Zenith Camera Silkscreen Print

In April 2016 I produced this 2-color print of a Zenith 3M Russian 35mm camera. I bought the camera from a store in Ukraine because I thought it looked interesting and I might end up getting into some old school analog photography. As if I had time for another creative pursuit.

The finished print before signing and numbering.

The Zenith Camera print is one of few prints I have done using a photograph as the basis for the print. The Silo also used a photographic reference for making the films, but the films were all hand inked. The films for the Zenith Camera were modified digitally in the computer and printed. But just as much work went into staging the photograph.

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Printable Notebook Rulings

While Vari-Dot is the only truly original notebook ruling that I have developed to date, I have put together some other rulings available for download and personal use.

Here they are:

Why Download Notebook Rulings?

Basic lined paper doesn’t cost so much, but if you’ve ever had to shop for graph paper or other specialty paper, you know it can get expensive quickly. These PDFs allow you to try a new ruling by printing just a few sheets at home. If you use a economical inkjet printer, you may well be able to print these notebook rulings more affordably than you can buy them. I accomplish this by using refillable ink cartridges.

The Guitar Chord/Tab ruling at work for a song that I am learning to play
The Guitar Chord/Tab ruling at work for a song that I am learning to play

Extra Special Notebook Rulings

  • Vari-Dot: The only ruling of my own design, I’ve already written about it at some length here. The original goal was for design work, but it can be used for regular old writing and for anything for which regular grid paper can be used.
  • Guitar Tab/Chord: For guitar players trying to write or learn a song. Version 1 has space for a line a lyrics under the guitar tab. Version 2 has space for two lines of lyrics under each set of guitar tab. Both have empty chord diagrams up at the top and a line for the song name. The Guitar Tab without chords has a dashed line between the guitar tab sections also for lyrics. All versions are (hopefully) in a gray dark enough to see, but light enough that pencil on top of it shows clearly.
  • Seyès: The notebook ruling unique to France, named for the Parisian librarian who invented it. I prefer the Extra Light version. Both feature a red margin for good measure.

What’s Next?

As time permits some rulings may become available in larger or different sizes. I’ve already considered notebook rulings for practicing kanji and Russian cursive. Currently all the rulings have the Neat & Keen logo and website address in small print on the bottom of the page. In the future I may have premium “unbranded” versions available for a small fee. I’ve also flirted with the idea of customized stationery and letterhead in both a digital and physical format.

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay updated when new rulings and other things happen on this site.

Handmade Notebooks

More hand sewn notebooks with screen printed covers

After the my initial development of Vari-Dot ruling, I looked into having notebooks produced for sale. Many papers were tested. I reached out to binders and printers for quotes on getting various forms of notebooks produced. The prospect of spending $5000 or more on notebooks in this age of tablets and smartwatches was daunting. Instead I turned to prototyping small batch handmade notebooks.

I went on to purchase some modest supplies to craft the books myself. I have sold a few and given many away. Most have been prototypes, but I still kind of dream of producing a line of consistent handmade notebooks with quality heavy paper.

Operator Notebooks

While I was brainstorming ideas for a line of notebooks, the name Operator is the one that stuck out the most. We all operate something whether it is a motor vehicle, buttons in an elevator, or electric hairdryer.

A logo design for a possible run of Operator notebooks.

One of my favorite logo designs features a spoke wheel on a faux marbled pattern that hearkens back to the classic composition notebook. The wheel has a classic 36-spoke design, but erroneously (and intentionally) features an extra 37th spoke. (I turned 37 the year I was working on this project and I’m also fond of prime numbers.)

Operator jam page from my own Vari-Dot notebook


Dozens of mock ups have been done. Part of what has held me back from producing notebooks in this style is that it is challenging with my modest tools to trim books that are the same size and consistently square. The idea that someone might purchase two books that would sit next to each other on a shelf where one is a millimeter taller than the other does not sit well with me..

Furthermore, the amount of time that goes into putting together a handmade notebook is substantial. In order to bring that time down, I have some jigs and fixtures in mind. I still won’t be able to compete on price with notebook makers that churn out millions of books from factories overseas, but I can offer something unique and niche to discriminating stationery nerds like myself.

Why Notebooks?

Personally, I just like the feel of a good pen or pencil scribbling across a quality sheet of paper. However, beyond the aesthetics or tactile sensation, studies show that writing and taking notes by hand promote a better kind of learning.

Vari-Dot Ruling

Early Vari-Dot design from 2017
Early Vari-Dot design from 2017

In the fall of 2017 I began to research an alternative notebook ruling for designers. I gave it the name Vari-Dot because it consists of dots varying in size and shape. This Vari-Dot ruling has been used in some handmade notebooks and from time to time. It has also been available as a download and printed stationery form.

What’s In A Ruling?

Different rulings. Clockwise from upper left: Graph/grid, dot grid, reticle, and Seyes

The most common rulings we see in the US are simple blue lined notebook paper found in wide and college rule. However, stationery nerds like myself know there are a wide variety of options for writing, drawing, and designing. The examples above are all still based on a pretty basic vertical or horizontal purpose. There are logarithmic rulings for graphs and isometric rulings for designing things in a sort of topographical 3D space.

Vari-dot is a hybrid ruling I developed for the purpose of layout design where the harsh lines of a grid ruling are too intrusive, but the sparse dots of dot-grid are not quite enough. It looks like this:

6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil
6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil

Why Vari-Dot?

The goal was that when working from a distance the dots would be small enough and light enough that they would blend into the background. When working closer to the paper, they become useful guides for designing things to scale. Each kind of dot (corner, side, center) is slightly different in size. The color of dot I most prefer has a CMYK value of 15, 15, 15, 0, but I have printed it as dark as 19, 19, 19, 0. [CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black/keyline.]

Some versions of Vari-Dot have square and triangle shaped dots along the perimeter of the page. These marks denote where quarter, third, and halfway marks fall on the page. Earliest versions of the Vari-Dot ruling were spaced at a quarter inch (5.35mm), but more recently I have found that 6mm is more comfortable to work with.

Vari-Dot is just one of the rulings that has been offered in my handmade notebooks. In the future there will be downloads available for those who wish to try it for themselves.

Custom Built Sofa

Preliminary design for a mid century modern inspired box sofa
Mid-centruy modern inspired custom built sofa design

Earlier this year I made a joke that I “wasn’t good enough” for a full size sofa (as I currently have a modest loveseat). I could go out and buy one tomorrow, but all the sofas in my budget are “just okay.” And who can afford a custom built sofa? From time to time I have searched “DIY Sofa” with mixed results.

Then I found something promising.

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“DLZ” – TV On The Radio Cover

Cover of “DLZ” by TV On The Radio

“DLZ” is a song by the band TV On The Radio. It appears on their third album, Dear Science and was written by Tunde Adebimpe. I don’t own any rights to this song. Go buy some merch from the band.

Originally uploaded to YouTube on March 6, 2018. Watch a version with out embedded ads over at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/139635786084557/videos/1541251109256344/

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Unintended Hiatus

It’s 4p.m. on Monday afternoon. I have to be at my regular job in four hours for a 10-hour shift, but I’ve been wrestling with some things and I’m going to sort out a couple thoughts regarding this side hustle of mine.

A week or two ago I started writing this. I’ve been getting e-mails about my Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate needing renewing. It will only be $10 or so, but it was a reminder of how much I have neglected Neat & Keen this year and the question is: What do I want to accomplish here?

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Chicago, Minneapolis, Greeting Cards, and More

I’ve been traveling, returned to work full-time, and started designing greeting cards. It’s been a super bittersweet summer.

Hello, Chicago

While I sat in the waiting room before a follow up on my aching limbs, I purchased a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago. That weekend I made an overdue trip to the museum and I was just overwhelmed with the art there.

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