Commercially Made Sketchbooks: Hand•book Journals

March 31, 2009


Above: ©2009 Roberta Avidor. This New York City view of water towers atop buildings is from the visual journal Roberta keeps in a Hand•book Journal. Here she sketches with a black Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer Aquarelle colored pencil and Sennelier pan watercolors. (This sketch is from a large-sized journal which is around 6 x 9 inches.)

Today we have fabulous GUEST ART! Eye candy. The images in today’s post are by one of my favorite artists, my friend Roberta Avidor. She is an illustrator of immense talent. She has a quick sense of humor and is kind and supportive. She keeps one of the most visually stunning visual journals I’ve ever seen. Along with her husband Ken, she is great fun on sketch outs. (Ken also keeps an amazing visual journal. He was my first Profile Friday.) You can see more of her work at her website and here.

I’ll feature Roberta in a future Profile Friday, but today I just want to celebrate her lovely paintings and talk a bit about Hand•book Journals (Yep, that’s how they spell their name on their labels.) You can get these journals locally at Wet Paint. They are also all over the web. My friend Ricë has found a bunch of them and is actually giving them away, so you should check out her blog for future giveaways.

I'm fairly certain I haven't written about Hand•book Journals already on my blog. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what I wrote about on my blog and what I wrote about for the previous 3 years on a private update list to students and friends. I know I wrote about the journals on that list.

What’s so special about this journal line? Well they are like Moleskines in size, and everyone seems to like those sizes. However, Hand•book Journals also come in a 5.5 inch square size, and you all know I love square journals (at least if you’ve been reading along).

Hand•book Journals have rounded corners like Moleskines, an elastic wrapper band like Moleskines, a back pocket (different, but still present) like Moleskines, and of course, sewn sigs for sturdiness.

What makes them different is that they come in colors (which is always fun; though I understand Moleksines come in colors now too in some lines).

What makes them really different is the paper. Hand•book Journals have a stiff, heavy weight paper that is off white in color (not yellowish) and slightly toothy. This toothiness makes it ideal for pencil work. The heavy weight of the paper allows you to use wet media on them.


©2009 Roberta Avidor. This the view at San Clemente in California. Another entry from one of Roberta's Hand•book
Journals. Here she sketches with a brown Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer
Aquarelle colored pencil and Sennelier pan watercolors. (This sketch is also from a large-sized journal which is around 6 x 9 inches.) Click on the
image to view an enlargement.

I haven’t worked in a Hand•book Journal through to completion, I’ve only done my tests on the back page. I tested the book because I wanted to see if it would be a candidate for me to use when I stop binding my own books. I found that the paper was suitable for my pen and ink sketches and the watercolor washes I use, for gouache, and also, as I’ve said, for pencil. The shape and sizes also appeal to me. (I did do a page spread in someone else's Hand•book Journal for the MCBA Visual Journal Collective Round Robin a couple weeks ago. The paper held up great to dip pen and Ziller acrylic ink, and Schmincke gouache. I had to scale back the amount of water I used, if you think about it in comparison to how I work on some of the thicker art papers I bind into books. But that's a matter of paying attention and adapting to the paper in front of you.)

I asked Roberta if I could showcase her amazing artwork in today’s post because she has been using these books through to completion; really putting them through their paces. She is a devout fan now. The paper isn’t watercolor paper, but she finds it works well for her watercolor sketches when she is out and about.

The paper does buckle a bit, but I think people should let that go. I only mention it because people always ask. For me, a bit of buckle, if it doesn’t prevent you from working on the flip side, is desirable. It shows that someone was there, judging or misjudging the amount of water and medium and just plain mucking about. That’s one of the joys of a visual journal, the patina of use that the page takes on.

I like to give fair and even reviews of products. I remembered that my friend Ricë didn’t like these journals. I couldn’t remember why. When I asked her last week she said, “The only problem with the Hand•book Journals for me was that the paper was a little rough. I like the really smooth—almost slick—paper of the Moleskine sketchbooks. You know I have arthritis in my fingers, and so whatever makes writing easier and smoother is what I like. That little bit of roughness slowed down my pen just enough to create a little drag. When that happens, I just won't write.”

Ricë will make notebooks out of smooth, no-drag, heavyweight cardstock first, rather than put up with the paper drag of the Hand•book Journals.

This is good information to have because other people are going to have the same feelings. I totally understand the issue of drag. There are some papers I won’t use for the same reason (most cold press watercolor papers aren’t a good match for me in journals; it means I’m going to have to use a harder tipped pen like a Nexus, almost exclusively for the duration and I don’t like to be limited that way).

What I liked about this line of journals was the size, construction, and broader utility of the paper. Is it my favorite option? No I still want to make my own books with the art papers I enjoy working on. When I stop making books I'll have to look around and see what's available. If these are still available I'm sure I use them at least part of the time.

But not everyone loves to make books. Some people don't even want to make books (I know that sounds very odd but there you have it). And other folks might not be able to make books for a host of reasons. (I know I'll eventually fall into that category when my knees, shoulders, and fingers give out.)

So there you have it: a few views on Hand•book Journals. Think about what you want to do in your journal, how portable you need that journal to be, how you want the paper to feel when you work on it. If you don’t make your own journals I suggest you try out one of these just to get a sense of whether it is right for you or not. It will be about a $12 to $15 investment in your journaling happiness that is worthwhile.

    • Chris
    • March 31, 2009

    I have used the Hand*Book Journal and mostly like it very much. The pages do buckle quite a bit with watercolor.

    • Owen
    • June 20, 2009

    Great review. Thanks. I have become interested in these due to seeing some EDM and some Urban Sketchers using them.

    I saw them over a year ago in an art store but snubbed them because I was like, Mr. Molie guy then.

    • Roz
    • June 21, 2009

    Owen, I’ve tried the paper in all the Moleskines and the Handbook and I really like the Handbook paper better for the things I like to do now. I like the toothier feel of the paper. For the cost (around $15 depending on size) I think it would be a worthwhile experiment Owen. If you do try it out let me know how you find the paper works (or doesn’t) for you.

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