Blank Paper Project: Gift Guide 2014

Gifting season gives us stationery lovers a chance to finally put to use the brilliant wrapping paper we have been stacking throughout the year, sweet postcards that we have curated so beautifully and millions of note cards we have yielded to for their cute designs.

But beyond that it gives us a chance to draft that handwritten note and pour our heart out to friends, especially ones that are miles away.

For all those with predisposed fondness towards all these literary, here are some of my favorite gifts I have spotted on the internet, Rifle Paper Co, Etsy, Modcloth and Kikkerland to help you pick that perfect gift for 2014 Holiday Season:

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There is nothing more sweet and charming than sending a postcard with your beautifully wrapped gift, waiting for your friends in faraway places to get them in their mailboxes, imagining them ripping the contents and skimming the text with smile. Joy-oh-joy!

Part of the joy of thoughtful gifting is adding your own personal touch, but in case I feel a little rushed or short of time I drop the whole process rather than produce a half-baked gift. With time I have realised that a gifting plan must be executed like a 360 degree ad campaign. There is a brief; there is a creative, followed by execution and deliverables So before we brainstorm for an idea for gifting it helps walking down the memory lane, remembering bits of conversations, replaying funny episodes in our heads.

I am sure we all have that one friend who notices just too much, observes a little too much and these observations deserve to be penned down in a worthy notebook. Gift her this beautiful notebook by Chronicle Books – http://bit.ly/1BDoR0Y and see her light up like a Christmas tree.

Please write to me for individual price of the above items.

Piercing insights and travel writing

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Books and books of great travelogues and I still can’t find a writer with more piercing insights than Paul Theroux. The travel writer not only discovers new places with open-heartedness, but also connects with its private side and delivers his observations with witty wisdom. There is a spartan narrative to his travelogue, furiously choreographed in words:

UntitledWith such a grand opening Paul Theroux enfold the endless possibilities a train travel can confer. In his travelogue Great Railways Bazaar  the writer narrates his four-month journey crisscrossing Europe to Asia murdering miles on trains,  namely The Orient Express, The Khyber Pass Local, The Delhi Mail, The Golden Arrow of Kuala Lampur and the Trans-Siberian Express, meeting passengers who are telltale embodiments of their societies.

Spinning a narrative through various individuals he meets along each leg of his journey, Paul Theroux sets off from London, snakes through Europe, halts at Turkey and proceeds on to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and signs off at Russia in a single literary breath.

Paul Theroux describes the great Indian railway affair “In the best of times there is nothing simple about an Indian boarding a train. But these people climbing into the Grand Trunk Express looked as if they were setting up a house – they had an air and merchandise of people moving in”

Characterizing trains with bazaars Paul Theroux throws light on the buzzing activities from hurrying porters to bustle of pantry men, endless conversations that eat up the boring travel hours and a true shade of character that comes out in a fellow traveller affected by the journey itself.  “It was as if in expectations of the train whistles they (Tamilians) dropped the disguise they had adopted for Delhi, the Madras-bound express allowing them to assume their true identity. The men stripped off their baggy trousers and twill jackets and got into traditional south Indian dress.”

His writing beautifully wraps his literary description of a place. Travelling through Iran Theroux writes unmercifully “Money pulls the Iranian in one direction and religion drags him in another and the result is the stupid starved creature for whom women is only meat”. Dotting the book with many grim observations Paul Theroux is obsessed with attracting a vivid cast of amusing characters. He meets a curious man in tweed cap and oversized clothes – Duffil – whose name later became synonymous with being left stranded at a railway station and seeing your scheduled train wheezing past you.  Dufill wears a pair of glasses that are wire-framed “with enough scotch tape on the lenses to prevent his seeing the Blue Mosque” Theroux quips.

From Duffil who works his glasses as binoculars to unkempt hippies to Kali worshipping Tamilians to tipsy Russians, Paul Theroux meets more interesting characters in the train journey than one would see in all the reality shows put together. “The conversations like many others I had with people on trains derived an easy candour from shared journeys, the comfort of dining car, and the certain knowledge that neither of us would see each other again”.

Leaving no cynical stone unturned Paul Theroux with thoroughness of a true travel writer characterizes the persona of the train he takes “Orient express like Trans Siberian links Europe with Asia which accounts for some of its romance. But it has also been hallowed by fiction – restless Lady Chatterly took it, so did Hercule Poirot and James Bond; Graham Greene sent some of its prowling unbelievers on it.”

Travel writing as we see around is abundant but dry of perspective. Many travel writers come up with hurried observations, superfluous conclusions, plain monologues or just a point A to point B harangue of irrelevant details. Intruding on people’s privacy with the temperament of a smug voyeur or attributing great significance to a petty trip from bathroom to groceries however uneventful it is.

But then there are other writers who have explored new destinations and tread on roads less travelled. Their stories are brimming with zany anecdotes and hilarious disasters.  Take Robert Byron’s 1970s travel classic Road to Oxiana, Rory Steward’s The places in Between or Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul .

While most of these travelers had a goal in sight Paul Theroux explores the virtues of travelling light, in terms of expectations that is – “ An aimless joy is a pure joy”. His other books contributing to this genre of writing are The Old Patagonian Express (1979), The Kingdom By The Sea (1983), Riding the Iron Rooster (1988), Dark Star Safar (2002) and Ghost Train to Eastern Star (2008).

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At no stage does Great Railways Bazaar give its readers a dull moment. Paul Theroux views trains as “scale models” of the society. Going beyond the conventional form of travel writing he prefers to observe the world through the train window “…watched the state of Tamil Nadu grow simpler. Each station was smaller than the last and the people grew increasingly naked”.

While travel books carry a gloomy feeling that solitary travel brings, Great Railways Bazaar  packs best of both worlds: an inward look at the outward world and the outward look into the inward being. It is a timeless reflection of people, society and culture of places Theroux is transiting through.

Thirty years later Paul Theroux retraces his journey of The Great Railway Bazaar with a narrative that is richer, funnier and packed with even more perspective. In Ghost Train To Eastern Star  Paul Theroux writes “It is only with age that you acquire the gift of evaluating decay”

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Beautiful Vintage Print Ads and the History Behind Design Elements of Pencils

 “…. and here’s a message to every designer, artist, architect, engineer – every man who uses pencil as an instrument of creation. Your pencil if your genii.”wdswrthhwlnd-1909-kin (1)

Today I am excited to discuss the beautiful world of pencil designs and some inspiring brands that dictated the pencil construct for years to come.

Many of the stationery items we have grown up with have a rich history and beautiful design stories behind them. The first highlighter, STABILO BOSS is fat and flat because its designer lost his head in a meeting and stamped his fist on a clay prototype.  For some of us, that Eberhard Faber eraser belonging to our great-grandfather, or that brown Natur eraser with pen marks or doodles drawn on it, marks an era when design tools could be romanticized.

In this digital world of touchscreens and backspaces, we are more starved than ever for objects that meet form and function and give us something more real and tangible.  That is why typewriters, pencils, fountain pens of yesteryears are so close to our hearts.

Browse through these beautiful vintage ads and catalogues, and no matter where you are, you will be inspired to  surround yourself with all things vintage and stationery.

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In the 18th and 19th century, leads that were used in pencils were drawn from slabs of graphite and cut into square shapes. These square leads were then framed in a wooden body. But soon they gave way to round designs in an attempt to create pencils on a mass scale.

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Did you know, pencils were primarily designed to be left-handed? The tradition continued until the late 19th century.

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The lead marking were in “HHHHHH” and had a clear lacquer finish. These design elements were later altered by A. W Faber in his attempt to catch up to the new trends ruling the design tools industry.

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The Koh-I-Noor pencil designs which were introduced in 1980s inspired future constructs for years to come. One of the ubiquitous design elements of painting the pencil in yellow was imitated by many manufacturers. The old vintage pencils were finished in clear lacquer and showcased the refined quality and the uniformity of the wooden body around the lead. Having a color to pencil’s wooden skin was a fairly new concept back then. These pencils when introduced were considered bourgeoisie than the clear lacquered finished pencils.

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Thanks to Dennis B. Smith of Leadholder (leadholder.com)  for allowing us a peep into the beautiful vintage advertisements and its long copy. These beautifully worded vintage ads make for such engaging reads.

“Lowly knight of the drawing boards? …..With deft pencil strokes guided by genius he brings to life nebulous dreams and offers them as gift to mankind.”

These instruments of mass creation still continue to rule the world, writing stories, illustrating thoughts and filling the blank sheets of the paper with their magical black world.

Consultant and Editor Jim Davis on Creative writing for Brands

When I started Blank Paper Project, one of my biggest goals was to celebrate and showcase independent artists, illustrators and writers from all over the world and create a platform for all the stationery-aficionados like myself. So whenever I stumbled upon a creative person from my circle or beyond from the big World Wide Web, I wanted to instantly share the stuff he/she created with rest of the world. So when my clicks got me to the totalcontent website, the first thing I noticed was this beautiful orange notebook with a double-decked bus stamp on it.slide1-lg

 totalcontent is a UK-based company that helps agencies and companies with cross-disciplinary writing services, and help set tone of voice for their business. They offer creative copy solutions to assist clients for designing a brand identity; from creating a website, a well-crafted snappy name to anything that would bring words to their aid.

Jim K Davies, the writer, editor and consultant at totalcontent shares his creative journey, and his stationery collection with us. Thank you so much Jim for joining us for these series.

Tell us what inspired you to start totalcontent?

I started out as a design journalist, writing about design for magazines and newspapers in the UK and US. Through this I made a lot of friends and contacts in the design world, who’d ask me to help them out with words. Before long, the commercial writing took over, so I set up totalcontent with my wife Deborah [Kings], who mainly looks after the business side. Working as totalcontent gives us the flexibility to bring in other talented people on projects when necessary. We like to come across slightly playful and for the enjoyment we get from writing to shine through.

Which brands do you think have it right with deciding the tonality of their brands?

It goes in cycles — I guess it depends on the people and structure in place at the time. Ten years ago, in the UK at least, Orange and Innocent were held up as the champions of brand tone of voice, but now they’ve gone off the boil. Currently, there are some smaller brands like Hiut Denim and Peppersmith whose written personality is great. Though they’re very different, they don’t try too hard and have their own particular charm.

I must say the poem about a certain Mrs McCave had me in splits. Do you have more of these gems to share?

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I really enjoy nonsense poetry and wordplay. I think it shares something with copywriting in that it has to be concise, keep the audience engaged and find a twist. Though Dr Seuss was nominally writing for kids, his verbal dexterity is a delight to all:

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”

John Hegley is great too:

My doggie don’t wear glasses
so they’re lying when they say
a dog looks like its owner
aren’t they?”

 And of course, the late, great Spike Milligan:

“ ‘Farewell,’ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘goodbye’.
So the man who was drowning, drownded
And the man with the disease past away.
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.”

What do you feel when you stare at a blank page, before your words shape on the whiteness of the document? 

I don’t usually have the luxury to feel anything. I have deadlines to meet!

If someone issues a search warrant for your work station, what are they likely to stumble into?

A plastic orange nose that holds my reading glasses when I’m not using them, a Mondrian mouse mat, a silver iPod Classic, a tub of gum, a collection of Stabilo fibre pens of many colours, my late father’s Parker 75, an Artemide Toledo desk light, and of course my trusty 27-inch 2010 iMac. Deborah’s desk is directly opposite and is mirror image of mine, although she doesn’t have a plastic orange nose or nearly as many pens.

Which journal are you using currently?

I’m currently using a Leuchtturm1917 Whitelines notebook , which combines with an app to upload written notes to Evernote. I have to admit I’ve only done this once to check if it worked. Leuchtturm1917 is my favourite notebook at the moment (orange A5 squared). But I still have a soft spot for Rhodia and Quo Vadis Habana too, partly because they satisfy my craving for anything orange, but mainly because they are really well made and pleasing to write on. Browsing in stationers in Europe is most definitely one of my guilty pleasures — especially France and Italy.

About the beautiful bus-stamped notebook, it was a random purchase at the local Sainsbury’s supermarket a couple of years ago. I was attracted to it simply because it’s orange and on sale for about £2. There were a couple of different designs (a car also, I think), and the notebooks came in purple too. But I have to say, it was really disappointing. The paper was thin, so even a fibre tip showed through and the writing splayed. So after eight pages I gave up with it. There’s no information on it, but it says Fountain on the back.

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Follow totalcontent on Twitter and be privy to their stationery-obsessed conversations, and awesome links sharing.

Project Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

We wake up next to our cats, in pile of books, with a job to go to, to having a mentor who believes in us, to getting that sandwich from our colleague when we are starving during a 4 pm slump. But in our rush to achieve the next best thing we often forget that we have to identify those people who enrich our lives and be grateful to them.

And since being grateful is a verb as much as it is a sentiment, creating a gratitude journal is a good way to give our memories a little jog. Also by making list we can plan to show our appreciation, big or small.

I know I’m not alone in believing that gratitude list help us grow as a person. So I am stopping here to give you the details about this project: share your gratitude list on your blog with a photo, on Facebook, Instagram Twitter, Pinterest, Vine or your preferred social network. If you’re doing this with friends let your pal snap a photo of something they are thankful for. It can be as simple as a taking a picture of a note written on a notepad that says “I am thankful I have a friend who loves books as much as I do”.  List people you are grateful to in your favourite journal; list them on a graph paper, list them on Microsoft Word, list them on your blogs. It is a simple exercise and you can use any medium you fancy.

So pull out that list; get super creative; show off your favourite notebook, journal diary, handmade paper, designs, sketches, graphical illustrations, photography in the background. Then take some pictures of the #GratitudeList and show us the final result using the tag #MyGratitudeList. Let’s get the whole creative community in spirit of gratitude (since we have millions of names in our head of people we hate). So I will go first.

Here is my Gratitude List:
1. Talkative Taxi Drivers – We know so much about a new city just by talking with you guys
2. My cat – By the merit of  just existing
3. Mother – For putting a smile on my face every time
4. Nurse – I do not remember your name but you gave me the strength when I was so low
5. Woody Allen – Helped me get out of the Writer’s Block every time
6. Anand Gandhi – For directing the movie Ship of Theseus that changed my life. This is a movie that I can watch every day and learn something new, each time. Dear readers, if you wish to watch the movie too, click on the link here: http://cineoo.com/movies/detail/id/964/sot
7. Mentors – For believing in me and my writing and for fighting against the prejudices of people who suffer from creative myopia.
8. Kanye West – For making the best music records of the century
9. Shines – For giving the best gifts any vintage loving girl would want
10. Random Jogger – For helping me through a situation which can only be termed as a Divine Intervention
11. Diverse City I live in – It’s a melting pot of cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. Something I wish for all cities all over the world
12. J. D Salingher – For teaching me that the only religious thing a person can do is to act. To perform every action knowing God is watching and to execute it to perfection
13. Friends – For being so socially retarded, foul-mouthed, and entertaining me with your cocky quips

Indie Album Highlight: Dog Is Dead

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I don’t know who told us that we are creative, but somebody did. Somebody along the way convinced us of it or we convinced ourselves that we were the creative folk. And along the way we started fitting bits and pieces in our lives that could be pigeonholed as creative.

Deep inside somewhere we knew that our lives were a redundant loop of nothingness. So we glorified our existence with “awesome Vimeo” we stumbled upon, or a great book we read. We romantised albums and then self-congratulated ourselves for picking these gems. We followed blogs, new music albums, watched movies and spoke at length over multitude of topics that competed on what would reflect us as curator of creative gems. The fact that we did not create anything for years, that is so remarkable as music or ad campaign that we like, did not disturb us.

But then there were millions like us, so we had millions of things to talk about.

Like this album.

Dog is Dead is as certain, as real, as expected album as a journey of any creative person. It has aspirations that are elusive and vivid and yet fits perfectly in a mould. Mould that is comfortable and safe.

But it’s from this very mould that the album sounds so brilliant.

The perfectly hammered lyrics, very alternate pop tune, crisp drum beats, an expected chord change – Dog is Dead has the comfort of an album that you can comfortably ignore and yet in essence alter your consciousness with its tune. Music that makes you feel that responsibilities are miles away.  Music that encroaches on your soul and yet never leaves its mark. Just like the days lived filling out our 9 to 7 jobs, watching plays and fighting over who is the best guitarist and then engaging in massive link-sharing with our friends.

Considering that we are going to continue to live our mediocre lives, there is little consolation in the fact that we can always gate-crash on creations of writers and poets, from albums, to plays, to books and enrich our lives, nevertheless.