Tools of the Trade: Favorite Notebooks, Pens, and Bags

When running around, traveling, shopping, or walking, the best ideas seem to hit when you are not in the design studio or at your desk. That is when the right tools, easily carried and accessible are essential. Like many, I am obsessed with notebooks and sketch pads of all sizes and makes. One of my favorite blogs, Black Cover, is dedicated to this search, The Search for the Perfect Little Black Notebook.

I went through my Moleskine phase, very nice. The Rite in the Rain All Weather Memo Book is also quite nice. In the past, we have created leather covers for these notebooks.

My friend at A Continuous Lean has some great options covered, whether for the Field Notes notebooks, the Smythson ones, or Doane paper.

But my current favorite, which I have used on and off for years, is the Circa notebook from Levenger with the black cloth cover:

I can pull out paper, use lined, plain, graphed paper to fill it up, and reorder or pull out the pages as I desire. Or I can make my own filler paper with a custom hole punch. The canvas cover is a really nice surface for gold ink pen doodles.

Writing instruments are another item and my favorite, which, painfully, I recently lost, is a mechanical pencil from Rotring. In a fit of vanity, I even had it engraved with my name. Here it is captured for eternity in a photo—ahh, the memories! I also have a Rotring Eterneum fountain pen I like for its rugged feel. Not the best nib but it’s a nice utility-looking pen in foofy colors.

Rounding out my stuff is a Muji folder to hold my notebooks, pens, and things as well as my trusty Leica DLUX 3. There are probably many better digital cameras out there, but I like its weight and size, the way it feels, and how clean it looks. The manual option also affords me some flexibility and, frankly, it has become very familiar to me. The battery lasts forever.

All of this I currently carry in my Carga 0W3 Bag—recommended, designed, and produced by my recent acquaintance, Mario—made of rubberized cordura and veggie tanned leather.

What’s your favorite notebook, pen, or carrying bag? What are your tools of the trade? Any recommendations are welcome!

16 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: Favorite Notebooks, Pens, and Bags

  1. Matthew

    I think DCM meant the green carrying case (almost looks like a folio?) in the very bottom picture, not the Carga Bag.

    I’m also curious about that – seems perfect for what I need.

  2. Paul Choi Post author

    Hey Liz,

    Glad to hear from you. I am always looking for bags. Common denominators are authentic utility, natural materials, unique-ness, and rugged-ness… Simple over complicated. “Rugged lux.” I dislike “computerish” looking bags ala tumi, victorinix, etc.

    Let me know how the line goes. Any time you need a guinea pig or feedback loop, I am there.

  3. Damien Newman

    Paul –

    Great post. Love the topic. I had such a trying time of searching for the ideal notebook, over many many years (like ten or so) I ended up giving up looking for a notebook, but rather research how people took notes. From there, I went on to design a notepad I liked and had them printed. Based on the pads of paper we’d use at IDEO, and an observation from lawyers using yellow legal pads, I designed these:

    And the best pen based on the paper weight and thickness, to use on these pads, is the Pilot Razor Point. Or a Sharpie.

    Because we use a lot of Sharpies, I wanted the paper weight to be enough to not bleed too much with using them on the pads.

    The green stripe is on one side, so that when filed in a folder, you can find your notes easily amongst other printouts or pages.

    I do think the next step is to design the perfect notebook, and have it made. But of the dozens of different ones I’ve purchased, I’ve not yet found one I like.

    Thanks to Brian for drawing my attention to MAIDO in the Westfield mall. I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Paul Choi Post author

    Thank you, Brian! I will check out MAIDO. Sounds like just the spot. Local knowledge is key now that I am in San Fran…

    Ammo-Head… I will check out your website. I have fancy waterman, etc. fountain pens but find I feel really bad after losing them… I travel often so not sure if the bullet pens will make it through TSA – but worth a look.

    Thanks for the comments.

  5. Brian McMullen

    Heya Paul, my favorite SF spot to look for notebooks & pens is MAIDO, a fantastic Japanese stationery store on the top floor of the Westfield shopping mall downtown. I regularly buy work notebooks there for between $2 and $3 each. More expensive/lush/bespoke-ish options are available, but I haven’t really had occasion to think about buying them.

    There’s a slightly smaller and usually more crowded second location (not called MAIDO but owned by the same people) in the big Japantown mall, too.

    Worth a trip if you haven’t been!