See the full post for details and images of experiments.
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.