Stephanie of RhodiaDrive hooked me up with Karen of Exaclair, the American importer of several very fine French made stationary products so I could do some reviews. I received a box in the mail and I felt like a kid at Christmas. There is nothing quite like opening up a box of sketchbooks to get my heart racing, well pen products would be a close second. Anyway, one of the products contained in that wonderful box was a Rhodia Webnotebook. It’s the larger size, 5.5×8.25 inches (I14x21cm) with blank cream colored pages. There are 96 sheets or 192 pages.
When I first opened the covers the color reminded me of oak tag; creamy, warm and lovely. The paper is 90g (roughly 24lb) which seems kind of thin when you’ve been working on 140lb watercolor paper for the last few months. When I ran my hand over it felt glassy smooth. Clairfontaine paper is known for this feature and is sought after by people who use fountain pens.
The cover is black with the Rhodia logo inset into the center of the front cover. Like all notebooks of this style there is an elastic to hold the whole thing shut. The plastic/vinyl of the cover is soft, like fine leather. I have a journal made of deer hide and the feel of this pleather rivals its softness and feel. I handed the journal to someone to check out and she actually said “Ooohhh, that feels nice that feels really nice, what is it?” Like, leather the cover does show greasy fingerprints, unlike leather those greasy fingerprints wipe off with a damp rag. Yes, I tested this by eating French fries at my desk and picking up the journal and having to wipe it clean.
Ubiquitous to books of this style there is a placeholder and a pocket in the back. The pocket is glued very securely to the back cover. I prefer if the pockets in this style of journal to be about a half inch smaller than the cover itself, it makes it a lot easier to get into the pocket. The Webbie’s pocket is roughly 1/8th of an inch smaller. The pockets gussets are made of satin bookcloth and are very sturdy. The pocket will expand to hold a great deal of stuff.
I put this journal through a series of tests, rigorous and meant to stress the journal as I would when arting in it. It survived, well.
My first test was to see how the paper reacted to color applied with watercolors, light washes, heavier washes and then layers of color. Then I tested to see how the page accepted ink. The paper accepted the watercolors, across the board well. There was noticeable cockling (wrinkling) of the page but this is to be expected with a 90g sheet. Surprisingly the cockling eased out of the page as it dried and later when I closed the journal with the elastic the wrinkles were all but gone. At one point I scrubbed the page with my waterbrush and I noticed some lifting of fibers, but I wasn’t working as I normally would with watercolor but deliberately attempting to see what would lift the fibers of the page. When the page dried the lifted fibers were barely noticeable. This would be a great journal for light watercolor sketching or travel journaling with watercolor and pen.
An additional test was to see how the paper handled fountain pen ink after I’ve applied a watercolor wash. It handled it just fine. The paper was no longer as glassy smooth and increased the line by about a nib size, so my Extra Fine wrote more like a fine, the fine like a medium and so on. The ink still did not feather. I’m not going to do a full fountain pen review on this journal, as it’s been done to death. All I’ll say is that this journal was made for love from a fountain pen.
The next tests were to gesso a page and scrape acrylic over a page. The pages survived with ease and minimal cockling. Over these pages I tried watercolor crayons and ink with flawless performance. I could see that the gessoed page could lend itself to a lot of wet techniques and allow acrylic to be used in a heavier manner.
One overwhelming and unexpected result of all of my testing was that there was little bleed through. I had to work to make ink and watercolors soak through the page. The only bleed through I found was with my two wettest writing fountain pens sitting in a spot for too long or repeatedly scribbling over a spot. Given that the paper is only 90g I was surprised by this, I expected a whole lot more bleeding than occurred. (See the image above of the blank page, that's the backside of a page I sketched on with ink and added some HEAVY and wet watercolor washes, in layers on)
Give the quality of the paper this is far better than the moleskine sketchbook. Even though the paper is thin, it is superior in performance to the cardstock in the moleskine. If I had to give you a list of plain black sketchbooks to try for your first art journal, I’d suggest this over the moleskine any day. The quality, feel and look would be the first 3 reasons I’d give. The ability to handle multiple media without bleed through would be a follow up reason. If I were feeling cheeky I’d make you feel mine just to convince you that this journal just feels good.
Let’s talk price…. The webnotebook a.k.a the webbie is about the same price as a moleskine. The large size retails between $15 to $25, same as the moleskine. The small size retails between $12 and $15. (Google is your friend.)
Is it worth it? Though I was given mine to review, I have to say yes. If you have gotten past the idea that the journal is too precious to use, this is the journal for you to try. I fyou want somethign of extremely high quality to really show off your lettering, doodles, and to keep your thoughts permenant, get this journal. It would make atremendous travel journal. If you are still worried about white page syndrome or don’t think that your journaling is important you might want to stick with something like the Piccadilly sketchbook. I love this journal so much I take it with me everywhere and don’t mind that I’m that hipster ass scribbling away in my little black journal at my local caffeination (watering) hole.
Full disclosure: I was sent this sketchbook for review by the American importer of the product. I did not recieve any compensation for my review other than the sketchbook itself.