Great Hardbound Art Journals New from Strathmore—Perfect for Visual Journaling

May 21, 2012

See the full post for details and images of experiments.

Strathmore paper company has just released its new line of Hardbound Art Journals.

Update July 14, 2012: As of yesterday this line of journals is available at Wet Paint for all of you who have been looking for it.

They are fabulous. I have never been this excited about a commercially bound sketchbook. They are beautifully made and contain great Strathmore papers.

I'm most excited about the 500 series Mixed Media books. When Strathmore released this paper in their wire bound journals I was an instant fan. I begged to get it released as a sheet so that I could bind my own books with it. It is now available in sheets and I have bound it into journals myself.

To see some of my mixed media work on this paper see "Great Paper News: Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper Is Available in Sheets." More work can be seen on this paper at these links: More on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper in Sheets; Still More on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper…; Even More on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper…; Another Note about Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper…; Yep More On Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper…; and Yep Even More on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper…

However, I couldn't be happier that they have now created such a beautiful book using that paper. Mixed media artists who work with wet media and don't bind their own books, and who don't want wire bound journals can now enjoy this wonderful paper in a hard covered book. 

There are four types of hardbound art journals in the line. One is filled with recycled drawing paper; one is filled with watercolor paper; there's the 500 series Mixed Media paper in the third type; and you can also get either gray or tan drawing paper in the last group of "toned sketch" papers.

The toned papers come in either a 5.5 x 8.5 inch or an 8.5 x 11 inch size with either gray or tan paper. ($17.99 and $26.09 respectively.) Both toned papers have just the right amount of visible fiber inclusions that gives them a lovely look and will enhance the depth of the background of your artwork. The toned papers are smooth enough for working on in ink, but have enough tooth to take dry media exceptionally well. Both are 80 lb. weight papers. (See the end of this post for more details on these books.)

The 500 Series Mixed Media paper is a 90 lb. paper and is available in those sizes as well as an 11 x 14 inch size. (Prices: $20.00, $29.99, and $38.99. Even if I value my labor at zero, my costs for materials to make the 8.5 x 11 inch book using this paper are greater than Strathmore is selling theirs for.)

For people who like to use pen and watercolor in a casebound book that is in PORTRAIT format the 500 Series Mixed Media line is just the book for you!  

The watercolor paper version of these art journals comes in the two larger sizes as well as the small version which is bound on the 5.5 inch side to create a landscape format. (Prices: $20.99, $29.99, and $38.99.) The 140 lb. weight Strathmore 400 series watercolor paper is used in these books. This paper is going to stand up to the abuse and use from watercolorists whether they are sitting in their studio, sketching downtown, or sitting in a forest.

The recycled drawing series comes in all three portrait orientation sizes. ($17.99, $26.09, and $29.99) The paper is an 80 lb. weight.

I was sent a prototype of the watercolor book (which has a different covering than its final covering) and have seen all the other subgroups now as well. I have been working with the watercolor book and I am pleased that the glue joins between the signatures have stayed together and not pulled apart. 

All the books are bound cleanly and tightly with Smyth-sewn bindings that will stand up to use in the field. The spines are beautifully formed with decorative headbands at the head and tail. The books open flat so that you can work easily across the gutter—which is what you should be able to do in a sewn journal. 

One of the best things about these books is that in all four categories, paper surfaces have been matched across the spreads so that you will be working on the same type of surface all the way across the spread. (I've tested several commercially bound journals where this isn't the case.)

My only quibble about these books is that I really had hoped Strathmore would use bookcloth over the cover boards. That just is my personal preference for when I hold books in my hand and work.

Yet as I work in these books, I admit I'm being won over by their covering which is a chocolate brown synthetic latex-saturated paper embossed with a leather-grain pattern. The matte finish on this covering paper adds to the deep richness of the texture while making the books comfortable to hold. They are neither slippery nor sticky. There is no chemical smell associated with any component of these books. (As you know that would be a problem for me.) There is just the wonderful Strathmore paper smell.

Note: A couple days after I published this post a reader wrote in wondering about the latex process on the cover so I requested more information. It is indeed as I assumed a synthetic latex process. Allergies should not be an issue. I have included the word "synthetic" in the above paragraph to clarify for new readers.

Since I have only had the books for a couple days (except for the watercolor one) I don't know how well the covering will wear. I'll definitely report back on this aspect as I work my way through them. The covering appears hardy and the color and texture both seem selected to minimize marring and scuffing, so I'm very optimistic.

The advertising/product label wraps around the front cover and is easily removed, leaving the cover unmarred or discolored by any residual adhesive.

Besides being so wonderfully well-made each book contains a great Strathmore paper. It's truly a great new line of hard bound art journals. When I opened the box the delicious Strathmore paper smell was right there. 

I have been told that these books will be shipping to stores over the next 3 weeks. You should be able to get them in all the usual places. Call your local vendors to check on when they might be arriving locally.

If you are looking for a commercially bound art or sketch journal I cannot recommend these books highly enough. You really need to select one of these journals that works for the media you like to use, and run it through its paces. If you are a non-bookbinder your quest for a great journal might be over. 

But Wait, There's More—You Know I Had To Do This…

While the journals made with the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper and 400 Series Watercolor paper are made for wet media, you can't really believe that I would get a journal with toned-paper and not try to experiment with it did you?


Left: Here's a PPBP sketch of Gert, on the gray paper. I then painted her using gouache, sometimes in watery washes (bottom portion of her body), sometimes with heavier washes. I did a little restating of the lines near her facial features. You can see that the water caused this dry media paper to buckle slightly, but it is totally within my tolerances—the page is not deformed and you can still work on the backside of the page. Please note that you can see the flecks of the paper in this scan, but you will also see blue paint spatters which were added by me.

Almost as soon as the books were out of the box I was sketching Gert with my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen (PPBP). Those of you who work with this pen know that it gives bold, rich black lines.

Well I'm excited to tell you that both the tan and the gray toned papers have great opacity, even when you are using bold dark ink. There is no bleeding into the paper, and no show through of lines when I turned the page. I can use my PPBP to my heart's content on these pages without a care. 

But of course I then had to experiment further.

Strathmore states clearly that the Toned Sketch Art Journals are for use with light and dark media "including graphite, chalk, charcoal, sketching stick, markers, china markers, colored pencils, pens and white gel pens." 

Strathmore makes no claims that these books are for wet media.


Left: Another sketch of Gert, using PPBP on the tan toned paper, followed with many layers of gouache, just to push and see how much I could work the paper—which was a lot, as long as I didn't scrub the paper when wet. You'll also see that I'm trying out colored pencil—top left. There you can get a sense of the grain texture of the paper through the pencil strokes. Also I tested the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Calligraphy pen. Typically ink sets up from this pen faster than any I use. On this paper if I scrubbed it immediately with my waterbrush I could get a little bit of the ink to lift. This didn't happen with the PPBP lines. If you sketch at a moderate speed your favorite waterproof ink pens will probably be dry and set before you do anything as silly as paint on a dry media paper. Writing on either of these papers was not a problem—the ink dried and did not smear even if I moved my hand across the ink lines almost right away.

So of course I painted on them with gouache. Just because a manufacturer doesn't specify something can be used on a paper doesn't mean you shouldn't try. You should always try. You may be pleasantly surprised. And I was.

The paper, at 80 lb. weight is going to buckle when it gets wet, and you can see that it did from the scans, but the paper buckled far less than I expected it would as a drawing paper; and far less than several art papers I currently paint on all the time.

I found that I could make light translucent washes or heavier applications of gouache with no problem on this paper (beyond that little bit of buckling). By managing my layering, and by working when the paper had a chance to dry a bit before going in for additional work (and by "dry a bit" I mean I was working on other areas and came back to this area in under 2 minutes), I found that there wasn't any disruption of the paper surface.


Left: Reverse side of the tan page on which I painted Gert with lots of layers of paint. Here I painted some freehand clouds. First I painted over and over the area with a light peach color. Then I went back in with blue and white. In the bottom left of the cloud section where I repeatedly moved across the paper while it was wet and the paint was wet you can see some pilling is beginning. The paper surface lasted longer than I thought a drawing paper should, and it's easy to back up from that point now that I know where that point is.

It was only when I repeatedly stroked or scrubbed an area, or applied wet on wet paint layers multiple times that I got any pilling of the surface paper.

Additionally the buckling from wetting did not prevent me from working on the reverse side of the sheet.


Left: A PPBP sketch of Gert with colored pencil additions on the gray toned paper. I didn't start with a color plan (which I usually do when I work in colored pencil). Instead I just started layering on the colors seeing how they would blend, and how many layers I could get the paper to accept before the tooth of the paper refused to accept more color. The paper was exceptionally receptive to more and more layers.

I also tried out my acrylic Montana marker on the toned papers. Originally the pen wasn't working well on the tan paper—because I didn't have the ink flowing yet. But once the ink got flowing the lines made wonderful marks on these papers. (That's the red lettering you see in the images.)

My beloved Staedtler Pigment Liner also loves working on both these toned papers—even in the smaller nib sizes. I didn't have any skipping, just smooth writing.

So if you don't mind a little buckling, and want a commercially made sketchbook with toned paper that you can use with light washes of gouache (and you know how to control your water and paint or just enjoy experimenting) I can tell you that there is some fun to be had with these toned paper books.

If you're only interested in dry media then you should have no hesitation about buying these toned paper books for use with all the media Strathmore recommends. I found them particularly fun for working in with colored pencil.

Note: I am not an employee or paid spokesperson of Strathmore. I've used Strathmore papers all of my working life. Strathmore creates dependable and elegant papers (not everyone can do both) that perform with predictable and delicious results time after time—something you learn to appreciate when you have a deadline. I am a fan of their papers. I am a fan of the care, craftsmanship, and attention to detail they have put into this new line of journals. They listened to what artists wanted in a journal and responded to those needs and wants. I'm excited to tell you about them. Seek Strathmore Hardbound Art Journals out and put them through your creative paces.

  1. Reply

    OMG, the mixed media paper in a bound book, OMG, OMG, OMG. I love this paper. At last, it seems like I will have found my perfect sketchbook, OMG, OMG, OMG. Thanks for telling us Roz!

    • May 21, 2012

    Very exciting!! The grey looks lovely! 😀

    • Miss T
    • May 21, 2012

    Wow! Must. Have.

    • Miss T
    • May 21, 2012

    P.S. Roz, I was so excited about the paper that I forgot to say how much I love your Gert sketches!

    • E-J
    • May 21, 2012

    I have yet to try Strathmore paper, but your recommendation has really excited me, Roz! My favourite is the Canson casebound watercolour sketchbook and I’ve always wished it could be made available in portrait; meanwhile, my limited experiments with the Venezia haven’t thrilled me. So the news that these come in portrait format is really welcome. I hope they’re going to be easy to get hold of here in the UK!

    • Dana
    • May 21, 2012

    Like Donna, I’m hyperventilating… Wowza!

    I got my first Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal last year when I found the Strathmore Online Workshops and YOU last year. Love the paper but I found I really liked being able to tie a spread together and that ring just drove me nuts. I like the Venezia but this is great news. AND… it’s an American company… Wisconsin. Having been born and raised there I’ve always been a fan.

    Roz, thank you for testing and giving them feedback on what we want. And thank you Strathmore for listening.

  2. Reply

    Excellent, thorough post, Roz! I am excited to get a hold of one now. Thanks for this review and all of the detailed info about each paper and type of book. Who else does that? We are lucky to have you.

  3. Reply

    Liz, the gray and the tan are both lovely. I don’t know which one I like more. One minute it’s one, the next minute it’s the other.

  4. Reply

    Thanks Miss T. As Gert portraits go these were a little rushed. I just wanted to get a lot of testing done in the toned books. It got a little obsessive. “I’ll just do another page…”

  5. Reply

    E-J, Strathmore has so many papers for so many different media usages that I’m sure if you could get the papers in the UK you would enjoy many of them.

    I don’t know the Canson Casebound journal of which you speak. The only Canson books I’ve seen have been ring/wire bound and I’m not a fan of those in general. I will have to look around and see if I can find one. Do you have a link to a vendor in the UK that shows the book you mean so that I can learn more about it and see it?

    Venezias aren’t for everyone. For me they are fantastic because I can have a 9 x 12 inch book (which is much larger than I bind) for very little cost (if you purchase them when they go on sale). And I absolutely love how the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen is on that paper. And the Faber-Castell Pitt Calligraphy pen. I don’t like using my Staedtler pigment liner on that paper as much as I love using it on other paper, so when I work in the Venezias I’m definitely fitting how I work to them. My friend Pat Beaubien on the other hand has a totally different approach and does full layered watercolors in hers, often over pencil sketches. I rarely sketch in pencil in mine.

    Because of all that the Venezia could never be my only journal. On the other hand I feel that I could easily adapt to a life of the new Strathmore 500 Mixed Media series journals.

    I hope they get to the UK. I know we are very fortunately in the US to have so many great products available.

  6. Reply

    Dana, since you already love the Strath. 500 Series Mixed you’ll love these books. You can work right across that spread!

  7. Reply

    Thanks Briana, I’m glad you like the reviews. I can think of a couple people who write reviews esp. for pens. If someone doesn’t paint like we do in their journals though we’re going to need more info. Some features that I like other people won’t but at least they’ll know about what’s going on with the paper. I expect most people will use only dry media in the toned books, but you know I had to give it a try.

  8. Reply

    How do these compare with the Stillman & Birn? Do you like the Strathmore better? I have the Strathmore Visual Watercolor journals but don’t like the ring. I have a Stillman & Birn Alpha and like it but haven’t played too much with it yet.

  9. Reply

    Yay! I have several of their journals with the watercolor and mixed media paper but I don’t like spiral journals. I’m so glad they took your advice!

  10. Reply

    Thank you for your review. I will look out for these journals. I might delve into bookbinding at some future date, but for now I’d rather keep things simple for myself. I’ve always had good luck with Strathmore’s quality as well.

    • Melanie K
    • May 21, 2012

    Where and when will these be on sale??? I am trying to use up my Canson mixed media book (I do not like it at all…) and want a Strathmore next .. and now I may not finish the Canson at all! Yippee!

  11. Reply

    This is good news, which one has the toned paper? In the wire bound Strathmore the Mixed Media paper worked best for me, I don’t use a lot of water on the sketchbook pages… for full size watercolors I use 300lbs paper (way too thick for a sketchbook). I’ll be looking for these and can’t wait to try out a couple of the them.

    • E-J
    • May 22, 2012

    Roz, I’m *almost* sure we have discussed the Canson book before, and that you had in fact tried it and liked it, but maybe I imagined that. The only places it seems to be available are the Sennelier shop in Paris, and GreatArt/Gerstaecker online:

  12. Reply

    Stephanie, the Strathmore books are far SUPERIOR to the Stillman & Birn books. The Strathmore books are better constructed, feel better in your hand, don’t have any bad smells (the covering or glue on the S&B intially had to air out a bit for me), and contain superior paper for my visual journaling needs.

    If you read my post on the S&B books
    you’ll see that I updated it in March 2012 after using two of the casebound books for a class I was taking. I used the books as notebooks in an art class where I had to take notes as well as make sketches. I found that ink smeared on the paper (and I’m righthanded and careful) when I was taking notes and the pencil smeared horribly when I was sketching (4B-6B pencils) to an extent I’d never experienced in my Canson sketchbooks and log books (which I mention as an example since that drawing paper is something people are pretty familiar with).

    New since that March update, other Collective members have shown me their S&B books with glue seepage through the spine into the pages of the book, and after 15 weeks of carrying my books back and forth to class the hinges are much sloppier than when new (though there was slop then too) and this is causing excessive wear in the hinge area).

    The Strathmore books I’m talking about today are casebound and don’t have a wire binding, so if you like the Strathmore papers that are available in the new line I’m writing about in this current post you can have your Strathmore papers without the wirebinding. And they have a watercolor journal in this line. You might want to check them out and see how they perform for you.

  13. Reply

    Melisa, I’m glad to that Strathmore was responsive to a lot of artists who love their papers and wanted a quality hardbound book. They’ve done just a marvelous job with this line.

  14. Reply

    Carolyn I understand the decision to dive into bookbinding is a huge one. The existence of these books makes it possible for non-binders to have great papers for their visual journaling.

    I’m still going to bind my own books because I enjoy it so much and because I like different size configurations not available commercially. But I plan on buying a lot of the Mixed Media paper books whenever I want to use larger sizes. And I’m even OK thinking about the future when I stop binding (because my hands aren’t going to last forever) knowing that I can use these books. I’ve been very, very happy as you can imagine.

  15. Reply

    Melanie, I mentioned in my review that they are shipping out over the next three weeks. Where and when they’ll be available depends on which vendors decide to carry them, so you can ask at your local art supply stores about the product. Strathmore products are usually sold in independent art supply stores as well as the large giants like Blick, so those would be all great places to check.

    If you’ve read my review about the Canson Mixed Media book you’ll know I don’t care for that paper at all, except that it is rather fun to work on it with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen (but that’s hardly mixed media is it?). I have been using mine up by taking it to life drawing and buring through the pages.

    Since the Strathmore books are just going into the supply pipeline and you have to wait for them I suggest that you use those pages in your Canson mixed media book to focus on whatever media you found worked best in it and really solidify in your mind what aspects of the paper you liked and didn’t like, and use it to push past a normal stopping point in sketches and paintings “just to see what happens.” That can be a great period of learning that you can then take with you into other books. It will be nice to have the finished book on your shelf.

  16. Reply

    Capt. Elaine, the TONED SKETCH books have the toned paper. They come in either gray OR tan paper. Strathmore is selling those as DRY media. I just had to paint in mine as you can see from this post.

    Since you already enjoy working on the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper in their wirebound journal collection I think that would be a great book for you to start with. Paper you know. Then you can really work in that book and see how the structure holds up to what you want to do in your journals. If you like to use wet media don’t forget you can always tone your Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper pages with pre-painting in acrylic ink or light washes of acrylic!

    I hope you enjoy them.

  17. Reply

    E-J, you can read my review of the Canson Mixed Media book here

    As I explain in the review (and the title) that paper didn’t work for me at all. The only thing I do with that book now is quick inkbrush sketches in life drawing class.

    So if you thought I liked it you must have been confusing me with someone else.

    I don’t need a link to find the Canson Mixed Media paper because it isn’t something that I would ever buy again.

    I hope you can find the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper journals at some point (I think you said you’re in the UK). You’ll find it a totally different experience. Enjoyable and fun. (I have a paragraph of links at the beginning of this post that will take you to work I’ve done on the Strathmore paper—which obviously I’ve really been enjoying.)

  18. Reply

    Thank you, Roz. I appreciate you taking the time to respond in such great length. I will be on the lookout for Strathmore Journals in my local art store in the coming weeks.

  19. Reply

    Stephanie, no problem. I hope you find them in your area and give one a try.

    • Tara
    • May 22, 2012

    Do you know of any other sketchbooks that have latex-saturated paper as their covers? I’m interested in what this is and if it will affect anyone with a latex allergy.

  20. Reply

    Tara, that’s an interesting question. I have found several other sketchbooks that use a similar process while looking through journals and notebooks in stationery stores. All of them were brands that I wasn’t interested in purchasing to take home because of the bindings associated with the book (perfect bound, perforated pages etc. Off the top of my head I believe the Pen and Ink journal uses an unembossed version of this process. But I can’t find my sample. The process is also quite popular in publishing right now with treatments for dustjackets and covers—the use of latexes of all types.

    I’m assuming your question is about natural latexes, since natural latex allergies are so prevalent in our society. I assumed that what were being used were synthetic latexes for these processes because otherwise we would have heard of massive reactions from just about everyone in a Barnes and Noble for instance.

    I’ll see what additional information I can find out, but I would think these are not natural latexes. I’m sorry you have this allergy as it must be very problematic for you.

    • E-J
    • May 23, 2012

    Roz, I’ve found the comments thread in which we discussed the Canson book (NOT their mixed media paper):

  21. Reply

    Thanks E-J, That’s definitely a different book from the Canson Mixed Media book. Unfortunately we still can’t get these Canson watercolor books here. I’ve asked vendors and they don’t/won’t carry them. I don’t understand it since we have tons of other Canson stuff. Sigh.

  22. Reply

    Tara, great news, I heard back from Strathmore and it was indeed as I had assumed a synthetic latex. These are commonly found in all sorts of products as I said in my earlier reply to you. Allergies won’t be an issue.

    So you can buy these books to your heart’s content without worry.

    Thank you for asking because it gave me the opportunity to clarify my review so others wouldn’t be confused.

    • Monique
    • June 11, 2012

    yay! Can’t wait!

    • Shannon
    • June 28, 2012

    Does anyone know where to buy the 500 hardbound journals online? I’m having trouble finding them.

  23. Reply

    Shannon, I am sorry I don’t know where to buy the 500 series mixed media hardbound journals online right now. I think they aren’t going to be in the stores for another week or so. Someone somewhere said something about them showing up at Wet Paint in a couple weeks. I think I was at a sketch out. So I recommend you call Wet Paint and ask them when they are going to get them as they typically have such things earlier than many other places, and they’ll let you mail order. And a REAL person will tell you when you can expect them to arrive. If that doesn’t suit you you might look at Cheap Joes and write them a note, or Blick. I think everyone is probably waiting for stock to arrive. Good luck. You will love them when you get them!

  24. Reply

    Where can we purchase the 500 series Mixed Media books? TY

  25. Reply

    Diana, I don’t think they have arrived at Wet Paint yet (I’m going in the next few days and will try to remember to ask), but over the next several weeks you should be able to find them at all the usual places that Strathmore sells their products. Blick, Cheap Joes, that sort of place if you aren’t in town. I would call or email them as the case might be and ask them when they are going to start carrying them because as a new product sometimes the distribution starts slowly. They are definitely worth waiting a bit for and worth searching a bit for!

  26. Reply

    Shannon, I got the call yesterday that the Strathmore hardbound journals were in at Wet Paint in St. Paul. They do mail order if you aren’t local. (I’ve posted this just now in a new post, but wanted to write in the comments section in hopes that this response would get to you.)

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