Book binding

Field notebooks and the power of noting down your ideas and observations

I came across this idea of a “Field notebook” in Leonardo da Vinci‘s biography recently. Leonardo had a lifelong habit of jotting down his observations, ideas and lists. Here are a few excerpts from the biography:

“Shortly after his arrival in Milan, he began his lifelong practice of keeping notebooks on a regular basis. Some of them began as loose sheets the size of a tabloid newspaper. Others were little volumes bound in leather or vellum, the size of a paperback or even smaller, which he carried around to make field notes.”

“One purpose of these notebooks was to record interesting scenes, especially those involving people and emotions. As you go about town, constantly observe and note…..He kept a small notebook hanging from his belt.”

“The beauty of a notebook is that it indulges provisional thoughts, half-finished ideas, unpolished sketches and drafts for treatises not yet defined.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s biography by Walter Isaacson

This idea of a pocket notebook that you can carry around all the time for taking notes has stuck with me. I came across a similar practice by Charles Darwin too. Quoting from this blog:

“Charles Darwin began his pocket notebook habit while sailing as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. While exploring the South American coast, he gathered specimens and filled 15 field notebooks with observations on subjects like zoology, botany, archeology, and linguistics, data like latitude and longitude, barometer readings, temperature, and depth soundings, sketches of maps and specimens, and personal information like diary entries, shopping lists, and financial information.”

Art of Manliness

Here’s what Charles Darwin’s field notebook looks like

Charles Darwin’s field notebook

Mark Twain took lots of notes too, and had his own custom leather bound notebook made!

I’ve personally found it so helpful to note down ongoing thoughts and ideas in my journal. I’m constantly surprised every time I open my journal and leaf through some of the earlier pages – there are things in there that I do not have any recollection of actively thinking about! This makes me think that there’s value in capturing these stray ideas, and giving myself the opportunity to look back at them every few days. Some of these ideas feel much more powerful when I revisit them later.

In fact, author Steven Johnson talks about the “Slow Hunch” in his book “Where good ideas come from” –

“Most slow hunches never last long enough to turn into something useful, because they pass in and out of memory too quickly, precisely because they possess a certain murkiness. You get a feeling that there’s an interesting avenue to explore, a problem that might someday lead you to a solution, but then you get distracted by more pressing matters and the hunch disappears. So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.”

And a little later – “Darwin was constantly re-reading his notes, discovering new implications. His ideas emerge as a kind of duet between the present tense thinking brain and all those past observations recorded on paper.”

Where good ideas come from – Steven Johnson

As a bookbinder, I thought, why not make a simple leather field notebook that you can carry around in your pocket? What did Leonardo’s field notebook that he hung on his belt look like? 🙂 Could I make a small and slim pocket notebook, that you can carry around in your pocket or your bag?

And so, here’s my super simple leather bound field notebook 🙂 It’s super slim – less than half an inch in thickness, making it really easy to carry around in your back pocket. It contains 30 pages to write on – just enough to capture your thoughts when you’re out and about. It’s covered in caramel colored Italian fine grain leather, which has been sourced from leftovers from a furniture designer, making the leather feel vintage and broken in. I really love how it looks! 🙂

Get your own leather bound field notebook here! 🙂

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