Despite being besieged by digital gadgets, some still find it hard to stop committing their ideas to paper.

Rino, a senior manager in his late 30s, carries a laptop and a book in which to take notes to support his presentation. 

“What I bring along may be a bit different from those of my peers or staff, with their tablets to record meeting results,” he said. “I still like jotting down meeting conclusions in a notebook.”

Rino, not his real name, said handwritten notes could not be compared to those recorded on electronic devices and personally he found it easier to put his thoughts on paper.

He is not the only one. Many illustrators, despite their customary use of digital devices, still use graphite pencils to make their drawings before being transferred to computers. 

Many authors and journalists still scribble their ideas in notebooks before putting them into computers. 

Some people maintain that nothing can take the place of sitting at a café or park and then noting down their thoughts before using computers. 

Others feel a great loss when their notebooks are gone or scattered as if they were already part of themselves.

Tarlen Handayani, who creates handmade notebooks under the label vitarlenology, said the feel of writing was different. 

She first made her notebooks after being dissatisfied by diaries that were all lined. “I prefer to write on blank paper, which allows more freedom and drawing space,” she said.

Ink on paper: A collection of notebooks is on display in Jakarta. Despite the common use of digital devices, many still scribble down their ideas in notebooks. (JP/Juliana Harsanti)

Tarlen regards writing by hand as more personal. “Notes in a tablet can be lost when the gadget is affected by a virus or has to be reset. Handwriting is more permanent, as long as the book isn’t lost,” she said laughing.

With her love of notebooks, Tarlen started to make her own books mainly from environmentally friendly paper.

When following a short course in America, she learned bookbinding and several other crafting skills to produce beautiful handmade notebooks. Later she began to sell her vitarlenology books online, with customers ranging from students to travelers.

The two young initiators of Heimlo — Nesia Anindita and Tommy Chandra — are self-confessed notebook lovers.

Heimlo was first founded to meet graphic design demand but the pair decided to produce stationery with various fresh designs typical of Heimlo, including notebooks as the prized stationery item.

“We’re both fond of collecting notebooks with unique designs when we travel somewhere,” said Nesia, now studying children’s culture and design at Gothenburg University, Sweden. 

While Tarlen’s vitarlenology offers the choice of binding stitches, cover materials (leather, recycled paper and others) and letterpress, Heimlo’s notebooks boast their graphic designs and icons as its strength. 

Nesia said notebook illustrations were inspired by their experience and hobby of eating. So the books’ “Food” series is adorned with Indonesian street food. 

With the successful food series, they designed the “Jakarta” series with all the capital’s problems portrayed in cartoon icons to decorate the notebook covers. 

The illustrations also became the patterns of gift wrappers, pouches and other articles. 

Nesia hopes people using the notebooks and stationery will be proud of Indonesia and also Jakarta.

Heimlo also makes notebooks with lined and blank paper, for almost the same reason as Tarlen’s argument for the blank ones, which is the greater freedom of expressing thoughts. 

“Usually people who can draw will add some pictures to their notes,” said Nesia, who also draws the places she visits as long as she has spare time.

The notebooks by Nesia and Tarlen are bought by people from all social segments for their own use or gifts. 

In this digital era, Tarlen still receives notebook orders for seminars or souvenirs. “Many people say although they own tablets, at seminars or workshops they prefer to make handwritten records in notebooks,” said Tarlen.

Tarlen prioritizes her personal touch in the notebooks produced so she cannot meet big orders within a short time. 

“I want all consumers receiving the notebooks I make to feel proud and then write something in the books with delight,” Tarlen said.

For individual orders, Tarlen usually discusses them with the prospective buyers to ascertain the notebooks desired. Some of her notebook users even feel reluctant to write in the pads, which she jokingly describes as a form of her failure. “Specially made notebooks are only meant to make people enthusiastically write something,” she said.

Heimlo’s notebooks with printed pictures on their covers have their own appeal that attracts many customers. Although they aren’t handmade, Heimlo’s production is limited. “Some are printed in small numbers, such as the Jakarta anniversary edition,” said Nesia.

As a notebook collector, she also wants buyers to have something not mass-produced. “We can’t afford to print large quantities either,” said Nesia and Tommy.

Interestingly, buyers of Heimlo notebooks from overseas feel interested in visiting Indonesia after buying the pads. Heimlo had the opportunity to participate in the Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2015 and the notebooks with diverse covers bearing Indonesian food illustrations drew the attention of people in Sweden. 

Surrounded though they are by digital instruments, Tarlen, Nesia and Tommy remain optimistic that paper-based notebooks will continue to be widely used. “Notebooks and handwriting are very personal,” says Tarlen.