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DrDebby 02-27-2011 07:14 PM

Sketch Book Reviews
Everyone is looking for the perfect sketchbook. Buying and trying is a lot of fun. But, what about helping out your fellow art supply addicts? Here is a place to put a review on sketchbooks you've tried.

Giving a review is easy, just answer the questions.

Which sketchbook is it? Manufacturer, binding, size and paper type. This includes the ones you make from scratch, just tell us the paper type and size you used.

What media did you try?

What worked?

What didn't work?

Would you recommend this sketchbook or not? Why?

Any additional information you think someone might find helpful before trying it for themselves. For instance, was the size too small for sketching outside or was it too big.

Kema 02-27-2011 08:10 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Oooh, wonderful thread idea! I'll start with the Fabriano Artist's Journal, which I got from Dick Blick - I had two in the past few years. It was one of the more fun ones - it has sections of different colored Ingres paper. It's by Fabriano, of course, and is a sort of soft binding, like a paperback.

I had a 9x7 with a selection of colors, some quite dark or strong, and a 9x9 with light colored natural colors. I think there's a smaller size too. The Ingres paper is a bit thin, but seems quite tough.

I mostly used watercolor pencil, pen and even occasional watercolors, not too wet. I even dabbled in acrylics a couple of times - those did get a bit wrinkly. A couple of times I stuck in pieces of watercolor paper, when I wanted to really paint.

It all worked. It wrinkled a little, but not too bad. The colors were sometimes a lot of fun and added to what I was doing, and sometimes, because I like to do the book chronologically, a real challenge. There were times when I stuck in other paper because I just could not do a fog scene on that bright yellow paper, etc. It was clear a real wet watercolor wash might not work. On the darker pages I used colored pencils and white or pastel gel pens.

Any sketchbook can only be recommended for certain uses. I'd definitely recommend these to someone who mostly uses the dryer media and is looking for some color fun. They were sort of medium good in size for sketching outside, lighter than a hardbound of the same size, and they were a nice size to work with. Especially the 9x9 - I like the square format. But with all the sticking in of stuff I do, and they have 96 pages, they were pretty heavy by the end.

All the same, I find myself thinking about trying the cream and white one...

RainySea 02-28-2011 11:16 AM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Thanks for the great review Kema. . . I also have one of those Fabirano Artist Journals with the different color pages and have used it for pen and wash with success, which surprised me as it was not touted at all to be used for that. Cool that you even tried acrylics in it!! I have to try that.

I'd like to add on that one that it is great for oil pastels, esp. with the colored pages giving a ready made medium tone. I'd highly recommend that one to anyone who likes to sketch in oil pastels!! It has become my fav for sketching with that media.

Oh, and another cool thing is that it has ALOT of pages and will last you quite a while. It seems to be getting harder to find the one with the colored pages though. I got mine from Blick but notice that now they only seem to carry the cream and white page one. Do you know an online store that still carries the colored version, Kema?

Kema 03-01-2011 10:25 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
No, I didn't know Blick didn't have it any more. I guess I'd google it.

CandAlArt 03-02-2011 10:25 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
I have a favorite I use for utilitarian purposes. I put in a lot of notes on art materials, and color swatches or pencil tests. Sort of like an art diary. Sometimes I carry it places but mostly it is my desktop reference and quick scribble book. The Strathmore 400 Sketch (regular or recycled) in 5.5x8.5, spiral but NOT perforated. With 100 pages, they don't start to de-perf halfway thru. Small enough for hand-held or purse or desktop, but not too small to be practical. The paper is fairly smooth 60 lb. but can stand some light wash with a waterbrush for testing & such. Just a nice little book, sturdy and handy. Stores nicely on a bookshelf.

CandAlArt 03-06-2011 01:15 AM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Hi all. I posted at the Art Supply Addicts thread (over in Oil Pastel Forum) that we started this thread & need their expert help! I hope that kick-starts our new thread here!

RainySea 03-06-2011 12:05 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Thanks Candace. . . I have several to review just have not had time to sit down and write them!

RainySea 03-06-2011 02:05 PM

Strathmore Visual Journal (Mixed Media & Watercolor)
I purchased three Visual Journals in October, two mixed media (3.5 x 5 & 9 x 12) and a watercolor 140 lb (5.5 x 8). I've been working in all of them and am very impressed. Everything I have thrown at them from acrylics, watercolor, collage, ink and wash to pencils and oil pastels have not had a problem.

The watercolor version I have (140 lb) is very thick and does not buckle much even with repeated washes and layers of collage/journaling. The texture of this paper is similiar to cold press, so its rough, which is not idea for pencil and pen for my taste since I prefer a smoother feeling paper for that with less texture. But its nice for oil pastels and I even did a pan pastel on it which worked just perfectly.

The mixed media version has smoother paper and despite being only 90 lb, it holds up perfectly also to many washes with almost no cockling. I love it for pen and wash. . . my small visual journal multi media and my new lamy pen, along with my waterbrush are in my purse every day and make quick pen and wash sketches so quick and fun! I've plans to order a bunch of those little size for this purpose.

The visual journal have a very nice stiff cover on both front and back to protect the art inside. The back is extra thick cardboard, the front is a shiny brown that is mottled like glossy leather look. And the double wire binding is nice and sturdy. Its also formed so that pages lay flat and when its folded over behind each other, they never get caught or start to come loose from the wire (a problem I've had with the Pentalic Nature Sketch).

The price on these is VERY reasonable for the quality of journal you get. They also come in Bristol Vellum, Bristol Smooth, Drawing, and a lighter weidth Watercolor 90 lb, but I have not tired those versions as of yet. I am planning to pick up the smallest size in each though to test, since I was impressed with the ones I have.

Overall, I recommend these journals to anyone who likes wirebound journals.

RainySea 03-06-2011 02:27 PM

Raffine Art Sketch: Super Deluxe All Media Sketch Book
These sketchbooks are made in France by Lana for Creative Mark. The paper is 100 lb and heavily sized. They are quite a bit more expensive than the Visual Journals, but they come in a trail size so that you can purchase one to see if you enjoy them.

The paper in the Raffine is wonderful, has some texture but not so much as to make it unfriendly for pencil. I've done some nice pencils sketches in the Raffine right alongside of pages where I've thrown acrylics, collage, watercolor and layers of journalling. The pages hold up perfectly. It takes washes just beautifully, both ink and watercolor. Pen lines remain clear and crisp (until washed, of course :)

It has a nice double wire binding that functions perfectly and never loses or catches pages. The back cover is a great ultra thick cardboard providing a nice firm surface to work on in the field. Unfortunately, the front cover is quite thin and is the one thing I'd love to see changed on the journal. IMHO, a little more thickness on the cover would be a good improvement.

I really like the paper in this journal for all media, but the price is a bit higher than some others unless you find them on sale. Still very worth the price, though! Dick Blick, which I order from the most, does not carry the Raffine. But ASWexpress and Jerry's sell them, among others.

The one I tested was the size 5.5 x 8.5, but they also come in 6 x 6, 11 x 14, 14 x 17 and the paper is also sold as sheets.

vhere 03-06-2011 04:28 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews

This Canson watercolour sketch book is one of my favourites. I love the cheerful red cover, it's robust and has lots of pages, the paper is heavy enough not to buckle. It's smoothish but with a tooth.

I've used watercolour, oil, mixed media, collage, pastel, charcoal, inks, coloured pencils, inktense and more in it and it behaves beautifully with all of them.

A lot of the work here was done in this book.

CandAlArt 03-06-2011 04:57 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Vivien, Thanks, it is a gorgeous book, plus rave reviews. Can't beat that.

DrDebby 03-06-2011 07:35 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Thanks for the reviews, Kema, Rainy, Candace and Vivien. I can see I'm going to have to try some of these. :wink2:

CandAlArt 03-06-2011 11:11 PM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Tip: When I want to haul around a good drawing pad that came with only a flimsy cover, I glue a piece of cardboard inside the cover, cut to fit closely, but careful to not overlap the spiral when closed. Works like a charm and now it's a "hardcover." (I tend to save useful looking pieces of lightweight cardboard that come in grocery packaging now & then.)

big foot 03-07-2011 02:27 AM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews
Hi. This is a really nice thread. I love sketchbooks too!

I use the 80 lb Dick Blick wirebound sketchpads (8x10 70 sheets) most of all. I love these.


I also have some Daler Rowney wirebound hard cover cream/ecru colored paper books too that I got super cheap at a local art store. They are 65 lbs and 80 sheets each book. They were 2.99 for the 5 x 7!! and 1.99 for the smallest size.. So, I bought several of them and use them all the time too. I use a lot of different books a the same time..but I like these first two a lot. The blick and the Daler Rowneys. They are both really affordable and nice for volume every day work/exercises.


Another cool line of sketchbooks.. high end.. is from Stillman and Birn

Stillman and Birn


I found this company randomly and they offer really nice stuff. I think these might exceed the gsm/weight quality of the relatively new (also quite nice) Stonehenge Wired pads. The Stillman and Birn books are special occasion sketchbooks for me. They are archival quality papers - bound in sketchbooks. 100 lb and 180 lb papers with good/archival quality GSMs..and wirebound! Where else do you find something like that? unless you DIY.

I have had some books made for me.. using student grade 140 lb Fabriano watercolor paper - really fat wirebound watercolor sketchbooks .. Kinko's did the cutting and binding. I bought a 75 sheet Fabriano pad of 140 lb student grade watercolor paper that was on sale for $25 and then brought it to Kinko's to cut and bind.


I also had Kinko's cut a large Bogus rough pad in half and make me two fat wire bound Bogus paper pads. They are great to have for the novelty of the paper's color and texture and for rough drawing exercises etc.


The oatmeal paper sketchbooks by Utrecht and Earthbound/Cachet are great too, wirebound. The paper is nice and smooth and a lovely unusual brown. But they are a bit pricey unless you can find them on sale/special.



I also have some Pentallic 130 lb sketcbooks. 50 sheets. The paper is nice and rough and great for watercolors. But it's really really hard to get the pages out of the books. So, I like these with some reservations. Sheets are much easier to remove in the smaller books. Pentallic also makes nice watercolor sketchbooks, hard cover wirebound.



There are so many nice sketchbooks out there but wirebound is what I like most. So, even books with nice papers etc. that don't reliably lay flat don't appeal to me. I have some bound books that aren't wirebound that I have started to give away or sell, e.g. Art Alternatives (the ones that are similar to the Moleskine books) Still they are nice and portable. A lot of people can get past the problem with books that are not wirebound. Some people essentially break the binding to make books like these lay flat..


I also like the Canson XL drawing and sketch and mixed media student grade books too. Many of the books in this line are available two for one at a local art supply store where I live.


The Canson books are very affordable which makes it a more relaxed experience when doing drawing exercises and trying out new ways of doing things. I get a bit anxious using really nice books sometimes. So, I do toggle among various books all the time. I know a lot of people just work through one sketchbook but I am a bit more scattered. :-)

Still, the most extraordinary books I have come across have to be the Stillman and Birn sketchbooks.


Thanks for starting this thread. It's great to hear about what other people use and like/don't like.

big foot 03-07-2011 03:21 AM

Re: Sketch Book Reviews

Hi I have one of those Fabriano multi-colored books too. The tiny one. Lovely paper! I contacted the company that made/distributed them to find them because Blick stopped selling them last year. They have been discontinued. Some online stores may sell them at a premium. I saw some available at certain higher end online stores, e.g. Fine Arts for $20+. They are (for me) prohibitively expensive. I bought mine fairly cheaply on eBay. This is one of the only books I will use even though it is not wirebound. But now, I am very careful about using it since it is the last one I am likely to own!


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