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The Flexbook SKETCHBOOK by Prat: A Review

March 28, 2016

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Above: Flyleaf page (black) and title page of a Flexbook Sketchbook. There is type set on this page where the eye of the finch is located. (Typically I paint over these annoyances.) There is also a place to write your name and return information at the bottom center of the page. Click on the image to view an enlargement and read my comments about the pens and paint used.

Towards the end of 2015 I started working in a series of Flexbook Sketchbooks. (Please note “SKETCHBOOKS” as part of the name of this product. The sketchbooks made by this company use thicker paper. If you are a writer or draw in pencil or other dry media check out my review of the Flexbook Carne Vierge, Blank Notebook.)

Flexbooks are a line of notebooks and sketchbooks made by Prat—a Paris-based company with construction taking place in Greece.

If you go to the company’s web site you will see photos of one of their books being bent backwards so that the covers touch! Yes you can do this with this sketchbook. I have done it with mine.

The Flexbook Sketchbook comes in two sizes: 6 x 8.5 inches (which I think is the prefect size for visual journaling and sketching on site as it easily fits in most bags), and the 8.5 x 12.25 inch size which is perfect for folks who like larger books, or want a studio sketchbook.

Each contains 96 blank pages of what they describe as a “Munken Special white paper.” The paper is 170 gms and it is acid-free.

Note: all the images in this post are from a large 8.5 x 12.25 inch journal unless otherwise stated.

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Above: This is the first page spread, after the title page and flyleaf. The paper at the left is collaged in place to cover annoying product information typeset right on that page. (Ick.) Click on the image to view an enlargement and read my comments about working on this paper with brush pen and watercolor. Having filled two more of these large books and almost filled a small one since this first page spread, I've become more accepting of the idiosyncratic behavior with wet media. The crease on this first spread, at the gutter, however, is an essential factor of the book's construction, and the way the flyleaf paper is attached. It only happens on this page and the penultimate page in the book.

The books have a “soft” cover which is made of stiff card that they describe as “Fedrigoni Savile Row Tweed Uncoated board with a fabric texture.” Think of it as a stiff card stock what is going to wear VERY WELL as you carry the book about with you and pull it in and out of your pack or purse.

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Left: This page spread has been included to show you the type of "leakage" you might expect through the sewing holes from one spread to the next within a signature.

I can sum up what I like and don’t like about these books. What you see throughout this post is a series of scans of my pages that you can click on to enlarge. On those pages you’ll find additional notes from me which you can read if you are interested.

151231_Flex_3_DickContourbrLeft: Let this image count as another "Eyebrow Update." Here the entire page was covered with light blue and orange Montana Acrylic Marker. I then used a Platinum Carbon felt-tipped brush pen to make this contour sketch of Dick watching TV. Finally I used a darker blue acrylic marker for the background around him. If you click on this image and blow it up you will find notes on paper thickness—Dick measured the paper thickness of several of the commercially bound journals I've been experimenting with and I wanted to note this information down in one location so that when I indexed this journal I would be able to relocate it instantly.

The books open flat for scanning—though sometimes at the glue joins between signatures those pages need help. And at the front and back of the book creasing can occur as you'll see in my images. Overall flat opening is what you get.

The books have sewn signatures and there is a fabric covered spine strip. (Black, green, or red.) The books also have the now ubiquitous elastic strap to hold them closed.

Note: expect the books to come shrink wrapped. When you open them the covers are going to start to warp a bit curling away from the text block. This seems to be a standard thing in soft covers and I wouldn’t worry about it. You can always use the elastic strap that comes standard on the books.

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Left: Another Pentel Brush Pen (pigment/squeezy barrel) portrait with Montana Marker in the background. This paper does tend to cause the acrylic markers to leave a dry brush effect so you need to go over the areas a little more than you would on a slicker, smoother paper. I like the variation.

The sewing holes are oven overly large and this sometimes makes the pages looser as you work through the book—but nothing outrageously loose or about to fall out. I only mention this because it means that there is more leakage of wet media from spread to other spread, via the sewing holes. You'll want to watch this and adjust your working methods accordingly by working carefully at the spine. I also recommend you scan your work as soon as you can, before it is infiltrated by wet media migrating from later in the signature.

151231_Flex_5_AfroBeardLeft: I included this spread to show how the paper really holds a nice crisp ink line. (Note also the wet media come through the sewing holes.)

I have really enjoyed working in the SKETCHBOOK. It really can be folded back on itself—useful for when I’m standing in the bathroom at the mirror, trying to sketch a selfie.

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Above: I included this image because it shows some interaction of watercolor on the figures, with brush pen (PPBP)—with Montana Acrylic Marker for the background, and various poster pens for writing. Click on the image to view an enlargement and read more details.

The book has annoying fly-leaf papers that cause you to loose a portion of the title page, but you could still work on it a bit. More annoying is a “write up” about the product on the first verso (left) page. (I tend to collage or paint over all these “offending” intrusions.

160110_Flex_B_WCBleedthroughLeft: See some minimal bleed through of watercolor paint and ink from a pigment brush pen, and other notes.

The paper is not as opaque as I would like, but sufficiently opaque that I work almost exclusively in Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in this journal. After drying you will notice OVER TIME, some rub-off of this ink on the opposite page in a spread. I scan images as I go along, every couple of days. I recommend you do that if you want your image at its best. This is no worse than most other commercially bound sketchbooks currently available.

The paper will warp and buckle if you use wet media (even with the Montana Acrylic Marker) but it is well within the tolerances I have for buckling paper. I like the wonderful sound buckled paper makes when you turn the pages—all that used paper, progress and process.

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Left: Click on this image to view an enlargement and see how on the recto page you can see the ink sketch that follows. This is NOT bleed through—this is showing the paper opacity. I find that this amount of showing through is totally acceptable. (Ears and hair, what can I say?)

The paper is NOT WET MEDIA PAPER, HOWEVER I continue to paint on it with both watercolors and gouache. I find that if you adjust your water usage and allow first layers to completely dry you can get quite a lot accomplished on this paper. If you don’t allow early layers of paint to dry you will find that the successive layers cause the paper to pill and you may also experience bleed through of your wet media.

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Above: On this spread you see me working with a Pentel pigment ink squeezy brush pen and layers of Schmincke Pan Watercolors. (The background is Montana Acrylic Marker.) If you drop ink on this paper, regardless of the type of ink (pigment or dye) it will almost always bleed right through—keep a towel handy. If you allow the watercolor you layer on to DRY WITH EACH LAYER you will probably not get seep through. I have managed this repeatedly. However, the moment you get too eager and apply more wet paint onto still wet paint you start to wear through the paper and seeping typically results.(Ears and hair…) (Pen comments at the top left are about a specific pen I was testing and have nothing to do with the paper quality.) 

Dye based ink products such as the Pentel ColorBrush line will seep through the paper regardless of any additional water you use with the product. You’ll need to decide if this is a deal breaker for you or not. I don’t mind it.

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Above: Here you see me using a Sepia Pentel ColorBrush to sketch a figure. It flows nicely on this paper and the slight tooth of the paper allows interesting line qualities. You will notice on the recto page that there is both SEE-THROUGH of the following portrait sketch, which was also done with this pen, as well as BLEED THROUGH, you can see areas near the nose and mustache on the right page that are coming through. I found that there was ALWAYS BLEED THROUGH when using DYE-BASED INKS on this paper, even if you were using those inks without additional wet techniques (such as diluting them to move them on the page).

The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen loves this paper. I recommend it. Other pens also work exceptionally well on this smooth, slightly toothed paper. The Sakura Pigma Sensei is a notable example.

160102_Flex_ColorPencilManPageCRLeft: I used two Lyra Ferby metallic pencils to make a quick value study/sketch. They felt great on this paper and it was what decided me on taking these books to life-drawing after testing. There is sufficient tooth on this paper that other color pencils such as Prismacolors and Faber-Castel Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils (used dry) work great on this paper.  

Dry media like color pencils and graphite will have just enough tooth on this paper to grab well. I love using this paper at life drawing.

I do not recommend watercolor or watersoluble pencils used wet on this paper as the paper isn't amenable to the treatment and the results are dingy.

I still have some media experiments to do with this paper, but it has proven useful for my most regularly used media.

This commercially made sketchbook is currently my favorite for quick sketches in the studio, working out things in the studio (notes, thumbnail sketches, etc.), and life drawing.

Note: The Flexbook SKETCHBOOK (all caps for emphasis so you compare the correct version from them) is sort of a replacement for the Fabriano Venezia Journal with which I've had such spine disintegration problems. I write "sort of" because I still have a couple FVJs unused and intend to use them for studio sketchbooks, and because the papers in these two books are so different. (The paper in the FVJ is suitable for wet media without as many compromises to technique.)

My favorite commercially bound journal for visual journaling—i.e., carrying with me about town, or making small paintings, or doing experiments when great paper is a necessity, is STILL the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal. (I prefer the softbound version that is 7.75 x 9.75 inches which is the perfect page size for such work, for me.)

Obviously, to regular readers, my ultimate favorite journal is one I bind myself with the paper I want to use, in the size I want to use it. I haven't been able to bind as much lately because of my shoulder issues, however, my favorite paper for binding right now is the Strathmore 500 Series Mix Media paper. I also like binding some watercolor papers which you can read about elsewhere on the blog.

    • Paul
    • March 28, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for this extensive review and great sample pages! You mentioned scanning as you go. Do you scan EVERY page of your journals? What resolution do you scan at for archiving and indexing your sketches?
    PS: I have sketched every day since your Drawing Practice Course in February (2016). I am past halfway through my first sketchbook :o).

    • Paul
    • March 28, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks so much for your usual thorough reply. I have a Strathmore, 500 Series, Mixed Media sketchbook ready to go for journal #2. I am also registered for your Bookbinding Class starting May 1st ;o). Looking forward to another great class with you!

  1. Reply

    Paul, glad this was helpful and glad you’re all set to go right into another book, whether it’s the Strathmore or one that you make very soon in May!!! Looking forward to working with you to make some great books.

    • Pat Wafer
    • March 29, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks so much for another interesting and indepth review. I agree totally about my favorite sketchbook being the Strathmore 500 series. I am really enjoying doing big 2 page spreads in the hardbound 11 x 14 version. I have been using it for large gouache plein air studies and it is a amazing how much water that paper can take and still not pill. I am so grateful I learned about them from your reviews.

  2. Reply

    Pat, I’m glad you enjoyed the review on the Flexbook and also glad you found out about the Strathmore 500 series from me. Like you I also enjoy that 11 x 14 though I only use it in the studio for large sketches, I still only take the smaller one out and about. It is definitely an amazing paper! Have fun painting.

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