Tag Archives: sketchbook

Review: Handbook Trav-e-logue Series

I’ve been using the Handbook Trav-e-logue (HBT) series of notebooks for a few years and it is time I do a review. I’m in my 3rd of the 5.5×8.25″ 128 page sketchbooks. I’ve used both the landscape and portrait versions, with 128 pages each. The paper inside is buff or creamy colored and has a nice texture that is fantastic with pens, ink, graphite, markers, and light watercolor washes. The paper has a nice tooth and it is decently thick. The covers are a rough linen and hard. They are available in blue, red, green, and black. The colors are warm and invite you to fill the pages. The sturdy elastic is gray and charcoal. The journal is stitched and glued. The page marker in all colors is made of nylon and bright orange. Inside the back cover is a clear poly envelope. Overall the HBT is very well designed.HBT

There is a reason that I keep buying these, they perform as well as they are made. First, the feeling of the cover is fantastic. It’s smooth and not too rough. It is not sealed so it can collect dirt but you can wipe most dirt off easily. I did have a few instances where I spilled watercolor and it stained. The cover is hard and offers very little flex so you can sketch in hand. The elastic is very strong but stretches to encompass a great deal of stuff added to the sketchbook. The stitching is tight and well done on all the HBT I own*. The orange page marker is heat sealed so it does NOT fray.HBT

Global Arts, the parent company of Handbook, describes the paper as able to handle a light wash of watercolor. I’ve gotten really sloppy with my watercolors, layering on wet sloppy washes. While the paper had some cockling none of it was bad and the paper survived quite well. In addition to the wavy pages I found that the paper would pill if I worked the very wet paper with a stiff brush. I did all my politician series in these sketchbooks and I was very happy with how the HBT responded. They handle pencil, colored pencils, layered brush pen, and collage with ease.HBT HBT

The HBT are $17.99 at Artist & Craftsman. While this is not a cheap sketchbook it is a good sketchbook. Every single one that I have looked at in store and later purchased has responded well. The paper, binding, elastic, and stitching are consistent. The poly pocket is just big enough to be useful. Finally, there are the lovely colors and fabric covers. I just purchased a green version and man, what a nice warm shade of olive green. The red is brick colored. The blue is the brightest of all the covers, but still quite nice. The black is charcoal-ish and rather nice.HBT HBT

Overall these are simply fantastic sketchbooks. They are not available lined but if you are looking for something in the moleskine size of large or pocket, these are a great replacement. Personally, I look forward to filling my shelves with these.

Nitty gritty detail at a glance:

  • 128pp
  • Buff/cream colored paper
  • Stitched, Smythe Sewn binding, opens flat and folds over on self.
  • Orange page marker
  • Sturdy, well glued elastic closure
  • Hard covers covered in linen, available in red, blue, green, black
  • 3 sizes large 5.5×8.25, pocket 3.5×5.5, square 5.5×5.5
  • Landscape and portrait orientation
  • Rounded covers, very little overhang
  • Minimal branding, Hand-Book logo debossed on lower right corner
  • Large size retails for $17.99

John "boozo" Boozman voted against background checks for gun purchases, so we can #blameashitbag here.

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Review: Sennelier Aqua-Mini 8 Half Pan Set

The 8 color half pan travel watercolor set from Sennelier is a fantastic deal on on great watercolors. Getting 8 half pans for less than $20 is a steal, so this set is well worth the asking price, with a few caveats and work you’ll have to do to make the set useable.

The colors included are fantastic and useful for just about any urban sketching adventure. Unlike less well planned sets, this one includes the ever useful Payne’s Grey rather than black. The other colors are: primary yellow, French vermillion, cinereous blue, French ultramarine, pthalo green light, sap green, burnt umber. These colors have their limits. Obviously there is no cool or true red, so there is no mixing a decent purple, but overall it is a very useful set of colors.

First the big issue is that the tin and insert that the colors are packed in is not quite useless but really not great. The insert is made of flimsy white plastic that I cannot imagine would stand up to much use. It’s not bad, and it might last the life of the pans, it’s just not all that useful. Using the colors in it means the plastic moves around quite a bit. Annoying.
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To fix this issue I moved my half pans from the flimsy insert to Schminke empty half pans**. Useful.

The tin the set is housed in also has a few issues. First the lid has that cute little viewing window, which makes the lid, normally used to mix paints on, useless for that task. You could go about painting it or cutting a piece of Yupo to fit*. But that is way more work than it is worth and it won’t sit flat for mixing, so color ends up under the Yupo. . The next issue is that the tin is about ¼ inch deeper than most mint tins. This makes fitting a brush in a little more work.

I abandoned the tin and placed my pans of color into a new tin. I’m using a Thayer’s lozenge tin- it’s square, fits my hand well, and is just deep enough to hold the pans well. I use a little ball of plastic tack to hold each pan in place. It works well, and allows me to pick and chose what colors I’d like to include in my tin for that outing.

Sennelier watercolors are a great choice for someone looking for good watercolors that wet easily. Some people dislike them and others love them. I’m a fan of them for their good colors, relative affordability, frequent sales, and amazing rewetting; simply touching a wet brush to the pan results in a decent load of color.

For roughly $18, getting 8 half pans is a steal.

Oh, it comes with a tiny little joke of a brush. It holds a point well but it would really only be useful for working on something smaller than an ATC or ACEO. The handle is far too short to be useful. If you can figure out a useful way of extending it, let me know in the comments.

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Review: Fabriano EqoQua Notebooks

The pocket sized Fabriano EcoQua(EQ) notebooks have been around for awhile and I’ve just now gotten my hands on a 4-pack at my local AC Moore with a 505 off coupon. The regular price at AC Moore is $8.99 for 4 3.5×5.5 inch notebooks.ecoqua ecoqua

They feature 64 pages (or 32 sheets) of creamy off white paper. The paper is lightweight 85gsm paper.  The paper is amazing, smooth yet enough tooth that pencils perform well and smooth enough for fountain pens to glide over the surface. There was no feathering nor bleed through. It does take a bit for the pens to dry, but that should be expected with paper like this. Pencil smudginess was decent though not amazing.  The pages are thin enough that inks and pencils alike have a lot of show through of the previous page, while this wouldn’t stop me from sketching on both sides it might be enough to deter some users. The second half of the book is micro-perforated. I’ll discuss that later.ecoqua ecoqua The covers are bright cheery colors with a linen imprinted finish. The cover weight is slightly heavier than a Field Notes and about the same as a Word notebook. The corners are rounded, but just barely so. The book is held together with 2 silver staples, they seem robust enough. Each of my books at the spine feature a small tear. This can be caused by several things, first the blade on the shear could be dull, secondly the books weren’t clamped tight enough into the shear, thirdly the shear was over filled finally the shear was under filled. Most likely it was over filled and not clamped down properly. This happens pretty often when small pocket books are mass produced. It’s just something to make note of and to check for if you are neurotic about that sort of thing.ecoqua ecoqua

I really love the paper and the bright covers. However, the micro-perforated second half of the book is a deal breaker for me. I cannot stand to have my sketchbooks micro perforated. If I want to remove a page I have an exacto, a ruler, and a self-healing cutting mat. Or I can use my cutter bee micro perforation blade to add my own perforations. I wouldn’t mind if the last 4 or 5 pages were micro-perforated, but perforations just mean that in my use those pages will fall out. I joke that micro-perforation is Italian for “falls out with little effort.” If these weren’t micro-perforated they wold be right up there with my lovely BanditApple Carnet peewee sketchbooks. But with 1/2 of the sketchbook ready to fall out if I sneeze on them… Nope.ecoqua

I don’t know why it’s taken the big paper companies so long to get into the small pocket sketchbook game. Clearly it’s profitable and relatively easy to do. Canson delved into this territory with their pocket XL sketchbooks, which are really not that great but are wonderful for making a lot of dreadful sketches. I’m still surprised that with the success of Moleskine and Field Notes that all the big paper companies (hello, Strathmore, Borden & Riley, and Stillman & Birn) haven’t created a simple sketchbook like this. I’d buy a 3-pack of Stillman & Birn pocket sketchooks in no time.

Instead I’m forced to use notebooks with crappy paper for sketching (I still love you Field Notes) or ordering a sketchbook from overseas (I love you Bandit Apple Carnet.)

Review: Stillman and Birn Gamma Series

I came home a week ago and found on my doorstep a package. I was pretty surprised to have gotten a package since I had no recollection of ordering anything. Instead I’d been sent a box of Stillman and Birn sketchbooks for my use. I considered secretly hoarding these away and not telling anyone anything about them, I reconsidered and decided to make my gain yours as well by reviewing each and every sketchbook. I know, tough job, but someone needs to do it. (Please imagine me acting faint with my hand to my forehead for added drama.)

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I’m reviewing the case bound Gamma series and I’m not going to mince words here, these are the best sketchbooks I’ve ever used. The paper is a heavy 100lb and ivory in color with a slight texture. The sleeve states it can take “light washes” of watercolor and is good for a variety of materials. I found all that to be true, plus it handled heavy applications of watercolor like a champ.
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The covers of the case bound gamma are super tough and very sturdy. They hold up well to sketching in the hand while standing. Though it’s humid here they remain flat. The binding is perfect. I can find no flaws with it. The thread matches the paper color so blends in well and is not noticeable. The stitching is the same sort of binding that Moleskine sketchbooks use, smythe sewing. This also with some work allows this sketchbook to sit VERY flat. It does take some work to get it to open perfectly flat. That work is as simple as opening the sketch book up over and over again and touching the 2 covers to one another. Easy.
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What I really like is how good everything looks on the paper. The warm color really shows off earthy colors and tones down bright colors. Watercolor layers on this paper wonderfully. It also lifts well. Nothing soaks through

It’s really nice to work in a sketchbook where I’m not constantly battling the paper with either my ink or watercolor. It’s nice to lay down a wash and KNOW how it will respond to either more color or to water being used to lift that color. I know that if I add more lines to the page how that ink will respond. While I adore my cheapo canson blue book for hashing out ideas and mind mapping, using paper I don’t have to fight with is the whole reason i got into bookbinding so many years ago. If Stillman and Birn had been around in 1998 I never would have started making books.

You can get them at EuropeanPaper.com Not sponsored just a happy winner of a sketchbook from them.

Review: FlexiSketch Sketchbook

I picked up this sketchbook on sale at Artist & Craftman. It was super affordable, more so than usual. It usually runs in the $10 to $15 range. The 8.5×11 inch sketchbook feels weighty in hand and looks nice. The green color is a soothing soft mossy green they call "Fern." I’m annoyed that the 25% more FREE stick is stuck to the cover and doesn’t peel off easily. I’ll be hacking at it with a knife to get it off. After opening up the package I notice it’s Smythe Sewn like a moleskine so it will open flat and flatter the more I use it. The binding is nice and flexible but the wrap around cover on the spine is less so.

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The paper is bright white, thick and sturdy feeling, 75lb/110gsm. There are 300 pages or 150 sheets. It has a soft texture and is nice with pencils. Wider nibbed pens glide over it’s surface but narrow nibs sink into it’s surface a little. The paper is absorbent with ink and watercolor. I didn’t notice any feathering with ink but most pens looked to be about a size larger than on other paper. I noticed some ink soaking through as I sketched and wrote. Nothing major since I didn’t plan on using both sides of the paper anyway. This isn’t a deal breaker if you use dry media like pencil or charcoal. The fact that the paper soaks ink up like a paper towel is annoying, and if I were using expensive ink, would annoy me.

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The cover is thick cardstock with a glossy finish. It scuffs easily, but I don’t mind that. If you are the sort who would like to decorate your art journal you’ll need to sand the surface to get gesso to stick. I managed to pop the glue that holds the back cover to the block off. Rather annoying but it also let me see the spine and that it’s glued sturdily and will survive a lot of abuse. This also makes me think I could cover this journal with little work

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Overall my verdict on this is that this sketchbook is a great value. The paper isn’t optimum for ink but it’s thick and sturdy enough to withstand pretty much anything an art journaler can throw at it. The paper has a nice surface for a variety of media. While pen does soak through in some spots it looks fantastic on this paper. I’d buy it again.

 

Review: Rhodia Webnotebook aka Webbie

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.

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Review: Quo Vadis Bookmark

This week’s review is a little different. I’m reviewing, drum roll please, a bookmark. Wait, don’t go away. I promise, it’s a special book mark, so special in fact that it’s simplicity made me over look it when I opened my box of goodies from Exaclair.

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The Quo Vadis bookmark is a 5x 1.75 inch piece of cardstock coated in plastic with a brown and tan elastic loop attached. Non-descript and utilitarian in appearance as some of the best ideas are. The brown and tan is not pretty, a nice black elastic loop should be something they consider on their next run.

Simply you hold your place with the bookmark and loop the elastic around your journal to hold it shut. Ridiculously easy and remarkably efficient.

 

 

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You know how I said my miquelrius notebook was going to fall apart before I was finished with it? Way back here? Well it is, and I’m not even half finished. This bookmark holds it together, with ease. It also holds all the stuff that I’ve stuffed it within it. Nothing falls out. The elastic is remarkably secure, adapts to a variety of journal sizes and is cheap. You can get one here on GouletPens.com* for $1.50. I’ll be ordering a bunch with my next order. Brian even did a little video on them here.

Seriously, if you are ordering ink or paper, add one of these little wonders to your cart, you’ll thank me later.

Read another review of them here.

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Review: B&N Bargan Bin Piccadily Sketchbook

This weekend I picked up a bargain priced sketchbook at B&N for about $5. I thought it was a no name brand that B&N often sell. When I got it home I realized it’s a Piccadilly branded journal.

The list price on this sketchbook is $12.99; I got it for $4.99. Less than half price. I noticed that B&N didn’t have ANY of these on the regular shelf. So I’m thinking these are only ordered for the cheapie racks. Which is fine, at $5 this isn’t a bad deal but for $12.99 not worth the money.

I tested this with a variety of inks in a variety of pens. I did a little sketching to see how the paper would respond and I did my usual of an ink and water wash.

Anything with a larger than a fine tip feathered and bled through the paper. There was a TON of feathering especially in my medium tipped and wet writing Pelikano. My extra fine and fine pointed pens did okay, regardless of the ink. I tested both sides of the paper and there is no right/wrong side, the sides have the same finish throughout the journal. The paper is very smooth. I wouldn’t want to use a pencil on this paper as it’s just too smooth and pencil would smudge all over the place.

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As for water on this paper, it could be done but it’s not recommended, a very light wash caused major cockling (wrinkles) that never eased out of the paper. I also noticed that really heavy application of ink caused the same issues. Anywhere I used a heavy layer of ink it not only bled through the paper but also to the page underneath. Anywhere there was heavy ink use the fibers of the paper lifted and were picked up by the nib of the pen.

Ink mix0018 The Pros:

  • Good value at $5
  • Paper is smooth
  • Bright white paper
  • Great sturdy hard cover
  • Sturdy double coil binding

Cons:

  • Feathering with any ink
  • Bleedthrough
  • Fiber lifting
  • No water due to cockling
  • EF and F nibs or pencil only

Overall I’d say this is a good sketchbook for someone looking for something cheap that they can do a lot of throwaway sketches in or just to take some notes. This little journal probably wouldn’t stand up to a lot of the abuse that art journalers would toss at it. Even if you gesso’ed the pages the paper is just not sturdy enough. It’s too bad, because this is a really good looking little sketchbook, and comes in a lot of good sizes and with lined paper too which has a lot of different options for covers.

 

Review: Moleskine 6×9 Sketchbook

This sketchbook contains 80 roughly 110lb plain cream colored pages. They are contained within plastic covered hard black covers. The plastic is imprinted to look like leather. This sketchbook is very often suggested for people started out in art journaling.

The paper is stiff and smooth. It’s good for writing and drawing. I find that the paper has a coating that repels wet media like watercolors, which it absorbs but gives a blotchy appearance. It does the same with some inks. It can be quite a pain in the rear. I’ve found that if I got through my sketchbook and spritz the pages with a little water so they are evenly damp and then allow them to dry before working in watercolor or ink the blotchiness is minimized.

The paper responds favorably to pitt and zig pens. They remain perfectly black and don’t show any blotchiness. The paper is also heavy enough to support many layers of collage and acrylic paint. When working with wet media it’s best to be aware that the paper will cockle and remain wavy even after it dries. I like the wavy paper but most don’t.

The heavy weight paper does not show strike nor bleed through except when using sharpies and copic markers. Fountain pens do just fine on this paper. Some fountain pen inks get blotchy.

The sketchbook has a great form factor with its smooth hard black covers, pocket in the back and elastic closure. I can’t say that the paper would be a reason to recommend it. The pages can take abuse but if you erase too much or scrub the pages with a brush you’ll end up will pilling of the top of the paper. I’ve read reports of the spine breaking on these sketchbooks but I’ve abused the heck out of mine and never had a broken or damaged spine, and I’m not gentle with my sketchbooks and journals. The price however is quite prohibitive at $18 for 80 pages.

If you are looking for a sketchbook that handles a variety of media relatively well, with a nice hard cover, at a ridiculously high price this is a good sketchbook. There are others similarly shaped and sized that will work as well at a lower price.

 INterested in purchasing a moleskine sketchbook? Follow this link, it was the best price I could find on them: