori or Tomoe, is a heavenly experience.

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What is the finest nib of all?

While I have picked up standard black for SEF, I opted for Chartres blue for the UEF. As its name suggested the material is translucent and when one holds it to the light, it evokes images of the stained glass from Chartres Cathedral.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Platinum Century, and you can definitely call it “love at first write.” For the combination of price, nib options, and performance, it can easily fit the criteria of a grail pen for enthusiasts with a budget in mind.

What is your recommendation for the next-step pen?

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Perhaps I should add more to the color spectrum? 🙂

Friday Read

I came across an older article that analyzes how ballpoint lens has runes cursive writing. It reminds me of my own schooling; younger grade students (first and second) were disallowed to use ballpoint pens, for the reason that ink was too smooth. Writing itself consisted of many fine motor skills and requires more developed muscles to exert control.

Do you agree with the article?

Friday Read

When I encounter articles that mentioned stationery stores back home, my heart usually skips a couple beats. Taiwan, very similar to Japan, is a stationery paradise. Here, Junee Lim of Alt. Haven wrote about a well-known fountain pen store, which I happened to stumble upon several years back. My little sojourn to stationery shops in Taipei is reported here.

Where do you like to shop in your country?