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.

Stillman & Birn Alpha Series

A lot happened since I wrote the last Sketchbook Selection post, mostly in my life. One interesting thing is that it is really hard not to buy stuff if you are used to just buy stuff when you feel like it. The feeling came to me again when testing this sketchbook. This is a 14,0×21,6cm portrait hardcover book in the Alpha series meaning it is white and has a Medium Grain texture at 150gsm. It’s suggested usage is “Dry Media, Light Wash, Ink”.

You see, the thickness of the paper is nice and the absorption is minimal but the texture is rough. That is kind of the thing for the Alpha Series, for marker and fountain pen, one should use the Epsilon series. Same thickness and paper but smooth. I had one of these books but I gave it away to a friend over the holidays, she wanted to start art with marker and I happened to have the Epsilon series book in my collection. Only had to buy markers and almost a free, gift, right?

Over the past week while working the the Alpha book, I considered a few times to buy a new Epsilon book or call the friend to ask if she used it already. I did neither and instead used what I have, that was the goal of this challenge, the goal of this series as well. It means the Alpha has to be judged based on my experiences with the Alpha only, not with “the one that got away” in mind. Besides, I have a tiny Epsilon series sketchbook in the back of the book shelf that I will test one day.

Filled a few pages and this book has very obvious downsides and very obvious upsides. The pricing is rather high end at ~€16 for 124 pages of heavy duty 150gsm, non-absorbing paper, for a sketchbook this is pricey. It takes pen super strong, it is not as good with watercolor but with some practice I am sure it will be fine. I did not try anything but pen, ink brush and watercolor but I am confident it will take all dry medium well.

The massive, huge, very hard for me to overcome issue I have with these books is the super sturdy cover and binding. How is that ever a downside? Well, it makes drawing in it actually hard, the book does not lay flat easily and pages in the beginning and the end will be folded before use. It can be mitigated by really abusing the book, bending it back a ton and basically “breaking in” the book before use. This does not feel good.

Second solution is to buy the softcover or ring bound version of more or less the same book size and paper but easier to lay flat for art but then are easier damaged in your bag. Everything is a trade-off. To make matters worse, when looking over various webshops to see what the manufacturer has on offer, I had to exercise self-control again not to buy anything. Little successes are everything but only now I realize I might as well go to the Stillman & Birn website and look at what they offer in terms of Alpha and Epsilon sketchbooks.

Let’s go over the bullets, this could be interesting.

  • Absolutely no ink absorption, it dries neatly on top of the paper. When using carbon ink for the doorway, it bound to the paper perfectly and I could then go over it with the watercolor wash. That then laid on top of the paper, streaking all over the place. 5/5 if used for ink which is what we are doing over here.
  • The Alpha series is a bit rough, while I am happy I gave the Epsilon away to someone, I did a quick test in the small Epsilon sketchbook I still had and indeed it is perfect for pen and ink. 5/5
  • When laying the pages flat there is minor transparency, which is a bit disappointing for such thicc paper. 4/5
  • This hardcover is *hard* and I mean, you can rob a liquor store with it hard. Super tough, hardly bends. Seriously, this cover can run a marathon and call for seconds. It is overdone, buy the softcover. Oh, I almost forgot to mention sticker. They stick better to the softcover as well, criminal I tell you. 3/5
  • Price per page is €16,31 / 62 = 26,3ct per sheet or 13,2ct per page and that is double that of the Sakura book for example but similar to the Hahnemuhle which is heavier at 190gsm where this is 150gsm. 4/5
  • The binding is indestructible and trust me, I tried when trying to get it to lay flat. The same with the soft cover and therefor I would recommend the softcover unless your sketch meetings are particularly violent. 5/5?
  • Nothing to mention in “other” which is nice, no ribbon, no pocket, just a book, with blank pages and honestly, that is refreshing. 4/5

Now this is weird, here is a sketchbook that did everything right. Tough hardcover, awesome paper (although the wrong one for what I want to do, they have alternatives that suit me), crazy strong binding. And yet, not 5s all around, how is that possible? I think it is about balance and this book leans too much towards “Indestructible” and not enough towards “Pleasant Use”, it is missing some elegance so to say.

However, if you really want a US made sketchbook (all the others are from Europe), make sure you pick the correct paper for your needs and buy the softcover.

Sakura Sketch Note Book

Collecting sketchbooks is a weird hobby. While I have the intention to absolutely use them one day, for sure, now that I am actually using some of them it is unclear why I ever bought them. Somehow I feel this goes back to the “buying art supplies” vs “using art supplies” hobby divergence and with a real intention (there it is again) of being financially more responsible in 2021, I will buy no new art supplies unless something runs out. I have two shelves of sketchbooks and only a couple of those are completely filled. I have a pile of large sized watercolor sheets to make my own sketchbooks if needed. I have enough paint to last a lifetime, enough ink for multiple lifetimes. Looking at my art supplies storage closet there is next to nothing I will run out of other than the motivation to use one or the other material for creation.

In the end, that is the trigger to purchase more diverse stuff. “If only I buy more of material X, the motivation for creation will return.” This completely ignores the fact that creation is often a tedious and exhausting exercise and when looking at the end result, it has a tendency to disappoint the creator. Yet, the urge to create remains and as an adult it is possible to steer that urge towards mastery instead of buying new things.

It feels like I am putting too much in 2021 as if to compensate for 2020 which was an undeniable disaster. The expectation is we get vaccinated and can go about our business more or less normal in the second half of the year. New years resolutions for me are things I have been working towards for a longer time already: draw daily, regularly paint, keep up the 3 to 4 times a week running and train for another marathon, stay away from sugar as much as possible. To this I will add financial responsibility as a way of life, I feel I spend too much too easy and I will have to work till I am dead to sustain myself and my bad habits. Let’s try and start with art supplies.

A fine example of spending too much is the purchase of the Sakura Sketch Note Book, a 160 page 140gsm book that for me came in landscape 21 x 15 cm. How did I get to this book? It was a suggestion from a webshop I was browsing… I fell for it, so to say. Hoping that a manufacturer of fine-liners can create a sketchbook that can handle fountain pen well is another example of my optimism and eagerness to buy stuff just to feel good and expand the possibilities of creation. As if I need so many different books to find the best.

Three pages are filled and I must admit, it exceeds expectations. It is a rather affordable book, € 10,70 for the 160 pages which comes down to 6,6 ct a page or 13,2 ct a sheet which is better than most I ran into so far for this paper weight. So the paper must be bad? Not really, not feathering at all. Rough? Nope, it is okee to draw on and does not feel scratchy. It is balanced for multiple mediums such as pen, pencil and pastels. Everything considered, this book is pretty good. No downsides? None that I could find, except maybe that the paper could have been 160 or 190 gsm to make it a little less translucent but even that is not hindering creation. The relatively thinner page will make that I will not buy it again but I see myself filling it in the future.

  • The absorption is low on this paper but not absent, it could shade heavier and although there is no or very little feathering going on, still not perfect. 4/5
  • Smoothness is lacking, it has a rough texture that seems to be in place more for the purpose of making the paper usable with more media than just pen and ink. On the other hand, good to know you can draw with pencil just as well as with pen in this book. 3/5
  • Transparency is high enough to see through a page when flipping them but low enough not to see much of the alternate side drawing when using it laying down. 4/5
  • The cover is another compromise, rounded and not so hard to be completely rigid but too hard to be called soft cover. If this would be my travel book, it would be completely destroyed before the book was filled. How well stickers will stick to it, I am not yet sure of. The one I put on there seems to stay in place but in a few weeks we can know for sure. 3/5 for the thin hard-ish cover.
  • Price per page is good, 6,6ct 5/5
  • The binding is stitched and allows for the book to lay really nice and flat, as it is wanted by me and many other artists. 5/5
  • Three things worth noting is that this book was created by Royal Talens, made in China, it has an elastic pen holder and a huge pocket in the back.

Everything considered a nice purchase and I would argue the better budget option available at the moment.

Clairefontaine My. essential bullet notebook

This is the second iteration in the Sketchbook Selection series and this was done a lot fast than I anticipated. Basically, I gave up after half a page.

You can actually see a bit of shading on the green here, the only upside of phone photography.

The book itself is nice, but it obviously is not meant as a sketchbook. It has content / index pages, all the journal pages have page numbers, soft-cover but with an elastic band and a weird little pocket in the back. For completeness I will mention the ribbon but I feel this will be a recurring thing and I might as well start mentioning when there is no ribbon instead. It features 90gsm paper, 9 index pages and 184 numbered dot pages.

Noteworthy is that everything is in both French and English and for some reason this annoys me. Coming from a monitory language (31 Million speakers globally) I am somewhat used to it but mixing two huge markets such as French with about 300 Million speakers and English with a whopping 2 Billion speakers… It just feels cheap and this journal is not from a producer of inexpensive goods.

There are 9 pages in the front of the book like this.
Ok, this one I could get over.

But the real reason I put the book aside after that half page of mindless scribbles are the dots. Yes, I knew I was getting myself a bullet journal and yes, those have dots. But people on the internet told me that dots are fine to doodle on, you might even like it, they said. I was lied to, it hurt my eyes and my brain and the chances of me ever picking up another bullet journal for anything but giving away as about as big a very small thing.

Something else I would have issues with in the not so distant future is the transparency, it just shows through. This is the other side of the sheet I drew on and yeah, I just want something that does not do this.

For the scoring I tried to be as neutral about the actual properties as possible, Clairfontaine is not to blame for my weird brain and they do make some nice paper.

  • Absorption is absent, this ink will dry on top of the paper instead of soaking in and that is one of the key things in getting nice and crisp fountain pen lines. 5/5
  • Smoothness is strange with this paper. It feels really smooth to the touch, no texture whatsoever and when I start to draw it suddenly is like dragging a pen over a rubber tire. I thought it could be the ink or pen, so I tried all combinations but that made no difference. 3/5
  • Transparency is another disappointment to me, which is to be expected with 90 gsm paper, the picture says enough I think. If this does not bother you, go ahead of course. 3/5
  • The soft cover is some sort of plastic faux leather textured sheet of something, I did not try to put stickers on it but I think they will hold. 3/5 for not being a hard cover.
  • Price per page is pretty good, the 98 sheets / 196 pages come at € 11,95 which means a nice 12ct per sheet, 6ct per page. 5/5 for this price and how it handles ink.
  • The pages are stitched together and then glued to the cover. This means that you technically can lay it flat but it will require a ton of violence and will never be truly flat, just flattened. 3/5
  • The extra’s are mostly aimed at journaling, such as the index pages and the smaller sleeve pockets in the back and front. ?/5

So far this is an interesting experience. The book will not work for me and in fact, I am returning all bulleted journals to the store as I bought multiple to test out. The one I already wrote in will go to my wife who uses several notebooks for work each year, I wonder how she likes the dots.

Hahnemühle Nostalgie

This post is the first in the Sketchbook Selection Series, click the link to read more about it.

From the Hahnemühle website promotional text: “The heavy, natural white paper feels both solid and flexible. The fine grain of the paper makes the pen slide over the surface virtually on its own.” This of made me want it to begin with but then they went on “Thread stitching makes for a solid binding and good flatness of the sheets.” making sure I would make a purchase.

On the Gerstaecker site the prices were reasonable and I had some stuff sitting in my basket (full 56x72cm sheets of fabriano artistico for another project) because I did not yet hit shipping earlier but with the books in there I did and off we went. In the end, I paid €10,90 for the portrait A5 hard cover with 80 pages / 40 sheets of usable paper.

Then, using my TWSBI pens and the inks mentioned on the mother page, I drew a bit. First with a brush pen some blobs and then line it in with the pens. Sort of by accident I started with the first page, the title page I think it is called.

The horror, look at that feathering in the blue horizontal lines! I mean, look at it! And the paper was behaving so well, all the ink stayed on top of it to dry and develop top notch shading. It took me a bit but the local nature of the feathering on this page made me wonder if there is not more to it. These turned out to be my fingerprints. I think that either my hands were / are really nasty or the non-absorbing nature of the paper makes the trace amounts of fat also lay on top and thus acting as canals for the ink to spread.

After that I did a full spread, now taking care to put a piece of sturdy scrap paper between my greasy fingers and the page. If anything to get a clear reading on how this paper is behaving.

And with a proper barrier in place, the paper does exactly as advertised. The green ink shades red in the right angle and thus completely invisible with a scanner.

Now that three pages are done, immediately I wanted to move on to the next book but if I do not grade the book now, I will completely forget how well it performed so let’s get to it.

  • In terms of absorption, this paper is top notch. You can really see the ink lying on top of the paper in a little bubble line just slowly drying to the air instead of soaking in and it shades and sheens like nothing else. 5/5
  • Unfortunately, it is not super smooth, it has some light texture to it and that can be mildly distracting coming from smoother paper. 4/5
  • There is no transparency, written on one side is completely invisible on the other side. 5/5
  • The book has a hard cover with some sort of cotton texture that looks and feels luxurious but stickers do not stick to it at all, nor is drawing / painting or any other modification made difficult. Not good. 3/5
  • Price Per Page is good at 14ct a page, 27ct per sheet (haha, rounding). I think value for money and while you can go cheaper, I doubt it will be this good for fountain pens. 4/5
  • Stitched binding with a flat laying page arrangement. Could not be better! 5/5
  • No other special things, it has a single ribbon and you can draw on all pages. No title page, no pocket in the back, just a cotton covered sketchbook. 3/5

So far, this is a good sketchbook. It could be a bit smoother and not taking stickers is a minor point but the paper does as advertised and the ink is so pretty on it, provided you do not smear it with your nasty fingerprint grease. Maybe a stupid point but as the book has only 80 pages, it does not take a year or more to fill and will thus lead to a sense of accomplishment sooner. I like that more than I am willing to admit in person to anyone.

I can see myself filling this book and that is what counts in the end.