Monday, March 4th, 2013

Your Input Needed: If We Made a Sketchbook…



We need your input! 

Exaclair, (The US distributors of Clairefontaine, Quo Vadis, Rhodia, etc.) is contemplating the creation of an American made sketchbook. A book that would lend itself more towards artistic creation than writing – though I’m certain such a book could be used for either form of expression. The book would contain paper from Clairefontaine’s Schut Mill(located in the Netherlands) and would be assembled at the Hamburg, NY plant where the Habana notebooks and other Quo Vadis products are currently being made. This sketchbook would be a bound book, (as opposed to a spiral) and we would love your input on how this book should be created.

(See how to submit your feedback at the end of this post.)


In the meantime, Karen sent me a batch of paper samples to test and I chose 4:

Schut sketchpad 90g/41lb (off white)
Schut sketchpad 125g/57lb (off white)
Schut sketchpad 180g/83lb (off white)
Schut Shets-en-tekenbloc 160g (white)


If I am going to work in a bound book, it’s got to lay flat. For me, there are no exceptions to that rule. I’d like the book to be about the same size as a  large Webbie – 5×8″ish with a firm cover so if I was working with the book propped on my knee, there would still be a good amount of support.

To me, the most important feature of the paper in any sketchbook would be it’s ability to work with mixed media. (I know all you art journalers would probably say the same thing.) This means wet media  – and not all papers are sized to accept water without buckling. When testing these papers, my main focus was on how well they would accept watercolor paint – an application which can vary greatly from person to person because you never know how much water will be used to apply the paint. Some sketchbooks I’ve seen will note that they are great with dry media, yet will accept “light washes” of wet media. (*you can also water down acrylic paints for a watercolor effect – though unlike watercolor paints, they will be permanent when dry.)

I folded each piece in half so I could have several distinct areas to work on, and the first thing I did with each paper was to try writing with a fountain pen. (I had to ensure my pen friends would be taken care of) I used a Sailor Sapporo with a medium nib, filled with Diamine Imperial Purple ink. No bleeding or feathering on any of the papers.

The next thing I tried was to apply artist grade watercolor paints (AG paints are highly pigmented) with a lot of water.


The watercolor paint worked well on each paper, but the heavier the paper, the less buckling appeared. Also, the heavier papers showed more interesting depth where the paint was applied.


Above the artist grade paints, I applied inexpensive watercolors which needed to be applied repeatedly for the color to get this dark. To a degree, I scrubbed the paper with the brush trying to see if it would easily pill and I was surprised to see minimal wear. That’s a really GOOD thing for water media artists. The water/paint on the heavier papers tok slightly longer to dry but all seemed to dry rather quickly.

I should note that I was working in my studio where the air is extremely dry – as usual, your milage may vary.


The next think I did was to use an Herbin glass dip pen in combination with some Herbin Perle Noire fountain pen ink  – and once again, no bleeding or feathering. (I used the Perle Noir because I’ve found it to sometimes bleed on even the best papers.) I then used a dip pen with a Brause nib with some of the highly saturated Sailor Nano black ink over and around the bottom section of watercolors and it behaved fine. The doodle over the top section of watercolor was an 08 Pigma Micron – no problems with that either.

On the inside left page, I applied a thin layer of Liquitex black gesso, (gesso is a flat acrylic primer) and then subsequent layers of artist grade (highly pigmented) acrylic paints. The last layer I would apply to that page would be from acrylic Uni-Posca paint pens.

Gesso is an art journalers friend because it creates a nice support for adding additional media. It can be textured by applying it with a brush or sponge and can be worked over with different acrylic mediums. I love to use black gesso but it is more commonly found in white. You can also find it in gray and clear.


On only the thinnest of paper could you see the dark paint that had been applied to the reverse.


Aside from the see-through on the reverse of the light weight paper, all of these papers worked pretty much the same with the application of acrylic paint.


With the exception of the heavier papers looking a little nicer when using watercolor paint, all 4 papers behaved pretty much the same with all of the media I tried on this side. (Light blue details were added to micron mandala drawing with Uni-Posca paint pen).


Admittedly, I don’t often work with pencil and so you may find these next tests to be somewhat lacking in depth. I used Prismacolor colored pencils (the best non-watersoluble pencils I own) to try a few gradations. and they all moved like butter over the paper.  The most interesting texture was not surprisingly, found on the heaviest papers.

A Mars Lumograph in 4B and a Palomino in 2B felt super smooth as well. (I unfortunately had no hard pencils to test)

I often use Caran D’Ache Neocolor I & II’s which are highly pigmented artist crayons (less messy than oil pastel) and they too looked great on all of these papers. These were specifically the II’s which are water soluble. You can wash over your drawing with a wet brush for a watercolor effect, or wet the paper and draw into the wet.

I also tried a few markers on this side – including a Sharpie which showed through the back of the thinnest paper, and a bit on the 2nd thinnest. I did not like the feel of the thin nib of the Triplus Fineliner over this paper – which would likely work better on a smoother paper.


On the last section, I first applied torn pieces of magazine pages with a glue slick. Over that, white paint was applied with a palette knife. Over that, a few drops of Golden liquid acrylic spread again with a palette knife. Over that, white again, then the blue was applied with a brush. 5 layers total. Some of the pieces of the magazine lifted up where I didn’t apply enough glue. (My fault) This was a heavy application like one might see in a typical art journal. All of the paper worked pretty much the same. Note that I had already applied the gesso to the back of this page.


My overall opinion on what I’d like to see in a sketchbook? Schut sketchpad 180g/83lb (off white)

Why? It worked the best with every media tested. Little buckling with watercolor paint, less see-through with a Sharpie, nice texture when using pencil.

Runner up? Schut sketchpad 125g/57lb (off white)

Almost, but not quite as nice as the 180g/83lb.

Least? Schut sketchpad 90g/41lb (off white)

Why? IMHO, Too thin for a nice bound sketchbook.

The one no one wanted? Shets-en-tekenbloc 160g (white)

4 artist friends (and me) said they didn’t like the bright white paper. “Like copy paper” one person said.

Here’s where you come in.

(And we’d be really happy if you could share this post with all your creative friends) 

We want you to tell us about your dream sketchbook. What size book, what color paper, your preferred binding, what type of media you’d be likely to use in it, AND what you’d be willing to pay for it.

Want to watch a slightly shaky video of me talking about how I tested this paper? PS – my apologies for using my iPhone to take these pictures and shoot this video.

20 thoughts on “Your Input Needed: If We Made a Sketchbook…

  1. wouldn’t mind two different sizes with two different papers. 5×8 with lighter paper for pencil and pen work. I work eraser against pencil and many of my sketch books don’t erase well, but I do like more sheets available.

    a larger 8×10 with heavy paper for wet work.

    a nice feature would be an integrated implement holder

  2. I love sketchbooks as you know! :) If it’s hard bound, I also prefer smyth sewn binding as having it lay flat is always nice. A flexible book spine to aid this always helps. I prefer books that accept a variety of media. Everything from dry to wet. Graphite, Coloured Pencil, Pen, Crayon, Ink (water based and acrylic), Watercolour, etc. I also prefer a paper that accepts multiple layers of media and reworking.

    I suppose 8.5 x5.5 in and 8.5X11 in are the usual standard sizes. It would be great if there was a square one, like 9×9. It would be perfect for your mandalas too.

    Price should be comparable to the other alternatives out there, between $12-$20 depending on the size.

  3. Definitely bound but must lay flat.. Heavier paper to truly take watercolour washes without buckling. I prefer my sketchbooks small with 5×8 being the largest I’d like. 4×6 would be perfect. Don’t mind bright white or off white. I’d like the paper fairly smooth so that it will take very fine point ink pens. Really looking forward to seeing what this will end up as.

  4. Must lie flat. Smythe sewn binding is nice.
    5×7 up to 9×12 (but smaller or larger wouldn’t be a deal breaker)
    I prefer off-white, but again, not a deal breaker if it is bright white.
    $20-$30 depending on size.
    I’d use every kind of media known to man. I like to test my sketchbooks!

    I’d love to see your video!

  5. The only thing I’d quibble with in your post is the size of the prospective sketchbook. 5×8 is simply too small for me. 8×10 or so at minimum is what I prefer.
    I tend to work exclusively in dry media in my sketchbooks – pencil, sometimes charcoal, very rarely some india ink – but you’re dead on about the paper quality. It has to be good, it should have at least a little tooth, and should be white.

  6. I prefer the 8×5 and 8×11 sizes, the smaller for travel. :) I prefer the bright white paper because I like the colors to be true on the paper. I don’t mind off white but I’d prefer that for writing where the colors don’t mind as much. I’d prefer the bound but I don’t mind wires as long as it lies flat. :D The type of media I would use is pencil, ink, and watercolor. Hm…well price would depend on the size and how many pages but the 8×5:$5-10 and the 8×11:$10-20 depending how much I like it. Hope that helped. :D

  7. Sketchbooks! Please!

    – feathering.
    – paper that pills or wears under fountain pen ink.
    – Will not lay flat for scanning – or working on.

    I usually just work with dry media (haven’t found one to hold up to light washes that I like using), so 57lb paper is okay for me. The heavier stuff would be nice, but I imagine it would push up the price and weight of the book.
    – covers that pretend to be sturdy enough to support drawing on, but sag halfway through a picture. >.>

    I prefer bound books in the 7inch by 9 inch to letter-sized range. Any larger, and I can’t really carry it – and smaller, and I can’t hold it properly to work in.

    I scan from my sketchbook, so bright white is not a problem for me – sometimes I even prefer it!

    I’d love it to be in the 10-15 dollar range, but depending on how seductive the paper is (and the amount/size), I could go up to 20. 25 is really pushing it.

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