The Blackwing Notebook

November 14, 2018
A Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB sketch with watercolor in the Blackwing notebook.

Sometimes I simply can’t help myself when I find lined notebook paper.

A few months ago I was in Wet Paint and they had small notebooks by Blackwing (the company that makes the pencils with the rectangular erasers—I use the soft lead version to do my daily sudoku).

The notebook is about 3.5 x 5.5 inches and has 24 page spread and some end sheets. The signatures are sewn.

The cover which has rounded corners is made of that “faux” leather that is smooth, but feels odd to my touch—but everyone seems to be using it now so, simply sigh.

On the back cover there is a debossed “Blackwing” letter logo.

The notebook is set up in portrait orientation, but when you open it up you’ll find that the lines are running vertically so you actually turn the book into landscape mode if you want to write on the lines.

Look at today’s image and you can see the gutter running horizontally through my sketch. You can see the lines running in the same direction. You will also see that at the center of the page height there is a line that crosses the spread.

After a couple blank pages for use as a title page (if you’re like me), all the pages are like this.

I love it. I love lined paper. I love lined paper with unusual lines. I don’t know what this notebook was originally intended for but I just had to buy one and take it home and test it.

Since I work in watercolor and pen and ink, that’s what I tested. Well the paper floats the watercolor around a little like other smooth papers. If you don’t work the watercolor it’s find and doesn’t bleed through. If you work an area and hit it again, or leave too much water there it will bleed through. 

This left me thinking I could use every other spread for painting and write on the other pages.

There is a feeling to the page that makes my fingers feel “dirty” as if something has come off on them. This happens with some papers—my fingers aren’t really dirty, they are just responding to something in how the sizing feels. This wouldn’t become a favorite notebook because of that but it’s still in the running for a specialty journal.

There is also a slight smell to the paper when it gets wet, but is isn’t a strong or unpleasant smell. 

I haven’t used the test book since June as I’ve been busy with other things. I don’t remember what I paid for it—a few dollars, it wasn’t expensive.

I’m just mentioning it because it was one of those oddities that caught my eye. I don’t even know if they are going to make them in the future or if it was a specialty item. 

All I can tell you are the lines are fun. If the paper had felt and smelt different I would have run out and bought ten to use in a special project. The bleeding can be controlled so that wasn’t an issue for me. (Of course the paper buckles. I love that.)

I looked the book up on the Blackwing site. It’s the Blackwing Clutch. Supposedly it comes in a set of 3 with one having lines, one dots and one blank. Mine was single. The pages are 100 gsm. You can see it here.

    • Jeanne
    • November 15, 2018

    Your blogs about using lined notebooks have intrigued me, but I’ve been reluctant to try one. I buy the cheap composition books on sale at the beginning of the school year, and use them for my daily journal entries (trained from the time I read Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”). Have you ever tried one of those books to sketch and paint? I guess you got me curious enough to experiment with one. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Reply

      Jeanne, I’ve used composition books for brush pen sketching working only on the recto pages because the paper is too thin!!!!

      You can see an example here
      The image doesn’t blow up but you can see the lines begin part way down.
      Here’s another one

      I had such fun drawing sketch after sketch of Phil Davis’ face

      Here’s the thing—all US made composition books I’ve found don’t have thick enough paper to even do pen work (let alone brush pen work or watercolor work) on both sides of the page—it’s not that ink bleeds through it SHOWS THROUGH so completely that it’s very distracting.

      But I love working in these books because I can do quick sketches while watching TV and not worry about making finished sketches. And i LOVE the way the books sound when you fill them up because the pages get all crinkly. Simply love that.

      I tried about 4 years ago to find some of the composition books I used as a child in Australia. Then the covers were heavy cardboard embossed with the school logo, and the verso page was blank and the recto page was lined. And you could use fountain pen and dip pen (which I was using from the fourth grade) and you could do color pencil and even light washes of watercolor.

      I was not able to find any where to get those or if they are still made (I doubt it).

      Anyway, I encourage you to use the composition books, just beware that while ink doesn’t bleed through it shows through and for me that makes it possible only to work on the recto pages.

    • Jeanne
    • November 15, 2018

    Well I’ll be… I sketched some gourds with a Safari Lamy fountain pen in my current journal, and it didn’t bleed through. Then I followed your lead and painted them with a pasty mix of my Cotman watercolor field kit just to make them pop. The paper warped as I anticipated and the image is shadowed on the back page, but I wouldn’t call it bleeding. As you mentioned above, I wouldn’t paint back-to-back pages and would leave that back page for journaling. Interesting experiment! Thanks again, Roz!

    1. Reply

      Don’t know what you’re using in your current journal for paper, but I’m glad you found that ink and paint didn’t bleed through! Happy sketching.

    • Jeanne
    • November 15, 2018

    This composition book is from Office Depot 2007 (item 293-865) and is made in Brazil. It’s nice to know I can use this in a pinch on a trip because I always bring my journal for daily entries. Not only your wonderful paintings of people and dogs on lined paper have intrigued me, but Lapin’s sketches on old accounting books (more lines!) has also been interesting.

    I hope you had a fun and inspiring time at Sketchkon. Again, thank you for your thorough research and sharing of that research of art materials. I found it sweetly amusing that you who are so very sensitive to feel and smells of your supplies takes joy in the crinkling of pages. I’ve grown fond of it, too – it means I’m being creative which is a joy to me.

    1. Reply

      If you’re interested in working on lined paper because you want to do watercolor sketches DO NOT USE the composition books available in the US. They aren’t suitable for that work at all. Not at all. It’s a waste of your time.

      If you want a paper that can handle wet media a little bit check out my category Japanese Lined Journal, and get an APICA from Jet Pens.

      If you want ledger books like Lapin uses note that he uses ledger books made before 1970 and the paper used for such books was different then. It can take the watercolor washes. Personally I would recommend that you use older books still, because if you are in the US the paper quality issue change happens BEFORE 1970 and I’d go back at least to the 1930s.

      Of course the problem with those ledgers is that they are difficult to find, often expensively priced in the collectible and antique market malls you find them in, and the SMELL! Musty, dusty, old, and whatever else they have been next to for all the years they weren’t discovered. So just be careful when buying antique books.

      But abandon any idea of doing something with watercolor in any of the composition books currently made. It’s a waste of your time. I can’t stress this enough.

      Find a nice watercolor book and work in that. Better use of your time.

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