Moleskine » The Little Black Notebook & its Legendary Marketing

Hemingway. Picasso. Matisse. Van Gogh. Names synonymous with creativity. Were they really more creative than you & me? Or did they merely have better tools? .. to capture inspiration when the Muse spoke.

PicassoMy quest for the perfect notebook began last week, when the Bug started kindergarten. I wanted to capture some of the precious things he was saying. [ So cute. ]

Which led me to Moleskine (pronounced mol-a-skeen'-a). The company is based in Italy (Milan), hence the pronunciation. Tho the notebooks themselves are made in China.

But most Americans just call them mole-skin .. like the blister aid you buy when backpacking Yosemite.

If you walked into a bookstore and asked for a "mol-a-'SKEEN-a," the sales-person would probably hand you their wallet and say, "Please don't shoot."

Avant-garde artists & writers such as those mentioned above used a notebook of similar design .. to what the folks at Moleskine manufacture today .. which comes with the following features:

  • lays flat when open. Its most important feature (Most bindings tend to spring shut)
  • quality paper that won't bleed thru with wet ink
  • paper has a slight yellow tint (creamy, like they made in the old days .. not bright white like the stuff made for today's laser printers)
  • elastic enclosure to keep it shut when you're done. No crumpled corners
  • accordion pocket in the rear, to hold your receipts & things
  • single satin marker ribbon
  • hard-cover, wrapped with black oil-cloth .. for a classic look with tactile sensuality. Feels better than leather & far more cow-friendly. I saw one leather knock-off which looked horrible (shiny) & felt 'cold'

Matisse La DanseMoleskine's marketing is gimmicky -- The Legendary Notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, Chatwin -- because the company was only formed in 1998.

So they are not the originator of the product used by Hemingway & Picasso. They merely re-launched a style that had been lost & forgotten.

Their prices are .. pricey. MSRP $18. Even $12 for a discounted book, with no words, no story, is hard to ju$ify in this economy. So many (like me) opt for knock-offs.

But you still might wanna take an original for a test-drive .. just to see what everybody is raving about. Cuz Moleskine is the standard by which all knock-offs are judged.

••• today's entry continues here below •••

Twsbi fountain penThey come with paper that is lined, plain or graphed. I prefer plain pages, which offer more freedom. But that's merely personal preference.

[ As is your choice of writing instrument. For which I prefer a Pilot Vball (3-pack for 5 bucks).

Pretty much any rolling ball pen with black ink works for me. Tho many prefer a fountain pen .. like the Twsbi. ]

I originally thought the elastic closure was pointless .. maybe even a nuisance. But it seems it actually serves a purpose .. beyond merely keeping the book shut.

Seems the Muse is more willing to whisper in your ear when the elastic has been set. Maybe she thinks you won't be able to capture her secrets with the closure in place. =)

The most famous knock-off is made by Piccadilly, sold at Borders and other places for 5 bucks. [Review] Right now I'm using one made by Foray, which I picked up at Office Depot for $6.99. I like this particular model cuz it's a little wider than the standard size.

Van Gogh Room at ArlesSpeaking of standard sizes .. I use the classic 5x8-inch notebook. It fits into the oversized pockets of my parachute-style pants.

Tho you can feel the notebook knocking against your knee when you walk. And it's heavy enough to throw you off balance slightly when you run.

So if you need something more portable, you'll want the smaller pocket-sized version.

But if you're already carrying a laptop, or a briefcase, or a hip-pack (like me), the 5x8 is way better than the 3x5-inch pocket version.

I don't like shiny covers. Ick. Duller the better. Flat black better than semi-gloss. Naturals oils from your hands/skin will enhance its look-n-feel (texture & appearance) over the months you use it.

See here for a nice video intro .. and here for a comparison of the various sizes available.

Matisse La DanseAs we continue to move toward a paperless society, paper becomes increasingly precious. If you're going to take the time to write, make it count.

Beyond the gimmicky marketing, it's easy to see why Hemingway & Picasso chose this style of notebook to capture & record their inspirations. The design is all about » function. It's not just hype. And you could certainly spend way more.

Some pooh-pooh the co$t, claiming the same can be accomplished with a 99-cent notebook. And they're correct. But the difference in craftmanship is readily obvious. And certainly that counts for something .. even in this sucky economy.

I'll be bold here and argue you'll be more likely to use a Moleskine .. than one of those 99-cent cheap-o's. No? And one good idea can pay for many Moleskines. Just ask Pablo or Ernest. (Probably don't wanna ask Vincent, tho. He never made much money.)

[ Note - a reader wrote to inform me that you can't ask Ernest or Vincent .. cuz they both killed themselves. Suicide. Real tortured artists there. ]

Court your Muse with a Moleskine. [ # Talk to me, Goose. ] Rumor has it Jesus used a Moleskine to pen the Sermon on the Mount . =)

The Artist's Way by Jilia CameronNote that the Artist's Way, a book about developing creativity, recommends you begin each day by writing 3 pages .. of anything. Content doesn't matter. Purpose is to silence your inner critic .. by giving free reign to your inner artist.

[ # The term moleskin reminds me of Lani. She was the Queen of Moleskin .. whenever we went camping or hiking.

She had the kit and every evening the doctor would make tent-calls to dress those blisters. Notice she's wearing a "little black" dress (.. like the notebook).

I originally didn't notice the 'e' at the end, so I thought Moleskine notebooks were covered with Lani's blister aid (.. which might come in handy out in the back-country).

Seasoned Rad readers might be wondering what ever happened to little Miss Lani. She shaved her head & got married. (Yeah, in that order.) Bet she's wearing a pair of Birkenstocks right now. ]

One last thing. The original Moleskine notebooks are made in China .. with a chemical known to cause cancer. See the California Prop-65 warning listed on the Moleskine page at, where its BestSeller's ranking indicates that *lots* of people are buying them.

I think it's due to a chemical they use to soften the oilskin. (Must admit - their covers do look gorgeous .. not the least bit shiny.)

Cancer aside, Moleskines are the butterfly nets used to capture the winged ideas set loose by your Muse. And something magical happens when you catch one.

Catching these magical creatures in a net similiar to what Hemingway & Picasso used .. is very romantic. In a bohemian sort of way. Even in our digital society, analogue still has a place.

The folks at Moleskine certainly deserve our gratitude .. for resurrecting a style that had faded from memory .. tho not necessarily our business .. as that's a decision each one must make individually (.. after consulting le budget).

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » moleskine notebook journal knock-off

Update - 19.Dec.2010 » It has been 3 months since I made this entry and my Molskine knock-off is 3/4-ths full. So, it will take (I'm guessing) 4 months to fill one.

So, it is clear that the little extra you pay for a genuine Molskine notebook is spread over several months .. so that the difference in price between a genuine and a knock-off becomes something like only a dollar or two a month. Easier to swallow when you spread the cost over several months.

Also, it is clear that the primary function of a Moleskine is to capture those interesting & creative thoughts that float up into you conscious mind .. before they disappear forever from your conscious radar-screen.

Things in short-term memory typically last only a few seconds. If you don't capture them, they will fade forever into oblivion. This is where a Molskine shines. As you capture these fleeting, transitory insights, you become more sensitive to them.

If you know how a computer works, short-term memory is like RAM, and long-term memory is like your hard drive. A Moleskine is a tool that helps you capture fleeting, transitory insights and store them on the hard drive in your brain (.. so to speak).

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rad published on September 14, 2010 9:14 AM.

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