More Commercially Made Sketchbooks

June 28, 2009


Above: More commercially manufactured sketchbook/journals, I've not discussed on the blog before (with one exception). In the text below I discuss them by "letter-label." Click on the image to view the enlargement.

On a recent trip to Wet Paint (where I’m happy to report they have all three sizes of the Fabriano Venezia hardcovered journal if you enjoy working in that book) I picked up a couple more sketchbooks to test out. (I can’t help myself. I am aware that at some point I will not be able to bind my own books any more and I want to be prepared with alternatives—at least that’s what I always tell myself.)

Let’s get Item C out of the way first. This is the Alvin Field Book and it is 4-9/16 inches by 7-1/4 inches. I filled one of these in April for my 2009 fake journal. 

You can read all about this book in my original review. You can read more about fake journals and this field book if you click on IFJM in the category cloud and follow the links OR if you click on the PAGE titled "International Fake Journal Month" and scroll to the bottom of the page for links to discover those of interest to you.

I just had to buy another one of these to have on hand. I really enjoy working in pen and ink on the water resistant pages—and then painting with watercolor. I love the survey grids on the pages. It’s a sturdy little 2-signature (sewn) book. Wet Paint also sells hardbound versions but the grids on the pages are less interesting to me so I haven't used one of those. They sell for $20 whereas the soft bound one is only $7!

In the above image you’ll see two items labeled “A.” These are the same product only one has white pages and the other has black pages. These are board books. I was wondering when someone would create clean board books for the scrapbooking and book arts folks. For years people have been altering children’s commercially printed board books (and since I enjoy altered books I quite like this) but now you can start with a blank canvas. I brought these home because they are really well-made. There is no reason to struggle and make your own blank board book to work in if you can buy these for $8.00. The package says there are 14 pages, but you really get 12 pages and a front and back cover. They are labeled “Create and Treasure from C & T Publishing, ready to go blank board book.” These are both 8 inches square but they come in other sizes as well. I haven’t had a chance to work in these yet, but I can tell they will take acrylic paint and other mixed media well. I think they would be fun to use for a group project in which everyone worked with the same type of book. Or you might take one along on a weekend trip and fill it all up with sketches and ephemera. Whatever you do with them, you’ll probably have fun, or you’re just grumpy by nature.

BoardBookSpine Left: A close up of the spine looking down at the board book construction.

The book labeled “B” is from Kolo and is labeled “300-3904 Grid journal.” It has 48 pages and is 4.25 x 6-3/8 inches. It is a pamphlet construction that has been stitched up the spine. The cover is a heavyweight cardstock. I think it comes in a bunch of colors. It costs $6. The display I got it off of indicated that you could use this as replacement “pads” in their fabric covered “notebooks.” If you like that sort of “component” journaling this might be something to look into. I tried it out because I use the smaller (3-9/16 x 5.5 inch) Moleskine pamphlets notebooks. I carry one in my pack to take odd notes, write notes to tear out, as scratch paper, that sort of thing. I will also carry one around when walking and I don't want to carry a pack and my journal.

Sadly, though the Kolo paper feels more hefty than the Moleskine gridded paper, it doesn’t hold up any better to wet media, which is to say, not at all (it bleeds through and the paper wrinkles and pills as does the Moleskine gridded paper). Both are fine for pen (Staedtler pigment liner especially) but there is limited opacity and you can see your writing on the other side of the page. These are both “every-other-page” books. I’ll end up carrying this one around for tear out notes as needed. I probably will go back to the small Moleskine pamphlets.

There is one huge difference (besides the difference in size): the paper in the Kolo has a different sizing on it and feels toothier even though it is actually a very smooth paper. You can feel the difference when you slide your fingers over the sheet; and when you write there is a bit of a drag. If you like that then this would be a reason to use this booklet. It’s archival, but I understand the Moleskine is too. Frankly for what I use these little booklets for, archival concerns aren't high on my list.

Kolospine Right: here is a close up of the stitching down the spine of the Kolo pamphlet notebook. There is a pressed texture to the heavyweight cardstock cover.

The book labeled “D” in the opening photo is from Kunst and Papier. You may recall I reviewed their hardcover watercolor paper book and didn’t like it: paper smelled when wet. Well this soft-bound book (the cover is a heavy weight ribbed cardboard) is 8.25 x 11-5/8 inches with 4 SEWN signatures of medium weight drawing paper. (64 pages total; $15; blue or black covers.) If you don’t like to sew your own books together, but don’t mind making covers, you could easily case in one of these books, letting the cardstock covers become the “endsheets.” You would have to like working on drawing paper, however.

I tested pens and watercolor and pencils on this paper with mixed results. I think if you like to work with pencil you’ll like the toothiness of this paper. It isn’t an overwhelming toothiness, however, so you can still write smoothly with any of your favorite ink pens. I found that the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen has a wonderful line on this paper because it moves smoothly, yet breaks up a bit because of the toothiness.

What I found very interesting was that only that brush pen and the Staedtler Pigment Liners were waterproof on this paper. Another waterproof standby: the Faber Castell Pitt Artist Brush pen WAS NOT waterproof and with a light wash over it, the ink bled a slight amount. You could live with it, but it just wasn’t what I expected. With any of the inks there was a problem with paper opacity. You could see your ink lines through the sheet. Not horrible, but enough to be off-putting to many sketch artists. I would recommend if you use this book that you work only on the right-hand pages.

As to wet media, you can use it on this paper with a couple drawbacks: 1. there is a smell when wet, not as bad as their watercolor paper, but present nevertheless; 2. The paper buckles a moderate amount. It would be possible to live with this and work on both sides of the page if the ink "see through " didn't bother you. I didn’t find that my paint applications bled through the paper, but I’m not sure it the paper will hold up to heavy watercolor work, multiple layered applications which repeatedly stress the paper. If that's your style I would seek elsewhere for a sketchbook/journal.

KunstPspine Left: a close up of the spine of the Kunst and Papier Soft-cover drawing book.

I think the Kunst and Papier drawing paper sketchbook will be just fine for me to work in when I get back to life drawing.

  1. Reply

    This is great, Roz! I love blank books, and your review is very valuable to me. Thanks!

    • Roz
    • June 29, 2009

    Dinahmow, sorry you don’t get any of these brands of sketchbooks where you live.

    Then again, maybe I’m not. I think it’s best for people to make their own journals if they have any inclination and desire in that direction (to make stuff) because then the artist gets to use exactly the paper he wants to use. I know that’s why I make my own journals. (I like to make stuff and I enjoy using paper that I enjoy using.)

    Still I do worry about when I can’t bind any more…

    Maybe you can start doing reviews for local journal products in your hemisphere! Or have you given up completely, looking for anything suitable that is commercially made?

    I know when I was younger there were some fabo commercially made books but they’ve all been discontinued, or cheapened (because of changes in manufacturing methods).

    I always hope that part of the renewed interest in drawing and keeping journals will convince manufacturers that there is a market for such quality items.

    I know when I was in Australia I had lovely school exercise books that had sewn sigs, a fabric spine, and the school crest embossed on the covers. The pages alternated lined and blank. And the paper was sturdy enough for a lot of different approaches. I missed them horribly when we returned to the U.S.!

    Things change, constantly. I just want to keep drawing.

    Good luck with your search. Let me know if you find something fantastic. You never know, a lot of importers do bring things here, so we might be able to get them. (The market is larger here—the value of having a large market.)

    Fifteen years ago no one locally was selling Clairefontaine lined journals (with sewn sigs and a fabric covered spine) and I wanted to use them for my written journals. I found someone who was willing to buy and import them for me if I bought at least 12 at a time. Since I go through such things rather quickly that seemed reasonable (though I had to forego a couple luxuries to justify the cost). Happily now I can find them almost everywhere.

    Maybe you can find someone locally who can do the same for you with your favorite journals? Keep asking people at shops that sell such items. They may just be waiting to hear that there is a market for such products.

  2. Reply

    I’m sure the bigger centres, like Sydney and Melbourne, have a wider range, but up here we have only one small art supplies store and the freight adds considerably to everything.
    But it’s not all bad, is it? Sometimes, being “forced” to think laterally leads to great results!(My current blog header is a cloud sketch on a trimmed strip of Fabriano printing paper – sometimes, anything does go, as Cole Porter said! 😉 )

  3. Reply

    Thanks! Another great and informative post.

    This may help me finally choose a notebook. My first and only one that was not strictly for writing finally got all filled up a few weeks ago, so since I couldn’t decide on one to buy I made one, even though I don’t really know how to, from mismatched paper of different sorts, and sewing information I found online and in a book.

    Because most of the paper was from watercolor pads (purchased who knows why, since I do not watercolor), it has worked beautifully for everything. It’s just sort of funny looking…

    • Roz
    • June 30, 2009

    Necessity is always a great mother of invention Dianhmow!

    • Roz
    • June 30, 2009

    Anna Maria, don’t worry about “funny looking” it’s not funny looking it’s idiocyncratic, unique, and YOURS. You’ll fill it with fun things also uniquely yours. Congratulatios on finishing a journal recently and getting ready to start another!

    • ambal
    • April 16, 2010

    Hi Roz, I read your blog avidly, enjoying learning as much as looking at your journal pages. Your posts on binding journals has inspired me to try it in a few weeks – waiting on bookboard &cloth. Anyway, why do you say “when you can no longer bind your own journals”? Is there some physical strength or something special involved? Thanks in advance. Ambal

  4. Reply

    Ambal, thanks for reading along! I’m so glad that you are going to try binding your own books soon. I’m sure you’ll have fun!

    When I make comments about when I can “no longer bind my own journals,” I am in fact referring to the physical toll it takes on me. I’m a pretty fit individual, but I really give my hands a working over with all sorts of tasks from repetitive wire wrapping, to drawing constantly, to typing constantly, and of course to making books frequently.

    If I could scale back and do a book a week that might be OK, but I like to do things in batches and once I have 10 textblocks sitting there waiting to be cased in it’s very difficult for me to RESIST the urge to bind them all up in a day or two of intense effort. And it does take strength to get clean folds of fabric and decorative paper over your cover boards, and so on.

    I don’t recover as quickly as I did even a couple years ago. And that’s even with a concerted effort to pace myself with the big batches broken into smaller ones.

    I’m a realist. I know at some point my hands will say enough. If I have to choose between binding and sketching it’s a no brainer—I have to draw. So if giving up binding allows me to eek a few more years out of my hands then that is what I’ll do. No sentimentality or regrets about it—just being realistic.

    So I’m always keeping my eyes open for commercially bound books that might be suitable for what I want to do.

    A couple of centuries ago I would have just found an apprentice to keep me in books, but the world has moved on and that’s a good thing.

    As you start your adventure of book binding be very aware of body mechanics. Have your table at the right height so you aren’t stopping. Be sure to stand in a relaxed way, at a comfortable angle to your work so that you don’t stress your body mechanics and make yourself prone to injuries. I recommend that you find a massage therapist or Physical Therapist who can watch you work and give you pointers before you get into bad habits.

    Of course if you only make one or two books every month or so you’ll probably not be at risk. Just be aware.

    • ambal
    • April 24, 2010

    Roz, Thank you so much for this detailed response. Both this and the recent post on ergonomics are helpful. Unless I get addicted to binding, my current plan is to try for a journal a month but then I haven’t started yet so who knows… Anyway will keep your tips in mind. Maybe we have to make a huge batch now to keep in reserve! I AM addicted to your blog. Yesterday I loved watching your videos of 2 of your previous journals. They were both great! Thanks again. Ambal

  5. Reply

    Ambal, I encourage you to make your own books, and I do encourage folks to pace themselves as I said in my more recent post on ergonomic concerns—BUT it is also more time and cost efficient if you make more than one journal at a time. If you buy materials you’ll have left overs, if you buy papers with an eye to a volume discount (even 25 sheets), etc. Also if you make a couple books at a time you’ll always have a spare if you finish the other earlier than you had anticipated. I think it’s important that people have a journal ready before the current one is finished and it isn’t always possible to schedule a binding session in time so having an extra already made is helpful.

    And finally it’s good to bind more than one at a time because it improves your skills faster.

    So I’m not advocating everyone do 11 in one go like I often end up doing, but doing 2 or 3 at a time is sane and sensible—especially if you break the steps down over a couple days and do other things in between, and of course—rest those hands.

    have fun.

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