Everything Changes: The New Moleskine SketchbooksMay 30, 2016
Above: Label on the new Moleskines announcing the new paper.
If you keep a journal or sketchbook long enough you’ll find particular favorites. A book that is just the right size to fit in your pack and in your hand. A book filled with just the right paper—paper perfectly (or nearly) suited to your favorite medium of the moment.
There will seem to be a lull in life, a pleasant quiet all around you. You might even find yourself sighing and feeling happy about how everything has come together so wonderfully in your drawing practice.
Then the next day you’ll hear that your favorite paper, pen, pencil, or commercially bound journal is now defunct. You’ll experience that synchronicity no more, you’ll drag a brush pen along that special paper never again.
Don’t gasp in horror. This is part of the adventure of keeping a visual journal and responding to the world in this visual way. It isn’t cause for distress. It’s the universe challenging you to grow and expand your capabilities and you understanding. You are being pushed to adapt and keep your approach fresh.
For people who don’t bind their own books (therefore taking paper and size choices into their own hands) there’s a new shift in the commercially bound Moleskine, and from my perspective the shift is mostly great.
1. The new Moleskine Sketchbook paper is whiter.
Below: A side by side comparison of the old, Pre-2012 Moleskine Sketchbook paper (Left) and the NEW paper in the journal I just purchased on 4.16.16. The new paper is still slightly creamy, but it is visibly whiter. The paper is also slightly toothier but still smooth enough for ink work. I think people working with pencil (graphite or color) will actually prefer this paper once they have tried it out for a little while. The whiter color of the paper is great news if you work with watercolor and rely on the whiteness of the paper to bounce through your washes and back up to delight the eye.
2. The paper is more absorbent. (It does seem to take watercolor and gouache washes more easily than in the past. Also the paper doesn’t have a hard slickness it used to have. It doesn’t seem to fight you as much as the older version’s paper did. Yet it’s still soft enough to get clean smooth lines even with a fine point pen. (See the second image in my post with sketches of singer Steve Cormier.)
3. The paper odor is different! This is most important for me. I can work happily with all sorts of papers across a broad spectrum of utility but if a paper has an odor that gives me a headache in 30 seconds I can’t work with that commercially bound journal. The old Moleskine sketchbook paper smelt of chemicals and brought on not just a headache but set me to wheezing! I couldn’t sit with one even for 10 minutes without physical ramifications. (I let one book air out for 2 years before trying to use it and it was still impossible for me.)
Imagine my delight when I went to Wet Paint one day and saw the new Moleskines sitting out on the counter advertising more absorbent papers. I thought, “I’ll get one and see how it is, even if I can’t use it because of the smell.” (I do like to test things!) An in-store smell test of the paper indicated that something had changed. (But there are a lot of smells in an art supply store, and it is allergy season!) When I got home I found that I was a little stuffed up from allergies and the next day I could smell the paper—but it was a much reduced and less strident odor. One that I could sit with for indefinite periods of time to work in the book. In other words, no longer an issue. (Is it a pleasant odor, nope, it still isn’t, and it will never be my favorite paper because of this, but it is totally within the range of workable for me!)
4. The paper buckles much less than it did in the test journal I made in 2012. You can go to my blog post about those tests and you can clearly see from the shadows on the scans how much the paper buckled when stressed by wet media. Compare that to current wet media tests in the new book and there isn’t much of a sensation or appearance of buckling at all.
Not being a regular user of Moleskines I don’t know if some of these negative characteristics have always been attributes or if they come only in the new version. Veteran users will be able to make that distinction:
1. The thin spine covering cracked and creased within the first 3 days of working in this journal. It looks bad and is unfortunate, but is not detrimental to the working of the book.
2. Despite what Moleskine users always tell me about the pages opening flat, that’s really not the case. Most spreads open fairly flat, but others create a bit of a hump at the hinge. (The Moleskine opens plenty flat for my purposes and I’ll work around it when painting and sketching across the gutter, but this is not a flat opening book.)
3. At 5.25 x 8.25 inches, I find the dimensions of the sketchbook, when opened, not a good fit in my hands. I was sketching the toad image later in this post in fact, and I found my non-dominant hand which holds my book while I sketch (I sketch standing) had to keep moving and looking for other handholds as I tried to work within the almost square open page spread shape. Since my favorite hand bound book size is either 6 x 8 or 8 x 8 I’m not sure what was going on here. I think two factors came into play—I find the slick black covering of the cover uncomfortable to hold (I cover my books with cloth) and the floppiness of the spine (which works well for getting it to open flat-ish on all pages and very flat on some) makes it more difficult for me to hold. This is something I could probably learn to adapt to and live with if I was really enamored of the paper.
4. The paper had surface quality control issues evident when I used wet media. In the image below of my friend Toad (a giant rubber toad who lounges about in the studio giving visitors a start when he catches in their peripheral vision) you can see that even though I’m painting across the whole spread with gouache strokes take to the paper differently at different points on the surface. In one place there is a particularly drastic change in the quality of paper that is so drastic it’s visible in the scan. I point to it in the scan.
I don’t mind less expensive or lower quality papers, I use them all the time for the fun and the challenge. But one think I really don’t care for is paper of uneven quality. This means that working on any page spread is exactly like stepping into a pool of quicksand—all bets are off.
I love challenging myself, but working with a paper of inconsistent quality is simply masochistic. I have better things to do with my time. Things that are more fun than changing my working method every inch across a page spread to balance the work.
Below: Sketch of Toad. I did a quick and rather too misshapen sketch using a gray Uni-Posca paint pen. Then I colored the sketch with washes of Schmincke Horadam Gouache using various levels of opacity. See the shadow area behind toad on the wall for a clear view of the paper quality issue. Here a light wash of color caused the paper to begin to pill, while the same action and level of paint and water on the shadow areas of the box left smooth and even washes with no distress to the paper.
5. The paper had surface quality control issues when I worked with it using graphite. I found that it was difficult even with light pressure to build up the contrast I liked without damaging the tooth of the paper. Additionally there would be areas on the paper that broke up my smooth shading. (Probably the same areas on the surface that would have had difficulty with wet media.) I worked with a 2B pencil and it simply wasn't fun.
6. I like to use brush pens of all types. I use the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and their brush pens with squeezy barrels. (That first link will take you to a post that compares the PPBP with the Pentel Color Brush and explains the fugitive nature of the latter. The second link is an informative post about a variety of Pentel Brush Pens and the ink they contain.)
I'm particularly fond of using the Pentel Colorbrush in Sepia—even though I know the dye-based ink it contains is fugitive. This type of pen works well enough on the new Moleskine paper, but two things happened.
Below: Pentel Color Brush Sepia, on Moleskine paper.
Initially the Pentel Color Brush Pen went on well and moved about the paper's texture in a fun way. I added water as I typically do to tease out textures and shadows. That seemed to work OK at first. HOWEVER, after I had been working for a couple minutes I happened to turn the page back to check if it was seeping through the paper—often when I went this ink on lightweight papers it will seep through. It didn't seep at first, but instead, the moisture I'd added to the page went through the page and caused the Stabilo All (from a portrait I'd sketched of Dick) to activate—it is watersoluble and it started to dissolve. The moisture didn't seem to visibly go through the paper, but on the verso page it went through the paper enough that it caused Stabilo All from the previous spread's verso page to activate and transfer onto the back of this spread's verso page. This is a danger sign for me. I worry about moisture from a watercolor on a future spread reactivating a watercolor from a previous spread. (I have not tested this, but the principle is the same—it's reactivating a watersoluble medium, the Stabilo All, in this instance.)
Additionally after a moment I saw what looked like sepia ink seeping through to the previous spread, but as there were other things happening on that spread I did a new spread of random strokes of the sepia Color Brush and added water and stroked it as if shading. Sure enough, the sepia ink started to seep through onto the next spread. Normally this type of seepage is not a huge factor for me. I work in the Japanese Lined Journals I've linked to above, and this sometimes happens on that paper—but it's lightweight, office paper, not art paper.
To be fair to Moleskine they don't advertise this sketchbook for wet media! But everyone I know who uses this book uses watercolor in it. You might want to test your methods in a sample book before ordering a bunch of them.
If you were a fan of the old Moleskine you’ll probably be unhappy with the changes simply because you've devoted your visual life to making due with a yellow-toned paper that doesn't like the media you throw at it.
For me the changes are mostly in the correct direction. I could actually now use one of these in a pinch because the odor is much reduced and no longer induces a headache in less than 5 minutes.
I won’t be using them, however, because of the paper quality control issues across the spread—I still have commercially bound journals that don’t have this problem and meet the other criteria I consider important as to use of mixed media and so on.
But it is nice to know I could use one of these because the odor is so changed!
I’ll continue working in this journal as long as my father-in-law's current health crisis is ongoing. I want to have my notes from the doctors and hospital all in one book. But when that's over, whether the book is full or not I will be moving back to other commercially bound journals I prefer to work in and my own handbound journals.
Below: The flip side of the label. I don't know if Moleskine did this on previous labels, but I find it fun. The line width weights doesn't seem to bring much to the party. If line widths matter to you then you'll be able to pick them apart from exposure and practice. The same might be said of the angles chart—but I find it's fun that they thought to include one in case you want to check yourself. The circle drawing tool is also not useful to me, but I think it's clever.