You Get To Change Your Mind About Commercially Made Journals

March 25, 2015

150314_JeanReno2NoWashCRLeft: Pentel fine-tipped black (pigment ink) Colorbrush sketch in a 6.7 x 6.1 inch "All-Media Book" or "Aquarellbuch" depending on which label you're reading, from Kunst & Papier.

In 2009 I tested a Kunst & Papier watercolor book. You can read the review at this link. I think they might have changed the paper since then, and you'll see why in a moment.

Without reading my review again I ended up buying one recently at Wet Paint because I had been looking at local architect and artist Daniel Green's journals and he uses these books (in a larger format). Since I'm not able to bind right now (back in 2009 I was making books like crazy) I thought it was worth another look.

I purchased the 6.7 x 6.1 inch "All-Media Book"/"Aquarellbuch" because I wanted something small and easy to carry.That was my first mistake because I am so used to using larger formats recently, in other commercially bound books. (25.95)

It has 96 pages, 160 gsm paper that is "Fabriano watercolour paper with high bigment bonding, 35% Cotton, 65% Cellulose, no chlorine bleach, acid free (ISO 9706 'long life')" (that's from the label.


Left: The same sketch after I added washes of a red earth pigment and sepia watercolor that I had out on my palette. I used a traditional brush and water container. This is a sketch of the actor Jean Reno, by the way. I find his face is absolutely fascinating. The images were scanned on different scanners. The first was scanned on a scanner that runs cooler and you can see this in the magenta tone of the pink and the bright white of the paper. The second image shows that the scanner really needs a new bulb. The paper is looking too creamy. It is a BRIGHT White paper.

The 2009 book, however had 25% cotton content and didn't mention Fabriano. Also the 2009 book had a very pronounced waffle texture as shown in one of the images in that post. This current journal is also cold press, but it looks less repetitive and mechanical in texture—with enough "randomness" in the texture that it doesn't scream at you through the work.

The paper in the 2009 book, despite its waffle texture, worked like a smooth paper and I loved it with a lot of my pens. This current book works like a cold press paper and breaks up the line of finer tipped pens and dry brushes. I wouldn't like to write much on this paper unless it was a with a thicker pen like a 1.5 Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Pen.

This paper loves the fine-tipped Pentel ColorBrush Pen with black pigment ink. If you just wanted to work only with it in this book it would be worth it. There is a lovely little bit of drag which doesn't seem like drag at all but a bit of tension. The ink goes down smoothly and remains crisp. It bonds quickly to the paper so that you can make your washes without picking up ink. (I look forward to testing the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and other pens on it as I work my way through the journal.)

In the new book the washes move over the paper much better, and much more like the loose sheets of watercolor paper I use. This was not the case before.

In 2009 I thought the paper worked like a student grade paper, but the paper in this current book gave me a better experience. It isn't high end watercolor paper, but it was workable.

Two things haven't changed at all. Opacity—it's still a bit see-through if you use heavy ink and there is an odd smell. It is, however, NOT the same smell I mentioned in 2009. (It's not that I have such a great nose, though I do, but I described the smell in a specific way that means something to me—which of course is the best way to describe something—so I can read that description and know this is not the same smell, without going into 15 pages of explanation to you about how I categorize smells.)

I've had the new book out of the wrapping plastic for a few months and it hasn't aired out either, but it is a slighter smell. I can actually work on the paper without wheezing. Dick says he can tell that the paper smells but that it doesn't bother him at all. I could even live with this odor. And it is not substantially intensified or worsened when the paper is wet.

Perhaps it is the same paper with just 10 percent more cotton and that makes the wood smell recede? Perhaps now they are going to Fabriano for an inexpensive watercolor paper to bind and so it doesn't have the same smell? I don't know. I'm just glad of this lack of odor.

The paper is only 160 gsm so it does buckle a little when you work on it. But I had no trouble working on it because of this; and no trouble working on the opposite page when I turned the page. I think it's safe to assume that everyone knows at this point that I love pages to warp. It bothers me not at all, and shows the paper has been used.


Left: Here is a detail of the image with watercolor washes. I wanted you to see how crisp and yummy the black pigment ink from the fine tipped Pentel Colorbrush looks on this paper. (I've also used the dye-based ink in the ColorBrush from this company and don't like it as well on this paper.) When you click on this image to view an enlargement you can see the two different pigments I was using in the washes and see how it was fun and easy to overlap the washes. 

A few things haven't changed: The book is still bound with solid book board covers that are covered with a blue linen book cloth. I love books with this type of covering because it feels so good to hold them in your hand. Not the slick stuff so many companies are using these days. Also the signatures are still sewn, the headbands are still simply decorative (which is all they are in the books I make too so I'm not complaining).

There are also still sturdy gray endsheets. It is a well-made little book.

So far I have found two drawbacks to this book.

First the front few pages are difficult to scan because they don't open quite flat at the front and back of the book. You can lay them flat on a scanner, but there is a little lip caused by the hinge and this causes a little shadow to be cast. Again, this isn't a deal breaker for me, and by the time you get to the second signature things fold open flatter.

Second, the sizing on this paper is for watercolor and the soft pencil I sketched in just smeared over the surface while I was drawing elsewhere on the page (I was drawing in pencil in a museum). That was disappointing.

I've already mentioned that I don't like fine tipped pens like the Staedtler Pigment Liner on this paper. In the past the paper was OK with it, but now it's not fun for writing. That would be my biggest drawback.

I am really encouraged by the handling of watercolor washes on this paper and think that most watercolorists will enjoy working on it even though it is lighter weight paper than in some other commercially available journals, or than the paper they might stretch and work on as sheets.

It's all a trade off. I could see buying more of these in the future if I'm unable to bind my favorite watercolor paper into books myself. But I would have to ALWAYS ask to have them opened so that I could smell the paper and make sure that I'm getting something I can live with and that this journal is not just a fluke. 

If you don't bind your own books and are interested in finding a watercolor journal to work in you might check out this book.

If it has been several years since you tried one of these, it might be worth another look. I was pleasantly surprised. It reminds me that we have to keep checking because things change. 

    • Ted Byrom
    • March 25, 2015

    Roz, You mention ” . . . bind with my favorite watercolor paper into books myself.” Can you tell us what is your favorite watercolor paper you use for binding?

  1. Reply

    Sure Ted, I have favorites for different applications and unfortunately my favorite watercolor isn’t bind-able. That’s Arches and it cracks when folded even with the grain so I don’t try to bind it any more. (Even at the 90 lb. weight it will crack when folded with the grain.) Someone makes commercial journals containing this paper in England and I can only suspect that they are using machines to press and prefold, but of course to buy those books and have them shipped here is too expensive.

    Because I like to work with paper in my journals that is the same I work in stand alone situations I switched to Fabriano Artistico Hot Press 140 lb. I use their 300 lb. for a lot of my watercolor and gouache work outside the journal so I’m essentially practicing on the same paper. Sometimes I change it up and use Cold Press, but my favorite surface is hot press.

    A while back when they were doing the Euro monetary paper for the first time it was hard to get any Fabriano and I tried a bunch of things. I don’t like most Winsor and Newton products but I LOVE their 90 lb. hot press watercolor paper and I bound a lot of books with it (and have two left that I hope to use later this year if my shoulder recovery continues and I’m able to paint more again). Unfortunately my source for that paper is gone and I haven’t found it available elsewhere. (If your search turns some up please let me know.)

    The other wc paper I use for binding is THSaunders/Waterford (either 90 or 140 lb. Hot press or CP) It seems to be available a lot of places. It was a paper I first started using after I got a bad batch of Arches in the 1980s (but didn’t know enough about Arches to know it was a bad batch). So it’s sort of like coming home, but it isn’t a paper that everyone likes.

    I use a lot of other paper as watercolor paper and like them better or as well. Of course I love the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper and have bound lots of books with it.

    But those are the watercolor papers I bind with.

  2. Reply

    Gwen do me a favor and write back and tell me where you purchased them from and ALSO tell me what it says on the label about the paper. My current/new book clearly said 35% cotton, but my old book was only 25% cotton, I’m wondering what’s out there because sometime stock sits on some shelves for awhile.

    Have fun with your new journals.

  3. Reply

    Roz: I have used a lot of watercolor papers for commercial illustration/textile design and FABRIANO ARTISTICO has always been my favorite. Arches gets all the press but Fabriano is very nice to use even with ink on brush. Do you always go for 140lb? Do you ever go lighter weight like 80?

  4. Reply

    Ellen, I’m not aware of Fabriano Artistico coming in an 80 lb. weight. I’ve made hundreds of books using Fabriano Artistico 90 lb. weight and 140 lb. I like them both. I actually prefer the 90 lb watercolor papers because I can get a higher page count in a narrower spine. Lifting 2014 out of the equation because I was too injured to even do maintenance amount of binding (just enough to keep me in books) I’ve made more books using 90 lb. paper than 140 lb in the previous two years for that spine width reason, and because I kept buying 90 lb. watercolor papers to compare them. And of course when I found the ones I liked the best I couldn’t get any of them at least not easily.

    Fabriano makes some student grade watermedia papers and other drawing papers, some of which may come in an 80 lb. weight but I don’t use any of those to bind into books. All the other Fabriano papers I’ve reviewed on the blog were for single sheet sketching.

    The only 80 lb. watercolor paper that I know is Strathmore’s Aquarius II watercolor paper with the synthetic fibers which gives it buckling resistence.

    I’ve made a ton of books using it because it is always readily available and a good price point with other lightweight watercolor papers, but it seems ever since Strathmore’s 500 Series Mixed Media paper came out in sheets I’d rather bind it than the Aquarius because I love the 500 Series Mixed Media paper so much more than any of their other papers.

    In the non-watercolor paper range there are lots of papers I use like watercolor paper, for wet media, and they come at or even below the 80 lb. weight. As you know I love Arches Text Wove (Velin) for binding. It’s a fantastically fun paper for painting with watercolor on. I think it must be at or below that 80 lb. weight (I don’t recall off the top of my head). And of course there is my love of Nideggen which I use watercolor and gouache on. Even though it’s a tan paper I can still use watercolor on it. Go figure. I can get a lot of pages of Nideggen into a very tight thin spine.

    I could go on and on. You can read my two part post on papers for journaling which starts here and continues the next day on the blog for my thoughts on different papers for binding.

    That post was written before Strathmore released the 500 series Mixed Media paper (even on boards) so it’s missing from that day two list, but it gives you an idea.

  5. Reply

    Thank you Roz for your commentary as it helps me considerably. There are so many choices I could see myself spending way more time testing papers than actually producing any art. I had not considered the Fabriano as I assumed it would have the same problem as the Arches, so I am glad you cleared that up. I have already bound one book with 500 Series Bristol plate, and just did a text block this afternoon with the 500 Series Multimedia. I’ll do a Fabriano HP and between the three I think I will find one (or two?) that work for me.

  6. Reply

    Ted, given our past conversations and that you like slick papers I know you’ll really enjoy working with the plate Bristol. The Fabriano Artistico Hot Press isn’t going to be as slick but it’s a lovely paper to work on.

    If you can find some Winsor & Newton 90 lb. Hot Press I recommend you get it for binding because it is “slicker,” a faster paper, than the Fabriano Artistico.

    I did these in a book with Winsor & Newton 90 lb Hot Press.

    Yes you can get the drippy effect on any paper if you use enough water and angle, but the application of layers on the birds even though it’s opaque, was very fast and slick, slicker than the other papers, though not as slick as the Bristol, but then the Bristol wouldn’t hold up to the abuse I give when working this way.

    And Ted, if you find someone selling W&N 90 lb. hot press write and tell me who! OK?

  7. Reply

    Roz, There is a shop in California (Art Supply Warehouse) that sells the W&N 90 lb hot pressed paper. I’ve never ordered from them (until now, ordered 10 sheets), but their prices and UPS shipping costs appear reasonable. They also offer graduated quantity discounts. Here is a link:
    I’m looking forward to trying it.

  8. Reply

    One more thing: W&N does not show this paper on their site (even in the UK) so that raised questions in my mind. However, the Art Supply Warehouse site description and pictures are quite specific, so I decided it was worth a try to order some.

  9. Reply

    OOPS! I meant 80lb- sorry! We used to use it in the design studio, hot press, because it could go nicely through a copy machine! I think I would like to try aquarious! MERCI MERCI for your knowledge!

  10. Reply

    Thank you SOOO Much Ted!

  11. Reply

    Love this sketch. Just awesome. Will definitely have to have a go at Jo!?

  12. Reply

    Thanks Margaret, I like the one I did a couple days later that’s in this post a little better

    but he is SO fun to sketch that I have a growing collection now even though there are limited episodes to watch. Have fun sketching.

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