Background on the Testing of This Sketchbook
Earlier this year a Clairfontaine representative wrote and asked if I would like to test one of their new watercolor sketchbooks. Typically I buy all materials that I test and review on my website. This time, because I use many Clairfontaine notebooks and love them all I said yes.
In due course an 8-3/8 x 5-3/4 inches, landscape orientation sketchbook arrived. (Note: all books in this series are in landscape orientation at the time of this writing. This is referred to as 5 5/6 x 8 1/4 inches in their description.)
The contact person offered this information: In the US the Goldline notebooks are available in 3 sizes, all landscape orientation. The small notebook is 4 by 5 3/4 inches, so it looks squareish. The other two sizes are 5 5/6 by 8 1/4 inches, and 7 2/5 by 10 1/2 inches. They all have the same paper, and are available in the USA at Paper Bistro: https://www.paperbistro.com/advanced-search-result?keywords=Goldline
Because I was between cataract surgeries and not sketching at my usual page rate, I asked five artist friends if they would participate in a round robin to test this book. It would be sent along to them so that they could work three or more pages in the book and then write something up about what they liked and didn’t like about the paper and the book construction.
I have organized this post to include my flip-through overview of the used book; followed by a section for each artist stating their experience in their words and including their pages as thumbnails. If you click on any of the images or thumbnails in this post the complete gallery will come up.
We, like you, are all individual and work differently. It would be unusual that we would all like this book, or like it for the same reasons. Compare our likes and dislikes with your own, to ascertain if this paper would work for you.
Unfortunately the book began to disintegrate almost immediately and that’s something none of us look for in a sketchbook. I will deal with the structural issues in my section which begins the review.
A Little Bit About the Structure
I felt the video was the best way to show you the book. Dana Burrell also provided a nice photo of the pen holder/elastic.
As you can see in the video the book fell apart.
An Interesting Observation About Grain Direction in this Line of Books
There was one weird thing about this book. When I get a new journal I always test the grain direction of the paper. Pages should be folded so that the grain runs parallel to the spine—in other words the pages are folded with the grain.
The small journal I’d been sent, however, had the grain direction going perpendicular to the spine. This is a no-no in book construction. Binders making a textblock or bookblock construction where all the signatures are sewn to each other and then inserted as a single unit into a case always cut or tear and fold the pages to have their grain direction running parallel to the spine.
I’d previously purchased a large sketchbook from this line but not tested grain direction in it yet. I immediately tested the grain direction in that book.
In the large journal the grain direction went parallel to the spine.
This indicates to me that when making the small journal the manufacturer either wasn’t concerned about making a sturdy book; or that they were trying to economize with the paper sheets they were cutting down from and were concerned about page size and wastage, not good construction; or they simply made an error on all the small journals, or on this batch of small journals. I can’t give you any information on which it was. I have used other Clairefontaine books in the past and they haven’t had this issue.
Why is Paper Grain Direction Important in Book Binding?
There are a number of reasons for this. Paper folded with the grain can be opened and closed more readily, more frequently, and not fall out of a book. Paper folded against the grain like it was in this small sketch book means that every time you turn a page you are weakening the already BROKEN paper fibers you folded against.
Grain direction is the direction in which all the fibers line up. (Handmade papers made in a screen don’t generally have a grain direction—I know if I say they never do someone will find an exception). But in the creation of machine made papers the fibers tend to align in a certain direction and the goal is to fold it in that direction so that the individual fibers don’t crack.
Another reason paper is folded with the grain for books, i.e., folded so the grain direction is running parallel to the spine, is that the paper, when glued to the other parts of the book will not create tension and pull against those other parts.
Why would it do this? Well the other materials of the book are oriented with their grain directions running parallel to the spine also and if one aspect isn’t, then when glued to another there is going to be a tendency for that piece to pull away whenever the humidity and other conditions change.
Even if there is no gluing, but only sewing, in a book, the cover materials are still used in the grain direction running parallel to the spine—the materials are stronger that way when standing on end. Any bowing or warping of materials over time also tends to go in a direction, with the spine, which holds the book together rather than pulls it apart.
Additionally, when you create a book with the pages folded against the grain, not parallel to the spine and then work on those pages with WET media, the paper will curl in a way that causes tension to the spine and also makes the book difficult to close.
Imagine this: When you do a wet test to find grain direction on a paper it curls in such a way that it bows up and the resultant tunnel it creates indicates the way the grain direction runs. Or as my mentor used to say, “The train, grain direction, runs through the tunnel.”
In a book where the paper has been folded against the grain the fore edge corners will try to curl towards each other, head to tail. This creates tension on the spine and it also makes the book more difficult to close. With very thin paper you have to practically flatten each page before closing it or you have a creased mess of pages the next time you open the book.
Did this grain direction issue in the Clairefontaine small journal cause the disintegration of the book? Maybe. I gave the large book to a friend and perhaps when she fills it we will see that’s a sturdier book.
Minimal sewing and poor gluing techniques are definitely contributing factors to the failure of the spine.
Just keep all this in mind when deciding to purchase one of these sketchbooks.
I wasn’t getting out and about when this project was underway, so I used Sktchy App photos to make portraits and test the paper for my likes and dislikes.
I did three tests on this paper. 1. I did a straight portrait with flat brushes and glazing to see how the paper worked for me. 2. I did a test page of my favorite pens. 3. I did another portrait where I really overworked the paper to see how tough it was.
In my notes for this project I wrote that I added washes before they were dry (which is a big no-no, but sometimes we get caught for time or just excited and so I wanted to test what this paper would do). You can see this a the nose tip and near the sideburn. The first wash wasn’t easily pushed out of the way compared with other papers I’ve used, and even better, it allowed fiddling so you could adjust it.
I noted that the surface texture of the paper changed. It wasn’t clear to me if what I was noticing was a book that had not been collated with matching surfaces across the spread, or simply a paper with an uneven texture. (I don’t have the eyes any more to see paper texture clearly, even with the current interim glasses.) It could be both in action or one or the other. Other artists also had surface irregularities.
Because I work across the page spread I need sketchbooks that have paper collated so that each page matches the surface of the opposite page. This is a collating task that is easily accomplished and I instruct all my binding students on several approaches to accomplish this. When the surfaces match across the spread the artist doesn’t need to change their working approach and the texture of the image and strokes of paint or drawing lines don’t change either. Non-matching facing page surfaces is a deal breaker for me. (There have only been two exceptions to this in my lifetime; but that’s a post for a different day. I only mention that there have been exceptions because sometimes certain factors override not only our good sense, but our working procedure. This commercially bound sketchbook doesn’t have any characteristics that would override this binding issue.)
I worked in the first sketch (a portrait of a man shown above) with a Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB—a fresh one. (I often use them long after others would throw them out as I like their dry line, but that’s not fair to a new paper you’re testing.) The pen felt smooth and slid nicely across this paper. Its lines bled a little on this paper when I applied a clear water wash. I am used to this pen’s ink drying quickly and not bleeding at all when I wash over it on other papers I use. This indicated to me that this paper had a nice amount of sizing (which is a good thing I’ll mention in a moment).
I also tried a minimal amount of lifting on the first portrait. Particularly you can see some of this around the hair at the top of the head. I also tried to lift a little on the temple, the left edge of the forehead, and the left side of the nose/moustache edge, i.e. below that cheek. Color lifted off easily. This indicates to me that the sizing is great for watercolor.
In my final test I worked with direct brush sketching and reworked and reworked, and reworked. In this last sketch (man with a long beard in a red shirt) you can see the reworking in the forehead, and around the eyes and the lip.
The really great thing about this paper is that even with a lot of lifting and reworking the paper, when allowed to dry, kept on working.
Even when I tried to lift while it was still wet the paper didn’t pill, though it did get a little worn.
If the binding on this book was better and the book came in a portrait orientation (as I don’t care for landscapes) this paper would make it one of my favorite commercially bound sketchbooks.
Unfortunately we have to live with the reality of this structure and I can’t recommend it.
Once I had finished my portion of testing I wrapped the book carefully in bubble wrap and put it in a box with additional bubble wrap that would hold it safe, and which would be reused throughout the project.
The following sections are in the words of the artists themselves. I have let repetitions stand from section to section because I think it’s important you see what was important to each individual artist.
If you click on any image in this post you’ll be taken to the gallery where you will see all the images in a larger size.
The paper lends itself well to ‘overworking.’ Absorbency is definitely to my liking, it’s not too resistant. The texture is also conducive to my way of working. It has just enough tooth to hold the watercolor and keep the line work smooth, but not too smooth. I find the paper is also good for lifting up excess watercolor with the brush.
I like how lightweight the book is. The weight of the paper is very satisfactory, which leads me to think that I now prefer fewer pages bound in to make it lighter and easier to carry around. However, I’ve come to prefer a spiral bound book to a stitched one such as this. Gutters now annoy me! The paint pools there.
Materials Used By Roberta:
Derwent watercolor pencils
Watercolors from tubes squeezed out into pans that fit into the Whiskey Painters palette. Daniel Smith Extra Fine, M. Graham.
Preppy Pen with waterproof black ink.
“Clairefontaine Goldline A5 Travel Album”
(landscape, 180gms natural white paper with a natural canvas hardcover)
First impressions upon opening the box; this is a nice looking sketchbook, (treated?) canvas hard covers with a cloth feel, rounded corners, sewn signatures, opens VERY flat, similar in appearance to the Global Arts Travelogue Handbook but the spine is about 3/4 inch taller (not as extreme a landscape aspect ratio as the Handbook) which is nice. Flecked end papers are a classy touch, no pocket on the inside back cover, and an elastic closure.
The signature block is glued offset into the covers to allow for a larger cover overhang on the top long edge where a small elastic loop can be found. The loop is only just large enough to accommodate a standard pencil or a basic Bic ballpoint pen. A larger loop would have been nice to allow a wider range of writing instruments or a travel brush to nestle “inside” the cover overhang. Signatures only have two stitches compared to three stitches on the significantly shorter Handbook spine (a hint of structural problems to come?).
Signature block structure was intact when I received it from Roberta but the block had some movement (play) in relation to the covers. I never took the book outside and avoided crushing the spine when scanning by using spacers (books) on the covers only, to get flat scans. By the time I finished my 6 pages the first two signatures had completely separated with a 1/8” gap between the first and second signatures and 1/16” gap between the second and third signatures.
The paper has a nice natural white colour and is slightly more textured than Arches or Fabriano Artistico hot press watercolour papers. It has a surface sizing that gives it a more abrasive feel than the above HP papers. Because of its surface sizing and fine texture this paper is great for wax and oil based colour pencils. It also works well with the Faber-Castell, AD watercolour pencils and graphite. It’s also sympathetic to a wide variety of fineliners and inks. Ink lines dry almost instantly, do not feather at all, and none of the pen and inks I tested bled through to the opposite surface of the page. Of special note in that regard is the Sakura Identi Pen Dual which can easily bleed through much thicker papers. It did not bleed through this paper even when the pen was pressed firmly in one place for a 5 second count! Also of note, the Sakura Identi Pen Dual is the only ink that was completely waterproof on this paper. Inks that are normally waterproof on most papers were “slightly” water soluble on this paper (see *PAUL* test page). I suspect that most inks leave a residual amount of pigment in the surface sizing that is itself partially water soluble allowing some pigment to be suspended and moved by the addition of water (At least that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it :o). The Pilot Fineliner ink is water soluble and would be fun to work with on this paper. There is almost no see-through with this paper even with thick black lines.
There is a slight difference in texture on the front and back of the pages but both surfaces are nice to work on. The surfaces are not matched across a spread, except of course in the center of a signature. I rarely work across the gutter anymore so I don’t mind the different surfaces, but it does make you wonder why commercial book binders don’t pay attention to this?
You can see how the different surfaces take up the Golden Liquid Acrylic paints in the background of the “Goldenrod” panorama spread. The verso (left) page is more absorbent, hence darker and less distinct in patterning, than the recto (right). I had to reposition the Nichiban masking tape on the bottom border of this panorama and you can see where some minor paper tearing took place just to the right of the “P.J.S.” (bottom left of the recto page). I had the tape on for less than an hour. I would be leery of leaving even the Nichiban tape too long on this paper, more testing is required.
I did mostly dry media in this journal because others before me had used mostly wet media. I found this paper absorbed wet media almost instantly, which is great if you are a fast painter and experienced with watercolour. If you like to have more “open” time with wet media, to let pigments float and mix, you might struggle with this paper. It is not, nor does it claim to be, a true watercolour paper. If you don’t go too wet the paper doesn’t buckle too badly and flattens quite a bit after drying.
The Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush pen ink is absorbed almost instantly which allows you to work fast and cleanly. The paper can tolerate a moderate amount of blending and re-working with these Pitt brush pens without breaking down. See the shading in the “Acrocanthosaurus” (dino) drawing. The surface sizing can be gently scraped back to paper white with a sharp pointed X-acto blade (see eye catch light on the dino drawing).
I only worked on six pages of this book. On two of those pages I came across a pinhead sized “anomaly” (in the sizing or paper density?) within my drawing area that was more resistant to pigment absorption. This could be overcome with dry/opaque media but it would be a problem with any flat or graded water based pigment wash. Not a deal breaker for me (in a sketchbook) but I would not want to see anomalies like this on a paper for a finished piece!
Materials used are listed on the page.
Brown and sepia Sakura Pigma Micron pens (01 & 05 tips) with sepia Pigma Brush pen in the top left corner “frame”.
Golden Liquid Acrylic background (sponged texture), Derwent Procolour pencils (Nutmeg 65 & Chocolate 58), Sakura Pigma Micron pens, brown and sepia inks (01 & 05 tips,) and Sakura Pen-Touch opaque white (0.7 tip). Border masked with Nichinban tape.
Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.1 & 0.5, Faber-Castell Pitt Artist pens, brush tip (Cold Grey I, III, IV & Black) and Pale Geranium Lake (121 for the eye).
Minnesota Golden Cock-y?:
Copic Multi Liner sepia ink (0.1 & 0.5 tips), Sakura Pigma Micron pens, red, sepia and blue inks (01 & 05 tips), FaberCastell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils, burnt sienna (283), walnut brown (177), Pale Geranium Lake (121), deep scarlet red (219), phthalo blue (110), dark cadmium yellow (108 -eye) and light yellow ochre (183 – eye).
Overall this paper has many redeeming qualities for use with both dry and wet media. The paper is a natural white, well sized, ink lines stay clean and do not feather or bleed through, ink and paint pigments are quickly absorbed, there is very little see through, colour pencils layer and burnish well on it, minor corrections can be made by scrapping through the surface sizing to the paper white, and it can take a moderate amount of wet reworking without breaking down.
The occasional pinhead sized anomalies in paper density can be overcome if you are using opaque media but could be problematic with transparent wet media. The deal breaker for me is the poor book structure, which had the first two signatures completely separate fairly early on in the use of the book. I quite like the paper in this sketchbook, too bad about the poor binding.
It’s a sketchbook. I use sketchbooks to:
1. Practice drawing
2. Sketch out ideas, compositions, and value studies
That’s it. I don’t do “pretty” in sketchbooks. I require that they hold up well for outdoor use, are comfortable to hold, open relatively flat, and have good quality paper that will handle ink and light washes well.
• The cover is substantial and has a good textured feel
• Nice, smooth round back spine
• The pages open reasonably flat – only two folded sheets per signature
• Signatures are stitched
• Paper is reasonably heavy and stiff
• Pages have rounded corners
• Bigger than an A5
• It works well for my ink and wash sketches
• It is falling apart already. Only two stitches along the spine, and that is the only thing holding it together because the soft glue has very little strength. If a stitch breaks, it’s a goner.
• It’s a landscape (which I used to prefer because James Gurney uses them and he was my original inspiration for sketching) but now I much prefer a squarer format as opposed to a pure portrait or pure landscape format. And that’s one reason I like to bind my own.
• The paper is okay, but I prefer a harder surface like the Pentalic or Moleskine in the comparable A5 landscape format. However, Strathmore Series 500 Mixed Media is my favorite by far and the only paper I use in my own binding.
I do not totally dislike it, but I would neither buy one nor recommend it.
So that you can better evaluate the construction and condition here is some info: When I got it, the glue between the first and second signatures had completely failed and only the stitches were holding them together. Most of the glue between the second and third signatures was parted but some still remained. All others were like new. I carried it in my vest pocket for three days and used it during the outdoor plein air event, and it does not seem to have gotten any worse.
The cover was almost pristine when I got it, but as usual in my plein air endeavors I got a little oil paint on it. I scrubbed it off but it still shows a little. [I scrubbed off the oil paint with rubbing alcohol and cannot detect any residual odor.]
Also in case you may wonder about the glassine sheets in it, Paul had a folded protective sheet over one sheet to protect two drawings where he used colored pencil. He said he normally uses fixative in his own books but in deference to Roz’s sensitivity to strong odors he just folded a protective paper over it and forgot to tape it in. Anyway, it blew into the river while I was sketching. I hinged two glassine sheets in the book to protect those drawings.
Clairefontaine Goldline Journal. N.96108C A5 Landscape, 64 pages; medium beige cloth covered possible plastic impregnated for durability? has a good feel as it’s not totally smooth. There’s a nice cover overhang all around protecting the paper block. It’s larger at the top where there seems to be a pen loop. It’s too small to hold a pen but a pencil fits nicely. If you want to carry a pen there you can hook the clip over it but it will stick out.
Like both the Moleskine and Hand•Book Watercolor Journal it has rounded corners for both book cover and the paper, a brown elastic band closure and it opens totally flat. Unlike these it has no back cover pocket for ephemera. Instead it has lovely flecked tipped-in endpapers front and back.
When the book arrived at my door the first and second signature sewing had become loose and I could see the spine support. Over the week I used it the sewing continued to loosen until only two loose threads were attached. The two signatures were totally separated showing the spine support, also, one of the end bands was still attached while the other was nearly undone.
What Dana Used
1st page – 6 May; Watercolor portrait – Sktchy muse Ty Richardson
Daniel Smith tube watercolors except for Winsor & Newton PR101 Burnt Sienna.
I used plenty of water— many layers, nice blending, no bleed through and lifted easily. (See her first image.)
I noticed the paper surface isn’t matched across the spread. Used Nichiban tape for masking… painted spread with dilute Golden Fluid Acrylics using lots of water. When spread was dry about 3 hours later I removed the tape with no damage either side.
Left side is the smoother side, vaguely like hot press, and the acrylics blended easily but dried with slightly harder edges. Right side is more textured and more like cold press. The acrylics blended easily here too and dried with more softer edges. GFA seeped through sewing holes slightly but was contained to this signature.
I then did the pen and ink sketch of fork with a Lamy Safari EF nib and deAtramentis Document Black ink. The shadow is Viarco ArtGraf Black Carbon applied with a water brush. Highlights are both UniBall Signo Broad white and Gelly Roll 08 white. The EF nib glided across the smoother left side while it had a tiny bit of drag on the right textured side… enough to notice but not enough that it was an issue.
Center spread of signature and it was the smooth side. Is this what Clairefontaine considers to be the “front” or “right” side of the paper??? I would think the textured side would be the “front” but I don’t know.
Water-soluble pen and ink testing. I smudged the lines immediately after drawing the scribbles but it was unnecessary since this isn’t a waterproof ink test. There was no bleed though on any of the inks when wet.
Note: Dana’s comment is about ink bleeding through the paper here, as opposed to bleeding when washed over with a wet brush. None of the participating artists experienced bleed through of any of the tested pens on this paper.
I used the Speedball Elegant Writer 2.0mm F Calligraphy Pen for both sketches. I love how it separated into various blues and pinks when spread with enough water.
Again, the paper surface is not matched across the spread. Here the textured surface is on the left and the smooth surface is on the right.
Painted from a photo posted by Pam Blackstone on Sktchy. The lorikeets are painted with both Schmincke and M. Graham gouache. These paints had dried thoroughly in my palette and although I tried to revive them with lots of water overnight some of the pigments remained rather grainy… so any paint texture and grittiness is the result of my technique and not a paper issue. The gouache went on each side equally well and to my eye is equally bright. The background is Daniel Smith Green Apatite watercolor (tube) washed on and blotted. The right, smooth, side show the blotted texture more than the left, textured, side.
Next Page Spread
HB pencil sketch of man with owl at VINS – Vermont Institute of Natural Science.
Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils (I like these because they have pigment numbers for each and they’re buttery soft)
Since this was the textured side of the paper it was a little rough applying the watercolor pencils but they blended nicely when with with the water brush, probably due to the cold press-like texture of this side of the paper.
Even though I like the cover and the paper in this book I’m put off by the lack of quality in its construction and not having matching paper surfaces across the gutter. Although both sides of the paper can handle water-soluble media, the side I really liked best for watercolor, the more textured side of the paper, has only been bound as a full spread in this book to cross the gutter of the sewn signatures. Unfortunately, it seems this is the weakest spot in this book’s construction. Prior in the book the signatures have become separated showing the spine and disrupting the flow of Roberta Avidor’s lovely urban landscape.
I’m curious what other sizes and formats are available. Although A5 is a good size for me, other artists may prefer a larger A4 or a smaller A6 in both landscape and portrait orientations.
Although I often bind my own sketchbooks, my preference in a commercially bound watercolor book is for a portrait A5 or an 8 in. square format containing matching spreads of paper. I do purchase landscape books on occasion so if the construction and paper matching issues were fixed I would consider purchasing this book. Until then the book that best meets all those criteria and has a similar page count is the Speedball/Global Arts Hand•Book Travelogue Watercolor Journal.
13 November, 2019… recently I’ve been using the Hahnemühle Watercolor Book in the A5 portrait format and would add that to the Speedball/Global Arts Hand Book Watercolor Journal as one of my go-to commercially bound watercolor books.
Diane Wesman received the book last and saw not only what had happened to it, but what other artists had used on the paper and what they thought of the paper. She tested her favorite materials that she uses when she is working in the field as a landscape artist. Her comments are brief and included on her pages.
One thing that Diane also wanted to mention is that the grain direction going the wrong way in this book was a huge encumbrance to her as she stood in the field painting. The pages curling from head to tail (horizontally), as mentioned earlier, made it difficult to apply paint and control washes.
Diane’s experience enabled her to work through this, but she wanted me to mention this practical effect of poor book construction. She worried that someone new to plein air sketching might become frustrated and not realize the factors at play, “they need to know the ramifications of grain direction for success.”