"Abseits" from Mainstream // Fridolin Beisert

"Abseits" from Mainstream // Fridolin Beisert

I am so excited to share this new project with you today! 
"Love for Analogue" Stories is where we will be interviewing different analogue "users" to continue gaining inspiration and encourage conversations with our BK community. I am super thrilled that I get to work on this project with our friend Susan who is an expert in user research AND we got to interview Frido as the first user to test out the process. 
I hope you enjoy Frido's story as much as I did when I first received his draft. And if you are interested in contributing YOUR story, shoot us an email. This is an ongoing process and we are excited to include many many people inside and outside of our BK community. 

Photo credit: Juan Posada

On a recent trip to Germany to visit my parents, I was sharing some of the design projects I am working on for Baum-kuchen with my father. He proclaimed with a smile on his face that we are “Abseits from mainstream”, which translated literally means offside from the mainstream. Another way to say it is to take the road less traveled. When working in the creative field that is certainly not a bad place to start in my opinion.

I grew up to witness and embrace the digital revolution. During my time in school, we were introduced to computers, software and ultimately the growth of the powerful internet. In high school, we would write our essays using fountain pens, blotting paper and “Löschers” (special correction pens that would make the ink disappear so that you can correct any mistakes). Coming home we would play one of the early computer games called Pong.
In college, I started using design software and learned it rapidly to the point where I suddenly found myself teaching 3D rendering and animation after graduation. I even wrote a book on how to use the software. It was at that moment when I asked myself if this race towards ever-growing digitization of our daily lives is really giving us the promise of a life that is “better”. I was an avid user and consumer of Apple products and always had the latest and greatest tools at my disposal. And that is exactly what they felt like: disposable. It seemed like a race that had no clear purpose and certainly no finish line.
“Is there another way?” I asked myself. I started to make experiments such as reverting back to a flip phone for one year. That experiment was a disaster. I realized that I need the minimum of digital communication tools and to maximize them for what they can do - and find analogue solutions for everything else. I still use an iPhone but have stopped participating in the “me too” race of constantly upgrading to the latest and greatest version. Part of me wishes I still had my original one, however, I was forced to upgrade when it was no longer supported.
In looking for ways to bring meaning back into my creative work I started to make a conscious effort to discover methods of going back to analogue with just about every aspect of my design career. At one point I even went back to taking polaroid pictures (using the Impossible film with an SX-70 Land camera) but it became too costly to experiment. I have stopped using (and teaching) rendering software altogether, solely focusing on solving my design challenges with as many analogue tools as possible. This had a remarkable side effect: It made me embrace what some may consider “flaws” as something “beautiful”. When there is no “undo button”, it forces me to iterate and to constantly come up with new creative solutions. It is rocket fuel for my mind.

Another development I have noticed is the use of analogue tools inspires others to do the same. People get really curious when they see me use fountain pens. I get inquiries on my penmanship, sketches, and paintings, often from complete strangers. Analogue systems create conversations, and I cannot remember anyone ever commenting on how well I use my iPhone. There is something about a pen and a paper that is just honest and authentic that it sparks curiosity and appreciation.
Currently, my analogue system is designed to support the different hats that I am wearing: I have a set-up for being organized which includes a Travelers notebook with a monthly calendar as well as BK Notebooks (“Make it yours” for sketches and several BK Dashboards for note-taking and to-do lists). I am using three at a time: one for the family, one for Baum-kuchen, and one for ArtCenter where I teach. I have entirely stopped using any form of digital calendar or other digital repositories such as Notes, etc.

For my creative work, I have various sketching tools including a Kuratake watercolor travel kit and water brush, a brass mechanical pencil and, of course, fountain pens! I rediscovered my love for fountain pens somewhat by accident. Some of our customers at Baum-kuchen inquired about notebooks that were designed for use with fountain pens and they mentioned that there is a special Japanese paper called “Tomoe River” that works especially well as it does not bleed through, is ultra-thin and very durable. We immediately went to work and designed a few notebooks using that paper, but as with any product that we sell we have to test - and love - the product first before we make it part of our curated collection. Well, that was the start of rediscovering my childhood in a way as I am now happily using pen and paper for everything, minus the Löscher!

By now I have 7 different fountain pens for various uses, each filled with different inks and different nibs depending on the application. One is vintage (a gift from my wife :), two are from Kickstarter campaigns (they only work so-so for me) and the remains 4 are new ones. I always carry two with me and we designed a matching penholder in collaboration with Superior Labor. In my current set-up, I am using a Lamy (my favorite for everyday use) and I am “testing out” a new one from Caran d'Ache that I acquired in Germany. If it shows up in our store it means it passed “the test”.
My pursuit for everything analogue continues to slowly grow and infuse other aspects of our lifestyle in surprisingly positive ways. Recently I dug-up the record players that we had in the garage (two Technics SL-1200 used during my short DJ adventures in the early 2000’s) and set it up for the family to use. Our children absolutely love it as it gives them a tangible relationship to the music and they get to put on the records by themselves. Never mind that as a result, we have Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” playing non-stop.

I find though that there is a special “soul” to the audio that digital sound just can’t match. I now constantly hunt for both vintage records that I used to have on CD as well as new titles that enter the market. Perhaps not surprisingly a recent study by a UK magazine found the sales of vinyl soaring at a 25-year high. 

I recently completed a book on that topic called “Creative Strategies” which traces the various approaches that I use to solve design problems. Writing the book was a challenge in itself in that it took me a total of 5 years and the support of a wonderful group of friends and family to get it done. A notable “final” challenge was to design the cover for the book. We worked with the very talented graphic designer Tomo (who also designed the BK logo!).  In the process, she went through dozens of ideas. All of her sketches were done by hand with pen and paper and we were able to print them all on the inside of the book jacket as a little surprise discovery. Her final version, the one that made it into production, was made out of the cut and folded letters that spelled the title: “Creative Strategies”.

My advice for those of you that are curious to find out more about your own analogue lifestyle is this: start simple, start small, but start today! Convert (or “upgrade” as I like to say) the least critical aspect of your life first. First, get a Lamy and a notebook with premium paper and see if you like it (you will). Next, write a postcard to your friend that has a birthday coming up (bypass the temptation to congratulate them on social media). If you find a record with your favorite band, buy it first and worry about the turntable later. “Trust the process” is what I always say, it will work itself out.

The lesson that I am learning from my own analogue adventures is that it enriches my life and surroundings in unforeseen yet genuine ways. Refilling my fountain pen has become a beautiful ritual that, until I get better at it, leaves my fingers colored in ink for the day. Writing down tasks and physically crossing them out as I accomplish (as supposed to deleting them) lets me see my progress. Only I can add items to my calendar, including at work. Listening to a song that I like sometimes takes weeks to accomplish - it is the ultimate form of delayed gratification. And finally, when I design using analogue tools I know that the resulting product will have its own soul - Abseits from the mainstream.


Written by: 

Fridolin Beisert

Instagram: @fridolinbeisert



Products mentioned or shown in Frido's story: (click link to go to website)


  • Colin Edwards: October 10, 2017
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    Hello from England
    Thanks for a great interview, a wonderful book and for your thoughts on analogue. At 80 years old I am not going back to analogue, I never left it in the first place.
    Wishes to you and your family

  • Richele: October 05, 2017
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    This was such an interesting read. Thank you for inviting us to walk a bit of your personal “abseits from mainstream” along with you. Our children, 13 and 15, are keepers of notebooks, carvers of wood, and collectors of vinyl records. Since, at their age, they couldn’t experience a nostalgia for analogue as we might, it seems clear just how important the tactile is to people.

  • Rachel: October 05, 2017
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    Hello Frido, Any tips for using the water brush? Thank you!

  • Andrea: October 04, 2017
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    This was wonderful! I can totally relate… love the message and this series!

  • Dave K: October 04, 2017
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    Enjoyed the article! I’m all in for the return to analog movement. I also agree that the fountain pen, tomoe river paper combination is a miracle. The subtle shading it shows from high quality inks is superb. Good fountain pens seem to beautifully glide over the paper’s surface, with just the right amount of ink infusing itself into the top layer. A good tomoe river journal in a leather cover, and a small selection of pens perfectly equips the thinking person for the day.

  • marcy penner: October 04, 2017
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    You know I am absolutely thrilled that you brought this feature back!

  • Frauke: October 04, 2017
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    Hi Fridolin,
    I’ve got into fountain pens since I found an old KAWECO from my grandfather… and since then I stoped using ball pens.

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