A linen-weave type of bookcloth is my favorite. They tend to be hardy and long-wearing. They are always attractive. So when I was browsing at Wet Paint and saw the new Hand•Book Journal Company's WATERCOLOR sketchbook I was immediately enthralled—it has just such a bookcloth covering its boards.
I had to buy one and bring it home to test it. I think it was just under $30, but the price tag is long-lost (as I've had this book for over a month and haven't had a chance to write about it).
The book is 10.5 x 8.25 inches and is called the "watercolor grand portrait." (There are two landscape versions available—5.25 x 8.25 and 3.5 x 8.25 inches.) This book contains 60 pages. The signatures are sewn (though the stitching is loose). The pages are flush with the cover boards. Both the pages and covers have rounded corners. Still in its wrapper it was a delight to hold and anticipate.
Immediately upon unwrapping the cellophane which enveloped it, however, the boards started to warp horribly. I left it out overnight on my table and in the morning it was a deformed mess (and I live in a fairly balanced environment—neither humid nor dry).
In the above photo you can see the warping at the book's tail end, arching in a curve up from the spine and back down at the fore edge. Additionally, the covers bent outward along the fore edge at the head and tail. It was a MESS folks. (In the above photo the top pages are also warping—with no painting on them yet. Look down to the last page in the book and see a rippling wave—that's what happens when you paint on the paper.)
As you can see from the scan of my first test page there is a lot of buckling of the paper, showing up as shadow on the scan.
I encountered the following when working on the paper used to make this sketchbook:
1. The paper is slow to dry, buckling very badly. It did not settle down when dry, as some papers do.
2. The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen drags on this paper, for an interesting, broken line. The sizing of the paper keeps the ink from drying quickly and it does bleed a little when watercolor washes over the ink lines.
3. The Staedtler Pigment liner is comfortable to write with on this paper—not too much drag. It also bleeds a little on this paper when washed with watercolor.
4. The paper smells OK when wet, but there is a slight odor I can't put my finger on. I call it "saw dusty" in my notes. Not quite a strong musty odor, but with the hint of that smell many papers from China seem to carry. A sort of mustiness. (When this odor is strong I find that I can't work on the papers because it triggers my asthma.)
5. The flow of watercolor on the paper is stilted. Paint doesn't flow easily and it creates weird balloons and uneven sedimentation. It's not fun for me to work on this paper. There is a drag to the paper, as can be seen in the application of paint in my Gert sample. The paper retains the limits of the brush marks rather then allowing a smooth application of color. This is a severe sizing problem for a watercolor paper to have.
6. The watercolors (I was using Schmincke Pan Watercolors for Gert) look faded and dull—sucked into the paper.
7. Pick up of color on secondary applications of color is simply ugly. (See Gert's throat.)
I would pass on this journal. While it is lovely and enticing in the package, unwrapping the journal quickly shows off its flaws. Working on the paper would be fun if you intended only to work in pen and ink and enjoyed drag on your brush pen. However, if you are looking for a commercially bound journal for keeping a watercolor visual journal—well keep looking. At this price you should be getting a lot more quality than is offered in workability.
Oddly, I find (as do several of my friends, including Roberta Avidor) the company's regular journals work well with watercolor. Our expectations aren't for watercolor paper, so that helps lower the bar, but the sketchbook series books are well-made, seem to have avoided the warping issues and the paper takes wet media. The price range is also more welcoming.
I found this journal so unpleasant to work in that I cut out my test page and am passing the book on to a young artist who can experience the paper without any draw on her pocket book.