Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook Review: Part 1

March 28, 2018
Platinum Carbon Black ink fountain pen sketch with watercolor washes. This page was taped off with Nichiban masking tape. The tape removed cleanly. As mentioned in the text the paper buckles from the watercolor application—this is clearly seen at the top of the scan where the page is wavy even when placed weighted on the scanner. I made this sketch towards the end of my test period. I am starting to grow accustom to water usage on the paper. The cold press texture of the paper allows interesting puddles of paint when using sedimentary colors like Azure blue. Mixing colors on the page is possible because of the quality of the sizing and the flow it promotes. (I was testing a palettes of new colors in this sketch.)

Today I’m going to begin a three part review of the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook. I suggest that you read all three parts before purchasing. I will write more about this in a moment.

This sketchbook was released in 2017. I purchased two in the summer of 2017 but was unable to work in them until the end of that year. 

I try to be balanced in my reviews by mentioning what pros and cons I find in a commercially made journal. It’s my understanding, and it should be yours, that what works for me might not work for you, or my way of working might not be the way you enjoy working or intend to work.

By being specific about my experiences with a sketchbook structure and the paper it contains I hope that you can read the review and make distinctions for yourself such as, “well I use more water than she’s using so it won’t work for me,” or “she’s not happy with color pencils on slick surfaces but I love that so this is a book to try.” And so on.

I also believe in testing over a period of time. Ideally I like to spend a month with a product. If I have to leave it and come back I like to compare my earlier experiences with my later experiences. I really don’t want to complete a review in an afternoon because I want to give a commercially bound journal a real test. Of course there are exceptions—paper so bad, so smelly, so much like blotter paper that they aren’t useful. I’ll wrap those up quickly.

What I have found, however, is that because I spend so much time with a commercially bound journal I often begin blogging about it, showing current work, before I’m in a position to write a review about it. 

After at least one recent review I had people take the few positives I’d mentioned about a commercially bound journal as an endorsement. They then ordered several without waiting to see the other parts of the review—parts which addressed how that journal worked specifically for they media they use.

Late in my testing phase I pulled out a dip pen to work on this paper. I find the paper surface is a bit hard and slippery even though it has a cold press texture. The pen can skate across the surface, but at the same time you can do some fun lines with lots of character. (I used Platinum Carbon black ink with my dip pen.) Washes of Schmincke pan watercolor were then added immediately. This ink dries fairly quickly on this paper, and it didn’t bleed except in the heavy beard application areas. This is no different than on most watercolor papers I’ve tested so it isn’t an issue for me. (I sketch very quickly and then add paint immediately.) All the paint was applied with a 1-inch or a 1/2-inch flat watercolor brush.

Because of that I am doing things a little bit differently today, and in this series.

I am letting you know right now that you really should wait to read ALL parts of the review before you rush off and buy one of these sketchbooks, or before you cross it off your list as not useable. 

It may be that in part three I bring up something that is a deal breaker for you. If you eagerly ordered after reading part one so you now have 3 sketchbooks hurtling through the mail towards you, none of them useful to you. That defeats the purpose of the review, which is offered to save you time and money.

Brief Overview of My Review of the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook

Graphite and watercolor sketch. I made a quick loose sketch with graphite. The paper is harder than most papers I work in graphite with so I’m not sure it’s the best choice for people who work a lot in graphite. Here I was still working out water drying times. Look at the layers in the hair near the part. Once you get your drying times right the paper will hold lovely crisp details in your layers of washes.

It is a serviceable watercolor sketchbook. It contains student grade paper. They make no attempt to hide this—Akademie Watercolor is right in the name. Click on that link to go to their product description.

The book contains 60 pages of 200 gsm natural white, acid free, watercolor paper. It’s close to a 90 lb. watercolor paper. It’s stiff for its lightweight, but it does buckle when wet. (That is not a deal breaker for me.)

The book is available in the A6, A5, and A4 sizes in Landscape orientation.

In Portrait orientation the book is available in A6 and A5 sizes. (I prefer to work in Portrait orientation books as I stand when I sketch and the width of a landscape book open is too floppy for me to hold while standing and also juggling my pens, brushes, and watercolor palette.)

How does it hold up against other watercolor or water media paper books?

I think it is on par with the Handbook Watercolor journal I recently reviewed.

The paper quality and the sizing of the paper is different. In those differences, often subtle, you’ll find a preference for one book over the other. I confess to liking them equally well but for different reasons.

I have not found an artist quality watercolor book on the market yet. By that I mean, one which contains the same quality of paper that I like to paint on all the time in the studio.
Because of that I bind my own books with the papers I love.

The Pentel Pocket Brush pen works well on this paper. The bush hairs can easily be splayed to create interesting texture. The fine-tipped Sakura Professional Brush Pen in FB was also used. A watercolor wash was used over the sketch. Nichiban tape bounded the bottom edge and removed cleanly. Quick dry brush layers (as in the overall tone) look good on this textured paper.

There is a wet-media book I love which contains artist quality paper—the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal available in various sizes and in soft, hard, and wire bound versions. I can heartily recommend it. But it doesn’t contain watercolor paper, it contains a paper that is suitable for watercolor and mixed media. 

So if you’re looking for a watercolor paper in a book form you’re going to have the two I’ve already mentioned, the Moleskine watercolor journal which contains a low-grade watercolor paper, and Strathmore’s own watercolor journal which contains their 300 series watercolor paper, which they may rate as “professional,” but I rate as student grade.

No others come to mind. There are other wet-media books containing papers I don’t care to use. Stillman and Birn books fall into that category. There are also a couple books that state they contain watercolor paper in their descriptions but the paper is too smelly for me to use, or so not like any other quality watercolor paper that I can’t really review it as one. 

You’ll find reviews for these books on my blog if you use my category list. Look at “Commercially bound Journals” for reviews of other books. I’ve been disappointed by many commercially bound journals. You may find in my reviews, because of how I write about a paper, that there is hope another book will work for you. That’s why I take time with my descriptions to let you know how it handles things. It may be that as you learn my preferences you’ll come to understand that if I don’t like a book that’s the book for you!

For now, if you aren’t going to bind your favorite artist quality paper into a journal and you are looking fore watercolor paper in a bound book I believe you’re best off looking at the Hahnemühle Watercolor sketchbook and the Handbook Watercolor sketchbook and see which works best for the way you work. But remember to read parts two and three of this review which are coming up!

Sometimes I like to work different ways with the same inspiration. Here I worked from a Sktchy photo and had trouble getting the shape of the face in red brush pen on toned paper. (Please ignore the letter callouts. See the top left image.) I then covered the page with gouache strokes (top right). The bottom row shows the pen sketch (solid fiber-tipped brush pen and watercolor) on the Hahnemühle Watercolor sketchbook paper. In the bottom left you see the ink work and initial face wash only. In the bottom right you see the additional washes used to build up the color scheme. Some colors are built up by layering wet paint over dried layers, other areas involve mixing paint wet in wet. I found both were possible. The paper also holds up to a bit of reworking and I will show examples of that in a later post.

Full disclaimer I am a huge fan of Hahnemühle Nostalgie paper and this was released in sketchbooks in 2016. You can click on this link to see my first post about it. 


You can also use my category list or the blog’s search engine to find dozens of posts on my artwork in the Nostalgie sketchbooks. 

While Nostalgie is not a wet media paper I use it as such and it gives you another option if you like smooth paper and are adventuresome.

Comments on Working Properties of the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook

Throughout this post, which is part one of three, I have placed images. The captions on these images discuss various attributes of the paper found in the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook. By reading those captions you’ll begin to see what this paper can do, how it feels when I work on it, etc. And from that you will begin to see whether or not it is a paper and book you would like to try.

In part two I will continue to look at various approaches I tried on this paper to determine the strength and workability of this paper, and in part 3 I will wrap up with what I like most about this paper. In part 3 I will also look at approaches and make some comments about the structure of this journal.

Please check back over the coming week, and remember, please wait to read all the parts of the review before you make a decision about this product.

The portrait done with green paint and flat watercolor brushes in this post from March 21, 2018 is another page in this journal. In fact it is one of my favorite sketches in my test journals.



  1. Reply

    Roz- I can’t find your email- I recently had some work done on my iMac and have lost some things. You can private message me on facebook if you don’t have my email. Thanks

  2. Reply

    Thank you for this review. I have been very frustrated with the quality of paper in the watercolor sketchbooks I have used – so much so that I am thinking of getting Arches paper and adding it to a 3 ring binder just so I know what type of paper I’m working with.

    1. Reply

      Cindy, I’m glad that you enjoyed this series of posts. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I understand and share your frustration about the watercolor sketchbooks commercially available.

      If Arches is what you like to work on I think it will be difficult to find a suitable replacement in the books available. Starting a looseleaf journal in a ring binder might be the thing to do. Sometimes when I’m teaching I put lots of samples of paper together in the same size (e.g. 8 x 10 inches) and take them to the local copy shop and have them coil bound. That makes for a fun book for my students to experiment with. You might try that.

      I don’t bind Arches Watercolor paper into books with sewn signatures because it always cracks for me when I fold it into signatures, even the 90 lb. weight. But a lot of my binding students say they don’t have this problem (maybe more humidity in their work environment?) So you might just try to bind your own books with Arches Watercolor paper.

      Good luck, and keep using what you love!

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