Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook Review: Part 3

April 2, 2018
Page spread of two quick sketches from 19th century photos. I used the Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen and Schmincke Pan Watercolor. I enjoy the sizing on this paper. It allows for reworking and rewetting. It’s a sturdy paper in its class—lightweight, student-grade papers. In fact I would say that while Hahnemühle is being honest about rating it’s paper in this book as “Akademy” it is of better quality than the papers used in many other popular watercolor sketchbooks, and has all the archival qualities that you look for in a paper.

Today is the final part of my three-part review on the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook.

See Part One of the review here.

See Part Two of the review here

In today’s post I wanted to write about the book structure itself. I’ll then wrap up with a final comment about the paper quality.

Binding and Covering of the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook

After using only a few pages of this book I noticed that when pend the stiff impregnated fabric (or paper?) used to cover this book’s cover boards is unsupported at the spine and was beginning to crinkle badly from the opening and closing action of the book. Other books in this “class,” like the Moleskine also have this problem, but the material on the Moleskine is thicker and doesn’t look as bad, as quickly. If cosmetics bother you this could be an issue. There is no structural defects because of this and this is the type of characteristic I tend to ignore. If you’re going to have an unsupported spine covering this is going to happen.

I really love the Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook binding—yes, I’m writing about a different book for just a moment. An embossed paper covers the cover boards. It is extremely hand friendly, easy to grip and it doesn’t feel odd in the hand. It also wears well when you carry it about. It can start to fray on the corners after a long period of usage, but I’ll be you fill it up before this type of wear shows. If it bothers you simply pop it in a plastic back when you carry it in your purse or pack and that will minimize corner wear.

Unlike its sibling, however the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook has cover boards covered with some sort of impregnated paper or fabric. It is smooth to the touch, but it also feels, to me, odd to the touch—too slick and yet resin-y. I like regular book cloth, but all manufacturers seem to be moving away from that so I’ll take what I can get. It is VERY durable. You will appreciate that if you take a while to work your way through a journal.

The cover material does have an odor when you first open the package. Happily this aired out in about a week. (It was like a varnish smell.)

I have used the 6 x 8 inch journals. These are for me the perfect size. I love a portrait orientation (the watercolor journal is also available in landscape orientation). I stand when I sketch and the portrait book is so much easier to hold in my hand, with my palette, as I sketch.

The book opens flat just as other books like the popular Moleskine sketchbooks do. Also like the Moleskine the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook has rounded corners. It also sports a back cover elastic that will hold the book closed when not in use. (I don’t care for this feature at all, but that’s just me.) A lovely red book mark ribbon emerges from the top of the spine. I don’t care for that feature at all either, so I cut mine off flush with the head of the spine. I’m sure you’ll love using it if you like that sort of thing.

I would rather manufacturers of sketchbooks stop putting in these “silly” features like back elastic and bookmark ribbons and instead use different quality paper—but that’s me. 

Please look at the caption under the photo of this book’s cover to see my comments about the spine covering on this sketchbook.

The book opens totally flat for ease of scanning. You can easily work across the gutter to fill the complete spread. The signatures are sewn.

Between signatures when you make a construction of this sort there is a little glue join between the last page of the earlier signature and the first page of the next signature (each time signatures meet). In some books these joins pull totally apart, and gape open widely so that you can see into the construction of the spine.  In one of my test books I found one glue join between two signatures pulled slightly apart, i.e., the pages were no longer glued together in the visible gutter. But they remained glued together within the rest of the spine and spine backing was never exposed as happens in some books. I thought this was done in a sturdy and excellent fashion for a commercially bound book.

Gluing watercolor paper is always a difficult trick anyway—since the sizing sometimes keeps the glue for entering the paper and joining them, and alternately the paper is to soft and the pages pull apart. Hahnemühle seems to have hit the right balance with paper and glue for the most part in this construction. That little bit of pulling is within the normal use of a sketchbook. 

Price and A Final Look at the Sizing on the Paper

A sketch I have posted previously—and it’s being used for the “button” for this year’s International Fake Journal Month. I was really pleased with how this paper stood up to the reworking involved in this image.

At $27.95 I found the price for this book, at this size, too expensive. If it had been thicker I might not have minded the price as much. I haven’t found it anywhere on sale, so I’ll have to think seriously every time I purchase one. The Handbook Watercolor journal, on the other hand, can typically be found on Amazon or other online vendors at a steep discount, so it might be more economical for people. I like the paper a little bit better in the Hahnemühle Watercolor book, but price is an issue.

Detail of the female portrait. Here you can see that at the callout letters I’ve worked the paper to lift off color. A is at the top of the nose, B is in the semicircular area at the base of the nose, and C is at the far right on the cheek. I reworked all of these areas, as well as the upper lip, several times and there was no pilling. Subsequent washes went down great. I was thrilled with the result.

Overall I liked the sizing on this paper. While I don’t like using all my favorite pens on this paper, I find that using watercolor with minimal pen, or doing direct brush sketching is very fun on this paper. I think most watercolorists will find it easy to adapt their working style to this paper. Those used to working on slick, heavily sized papers, and those who enjoy lifting paint as part of their process will find their adaptation particularly quick.

Gouache works great on this paper as well.

While I didn’t do any collage in my test book (it just didn’t come up during the test period) the paper is stiff enough to easily handle collage.

Now you have all my thoughts on this new watercolor sketchbook.

If I had not just bound 52 books using art papers I normally paint with I would probably be going over to Wet Paint to pick up a couple more of these to have on hand. 

I know that I will use them again. Their size and compactness is something that I would consider taking on a trip when I needed to travel light and yet wanted to work with watercolor and traditional brushes. (A Niji Waterbrush will work fine on these pages.)

Remember too that Nichiban masking tape pulled up cleanly off these pages when used for masking.

If you aren’t in the Twin Cities area and wish to purchase these books from Wet Paint, give them a call. I know they do mail order. Otherwise you’ll need to look around for a vendor for this book. (Reminder: I purchased my test books and am not connected to Wet Paint financially so you can buy them wherever you want.)


    • Patricia Wafer
    • April 2, 2018

    Thanks so much for this review. I do like their sketchbooks and I will try one of these, too. I have been using Stillman & Birn Beta and Zeta for watercolor sketching and like the 8 x 10 size. So far I have not found anything as good as the hardbound Strathmore sketchbooks with the 500 series multi-media paper. For 90 lb paper it can handle watercolor & gouache very well and I love the Pentel Pocket Brushpens on it, too. And colored pencil & pastel. That binding has held up really well in the field and I like being able to clean off the outside of the book when I mess it up with paint and have it look new again. And thanks for the reminder about the Nichiban tape! It is great tape!!

    1. Reply

      Patricia, we’re in agreement about the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper and books. I’ve got lots of posts singing the praises of it—but for traditional watercolorists that may not cut it. (Though after they try what’s out there as watercolor paper in books they may change their minds.)

      I don’t use any Stillman & Birn books. I recently wrote a multipart review of the Zeta, and am not a fan of who that paper worked for me.

    • Paul
    • April 2, 2018

    Thanks for this Roz, your efforts to keep us informed about art materials is much appreciated. Good to know that there is another decent option out there for a commercially bound watercolour sketchbook. Too bad about the price thought. When you talk about “slick heavily sized paper”, is this paper closer to a hot press, soft press, or a surface texture something in between? Nice sketches too by the way :o).

    1. Reply

      Thanks Paul. The paper is definitely cold press, but it’s a subtle flat texture compared to the way Fabriano Artistico Cold Press used to be for instance.

      Now most cold press paper seems more flat than it used to be so it’s hard to make these descriptions, but it is definitely cold press. (I just tested both the Stonehenge Aqua cold press and the Winsor & Newton cold press and they are more compressed than other cold press papers I’ve used, however they are not heavily sized or sized in such a way that the sizing seems to create more of a barrier to the paper, as this paper is.)

      My comment about the slickness and it being heavily sized, is that the sizing creates the slickness so that for instance a pen will not sink into the paper in the same way as on a less sized paper. This bothers some people. They want their pen to feel every fiber of the paper. On this paper you won’t get that, things will feel more compressed, there’s no other way to explain it. And you will have a sense of skating on the top, even though it’s a textured paper.

      Can you even get this book in Canada at this time? If not I wouldn’t make an expensive effort to get one. Since you can bind your own books you might as well pick papers that you enjoy using until it’s more widely available. But if you can get it in Canada you might get one to test the paper and see where it speaks to the way you work and the pens you use. (I do not like my pigment liners on it at all.)

      Hope this helps.

  1. Reply

    Thanks Roz, I always enjoy your indepth and thoughtful reviews. As I am in Aus, I get used to having to shell out a third more for all my art materials…so what you buy at $30 we pay $45 for, which is very hard on the wallet. Sometimes buying direct from the States or EU is cheaper but the freight costs usually even it up. If I ever visit the States, I will be ditching all my clothes and coming home with suitcase stuffed with art materials and books!

    I’ve been using the S & B Alpha and Gamma series because I like the lighter weight book and they are good enough for what I want, which is a non precious field journal for research and day to day sketching. I love the Fabriano hardback A5ish books with the red pebbled covers. They are sturdy and heavy in paper and will take everything but the weight means it’s a heavier option.
    Can’t get the Strathmore Mixed Media here… or if so I haven’t stumbled on it yet. Or the Hahnemühle either….

    but what seems to be sufficient for one is ‘meh’ for someone else… I so agree about the red page marking ribbons, superfluous fluff, I’d rather have an extra page or two added. The elastics can be troublesome at times, especially when they loose their ‘snap’ and just hang limply. Then I cut them loose!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Deb, I’m glad you find these posts interesting. I feel for folks outside the US who are trying to buy supplies. Since we are such a huge market I know that forces allow us to get just about everything at a lower cost than people have to pay anywhere else. (Students in Europe have told me I pay less for Schmincke gouache than they do!)

      I don’t like wire bound books either as I work across the gutter. I also don’t like any of the S & B books. The papers don’t work for the way I work. I don’t like the bindings. But I have friends who do. Paying $59-100 AUS is a killer to buy one Strathmore book. I know all of that is due to heavy shipping costs. Paper is heavy.

      One thing I would recommend you do is make your own books. Even if you find that making hardcover books is something that you don’t want to get into, making pamphlets using the papers you love is a great alternative to buying commercially bound journals.

      I haven’t been able to post my 2017 MN State Fair Journal yet because of technical issues (and no time to fix them) but last year I went with single signatures. I took three 8 inch square signatures (each bound in a watercolor paper cover) to the Fair each day I went. I was using my portable standing table (Dick hasn’t had time to make the final version yet but the phototype really worked and allowed me to stand and paint with real brushes and an open water container) with these signatures.

      I have the best time. Put in three 9 hour plus days of sketching and didn’t have any shoulder, hip, etc. pain at all. It was fabulous. I know I just bound 52 books in the #2017Bigbind, but that was because I was stuck at home with a fractured foot and torn ankle, and the paper was all torn! (Well most of it.) So I do have lots of books to use, but I also know that I want to work the remaining part of my life on paper that I really love, and if I can’t continue binding because of shoulder issues than using single signatures would be the way I’d love to go. I am grateful to have been able to bind my own books and create structures that are so suited to what I do and how I work, but I don’t need to have shelf after shelf of beautifully bound book. I already have that. What I want is just to focus on the painting going forward and if it means signatures only I’m OK with that.

      I really recommend that for you. If you have an art paper that you love and which is available to you at a reasonable cost I encourage you to think about it, pocket the rest of the money you’d be spending on high cost commercially bound books, and simply go for it.

      You can of course expect a post on all this when I get the tech issues resolved. Thanks for writing!

  2. Reply

    amended comment. I said we can’t get the Strathmore Mixed Media here I was wrong. We can, but it’s between $59 – $100 AUS…. which is prohibitive in my opinion. The spiral versions are cheaper but I dislike spiral sketchbooks as I like the option to work across a gutter.

    1. Reply

      See my full note to your first comment. Thanks for writing in.

    • Tina Koyama
    • April 2, 2018

    Thanks for this informative, comprehensive series. It’s probably not the kind of paper I would like, but I really enjoy seeing your process and how hard you work your books. They have to EARN their keep! And speaking of that, I’ve been carrying single signatures of paper (4 folded sheets) as my urban sketching book almost exclusively for several years (after they are filled, I bind 6 together with Coptic), and I think we are both geniuses. 😉 Why carry all that heavy paper around in a bound book when you are not going to fill them for a long time? Signatures are such a great, easy solution.

    – Tina

    1. Reply

      I remember seeing you working in signatures at the State Fair sketch out you were able to attend. I’m not a fan of coptic stitch bindings (I don’t like unsupported spines) but I do like the idea of binding the resultant signatures where completed. There is a local printmaker in town who carries sigs around and binds them in a regular case binding afterwards. In the run-up to the Fair last year when I decided to do this I did think I would bind the completed signatures into a sewn on the spine structure (which could also have a pocket for my CD of photos and any ephemera). But then I just liked the way the stack looked as it sat on the work table waiting. And now I think I’ll just make a slip case for them.

      I feel a little differently about carrying all the “heavy” paper around in a bound book. I go through journals about one a month or every three weeks. I actually like having them with me because I can flip through the previous pages before I start and it seems like I’m carrying on a conversation. And then there is something else besides the piece I’m working on, if someone asks to see what I do. (Though now I have a bunch of stuff on my phone so that’s not so important.)

      But all those things pale when compared to the ease I had when I was working at the Fair with my portable table and the signature easily clamped to the table. So it just shows me I’m flexible and can change and adapt.

      And basically that’s what journals have reminded me of all my life, even during those times when I thought I would never get through, over, or around something!

      P.S. I never thought about it but my journals really do have to “earn it.” I am hard on paper as much as I love it. You should see my Stonehenge Aqua journals (CP and HP) that I made last year and used in January of this year (review coming when I can type again).

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