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Commercial Sketchbooks: A Test of Kunst & Papier’s Watercolor Offering

January 9, 2009

090105KunstTest

Above: A test spread from a Kunst & Papier Aquarellbuch/watercolor sketchbook. Click on the image to see an enlarged version.

Today marks the third month of my blog with daily posting, but today there is no contest to enter. My time the past few weeks has been taken up with label making and sign making for an upcoming show. I had a couple contest ideas bouncing in my head but no time to refine them. There will be contests on other days.

For now I'd like to share a product review on a commercially made sketchbook. I know not everyone makes his own books, nor even wants to. I also know at some point I won't be able to. (It's a rather physical enterprise and I wonder how long the hands and knees will hold up.) Consequently I'm always on the lookout for good commercially made journals.

A couple days ago while browsing at Wet Paint I picked up a 6.9 x 9.4 inch watercolor sketchbook made by Kunst & Papier. There are two different labels on it, both in German with some English, both saying different things. I'm a little confused by this, but it looks like the paper is 75 lb., 25 % cotton paper. The page count is also confusing because one label seems to be giving pages and the other sheets, and sadly my eyes are too worn to count the tightly sewn sigs, but it's a lot of pages, 128 they say. And the sigs are sewn, there is reinforcement at the cover attachments which is good to see. There are heavyweight gray endsheets. The headbands are purely decorative (which is fine because they are only decorative on my books as well), but they have been cut rather sloppily on my book (which was factory wrapped in plastic for protection) and the one at the tail of the book is a bit proud, which is a worry as it will wear badly.

The covers are made of a nice medium weight board and covered with plain, but study looking blue fabric. I am just dying to paint on this book and dress it up a bit, but the non-crows among you will enjoy the understated and tidy aspect of this book. It isn't something you need be embarrassed about carrying around.

When I get a commercially made book I test the back couple of pages. That's what you see in the opening image at the top of this post. My test pages aren't meant to look like anything. I want to try various pens, paints, approaches; test the surface of the paper; make an assessment on the opacity of the paper; and yes, register some notes about the olfactory sensation because for me working with paper also involves an awareness of its odor.

So here's the scoop on this sketchbook, which was tagged at $27.99 but which I got at a discount because I was at Wet Paint and it is their white sale and all journals are on sale.

090105KunstTestTexture
1. The paper has a waffle-like texture that I find rather annoying to look at in its uniform repetitiveness. 

LEFT: A close up of the texture of the paper. The waffle texture shows up in the washes (see also the first image in the post—the pear and shadow on the left side of the right hand page of the spread clearly show that texture in the washes even without enlargement. Click the image for an enlargement.

I tried to decide if the texture bothered me enough to be a deal breaker. I'm still on the fence for that because…

2. The paper actually "works" like a smooth paper. The sizing they have used is actually very fun to write on with pen and ink. I tried the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, the Staedtler Pigment Liner, Faber Castell Pitt Artist's Brush Pen, and the Preppy Fountain Pen. All felt great on this paper. All made me want to work and work on this paper.

3. The paper is a brilliant white which many people will love.

4. watercolor and gouache are usable on this paper but it isn't quite what I'm used to getting in a watercolor paper, either an Arches or Fabriano. The washes don't move with ease as they do on the watercolor papers I've mentioned. They also take quite a long time to dry. There is some interesting puddling because of the texture but the interesting characteristics of that puddling are lessened by the uniform waffle texture. Can you work watercolors on this paper? yes. But it is also a light weight paper and there is buckling. I guess I'd rather work with wet media on Arches Text Wove (Velin Arches) which isn't even a watercolor paper strictly speaking; or rather make my own book with watercolor paper of my choice, but wait, the whole point is to imagine not making one's own book. I'm conflicted. If you get one of these expect to have fun with your wet media, but adapt your technique. There were even moments when it seemed there were barriers around the letters when I washed over the page with paint. Other oddities like that.

I was using Holbein Gouache which is very opaque, and also happened to be out on the studio palette; and Daniel Smith tube watercolors and Schmincke pan watercolors.

I know, I think the experience working on this paper would be similar to many student grade watercolor papers and not just because of the repetitive texture but because of the non-responsive nature.

5. Opacity. Well the paper isn't that opaque. You can see through the page to the dark lines on the next page. Is this a deal breaker for you? It's not as noticable as the same ink coverage would be on Arches Text Wove, but it seems more annoying to me because I don't like the paper as much as ATW.

6. Smell. This won't matter to many of you, but I found the paper had an odd smell as if it had been boxed in wooden boxes from wood found in China.  I'm sorry folks I don't remember what the wood is, but after several moves across the Pacific, and two "clubhouses" built from the remains of packing crates this smell is something I recognize. It isn't a musty smell, and it isn't a cedar smell. It does make my asthma kick in after exposure. Would the book air out? Nope, you can tell it's a forever smell, having to do with the paper, or maybe the bookboard or the fabric used. Three other folks I asked to smell the book noted it had an odor but that the odor was not unpleasant to them and caused them no problems. I was actually set to give this book a very high rating (as something to transition into when I can't bind because using ink on the pages was so much fun) until I sat with it for 30 minutes and found it started to bother me. Just be ware, if you have odor issues.

7. Pencil, I don't want to overlook pencil. Happily, a soft lead (B) pencil or softer, works nicely on this page, ditto watersoluble colored pencils. However there is the matter of the waffle texture to work around!

Overall, a lovely book, just a couple caveats as noted.

There are a couple different sizes and formats, but I didn't note them down. A small landscape book is on sale now with a travel brush attached by an elastic band that is rather ingenious (the band goes over the back cover of the book and a loop at the top holds the brush). I opted for the larger sized book and no brush. There is an even larger format that would be great for anyone working large, but I couldn't justify the cost for a test book.

I've decided that I will use my book for watercolor studies at life drawing. I can take it out, use it for a little bit and then put it away if the smell is bothering me. It isn't a book that I'd be able to have with me always for my visual journal. I hope I remember that. I have a vague memory of buying one of these last year at the white sale! (Now that I have a blog I hope you'll chime in and remind me next year at the white sale if I am tempted by one of these books again!)

Thanks to everyone who has been reading over the past 3 months. I've enjoyed the comments and feedback and information you have shared in return. I look forward to more posts. Daily still? Well we'll see. I do have a couple series I want to do next week, one on eraser carving since people asked about that.

And there will be another contest as soon as I can work out the bugs: something easy for both of us!

In the meantime I hope you love the journal you're with!

    • Nita
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Bad smell, long wash drying, see-through darks? Thanks for saving me from trying this one–those are all deal breakers for me.

    If only Aquabee Superdeluxe came without spirals! Often I cut that paper out of the 11x17s and make my own sewn volume. Otherwise I prefer Hand Book Artist Journals–wish they came bigger. The Robert Bateman sketchbooks are great for pencil and pen, but no sizing for good washes.

    Moleskine w/c books are too small; Reflexion journals are too–but the paper in each is great.

    Making our own is clearly the only answer–and when we’re too weak and tired to do it, hire a student/apprentice to do it 🙂

    Love your daily posts; don’t need contests. A few lines is fine!

    • Donna McMenamin
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Thanks for the review Roz, because a lot of us would be much happier finding a bound book for watercolor than having to make one.

    Here is a link to a Canson casebound watercolor book in the UK. I am sending you this because I saw it being used in a Worldwide Traveling Sketchbook project on a blog (sorry cannot find link on this). Anyway, with different artists using the book in different media, including watercolor, drawings looked terrific. I sent Canson an email several months ago asking them if they offered this book in the US–no response.

    Perhaps you know of it, or your connection with your art store might know a Canson rep in which case we might be able to find something out about it. Here is the link in the UK

    http://www.greatart.co.uk/CANSONWATERCOLOURSKETCHBOOK2-water-colour-sketch-books.htm

    Keep up the good work Roz! Thanks.

  1. Reply

    What a very thorough review Roz – I’m going to link to this on Sunday!

    That waffle looks very much like the Canson chicken wire effect.

    Bond type surface with underlying waffle is certainly something I’ve not come across before.

    • Donna McMenamin
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Roz, the Canson sketchbook is being used for the project “Sketchtravel” and I found the link to their blog. Very impressive artists contributing to this book.

    http://worldtravelerbook.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-12-09T04%3A48%3A00-08%3A00

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Donna, thanks for the link to Canson. I have never pursued Canson because someone once told me the paper was like Montival (sp?) and I hate that student grade paper.

    I will look into it!

    I have a couple other books I’m going to reviewing as soon as I get through some hefty deadlines this week.

    Roz

  2. Thanks for trying out the sketchbook Roz….I was at Wet Paint, drooling over the Daniel Smith watercolors, and “feeling” that very same one and wondered about it too. (I’ll admit to being a sketchbook feeler…and apparently a watercolor drooler)
    -Lynn

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Nita, did you know that Aquabee sells their paper in rolls? At least they used to. I would email the folks at Wet Paint and ask them about this. Or look on line for the Aquabee website (I don’t use Aquabee products so I don’t know more than that I saw rolls of paper in WP at some point and think it’s probably still available). Then you could get the rolls and cut or tear down the paper to the size you wanted!!!

    I love Robert Bateman sketchbooks for life drawing. I like the pencil on them and also use watersoluble pencil for shading, but that is very little water. Also I love the way ink works on them. But that wimpy, wimpy thin paper cover, what are they thinking. I can only take them to life drawing because I don’t have to worry about wear on the cover.

    Ah, the apprentice. I’d better start training one now!

    Roz

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Thanks Katherine. I would have liked to take a bit more time writing this but I the stack of labels I was working on weren’t getting any shorter!

    I don’t know about the Canson Chicken wire effect! Is that what happens in their watercolor sketchbooks? (I haven’t seen one of those. You’re in the UK, maybe you have???? Do you have a post on it that we can go to?)

    I don’t mind texture but there is something about an obvious uniformity of texture that puts me off

    Sigh.

    Roz

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Cool Donna, thanks for the link Peter De Seve is one of my heroes! I will be visiting this site and looking into this, to see what clues to the Canson can be found. I thought I saw one of the New York City art supply stores carrying these on their website once.

    Roz

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Lynne, there are happily no reasons to recover from sketchbook feeler syndrome!

    Roz

    • Donna McMenamin
    • January 9, 2009
    Reply

    Great Roz, thanks, I think that you will enjoy looking through the SketchTravel blog–wonderful artists using that book. I hope that if you find anything out about this Canson book, you will let us know. BTW, I asked that UK site if they shipped to the US, cuz the book is only about $10, but alas they do not.

    • Nita
    • January 10, 2009
    Reply

    Ooo, Aquabee in rolls? I’ll check it out! Thanks!

    • Roz
    • January 11, 2009
    Reply

    Nita, I checked with the manager and Wet Paint and I was NOT imagining things. I don’t know if this is the Aquabee paper you were using in pads, but “808R” is 36″ wide x 5 yards long for $24.95… at Wet Paint in St. Paul.

    So if that’s the same as what’s in your Aquabee pad you could get some and make you own books.

    If you do, let me know how it turns out!
    Roz

  3. Reply

    Hi, I just stumbled across this posting while going through stuff you’ve written on sketchbooks and palettes (I’m obsessing over supplies for a big upcoming journey…).

    The question about the structure of the Canson paper seems to have been left open: The paper with the chicken wire structure is their pastel paper (the ‘mi-teintes’ line); they offer a range of different watercolor papers, none of which have that structure to my knowledge.

    I can’t say much about any of those papers, though, because they don’t seem to come in a smooth/hot press version, which I prefer to rougher papers.

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