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.

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

  1. Please do make a sketchbook? I think everyone here deals with the trouble of finding a good American made sketchbook.

    I am joining the perfect bound crew as it makes it easier to sketch with and scan. I second Julie’s comment. I am most comfortable with using a book that is 8.5×5.5 CLOSED in a portrait orientation(or whatever is closest to that). I most likely use graphite, ink, carbon pencil, and colored pencils(another reason why I like my pages to be white) in a sketchbook. I like my sketchbooks to have a hard cover since anything that is easily bendable makes it annoying to use. I really would not like to pay over $25 for what I listed above. $15-20 would be cool.

    Give us an update in the future on the production status. I am interested.

  2. I often carry the Bloc Rhodia No. 12 in the back pocket of my Levi jeans or the side pocket of my blue blazer. You really have to make a pad for graphite pencil drawing in this size.

    Initially, I used the No. 12 only for drawing. It was great to be out on a stroll, sit on a bench and do a drawing of a building or streetscape, and continue with my stroll.

    Graphite granules have never spilled out of my No. 12 pad, but I suppose there’s a chance they might if you created a version with proper drawing paper. Consequently, it would probably be a good idea to create a case — perhaps with a flap or zip-lock — to prevent the graphite from spilling out and into one’s pockets.

    The 21 x 21-cm. notebook is also a good size. Perhaps, it would be good to have one version with a spiral (with perforated pages) and another that is sewn binding (without perforated pages). The series should all be in one color (e.g., orange), as one can line them up on a shelf (or stack them); the visual unity of the book covers would be very agreeable. Also, it would be helpful to have a title page where one can inscribe a volume number and/or beginning and ending dates.

  3. Ooo, testing paper samples, I’m jealous. Why can’t one get paper samples easily anymore?

    I join the ‘must lay flat’ group.

    I’ve been using the Canson 8.5″x11″ basic sketchbook for forever — it’s what we used in high school art classes. I keep testing out other sketchbooks but I always come back to that one, even though the paper is thinner than I’d like and I always end up duct-taping the spine before I’m halfway through. I use it as a sketchbook, journal, scrapbook, scratch pad, everything.

    I’m very interested in how this turns out!

  4. I’m going to go against the tide here, and say that 5 X 8 is much too big for me. I’m old, and I like to sketch in nature – give me something that’s pocket size, so I can still manage the weight of my watercolors. Perforated pages would be nice, too.

    But oh, so exciting, whatever you come up with!

  5. Paper I can get wet and not buckle
    At LEAST 5×8
    Plenty of sheets, like 80 at least
    Price MAX $25
    Quality HARD cover

    If you could give me that I’d be thrilled!

  6. • i would love a bound sketchbook that opens flat
    • takes layers of watercolor with light scrubbing and no buckling
    • can take pen and ink with no bleeding or feathering
    • bright white paper
    • 8×8 square or portrait format
    • $25 max

  7. Preferred sizes 7X10, 8.5X11, 9X12
    Bound pages that can lay flat for scanning.
    Lately favor smooth papers that are friendly
    to markers and pigment liner nibs. For mixed and wet media, bit of tooth is fine. Average price range for a good mid-size sketchbook could be $10-$20 since there are so many value sketchbooks that can be had for under $10. Binding and page count would naturally factor into msrp, but page count probably shouldn’t be too high to keep it portable.

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