Fabriano Venezia Journals SPINE PROBLEMS: Product Review Update

January 11, 2016


Above: Quick TV sketch (moving subjects) of a chef on Top Chef. 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal; fiber-tipped pilot brush pen (dull black ink) and light washes of gouache with a 3-inch wide brush.

I can no longer recommend Fabriano Venezia Journals.

Update 12.5.17: I have another reason to not recommend these. In the one I used this year the paper also changed more! Working with watercolor the same way I always have I found that the paint BLED through the paper easily, marring the back of the page and the following page. This occurred even when I was strictly monitoring my water usage. The paper is not suitable for watercolor work. I have two or three of these left and will now only use them for keeping notes in the studio, or to “scrapbook” items from my studio work, and an occasional brush pen sketch (with not washes!).

For six or more years I’ve been using them for my studio journal. I use the 9 x 12 inch size. They never leave the studio so I can use a large size and not worry about the extra weight of carrying it.

I’ve always liked the paper. It took watercolor washes and loved the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

But the books don’t get a lot of rough use because they stay at home. That’s why I was surprised last year when the spine gave out in one of them.

The books do get stuffed full of collage and notes. Overstuffed. I don’t cut pages out of them to make room for collage because I’ve never had problems with the spines failing. In fact there are several of these journals I used in 2011 and 2012 that are totally overpacked. Ridiculously so.

As for the book that actually failed, yes, I had opened the book “all the way” pressing in the gutter at the spine to flatten the book slightly as I worked on an illustration bleeding across the gutter.

But my pressing was gentle compared to what I’ve seen others do. And I eased into it.

VeneziaSpineDSC03951Left: A peek at the spine of the Venezia I was using in 2014. The spine failed early in the book use. You can see at the left, the tail end of the book. You can see right through the signatures to the glue backing they have all pulled away from. I didn’t exaggerate this result by increasing pressure. This all started from a small bit of pressure and continued. Note that there is no collage in this book bulking it up and putting additional pressure on the spine.  

I was totally surprised to find, when I closed the book, that the backs of the signatures were coming apart from the spine glue. More distressing still, throughout the use of the rest of the journal, this detaching process continued like a zipper, until the rest of the book’s signatures had done the same.

The damage was not complete along the entire spine, but only at the head and tail area. Still, it’s only a matter of time and a little use before it all pulls away from the cover.

I decided that this was an aberration as it had never happened before. Then, at the end of the year I worked in another Venezia and it too developed the same problem.


Left: Example of a breaking spine in a 5 x 8 inch Fabriano Venezia sent to me by Ted Byrom. In the top half of his image you can see inside the book where the signatures are pulling apart and held by the thread only. In the bottom half of the image you can see the head of the book (there’s a bookmark ribbon on the center). There on the left you can see the signatures, which happen to be only one folded sheet each, are pulling away from the glued back. (Image ©2015 Ted Byrom.)

At that time also, a friend wrote to tell me that he’d had a Venezia (5 x 8 inch) detach. What he described was exactly what I had experienced.

At the receipt of his note I was moving through a Venezia at the end of the year, working on it daily to fill it before 2016 (a little end of year compulsion I sometimes give in to). I noticed during this time of intense daily usage that the paper was not as amenable to all the techniques I previously liked to throw at this paper. In particular, the paper was quicker to give up structure when wet. I experienced pilling and even some bleed through of paints (not dyes).

I’ve been bad about how I store my spare books. I had purchased a number of Fabriano Venezia 9 x 12 inch journals from Cheap Joe’s a couple of years ago (maybe even three years ago). I had two or three left when Cheap Joe’s had another sale. I purchased another couple—one always needs studio journals. At least 2 had been purchased at Wet Paint during their White Sale a year or so ago. I had put them on the same shelf, with no first in, first out policy.

I didn’t mark what date they came in or the vendor, so I have no idea which batch the two defective books came out of. I don’t know if this failure was inevitable or if there was a real change during the purchase of these two books.

More Bad News

After receiving the note from Ted I went to look at all my Venezias from the past, not just the one from 2014 which I thought of as the “first failure.”

I’m sad to report that almost every Fabriano Venezia journal I have used in the past 5 years has some spine damage like this. I know they didn’t have it when I was working in them. I notice things like that. This means the damage happened while they were stored on the shelves. The glue is just drying out and letting go. One journal I picked up from 2010 zippered apart in my hands as I opened it to check it.

Now my studio journals are only seen by me. No one else comes by and rifles through them. I am really pretty gentle with my books, despite what some of my techniques look like. But most important the books have had a safe resting place and they have been undisturbed. You don’t, however, want to use a book that starts to fall apart when left alone on a shelf, or when you open it!

While I don’t live in a temperature controlled environment the books are shelved in living areas that have a constant temperature of 64 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes it is on the dry side. But there is nothing unusual happening here to these books.

What I Know and Have Decided

1. The Fabriano Venezia is no longer trustworthy to hold together as a book structure.

2. I have someone else who knows book structure experiencing the same phenomenon. And his information was for a different size, so it’s more than just the 9 x 12s.

3. The spines on older books are failing without stress or additional handling.

4. The paper isn’t not standing up to my techniques any longer.

Because of these factors I’m not going to be purchasing them any longer and have altered my information about them on my “Commercially Bound Journal” page.

I would suggest that you not use these journals if you’re looking for a durable journal with sound construction. Additionally if you enjoy mixed media techniques you might find this paper is not suitable for what you want to do.

You will continue to see my work from one of these journals in the near future, as I post the images I wish to share. I will use up the remaining purchased journals for notes and research collection. I will no longer be using them for visual journaling and I do not want you to think that seeing them on my blog indicates a recommendation.


  1. Reply

    I LOVE Fabriano watercolor paper, but I wasn’t happy with a Venezia Journal that I tried a couple of years ago. Now I’ll have to go dig it out and see if it is doing this too. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Margo
    • January 11, 2016

    I love what the Venezia books feel like in my hand and how the paper feels under my pens, even my XX fine custom fountain pen but the way it takes watercolor doesn’t please me. And I’ve heard about the books splitting from a sketching pal though I have not had that issue – yet. I did have a whole S&B book split – the hardback non-spiral of their thickest paper. The company immediately gave me another book of my choosing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and sorry that happened to you.

    • Julana
    • January 11, 2016

    I’ve been slowly making my way through the large one since July. I got it because I loved what Danny Gregory did with it in his breakfast video. I use it mostly in the community. It has been cumbersome. 🙂 I have not had the binding issue, yet. I had noticed the pilling a few times. I don’t do nearly as much as you do. (I struggle with every journal change.)

    • Carmel Campbell
    • January 11, 2016

    Roz, I have two of these journals – 6 x 9. One I have used and one I have not. I liked the paper. I have just looked at the used one and the glue has given way on the spine, just slightly. Well darn, I did like the paper and the sketchbook. Thanks for alerting us to the problem.

    • Pat Wafer
    • January 11, 2016

    I just looked at my 6×9 that is about half used and it is doing the same thing! I bought it 2 years ago and just started using another one too. I am not at all rough with it. Very disappointing as the paper was working fine. Thanks for the alert. I have been switching to Stillman and Birn. Any problems with those?

  2. Reply

    Pat, I can’t help you with the Stillman and Birn product—I tested and reviewed them when they first came out and didn’t find them suitable for my working methods and I found the construction of their books a little clunky. Since then they’ve come out with some different models but I have no interest in them.

    Some people in response to today’s post wrote in about their Stillman and Birn journals on Facebook and said those cracked at the spine too but were offered a replacement. I’ve read that from other people. I suggest you do a little google search to find out if these are infrequent happenings.

  3. Reply

    I’m sorry you struggle with every journal change. I of the opposite sort—I thrive on it. And because of the studio journal and my shoulder problems I typically have 3 journals going at one time now: Studio, Japanese Lined, and whatever I’m carrying in my purse (which usually changes every month and is something different from the other two as well. And then I have loose sheets.

    But because you do have this issue right now, with struggling when you change, I suggest that you think about binding your own books and picking a paper you really love that does everything you want it to do and stick with it for a while, a good 6 to 10 months of daily work in it, with any different media you use. Then you will probably develop a comfort level so high with it that if you change you’ll be able to adapt your methods to the differences you find in the new paper and not find it too frustrating.

    If making books is out for you (I know some people have arthritis and other issues) then you’ll need to make a diligent search for an alternative that does what you need. I’m partial to the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal in the commercially made journals. I like the paper in the large watercolor moleskines but I HATE the landscape orientation!

    Danny’s work in the Venezia’s is lovely. He’s never complained about them falling apart.

    If yours aren’t falling apart maybe they’ll continue to work for you. You can avoid the pilling issue by modulating your water, and letting it dry before you add more in the same spot, and using lighter pressure on the paper when doing successive washes. At least you used to be able to do that on this paper, I’m finding that with all the care in the world I’m having issue with the paper, so I’m giving up on them for this purpose.

    Hope you find something you can really enjoy and grow with.

  4. Reply

    Carmel, I only wish I’d looked earlier. Ted wrote to me and I thought, hmmm. that happened to me last year, but until I looked I didn’t realize it was happening all the time!

  5. Reply

    Margo, I still love them for the way they take the PPBP, but since they seem to spilt even sitting quietly on a shelf I know that when the ones I have are gone I’ll be done with them. I’ve got other papers I love using the PPBP on.

    I just have to take better care of my shoulders so I can bind again!!! I’ve been drawing sketches of paper tears so as soon as I finish teaching the next drawing class and editing video for a new class this spring I’ll throw caution to the wind and bind up some large books for studio use.

    • Julana
    • January 12, 2016

    Thank you for the info and encouragement. I am thinking of ordering the Schut-Noblesse I read about in Charles Reid’s book, and learning to bind with it. Just because of the name!

  6. Reply

    Julana, I have some paper from Schut, but don’t know if it’s “Noblesse.” It’s a lovely paper. I bought it at Wet Paint sometime back and haven’t used it all. Always used it for stand alone pieces—didn’t even try to bind any of it. It was a block. It’s packed away right now while other things reign in the studio so I’m not sure if it’s the same paper. I don’t like CP normally but it was fun to work on. I hope if it is the same paper that you enjoy binding with it.

    • Audrey
    • January 12, 2016

    Wow I have a Venezia and I’ve been rough on the spine and it hasn’t come apart! I was using a S&B Zeta and the pages came undone the minute I opened led the book wide!

  7. Reply

    Audrey, I’m glad you’re Venezia is staying together. I think some of this has to do with batches because I have found 2 that are from a long while back and roughly used and they are fine, but the more recent are not. And things can sit in shops for awhile so who knows. They may even make them at different factories—I know they do that with Dove chocolate and I can taste the differences when I open a new bag.

    I don’t use S&B books. I’m sorry you had that experience.

    Thanks for writing in.

    • Julana Schutt
    • January 13, 2016

    Thank you. ?

    • Pat Wafer
    • January 13, 2016

    Thanks for the warning. The Stillman and Birns are pricey. I have 2 so I will see how they hold up before investing in more. Their Alpha and Beta papers are great for what I want but so is Strathmore and they are more affordable.

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