Strathmore’s New Mixed Media Visual Journals

June 24, 2010

Testing Strathmore’s new Mixed Media Visual Journal.

Above: At the MCBA Visual Journal Collective on Monday, June 21—new journal samples. Click on the image to view the happy journalers!

A couple months ago I was contacted by Jeanette Gile, marketing manager at Strathmore, to write a piece for their newsletter. That is still in the works, but we started writing back and forth about other things and she offered to send samples of their new product: the Strathmore Visual Journal. I thought she would just be sending some paper samples for us to test out, but she sent 24 journals! As a summer surprise, when people arrived at Monday's  meeting of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective, I handed them one of the journals with an explanatory note—urging them to send their feedback to Ms. Gile.

My feedback has already gone on to Ms. Gile—I used my book before the meeting so I could say something about the paper to the Collective. And here’s what I’ve found…

VisjournalStrathmore0066 Left: The new journal line from Strathmore includes this Mixed Media Visual Journal. All journals in the line come in the same size range and have the same stiff board covers with a “bubble” type pattern in brown visible in the photo. The advertising page can easily be torn away to expose the front cover.

But first some specifications: Strathmore’s new journal is available in three sizes—3.5 x 5, 5.5 x 8, and 9 x 12 inches. All books are bound with a wire binding on the long side to create a portrait orientation. The books have a suggested retail price of $5, $8, and $14 respectively.

There are also different acid free papers available. There is a drawing paper version with 100 lb. drawing paper (42 sheets). A Bristol version contains 100 lb. vellum (24 sheets) or smooth Bristol (28 sheets). Two watercolor versions contain a 90 lb. cold press watercolor paper (34 sheets) or 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper (22 sheets). (Prices stay consistent with size, as explained above—books with thicker papers have fewer sheets.)

I was sent the Mixed Media journal which has 34 sheets of 90 lb. paper that has been specially developed for the mixed media work that many journal artists practice.

So why is a casebound book girl flirting with wire bound journals? (First the Stonehenge journals, and now this!) My main gripe about wire bound journals is first and foremost the paper. If they have quality paper and HARD COVERS (so many have flimsy, floppy covers) and a suitable page size, then I can be quite happy. I spent years working in wire bound journals that had stiff tan paper that was especially great for collage.

The reality of life is that at some point I’m going to have to stop binding my own books. When that happens I hope there are wonderful choices out there for me in the world of commercially bound journals. So I keep looking.

Strathmore’s Mixed Media Journal will definitely be on my list of possibilities.

I was dubious at first when I saw it was 90 lb. paper. I thought it might be too weak a paper for all I wanted to throw at it. I worried that it might not be opaque enough, even if it were strong.

100618ATurkeyStrathmore Left: Payne's Gray Nexus pen sketch with Daniel Smith watercolors. I did lots of scrubbing on this sheet because I was distracted and actually put down the wrong color on the cheeks and needed to lift it up.

I was pleasantly surprised by the qualities of this paper. First, let’s get this out of the way immediately—there is NO UNPLEASANT SMELL when the paper is wet. (If you read my reviews of other commercially bound sketchbooks you’ll find that some papers have a sharp metallic and chemical smell or an earthy musty smell when wet that puts me off—actually even a smell when dry come to think of it. We all have preferences in this area. I love the smell of Arches watercolor paper when I work on it (I don’t bind books out of it because it cracks when folded) and it’s part of the joy of working on the paper for me, a sense-memory of all the fun I’ve had painting in the past, and will have). I get the same feelings when I work in journals I’ve made with Arches Textwove (now Velin Arches). So smells are subjective. It’s not that I’m anti-smell (well actually I am anti-perfume, but that's a whole other post!).

Imagine my delight when I put wet brush to this paper and there was no musty or chemical smell. Just clean paper. This is important to me.

100618ATurkeyStrathClose Right: Close up of the turkey sketch showing the scrubbed area as well as the blending of colors and the slight texture on the sheet. You can see the variety of strokes and edges that you can get on this paper.

I was also delighted to find that the paper worked well with watercolor. I could lay in a wash area and then smooth out the dried edges of that wash—with no distress to the paper (the "watercolor" papers in some commercially bound journals are not as resilient). Layering washes was possible as well. And the paper stood up to scrubbing (as I mention in the captions for views of this image).

There is some slight buckling when the page is wet, but this calms down when dry and in no way inhibits the use of the back side of the sheet.

I used my Staedtler Pigment Liners and Nexus pens in my tests along with my Pentel Pocket Brush pen. The paper has a hard-ish surface and the pens work quickly on this surface. I would describe it as a fast surface. If you are use to more drag on your pen it will take a little getting used to, but the advantages of the paper will reward you. One of the key advantages is that when I finished sketching with my waterproof pens on this paper and went immediately to laying in watercolor washes there was NO BLEEDING of ink. On some papers even waterproof inks will float on the sizing and stay wet longer, leading to a bit of bleeding if you are working quickly. I loved that I could work fast on this paper and move right to painting. (Read my  post “It’s Not Waterproof until It’s Waterproof” for more on this.)

100618BTurkeyStrathmore Left: Rough sketch of a turkey head using a Staedtler Pigment Liner and layers of Stabilo Tone watersoluble wax crayon. (That’s a writo on the scan. I had the Neocolor IIs out but then reached for the Stabilo Tones—it was a hot day and my attention drifted, what can I say.) I have left the edges of the washes and layers unfinished so that you can see how the paper reacts to intermediate stages (which sometimes might be where you’ll want to stop). The finished area around the eye was worked hard with wet and dry layers and a lot of pressure from my fingers, rubbing and smoothing.

The paper in the Mixed Media Visual Journal has been formulated for wet or dry media and it definitely holds up. (See the Stabilo Tone image.) I also find that the opacity of this sheet is good for a 90 lb. sheet. It compares very favorably to other 90 lb. sheets: appearing as good as or better than the other papers of the same weight, when comparing sheets that have used the same media.

Another nice feature to these journals is their hard, stiff covers. The board covers used for these journals has a sort of pebbly, bubbly pattern debossed on it (visible in the product photo at the top of this post). I’d prefer boards that were slightly thicker still, and without decoration—simply a plain color, but their advertising talks about the pattern making the covers non-intimating. If that gets someone journaling, great. For me I would probably smear modeling paste over the covers and texturize it in some way. (But that’s just me. The main thing is that the covers are STIFF.)

That brings us to the wire binding. It is sturdy, it doesn’t seem to be compressible, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. It gives the book the ability to open flat and turn back on itself and I know for people who use wire bound journals these are key points for adoption.

I don’t know what all the journal artists who were at Monday’s meeting will be doing in their sample journals—we are a diverse group ranging from the simple (pencils and pens) to the elaborate (encrusted with collage and media). If they share feedback at later meetings I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

In the meantime I’m waiting for these journals to come into the store because I really, really want to try Bristol and the watercolor varieties. I don’t know what they are doing with their watercolor paper so that’s just curious Roz wanting to find out. I do know, however, that Strathmore makes the best Bristol in the world in their 500 series. I’m anxious to see what makes it into their journals.

My only real quibble with these journals is that I find the wire binding, because it takes up space at the spine, requires different sizing for the page. I'd love to see a 7 x 9 inch or an 8 x 10 inch (which is pretty much the end of the world for me on portability). And as we all know from my own bound books and recent discussions about the Stonehenge journals—I really like the square format.

Canson, years ago, made a really sturdy series of notebooks that were wire bound and had the thickest covers I've ever seen on a wire bound book. The covers were wrapped in a tan paper and you could paint and draw over them (I used to rubberstamp and then emboss the rubberstamping on my covers—even on my phone log). But the problem was the paper in them was just drawing paper and not at all wet-media friendly. I don't see those books anywhere any more. I hope the new hard-cover journals we're seeing represent a trend back to more choices in that type of product—with better paper.

Look for these Strathmore journals in your local art supply stores, and at the usual suspects for mail order soon. I understand they are being rolled out this month and July. Try them out, and be sure to give Strathmore feedback.

  1. Reply

    Those of your readers who like spiral bound books might be interested in trying Daler-Rowney’s new Ebony range . They include a 6″ square format, and A5 and A6 (approx 5.85″ x 8.25″ and 4.12″ x 5.85″) – some landscape format ones too. There are also non-spiral versions but I haven’t looked at those so I can’t comment on the binding.

    The covers are very solid, and they are plain black. I haven’t bought one yet, so I can’t say anything personally about the paper but it is acid-free, the white paper version is 109 lb and they say it will take “light watercolour wash”, and the black paper is slightly heavier.

    So, not a recommendation, just a suggestion that these might be worth considering …

  2. My friend Elaine told me about this post and I’m glad to hear about these Strathmore visual journals. I’ll see if Michael’s or Joann’s has them yet.

  3. Reply

    Fran, I don’t know when they will make an appearance at Michael’s or Joann’s. I would check Blick first, which I recall was mentioned in one of the letters I had going back and forth. Also I know Wet Paint in St. Paul has some coming in soon (the Mixed Media ones, I don’t know if they are getting all the others right away) and they do mail order as well.

    • Amber
    • June 28, 2010

    Hello Roz!

    As of today 6/28 these journals are on sale (25% off) at Just thought I’d let you know!

    • Roz
    • June 29, 2010

    Amber—thanks for shouting this out. People on the look out will be grateful!

  4. Reply

    In a later post you refer back to this one, stating these Visual Journals are the series 500 Mixed media paper. However, I specifically asked the rep at last year’s Daniel Smith Vendor Day and she said they are series 400.

  5. Reply

    Kate, when these wirebound journals came out and this post was written they were made with 500 series Mixed Media paints. It was in fact the standout of the series because the other wirebound journals were made with lower grade series of watercolor paper and bristol, not their 500 series of those papers.

    I don’t typically use wirebound journals and have not purchased one for some time. I will research this and get back to you.

    It is very possible that they changed the wirebound version of this journal because it was way out of their cost range based on the other products in the line.

    It would be very sad if they have done this.

    I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back. My contact from Strathmore has left the company so it might take me a little time to find out as their website doesn’t state the paper type, at least I couldn’t see it.

    In the meantime I would not buy any of these. Or I would buy Bristol ones as even the lower grade of their Bristol is still fun to work with.

    Thanks for asking me about this and I’ll look into it.

  6. Reply

    Kate B, earlier this a.m. I responded to your message that I didn’t know if the paper had been changed (see that note listed here as well). I contacted Strathmore.

    I was told that the wirebound Mixed Media Journal DOES STILL contain the 500 Series Mixed Media paper. They have no plans to change this.

    In 2012 Strathmore made some special wirebound mixed media journals for Michaels that contained 400 series Mixed Media paper but I have been told that it was a limited production run and the packaging looked different. Perhaps this is where some confusion came in.

    But I am assured, directly from Strathmore that the 500 Series Mixed Media paper is STILL in their wirebound journals and it will remain in their wirebound journals as well as their hard- and soft-cover smyth-sewn journals.

    I hope this reassures you and that you have a happy time journaling in whichever of the 3 versions catches your fancy for how you work.

    I appreciate you writing to me to ask me about this, because product lines do change and once I review something I often don’t get back to look at it again, unless it’s something I use regularly (and I don’t regularly work in a wirebound journal).

    Thanks for reading and writing in.

  7. Reply

    Wow! thanks for the fast response to this question! I very much appreciate it! I’ll share this as I have a friend who recently told me how much she loves the Series 500 Mixed media paper.

  8. Reply

    Glad to be able to clear this up for your Kate. I love this paper SOOOO much—see my blog post from today for a small book I made of it and work on it

    I’m just always so happy that Strathmore decided to make it available in sheets so it would be available to bind with, and then when they started putting it in their journals (wire, then hard, then soft) I couldn’t be happier.

    I’m glad your friend who loves Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper can enjoy it in all its forms too.

    • Joan Stiles
    • April 25, 2016

    I know its been some years since this last post about the type of paper in Strathmore’s Mixed Media Visual Journal but I am sad to say that now in 2016 it appears to have been reduced to 51 lb. paper! At least that’s what Jerry’s Artarama and Michael’s are carrying now (Michael’s has just clearanced out the last of their 90 lb. paper Mixed Media Visual Journals in my local store and is now carrying only the wimpy stuff). Interestingly enough I have an incredibly old Mixed Media Visual journal that has 140lb. paper in it! No, this is not the Watercolor Journal, it is the Mixed Media. It also has a purple banner across the top proclaiming that the paper is their 400 series/ Best paper. I think those days are long gone! And I can’t even imagine finding one now with the 500 series paper!!! What a shame.

    Strathmore has also begun to cut corners on its Hardbound artist’s journals too — the ones with the nice brown faux leather covers. (I’m not talking about the soft cover version here.) I bought a bunch of the medium sized journals with the tan and the grey toned paper when they first came out. At the time they had 8 signatures bound into the book and the journals were sturdy and opened nicely. Now they’ve cheaped out and only put in four. Same number of pages, but the signatures are real fat and I don’t think the pages open as nicely. They may be doing this with their other hardbound journals too — like the mixed media. Folks might want to check if they have an older one to compare a new one to. (Apologies if I’m using the wrong term for the groups of folded papers that are bound into the book; I’m not a book-binder!) It really pains me to see what used to be a respectable company seemingly going the way of most companies these days — lower quality and less bang for the buck. So sad.

  9. Reply

    Joan, it’s difficult to know where to start my response to you. Things are not sad, you’ve got incorrect information.

    You may need to stop buying materials at Michaels but you can definitely get the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper (hereafter S500SMMP) if you go to an art supply store or call Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN and they can help you.

    Next. S500SMMP has always been a 90 lb. 100 percent cotton paper. I know this because when they first started putting it on their Wet Media board I BEGGED THEM to release it in sheets so I could make books out of it, and they did, and I did, and it’s still available in sheets of that weight and quality.

    Additionally the Art Journal shown above that contains Mixed Media paper and the subsequent hardbound and soft bound journals that do have always contained this 90 lb. paper and still do. I was just at Wet Paint the other day and there were lots of the soft bounds on the shelf waiting to go home with people.

    There seems to be some confusion with books you got at Michael’s and I know that Strathmore did a special promotion for that chain, when the books first came out. Those were always different from the books reviewed above in this post and the subsequent books with the S500SMMP I love so much.

    As to 51 lb Mixed Media paper—Strathmore doesn’t make a book with that weight of Mixed Media paper in it. So that just confuses me.

    And it confused me when I contacted Strathmore to see if they had released something new.

    It confused them as well. So much so that they would like to see samples and photos of the book you mention—but I’ll send you that information to your email.

    In the meantime know that if you go to a different store, or order online from Wet Paint for instance, you will be able to have all the S500SMMP in its 90 lb. 100 percent cotton glory, that is oh so fun to work on, in either the wire bound, hardcover, or softcover journals. And of course loose sheets so you could even bind your own.

    As to the rest, and your comment that they have reduced signatures, nope, not the case. I think you might be confused with another brand, but as I mentioned, they will be very happy to look at samples and photos to get to the bottom of it.

    I’d just like you to know that the paper is still there, still glorious as it always has been, and there is no reason for sadness.

    Happy Sketching.

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