Hahnemühle Sketch & Note—and Why Doing a Lot of Fast Sketches Now and Then Is a Useful Exercise

October 11, 2013

130924_A_Hahn_Test-CoverLeft: The cover of my test booklet. It was 14.8 x 21 cm. A lovely blue. (Comes in a 2-pack with a lovely light green covered booklet.) The label came with the book. The strip of decorative paper is a strip of one of my prints made using the Gelli Arts Printing Plate.

Every so often I like to fill an entire book in an hour, a day (perhaps a road trip), or basically as quickly as I can. I can't help myself. It doesn't matter if it's a small pink journal and I'm traveling south to Spamland, or a booklet of black paper in which I sketch hourly drawings using gel pens. (These are things I've been compelled to do in the past.)

So when I picked up a 2-pack of the Hahnemühle Sketch & Note pamphlet notebooks (they are machine stitched down the center of the spine) I was in a push to get through one. I had not been able to sketch much in the previous weeks and I was ready to test some paper.

130924_B_BirdRight: One of several bird sketches I did with different pens to test this paper. I'd already tested the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Aquash Brush Pen with light black ink…this was my comfort level. You can see I'm having fun hatching with the edge of the .3 pen. (Memory drawing of a Nursing Home Aviary bird.)  

130924_C_Bird_PinkLeft: Another quick memory drawing of a nursing home Aviary resident. I used a Uniball Vision Elite which has the tinted black ink—this one was red/black. The point of this page, however was to test out a new Molotow Marker (pink). It roughed up the page pretty badly as you can see from the pilling, and it soaked right through. The Uniball, however is a good sketching tool on this paper. Notice how the paper buckles from the moisture in the marker.

130924_D_FaceLeft: The first memory drawing of a person. Click on the image to enlarge the image and read the pen type, and read below for more details. 

After I'd filled the book halfway through with memory drawings of birds I'd seen at the nursing home aviary—using different pens to test bleeding, bleedthrough, opacity, and feel—I took a break for about 90 minutes and wandered about the house getting things ready for the next day. I actually thought I was done. Then I wandered past the notebook and thought, heck, I can finish that tonight.

So I did. I picked it up and turned on the TV and was channel flipping until I got to the movie "Young Victoria." I watched for a bit and then picked up a Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pen I hadn't used yet in this booklet. I drew this very fast (2-minutes?) sketch of one of the actresses. It doesn't look like her but it's my memory of her hair. And it was fun. FYI, this pen is fun to use on this paper, and it was my "weepiest" one and didn't bleed through the paper.

130924_E_MelbourneLeft: the next sketch, also from memory. Again, captivated by the hair and that jacket brocade. "Since 11:15" means all the sketches from 11:15 to this one were worked from memory with "Young Victoria." It's not when I started this sketch. This sketch was under 5-minutes. You can see another sketch I did between the woman and "Melbourne" showing through the Melbourne page. Remember I was after all testing, and part of what I was testing was show-through/opacity of the paper.

For me, the quick sketch of Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne was the highpoint of the evening. (Well looking at Paul Bettany is pretty fun under any circumstances.) I was so used to working fast and from memory by this time (I didn't stop the TV picture I just stared and then sketched when the image disappeared from the screen), that it all happened rather quickly. Since it's fun to work with the PPBP on this paper, it was doubly fun to draw. The hair and sideburns were outrageously wonderful. 

130924_F_womanLeft: After Melbourne I started stopping the TV. There was no way I could remember this pile of hair and the shoulder angles, sleeves and tucked waist. But I was still working fast—just trying to get the gesture.

One of the points I want to make today is that you can work quickly, not worry about accuracy and still learn something, still observe, still capture something, and most definitely have fun. All while you are testing a paper to see if it's something you want to buy into.

By now you realize that this paper isn't suitable for all the ink pens I'm using on it because the opacity isn't great. Too bad it's only a 57 lb. paper. If it had just a bit more oomph I could see myself buying tons of these books and finishing one every afternoon for a week. Or a month. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Having a shelf filled with colorful little volumes full of quick sketches?

Sadly, even the thinner tipped pens like the Staedtler Pigment Liner and the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen, and a thin-tipped Micron all performed poorly on this paper. When I stopped to consider a direction the ink soaked into the paper from those tips, or if I made dark values the ink started to migrate through the paper. If you look closely at the pink background with Bird (third image above) you'll see the previous bird done with the Staedtler Pigment Liner and you can see how the eye area especially is starting to bleed through the page.

Oh, before I forget, I also tested the Montana Marker and it didn't pill the paper up at all, and it didn't bleed through the paper (except in one spot where I held the wide marker for a long time and let it soak), so that's an alternative if you're going to work on this paper. And I did do some gouache washes on a couple pages—the paper buckles too much for me for this to be a useful all-around paper.


Left: This is a stop-action where I actually slowed down to get some detail. Read more about this below.  

By the time I got to this sketch I was a bit tired from working quickly, and I wanted more detail, because the actor struck such a wonderful pose. So I slowed down a bit. And I kept working with the PPBP because it is very fun to use that pen on this paper, but darn, the paper is just too thin. (Notice the other face showing through the page on the left page of the spread?)

What do I think is important from this night's work?

1. Working fast can warm you up to do some fun gesture sketches that actually contain some great details (Melbourne's hair). Even in this last image I was working fairly quickly and the detail in the eyes and lips work for me.

2. I wouldn't have got to the final drawing (which I really like) if I had not gone through all the other drawings that evening. So I think it's important to keep going, not edit, just sketch.

3. I killed two birds with one stone by testing a paper at the same time I was speed sketching.

4. There is a real need for notebook makers to make the paper they use in their products THICKER so that those of us who love pen sketching (brush or other types of pen) can work on the paper without show through. SIGH.

5. Doing the memory sketches was important as a warm up to get the better detail in the later images.

6. It's a good thing there were only 40 pages in this booklet or I'd probably still be up sketching—because sketching is addictive.

If you're interested in this little sketchbook (which comes in a couple different sizes) I think you'll see from my tests that it probably isn't going to work well for pen and ink if show through bothers you. But the tooth of the paper feels great when working with pen and ink, so if you don't care, dive in.

On the first few pages of this booklet I did some pencil sketches (from my imagination). They are weird and for some reason didn't get scanned (or maybe that's the reason they didn't get scanned!). But I can tell you this, pencil and colored pencil are great on this paper, so maybe that's what you need. The only drawback is that the tooth of the paper sometimes shows up unevenly through the pencil layer in a way that annoyed me; it created a flaw-like line that I then had to work into with the pencil to prevent it from "glaring" at me. But I'm fussy. (No!?)

Grab some paper you want to test, set yourself up with still-life set ups, or your cat, or your partner, or the TV, and work as fast as you can. Do some sketches from what's in your imagination, do some sketches from memory, after you've looked at one of your subjects. Then do something in which you still have to work fast, but in which you're paying more attention to detail. I think you'll find something fun comes through: not just the pleasure that you produced all those sketches, but the knowledge that you could tinker with your speed and your memory and your observation and push to a different place. You might even find a new comfort level, or find a comfort level you wish to aim for more consistently.

Tip: Don't try this if you've had a lot of sugar. Let's be sensible.

Note: This could be a Project Friday even though I didn't label it as such—just saying…

Update: I forgot to mention, but of course you already knew, that I purchased these booklets at Wet Paint. And they will do mail order if you're far away and can't find this product. And I'm not financially associated with WP or Hahnemühle for that matter, blah, blah, blah. 

    • Margo
    • October 11, 2013

    Too fun. I don’t have any new sketchbooks to test…but there are drawers full of paper. Pamphlet stitch book and go.

  1. Reply

    Margo, if you don’t have time to stitch something up just use numbered single sheets. Have fun!!

  2. Reply

    If you haven’t done speed sketching before you will want to start with life drawing—go into the garden and sketch some birds flitting around, or go to the zoo and time yourself to sketch an animal for only 30 seconds (they may move before that anyway). Also you can go to a natural history museum and time yourself on the taxidermy, which will stay stationary, but YOU’ll move.

    If you do go to TV right away, let it keep running and watch intently and when the item you want to sketch disappears then sketch.

    Don’t try to stop the TV and speed sketch if you haven’t done it from life at all. You’ll find yourself getting too fussy, which it the opposite of the desired result.

    I’ll have to write something more about speed sketching. I have a whole game I play with students. Have fun.

  3. Reply

    You might want to check out the BanditApple carnet line of notebook/sketchbooks. I’ve been using them as small pocket sized sketchbooks for awhile now. They come in a range of sizes, from small 3.5×5.5inches to some weird sizes. the colors of the covers are nice, my favortie is called “Manuka Honey.” I’ve used fountain pens, PPBP loaded with platinum carbon black, a slew of other pens and the paper just takes the abuse without argument. I’ve even used some watercolor washes with no bleed through. Best small notebooks I’ve ever used, except for those I’ve made myself of course…

    I get mine form Goulet Pen Company but they are available other places too. No affiliation with GPC just a happy customer.

  4. Reply

    leslie, I will add one to my next order from Goulet. Thank you for the heads up. I see they have some with gridded paper which I love. Did you use only the blank paper? I’ll check and see the blurbs and if it’s the same weight as the blank (which I’m assuming you used) I will get one of those too—I do so love sketching on gridded paper. Thanks.

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