Paperblank Notebook

Over a decade ago I walked into a local stationary store and encountered the Paperblanks notebooks for the first time. These are really beautiful notebooks, with classic embossed hard covers, solid stitch work on the binding and perfect paper for making notes using a fountain pen. In fact, ever since I ran into them, I have been using these books for my work notes and fill about one every 18 months with random scribbles from the workplace.

Fall 2020 New Releases (paperblanks.com media resources)

In these interesting times, with everyone in my workplace working from home and all meetings are done using some sort of teleconferencing tool, it is very tempting to just zone out and hear nothing that people talk about. In a real-life meeting, you have to some extend pretend to be listening but behind a screen, all bets are off. “Turned of my camera, having some bandwidth issues.” and you never have to dress up anymore. More meetings are held where half the participants are in pajama bottoms than is admitted and fancy dress retailers are struggling to stay afloat.

Another often overlooked benefit of not being in the same room and turning off your camera during meetings is the ability to draw and doodle to your hearts content. Before this whole working from home took off big time and with that, access to my dedicated drawing sketchbooks, I doodled mostly in my work notebooks. You can see the lines well in these doodles:

Both pages are filled using “Platinum Carbon Ink” which is very VERY prone to feathering.

I can go back multiple books and find these types of doodles, made during meetings. This is also where the “Mourning Meetings” series came from, things done to listen better.

So during the Sketchbook Selection, I considered filling a few pages in a Paperblank book without lines that I bought ages ago for some reason. But I realized I can showcase earlier made doodles just as well and I know very well how the paper handles in all circumstances.

Price per page is hard as the books are sometimes hard to find and of various thickness and extra’s but be sure to avoid the magnetic clasps as they damage everything in your bag and the magnets fall off after a while. Ask me how I know.

The sizes are weird, not mentioning actual length but going with Midi (13x18cm), Mini(95x140mm), Ultra (18x23cm) and so on making find the best book for you online a bit of a hassle. But if I go with the book I use now, which is a regular covered, 120 gsm Midi book with 144 pages, the price would be €16,95.

  • There is very low absorbtion of the ink in the paper and only on the most fickle inks this will lead to very minor feathering, only visible of you take a super close look. Normal people will not care, I do. 4/5
  • Really nice and smooth paper without ever getting slippery, made to write on. 5/5
  • Some minor transparency and this is never an issue when just making notes but it can be distracting when drawing. 4/5
  • The hardcover is amazing, there are many different styles and patterns, surely there is one to fit your taste and to impress your absent office mates. When not embossed, takes stickers well. 6/5
  • Price per page comes to (16,95 / 144) 11,7ct a page and that is not bad for the general quality of the book. 4/5
  • Solid binding, will lay flat without an issue. It is not only for the cover and paper I have been using these as my notebooks for almost a decade.
  • Features. Well, there are so many features it is hard to list them all here. Just look at the site. Wrap, ribbon, clasps or wrap-around closures. The books come lines, blank or with music staves. So many sizes, so many covers. Depending on the amount of pages, the book edge might be printed. The combinations are not endless, the manufacturer does do custom made but I never ventured there.

So there you are, if you like pretty stuff, like making notes in something that is somewhat unique (I never encountered any others in the wild) and you like using fountain pens, this is for you. If you want the very best sketchbook, this is not it. The 120 gsm paper is supreme for note-taking and doodles but there are better sketchbooks out there. However, if someone who knows you are an artist gifts you one of these with blank pages, know they love you. And be sure to gift your fellow office dwellers one as well.

Hahnemühle The Cappuccino Book

Coffee colored sketchbook, how awesome is that?

When first encountering the Cappuccino Book, I was skeptical as my quest was to find the best sketchbook for fountain pen and I had a bad experience years ago with a toned sketchbook that feathered really bad and then bled through on top of that.

But then I read the following on the promo page for this book: “The smooth sketch paper, with its closed surface, is perfectly suited for working with Indian-ink pens, fountain pens and acrylic markers, as well as other water-based pens with minimum abrasion.”

Oh, my. The color I can get over that, give me my ink-specific sketchbook! One short trip to an art webshop later where I went kind of overboard with things I wanted and what apparently was still in my basket, I was the owner of two Cappuccino Book, one A4 and one A5 portrait.

Already I can say that if I order from that site again, I want another couple of A5 books as my impression so far is really, really good. One criteria I did not include in the bulleted list is weight and size in general, it did not seem like a consideration. Now with this one, the paper is super dense and 120gsm, so fairly thin. With a mere 80 pages, 40 sheets, this book is very light and compact, much more so than I anticipated.

First thing of note when using it is that the paper is toned but the tone does not get in the way of drawing, it can even add a lot using white pencil for highlights (but I am not skilled enough for that to showcase). In fact, I really enjoy a toned book with the Platinum Carbon Black, it contrasts without hurting the eyes. The other page shown here has a blue and a greenblack ink that do not work as well, I will try different inks over time but the black works very well either way.

In terms of make, this is a super sturdy German build piece of craftdwarfship that is on the pricey side for the amount of pages but if you know an artist and you want to give them a gift, give them two of these books, one A4 and one A5.

Now for the bullets:

  • Ink absorption is absent, the ink dries on top of the page as one would expect. A waterproof test with the carbon ink was not needed, this book is not suitable for wet media. 5/5
  • Smoothness is at the top of the smoothness scale, a bit more and it would be slippery, they hit the sweet spot. 5/5
  • No transparency and that was a bit of a surprise, I expected with 120gsm to have a minor shine through from the big black brush strokes but … nothing! 5/5
  • The cover is hard without becoming hazardous to your health, it is still cardboard. With the nice “recycled paper” look and the ability to hold stickers well, all points there as well. 5/5
  • Price per page. Ok, here comes the low score. This book cost €10,90 for 40 sheets (27ct per sheet) or 80 pages (14ct per page) which is the same as the Nostalgie book also from Hahnemühle. That got 4/5 on that round so it will get 4/5 here as well.
  • Strong stitched binding that easily lays flat and looks like it can take a ton of abuse. 5/5
  • Notable is the cover, it has a cardboard recycled look and is very pleasant to hold. There is also a ribbon but that is about it. 4/5

This is the ultimate hipster sketchbook, if you like to draw with fineliner, fountain pen, dip pen or brush and especially if you like to then draw on the go, this is the best sketchbook you can buy.

And if you like to work with colored pencil and are afraid that you will miss your white, I suggest you still give it a go. Just bring a white pencil or gel pen for some highlights. You’ll be surprised and else, you can still get the Nostalgie book.

Sketchbook Saturday – Urban Sketching

With a thought process that went from “I suck at drawing and painting” to “maybe I should do building, how hard can it be to draw boxes?”, I rolled into the world of Urban Sketching. At first I had no idea that there was a name or an actual movement for drawing cities, buildings and all the day to day stuff that is part of how we shape our environments as human. I just wanted an easier subject matter than humans and faces. I just wanted to smear pigment on the page and make it look somewhat good. Also I wanted to go outside and draw stuff with the comfort of cafe’s, restaurants and whatnot within reach. This plan hatched late summer 2019 and was on the back burner for a couple of weeks.

Funny how any learning process these days begins with procrastination as it was many youtube video’s in that I noticed something that came back a couple of times. Urban Sketching. It was exactly what I was doing, what I was looking for! I ran into very interesting video’s by Marco Bucci such as some details on his setup and an interesting take on shapes. Also a lot of shorter video’s on materials and techniques by Teoh Yi Chie. I think it was their video’s that introduced me to the concept of “Urban Sketching” and the discovery that there was a rather large global movement. I read the book “The Urban Sketcher” by Marc Taro Holmes that was informative and interesting, although a bit over my head in terms of technique. This was around Autumn 2019.

The Urban sketching global movement is more of an umbrella organization for many local chapters and with me living in Amsterdam, I wanted to check out what the options here were. One of my first discoveries was that there is actually a global Urban Sketching Symposium and that it was held in Amsterdam… a few weeks earlier. Let’s say I was not happy about that.

Another discovery was that most of the local chapters organize through Facebook and having removed my account for that hellhole years earlier, I felt somewhat left out in multiple ways now. It seems to be better now with events announced through the Urban Sketching homepage but that leads to the next interesting thing to happen on my journey. We are now writing in October 2019.

After processing the fact that I just missed the annual event in my hometown, I vowed to visit at least two more or less local events in 2020. Just like I vowed to run all races in 2020 that I could reasonably participate in, in terms of travel there and back. I even started gathering gear consisting of a should bag, good sketchbooks, a palette and travel brushes and more of that. I’ll make a post of my bag some day, the point is that by winter 2019/2020 I was fully set to go any place and draw and paint and so on. All that I needed was better weather.

I made it to one place, Zurich, at the end of February where my wife I visited friends and where much less painting was done than I would have liked but we had a great time with the four of us. The Dutch Urban Sketching Weekend 2020 was cancelled, the sketching day was cancelled, the Amsterdam Marathon was cancelled. Sometimes it seems like 2020 was cancelled and I am so sorry for those people who dies, those who are in they formative years as students and those that lost their livelihood due to Covid19. With this, I care not much about the urban sketching cancellations as I am healthy, my family is healthy and my income is pretty solid. My main concern is not getting worn out and developing a burnout or depression from the work-eat-sleep-childcare cycle in the one house but at least we are not sending our teenagers to die in foreign countries or worst, or own borders.

The story of urban sketching does not end here for me, my plans are unchanged and we all just lost a year due to nature striking back at humanity. My intention is to visit at least two events in 2021 and I even booked a hotel in Maastricht in June when the annual weekend would take place. My wife and I agreed that we will book a vacation only when we are all vaccinated so that would be 2022, I think the same will be for the races. But this summer, with a face mask and my bicycle, I will do a lot of outdoors sketching.

The gallery below is my first sketchbook I started with Urban Sketching in mind and contains mostly simple and fast work on architecture, buildings, details and general things from day to day life.