Review of the Seawhite of Brighton Sketchbook

November 21, 2016

160721_HebburnCRLeft: Water-soluble Color Pencil sketch of actress in the British comedy “Hebburn.”

I first opened my first Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook in June of this year. I thought I’d be finished quickly (even though it’s a nice thick journal) and would write a comprehensive review. 

Then life interrupted.

I continued to work in the Seawhite Sketchbook (SW for short) but I also worked in other journals I was testing, or sometimes simply carrying around because they were smaller and my shoulder was acting up. And of course there was the Minnesota State Fair…

I completed the sketchbook on November 11, 2016. (I completed three other journals during that time, but there you have it—I don’t believe my lack of faithfulness was due to not liking the sketchbook, as I said earlier, life happened.)

I’ve tried to make points about the sketchbook and its paper as I’ve gone along. I’ll recap here. If you want the complete view of posts and thoughts on this journal you can go to the category list in my blog and click on “Seawhite Sketchbooks.” A listing of all the posts will come up and you can check out what I’ve done in this book and the types of media I’ve used.

Brief Details (yes "brief," everything is relative)

Purchased from Amazon at this link.

I found this to be an excellent, inexpensive sketchbook, suitable for mixed media sketching. I worked in the 8 inch square version. It has 190 pages of 140 gsm Seawhite All-Media Cartridge Paper. The paper is BRIGHT WHITE, and has a high degree of opacity, even when you work with bold black ink brush pens.

160721_HebburnCRDETAILLeft: Detail from the above image. This is an earthtone Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Water soluble Color Pencil. I found that it layered well on this paper.

The book is 1 inch thick. It is a SEWN signature hardbound construction with sturdy cover boards that maintained their stiffness and integrity throughout the active use of this volume. 

The case is covered with “black cloth.” This is a low grade type fabric—that seems more like a paper impressed with a woven pattern and impregnated with something like a resin for wear. I have no idea. I mention this because you should NOT expect high quality bookcloth. That said, the material is easy and pleasant to hold in your hand as you sketch. It is not plastic-y to the touch. It feels good. It is sturdy. It takes scuffing well, and even when it shows scuffing and abrasion it is still protective. You will find that it wears quickly on the spine, not the hinge, but the spine. I found that as I worked through the book the lighter weight spine backing actually folded just before the center of the spine. This leaves a visible crease down the spine, but does not influence the opening and closing of the book or make it weak.

Wear and tear shows most quickly at the head and tail of the spine. That area only has thin support (as is normal on such a structure) and it takes all the banging around from being pushed into and pulled out of a pack.

There are no headbands in this book—it’s a no frills book.

I know that the number one issue for many sketchbook artists is whether or not the book opens flat for working and scanning. (I admit this is an important issue but not number one for me.)

This book, being so thick, opens “flat-ish” on most spreads. There are shadows cast at the spine gutter on some of the initial and end pages of the book. In some center spreads the thickness of the book causes it to bow away from the scanner. MOST OF THIS can be addressed by weighting the book during scanning.

See how nicely this sketch scanned. It was about three quarters of the way through the book, so still in a thicker portion of the book.

If your rule of thumb to live by is how Moleskines and Handbooks open flat than this book will be a little frustrating for you. (I would still encourage you to broaden your horizons and try one to see for yourself.)

The Paper

If we are sensible, we buy sketchbooks because of the quality of their paper.

Is the 140 gsm Seawhite All-Media Cartridge Paper a great paper? No, but then there are few commercially made journals or sketchbooks that come with great paper. It is a serviceable paper, and a truly mixed media paper, and that makes it a great economical choice for visual artists.

For me interacting with the paper is a large part of the experience of keeping a visual journal or sketchbook. I find that there are media I enjoyed more than others in this book. (That’s true of most commercially bound journals or sketchbooks I test.) 

Below: the first pages in this new Seawhite Sketchbook. I've seeing what does what and how I have to adjust working methods. The pen and ink is incredibly fun on this paper. Note that on the right I mention that the yellow Montana Marker bled through this page. It's the only Montana Marker that did. I think I didn't shake it up enough and had too much paint on the page for too long, creating too much moisture. You will want to be careful with dye-based products on this paper if you add moisture to them, but otherwise you won't have things bleeding through in "normal" usage.


I found that the paper was smooth enough that I could write even with a fine-tipped pen on it. (See previous link, bottom left of image.) Yet when I worked with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen on this paper I could get lovely dry brush effects because there was enough tooth to the paper to allow the brush pen to leave its lovely idiosyncratic marks.

If what you do in your sketchbook is ink-based, either pigment liners, dip pens, or brush pens—this paper loves pen. You need to get one.

I also found that the paper responded well to color pencil and graphite. It’s a little stiffer than the papers I typically like to work with pencils on, but that’s because I bind my own books with printmaking paper and am a bit spoiled. I sketched one of my all time favorite sketches of Dick in this test book—using a non-repro-blue pencil. Yum. That’s all I have to say. It was lovely to work with that pencil on this paper. 

I could have filled the whole book that way and been happy. And keeping a journal is ultimately about keeping me happy. 

I didn’t, during the testing phase, sketch with layers and layers of color pencil. You can certainly do that in this book, I just didn’t get around to it.

For individuals who work with watercolor you’ll find that this book will allow you to do that as well

Below: You can see pigment ink (left) and dye-based watersoluble in (right) on this spread. Also on the left you can see some show through of heavy black ink work on the previous page. It looks less noticeable in person and doesn't distract from new work on the next page. If this show through bothers you simply scan the page with a sheet of black paper positioned behind the page you're scanning and you won't see the previous page's work showing through on your scan. On the right side the color is Stabilo Tone water-soluble crayons (a now limited line of colors available under the new name Woody). The lines do not completely dissolve on this paper because you want to use a little less water, but it's workable to build up water-soluble wax crayons like the Stabilo Tone or the Neocolor II on this paper.


Since this is a lightweight paper you’ll find that it may buckle slightly depending on the extent of your water use. I found that the drying time (with temperature and humidity being constant) was longer on this paper and required that I modify my water use, and also forced me to wait until my wash layers dried which is actually a good thing.

If you’re used to working on lightweight watercolor papers than this won’t be a stretch for you. If you work only on 140 lb. watercolor paper expect an adjustment—which should be accomplished in a single session.

I found that paint didn’t bleed through unless I really roughed up the paper with a lot of overwork in certain areas. So just don’t overwork. Most of the time I could actually have continued to overwork the paper if I had only let the paper dry first, e.g., when I put lots of layers of Montana Marker on something and kept changing my mind.

The paper didn’t pill for me, even when I overworked it (by using too much water or adding other colors too quickly when layering or correcting colors), except in one situation where I didn’t let things dry enough and actually worked through the paper in one spot. (If you see bits of “fluff” in any of my image samples it’s from the tip of a Montana Marker.)

I work more dryly in gouache than watercolor and it is a pleasure to work in this book with gouache if that’s your method too. 

I went to town on this paper with mixed media as shown in this post and it held up really well.

The paper is also stiff enough to take collage—however I recommend that if you like to do a lot of collage you start preemptively removing pages (leaving tabs) at the front of the book and throughout, so that you don’t expand the book so much you stress the spine.

Will I Use These Sketchbooks Again?

Yes, most definitely. I ordered several at the time of purchase because I wanted to play with different sizes and formats (landscape, portrait, square).

I have only one reservation about this book. It’s a feeling actually, and all we have to go by in the final instance is our feelings about how something worked for use—it didn’t keep me engaged. I could say it was because the format was square and while I usually love square books of this size (8 x 8 inches) I was working elsewhere in 11 x 14 inch size. I could say it was because I was working on watercolor projects outside the journal and was being spoilt by using actual watercolor paper. I could say it was the thickness of the volume and I simply got distracted by a desire to test other books and use other papers.

All I know is that I found there were times I didn’t pick the book up but went to other books to work in. 

Writing about this now I think it was nothing more than life, and typically during times of stress I use a handmade book with my favorite paper in it. That’s probably all it was.

I was also trying to do a bunch of tests and the reality was that sometimes I didn’t want to text. I just wanted to “be” with the book. 

Below: Pen with watercolor (left) and pen with various markers—including Uni Posca, Montana, and Sharpie waterbased poster paint pens. I found that if I let the dilutions of my watercolors get too thin the colors looked too muted on this paper, so you'll want to control that, because while it is a mixed media paper, it is a not watercolor paper. By the time I tested the Lukas watercolors in this book I'd got the ratio of water right. (See left page on this spread for dull watercolor layer.)


I also found that there are times when I would leave a blank page. I never do this (or rarely) in my handmade books. I did this in the SW because I wanted to use a square format and not have something opposite the image, or because I started something on one page and didn’t finish and didn’t want to start on the next page (unusual for me). I don’t know. I just need to tell you that this ambivalence occurred.

But then I need to tell you that as November came around and “goal and quota” time as we laughingly call it here went into full throttle, I finished this journal in a day with four spreads that were the most fun in the book. And they were ink and Montana Marker (you will see two of them in a movie review post at the end of November).

What is goal and quota time? That’s the end of the year period when I look around in my life and say, “shit, the year is almost over, how many journals are there in progress and let’s finish them up.” And of course by “let’s=let us” I mean ME, I have to finish them up. I don’t really have to finish up anything, but it makes for such a tidy effect if I have all my active journals finished before December 31 so I can start a new one on January—not essential, but tidy. I like tidy. You got that right, from reading the blog?

Sometimes we just need to give in to what we really want to do with a paper. This bright white paper loves ink. I love ink. Of course I’ll use this book again.

If I stopped binding my own books I could actually see it becoming one of my favorite commercially bound sketchbooks. Of course that would be just about exactly the moment when you couldn't purchase them in the U.S. any longer!

Note: I purchased the sketchbook I used for testing. While I provided the Amazon link as a convenience I’m not in any way connected to Amazon or Seawhite.

    • Deborah Basel
    • November 21, 2016

    The paper sounds really nice, but not opening flat is a huge deal breaker for me. Thanks for the heads-up on that.

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