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…
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.
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.
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.)
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.