Zibaldone Da Canal 16v-17r

Why I’m ditching the bullet journal and turning to a zibaldone or commonplace book

Bullet journals, zibaldoni, and commonplace books

The explosion of interest in bullet journals which I’ve spoken about before, shows no sign of slowing in 2017. The new year encourages many people to turn over a new leaf, and for many this means getting organised. The hundreds of beautifully decorated pages on #bulletjournal. I’ve said before, and I still agree, that it’s a bullet journal if you say it is, and it doesn’t have to fit someone else’s predefined idea. If the inventor welcomes lots of variations, then Sue on that bujo Facebook group you joined doesn’t get to say otherwise.

However, as I adapt my own bujo system, I find myself thinking of it in different terms. In my other life, I’m a historian, and so it won’t surprise anyone to hear that I tend to think about things in historical terms. A little bit of research reveals that there are some fascinating predecessors to the bullet journal, reaching as at least as far back as ancient Rome.

Bujos of the Past

Romans kept notes of ideas, maxims, quotations and so forth, and called these collections locus communis. Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself kept one, and it became his Meditations. From the third century, the Chinese kept biji, which were similarly collections of notes. These ancient practices led, eventually to the Italian zibaldone, which were the basis for commonplace books and later, bullet journals.

Zibaldoni

The genre really came into its own in the thirteenth century, when Venetian merchants started keeping notebooks with them on their travels and at home. They recorded their trading activities, but also notable events and experiences, in their zibaldoni (zee-bal-done-ee). Zibaldone (singular) means “heap of things” and indicates that these books were used as receptacles for any and all information and reminiscences that the author wanted to keep track of. An early example is the Zibaldone da Canal, dating to 1312.

Zibaldone Da Canal
Zibaldone Da Canal, Venice 1312 (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

 

Importantly, these books were written in the vernacular, meaning that they were for everyday use and not intended as formal documents (which would have been in Latin). In Florence, and other Italian cities, people kept ricordi (records), and libri segreti (secret, or private, books chiefly but not exclusively concerned with business information). In these books, people (almost always men) recorded business transactions, family births and deaths, observances of city life and political events technical information, indeed anything the author might want to refer to again later. Writers put these books together in no particular order, piling content in as and when it appeared. These books have provided highly important for historians. Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, a fifteenth-century Florentine wool trader and statesman, was one of the most important keepers of a zibaldone. Not only does his book tell us about conducting business in the Renaissance, but it bears witness to the rise of the Medici and huge changes in civic government.

Commonplace Books

These Italian merchants brought their books to the foreign cities they traded with, and they caught on. By the eighteenth century, they were known in English-speaking countries as commonplace books, a translation of the Latin locis communis. Many notable people kept them: Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, H. P. Lovecraft and Napoleon, for example. A few have been published, like that of H. P. Lovecraft.

Zibaldone Lucchese
Zibaldone Lucchese, Abbot Jacopo Chelini (1748 – 1824), Archivio di Stato di Lucca

 

People filled their zibaldoni and commonplace books with all sorts of things: reflections on events, personal and political; recipes; business information; quotations; drawings and illustrations; letters; poems; reference tables, for example of weights and measures; proverbs and prayers.

Zibaldone Today

Today’s bujos record a huge variety of things. While I don’t usually track tv series I’m watching, I did track watching episodes of Murder One while I was doing archival work in Florence. Jane Austen may not have done this, but when we track and record things in our bujos, we’re taking part in a tradition that goes back far further than we tend to think.

Bullet journals, like zibaldoni and commonplace books are not diaries. They are not necessarily chronological, but they fulfil many of the functions of diaries. Like diaries, they work in two ways. They look both forwards (planned events and appointments) and backwards (when we record what actually happened). We keep track of our scheduled tasks and appointments in weekly or monthly spreads. We record things that happened without planning, in the form of general reflections or specific spreads. Gratitude logs are a popular way of marking things for which we were grateful each day. Historic zibaldoni and commonplace books tended to do much more reflection than planning, but the two are very much compatible. The bujo index helps out with locating information amid the hodgepodge.

I love the idea of renaming my bujo to acknowledge this long tradition. I kind of hate the abbreviation “bujo” anyway, even though I use it out of typing laziness. It seems increasingly fitting to me to think of my A5 dotted Leuchtturm1917 as a modern zibaldone (I study late medieval Italian history- I was hardly going to go for the English phrase!). I very much doubt it will ever of of as much interest to future generations of historians as that of Giovanni Rucellai. But that’s ok.

Commonplace book, Beineke Rare Books and Manuscripts, Yale
BuJo History pin
Rober Oster Emerald

Robert Oster Signature Inks Claret and Emerald review

There’s been some buzz around Robert Oster inks recently. Made in Australia, they’ve been difficult to find in Europe and North America until recently. In the UK, you can buy them from Izods Ink, who kindly sent samples for this and the other reviews for United Inkdom.

I received Claret and Emerald to review. I’ll confess that when I first received these ink samples, and did a quick swatch of each to get an idea of the colours, I was underwhelmed. Both of them seemed dull and lacking vibrancy. I had hoped that the Emerald would be a bright, dark green, and the Claret a rich red purple. The swatches showed an unexciting dark green, and a dark, greyish purple. Revisiting them a few days later, and creating new swatches, I find I’ve warmed to them a little.

Robert Oster Claret

Robert Oster Claret swatch
Robert Oster Claret swatch

Of the two, I was most keen to try Claret. I always like purples and dark reds, and I hope this would fall into both categories.

It’s dark indeed, and has some depth. I didn’t seem any shading when I tested it with a glass pen but you can see there’s quite significant variance in colour from the swatch. I bold- or stub-nibbed fountain pen might make this clearer.

Robert Oster Claret writing sample
Robert Oster Claret writing sample

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Oster Emerald

Emerald has really grown on me. Although I didn’t find it very exciting at first, on my second look at it, I appreciate the richness and jewel-tones of this ink. As you can see from the photo, there’s a huge variation in the colour: from bright green to almost black. As with the Claret, this wasn’t visible with the glass pen, but will be with a fountain pen using a broad or stub/italic nib. Anything which puts down a lot of ink should show this shading.

Robert Oster Emerald writing sample
Robert Oster Emerald writing sample

 

Verdict

These are nice inks, and have great shading potential. The Claret is a little unexciting, but the Emerald is lovely. I can see me using both, though I doubt I’d buy Claret as Diamine Grape and Tyrian Purple, and Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst cover all my dark purple needs. I don’t have anything quite like the Emerald though, so that’s one I’d consider. The other United Inkdom reviews show that the Robert Oster teal and turquoise inks are pretty special- and I am keen to try out Fire and Ice which looks pretty special.

 

[Please excuse the rather dark pictures. It’s been a very dark and gloomy weekend in Edinburgh and there’s just not been enough natural light to take good photos!]

Nib + Ink A

Calligraphy Book Review: Nib + Ink

Calligraphy and lettering is big news at the moment. Instagram is full of gorgeous photos and videos of beautiful writing. As a long-time advocate of writing by hand, I’ve watched the craze grow with interest, and harbour hopes of someday improving my own skills in this department. The simple fact is that to improve, you need to practise, practise, and practise some more. It’s a time-intensive hobby and in the final year of my PhD, I just don’t have the time to spare. Perhaps in 2018!

I do, however, love to browse calligraphy and hand lettering books at the bookshop. One that caught my eye is Nib + Ink: The New Art of Modern Calligraphy* by Chiara Perano of Lamplighter London. I was delighted to receive a review copy from United Inkdom. It’s a beautiful book and one which has been produced to high standards. The paper is thick and the illustrations plentiful.

Pros

How to hold the pen illustration
Perano’s elegant and important illustration showing how to hold the pen

Perano’s illustrations of nibs, pen holders, and most importantly how to hold a pen, are clean and deceptively simple. Lovely nib icons litter the book.

The text is cheerful and encouraging. It’s aimed at beginners and covers all the basics, from where to find supplies, to how to choose which nib to work with. Perano lists suppliers at the end, for both the UK and international markets.

There are guidelines available for free from Perano’s website, and I always appreciate these little content upgrades.

The book is peppered with tips on how to get the most out of your practise, and how to improve your calligraphy.

There are lots of examples to copy, adapt, and use as springboards for your own style.

One of the biggest pluses of this book is that although there is a focus on practice and repetition, Perano is really teaching how to develop your own style. Each letter page has several variations in both the upper and lower cases, which encourages the reader to experiment with each letter.

This is a lovely book, and as I mentioned, the publisher didn’t skimp on production. The paper feels heavy and I think it would take calligraphy ink well if you wanted to practise in the book itself. However, for my money, I’d rather print guidelines onto marker/layout paper and practise on that. That feels like a more economical way to do it, and one where I wouldn’t feel like I’d spoiled this beautiful book with my novice scratchings.

Cons

Letter A exemplars
Letter A exemplars

 

The variations on each letter are not wide. There are three variations per letter, none of which is vastly different from the other two. Although she advocates developing your own style, if this book is the only one you use, your style is likely to be pretty similar to Perano’s. If you want something more classical, this is not the book for you.

There are a couple of things which Perano skips over which, in a book aimed at beginners, deserved a little more attention. The thing which struck me the most was that she mentions, very briefly, making your own ink using paint, gouache or acrylic. There isn’t really enough information to help you do this- you would have to look online for proper details. She doesn’t mention that if you use acrylic paint, you need to clean that off your nib before it dries or risk ruining the nib.

 

 

It depends…

Wreath illustrations
Simple wreaths take up a page eac

This particular issue will depend on how you use the book:

As a result of the intention that you practise in the book, there are a lot of blank pages (more accurately, pages with only guidelines printed on them). I mean A LOT of those pages. By my calculation, fully half the book is blank like this. Each letter page, like the one in the picture above, is followed by a guidelines page, and there are more than ten more double spreads of only guidelines.

If you want to practise in the book, this is useful, but even this amount isn’t enough to level up your skills. You’ll still need to print more (or at least print one sheet to use as a guide underneath your practice paper). This didn’t seem well thought out. If you don’t want to “spoil” the book, then there’s 80-odd pages of wasted space. If you do want to practise in the book, then there’s nowhere near enough.

There is additional “wasted” space at the end, when some fairly simple illustration elements are given entire pages to themselves. I’d have been on board with this if the designs were more complex and merited a closer look, but they seem pretty straightforward.

Conclusions

It’s difficult to come to a decisive conclusion on this book. I like so many aspects of it. I especially like the encouragement to develop your own style and not just to copy Perano’s. It’s a very positive. However, I feel, ultimately, that it lacks depth and variation. I can’t help feeling that all that empty space is an attempt to make up for a lack of content.

 

*Affiliate link: if you purchase through this link, I will earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you.

Fieldwork planner

Bullet Journal Basics- How and Why

The Bullet Journal is enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Although Ryder Carroll unveiled his idea several years ago to great success, something’s happened in the last few months to propel his system into the public eye. Buzzfeed has run several articles about it too.

What is a bullet journal?

Counting down my remaining time in Italy doing PhD archival research
Counting down my remaining time in Italy doing PhD archival research

First thing’s first. Check out Ryder’s website. He created and refined the system and all credit is owed to him. There’s a great wee introductory video on his site and it’s the best place to start. Go check it out now. I’ll wait- it’s not long.

Ok. So now you know the system in its purest form. As you can see from bulletjournal.com though, there are so many ways you can adapt and customise it to suit your own circumstances and requirements. Check out #bulletjournal on Instagram and you’ll see lots of variations. (But do that later because there are currently nearly a quarter of a million photos there!)

What kit do I need?

Notebook and pens (with optional penholder)
Notebook and pens (with optional penholder)

A notebook of some kind and a pen of some kind.

Whatever notebook and pen(s) you choose are up to your tastes and funds. I use a Leuchtturm dotted A5 notebook which is a popular choice for bullet journaling because of the good quality paper, low price, and range of colours. You can use anything though.

Moleskine notebooks are also popular but the paper is inferior to that of the Leuchtturm and it won’t take fountain pen ink so it’s not an option for me. Should Moleskine ever up their paper game I’d be all over them- they have a great range of sizes and styles, though I think they’re over-priced.

If you like spiral-bound notebooks, use one of those. If you want to try the system out in a cheap school-style jotter, go for it. Already using a Filofax? You can create a bullet journal right there. You can even add it to your existing planner or diary if there’s a little space for it.

 

 

These are lovely but you DO NOT NEED them.
These are lovely but you DO NOT NEED them.

Use whatever pens you like. I love fountain pens so I use those. Pilot Frixion pens are erasable so you won’t have ugly scoring out when things inevitably need rescheduled. Pencils are even more erasable, so use those if you like them. That scabby old ballpoint you picked up from who knows where? If you like it and it works, use it!

Whatever you choose, DO NOT get hung up on getting the “right” supplies. You don’t need washi tape. You don’t need all 6892 colours of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner or all 3 packs of Zebra Mildliners imported from Japan.

My adapted bullet journal system

This is a calendar tracker I use to countdown the alarmingly few days until my thesis submission
Counting down the alarmingly few days until my thesis submission

The starkness of Ryder’s system doesn’t work for me. I prefer something more visual- boxing off lists and days and months, and so forth. I like to have a bit of colour in mine and I prefer ticking off boxes to crossing out bullets.

Along with the usual things (appointments, social events, etc), I also have some more unusual things to track. There’s my thesis: the most important thing. There’s also my blog, a part-time job, university tutoring, and some freelance work. I use monthly and weekly spreads to help me with these. Some of the detail (such as my train times) goes on Google Calendar instead. This is purely to keep things from getting too cluttered. It doesn’t make a significant difference to my planning if I get one train or the next one, so I don’t put it in my bullet journal. However, I do need to know if I have a ticket that’s only valid for a certain train, so I put that on Google Calendar and get a electronic reminder.

I also like countdowns so I use my bullet journal for these. For example, I have one that counts down to my PhD submission. I used another to count down the time I had left in the archives when I was doing my research in Florence.

Is it still a bullet journal if I adapt it?

This is a weekly spread I used when doing fieldwork in Italy
This is a weekly spread I used when doing fieldwork in Italy

There have been debates online recently, some needlessly heated, about whether or not the more ornate versions are still bullet journals. I use ticky boxes instead of bullets, so perhaps mine isn’t a bullet journal at all. It really doesn’t matter. I think the only person who has any right to decide if something is a bullet journal or not is Ryder, the inventor, and he seems quite happy to feature non-traditional, adapted, and ornate versions on his site.

I also think that the name we give a system is barely even a secondary concern compared to the key question: does it work for you? There’s no sense in moving from a colourful, decorated planner which works for you to a minimalist one in order to conform to what puritans think is the only way to bullet journal (or vice versa). If someone wants to tell you that you have deviated too greatly from canon and you have no right to call what you have a bullet journal then, meh. Something has probably gone a bit wrong in that person’s life that they are getting upset over the nomenclature of someone else’s to do list. Be kind to the poor wee scone, but ignore them.

Bullet Journal Basics 101- How and Why to Bullet Journal

 

Laptop learning

Why Handwriting Is Better Than Typing

Why handwriting is a much better way to take notes and why typing them is old fashioned  

It’s the start of the new academic year and one of the first things I tell my undergraduate students is to take notes by hand with paper and a pen. Some of them already do this but others peer at me over their laptop screens as if I had suggested eating light bulbs as a study strategy. It sounds old fashioned, as if it’s my personal last ditch attempt to hold back the tide of technology and preserve something pointlessly out-dated, like the penny farthing or whalebone corsets. But handwriting is a much better strategy for anyone taking notes.
This idea isn’t just a quaint idea. The physical act of handwriting, moving a pen across the page, has significant benefits over tapping a keyboard to record the same information. Researchers have shown that writing with a pen and paper uses different parts of the brain from typing. Several studies conducted in recent years support what stationery enthusiasts have known for a long time. Writing by hand increases engagement with, comprehension, and retention of information.

Benefits of Handwriting 

Writing by hand is slower, which is often seen as a problem. If we can type a lecture verbatim surely that’s better than writing notes on it on a notepad? Well, no. A recent study showed that students writing notes rather than typing understood more because writing forced them to be selective in what they took down. This extra mental step helped them engage and remember the material better than those who just typed it all out, despite the latter having taken far more notes. This was true in tests immediately after the lecture and when subjects were tested a week later.
Learning by rote c. 1905
Laptop note-takers

The proliferation of laptops and tablets, and widely available free wifi has encouraged us to multitask. Handwriting forces us to focus. It doesn’t tempt us to keep Facebook open in another tab and quickly check it when the lecturer takes a breath. Other studies show that students with laptops can spend 40% of class time on unrelated applications and are consequently less satisfied with their education. I’m sure something similar is true beyond the classroom too- in business meetings, for example.

Instead, handwriting makes us engage with what we’re working on. There’s no battery to worry about or pop-up notifications vying for our attention. We have to concentrate, sift and summarise. Surprisingly, laptop note-taking is a lot like learning by rote in a Victorian schoolroom.  Like laptop note-takers, Victorian children would have been able to recite dates and names, lists and times tables, but may not have been able to apply or understand the material very well.

What To Do 

Many people are reluctant to shift to handwritten note-taking because their handwriting is less beautiful than they would like. Perhaps they struggle to read it again later, or are embarrassed for others to see it. I get that. My own writing isn’t as lovely as I would like. For most people though, that can change. Regular practice will improve your handwriting as it does for most skills. Simply, the more you do it the better you will get at doing it. Conscious practice will improve it even more (I’ll talk about conscious practice another time). A useful tip for taking notes from books (rather than in lectures) is to slow down. Most of use write untidily because we rush and don’t take the time to form letters properly. You don’t have to go at a snail’s pace, but if you slow down even a little, it will help.

Also, if you use a program like Evernote to digitise your handwritten notes it will have a bash at making your scrawl searchable. It valiantly tries to make my photographs of Italian renaissance manuscripts searchable, and while I can’t say it’s mastered them, it’s unlikely your writing is less legible than the scrawl of a fifteenth-century Florentine notary!

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you. For example, if you follow the Evernote link, you can get a month’s Premium subscription free and if you decide to create an account, Evernote will give me a month’s Premium subscription free too.
Shimmertastic

Diamine Shimmertastic Inks review

I was excited to receive four bottles of Diamine’s new Shimmertastic inks to review. This is part of a meta-review from United Inkdom.

I was sent:

Swatches of four Diamine Shimmertastic inks
Shimmertastic Ink swatches
  • Golden Oasis
  • Tropical Glow
  • Blue Flame
  • Lilac Satin

I was particularly happy to get my hands on Tropical Glow, as I love teal and turquoise inks, and Golden Oasis as I am also very fond of this shade of green.

Golden Oasis

This is a mid-green with golden shimmer. It proved to be one of my favourites of this set. It’s a cheerful, leafy green which isn’t a million miles away from Diamine Meadow. The golden shimmer is subtle but visible. The particles are very fine and a gentle agitation is all that’s required to stir them up if the pen has been lying unused for a while.

Golden Oasis swatch
Golden Oasis swatch

It’s difficult to capture the sparkle of this ink with a camera, especially in Scotland in late December when there’s not a whole lot of natural light to reflect.

Gold particles visible
Gold particles visible
Golden Oasis on Tomoe River Paper
Golden Oasis on Tomoe River Paper from a Hobonichi Techo Cousin diary

 

Tropical Glow

This is a beautiful deep turquoise ink with silver sparkle. The ink alone is almost identical to Diamine Marine, my favourite every day ink. It’s brighter than Yama Dori and without the amazing sheen of that ink, but as a result is a more usable ink. The silver shimmer, like the gold, is fine but catches the light well.

Tropical Glow swatch
Tropical Glow swatch
Silver sparkle in Tropical Glow
Silver sparkle in Tropical Glow

 

Tropical Glow on Tomoe River Paper
Tropical Glow on Tomoe River Paper

 

Blue Flame

Blue Flame is a deep blue with gold shimmer with a hint of red sheen. I found it to show the shimmer the best of the four, perhaps because it is the darkest ink and contrasts the sparkle better.

Blue Flame swatch
Blue Flame swatch
Blue Flame with golden particles
This looks like a chunk of lapis lazuli
Blue Flame on Tomoe River Paper
Blue Flame on Tomoe River Paper

Lilac Satin

This is a light, bright purple with silver shimmer. I expected to like this more but perhaps it was just that it is too light for me. It is a colour lots of people will love though.

Lilac Satin swatch
Lilac Satin swatch
Silver sparkle in Lilac Satin
Silver sparkle in Lilac Satin
Lilac Satin on Tomoe River Paper
Lilac Satin on Tomoe River Paper

 

These are lovely inks and I will definitely be investigating some of the other colours in this range. They are not as spectacular as Herbin’s Anniversary inks but they are consequently more usable. They are affordable for everyday use and the sparkle is subtle enough to brighten up your writing without making it look like there was an explosion in a glitter factory. Only Blue Flame showed any sheet and the shading is minimal on all four.