Sketchbook Selections

Recently the realization hit me that a paper manufacturer that also produces sketchbooks, might actually have a fountain pen friendly sketchbook. Unfortunately this happened late at night when I am completely out of any self control and should not be allowed on the internet anymore and all web shops should be blocked on my PC, phone, laptop and tablet. If you wonder why I own so many devices, please read the previous sentence again.

Anyway, such blocking is not in place and some time later I received a message in my mailbox that said the various sketchbooks I ordered were on their way. Only when writing this does it seem slightly weird to have more than a few, if any, blank sketchbooks shelved. Peter from Peter Draws posted a video in which he tries to justify paying 800 USD for a custom hand-made fountain pen and eventually he ends up with “some people collect stamps, I collect pens”. Seems I collect sketchbooks and other art materials. When you consider “using art supplies” and “buying art supplies” two separate hobbies that each give their own special joy, things start to make sense.

What properties to look for

Drawing with a fountain pen and fountain pen ink has challenges, it becomes clear rather fast that a more unusual type of paper is needed to have full use of the special properties of the ink. Most booklets sold as “Sketchbook” are for pencil or other dry media, it has been only the last few years more specialized books for watercolor and fountain pen can be found widely. The sketchbook itself also has some properties that make it more or less suitable for drawing regardless of the medium.

  • The paper needs to have a low absorption rate to allow the ink to dry on top of the paper for that sweet shading, sheen and shimmer. (Absorption)
  • The paper surface has to be really smooth as that is just nicer with a fountain pen. (Smoothness)
  • The paper has to have a certain thickness or density to prevent see-through to the other side of the page. (See-through)
  • The sketchbook can have a hard or soft cover (Cover)
  • There is the page count vs price, thus price per page (Per Page Price)
  • And the method of binding the pages together (Binding)
  • Anything else worth mentioning? (Other)

The inks

For these tests, I use four brands of fountain pen ink:

  • KWZ, a Polish newcomer for the sweet smelling “Honey” ink.
  • Diamine, a UK based brand with a wide variety of colors
  • Pilot ink, the iroshozuku line with a range of colors
  • Platinum ink, specifically Carbon Black

Sketchbooks so far

Since September 2020 until a day before Christmas 2020, I have been using two Illo sketchbooks rather a lot. Just check out the tag “Illo” to find out more. And I have/had this strange notion that once you commit to a sketchbook, you need to finish it before starting another. So how about we rate the Illo sketchbook for use with a fountain pen?

  • Absorption: This paper has a tendency to lightly absorb ink, but also light washes and alcohol markers. It was a ruse a while back (around when I bought a 5 book bundle) that there was a batch with bad paper made so it is possible I got one or more bad items especially since book 1 was much less prone to feathering where with book 2 I might was well use a newspaper so much as it bleeds. Verdict: inconsistent, from okish to rather unpleasant, 2 out of 5 stars.
  • Smoothness: The paper is smooth, perfect for fountain pen. 5 out of 5.
  • See-Through: with 122lb / 180gr paper this is thick enough to see nothing of your pen on the other side. When going heavier, the absorption ruins the party and will cause bleed through that can still be seen. 4 stars.
  • Cover: Plain but good looking PUR hard covers, perfect for stickers and will not get grimy. 4/5 stars
  • Per Page Price. This was steep for me as I had to pay shipping from the US and on top of that import taxes, it was about €25 per book and with 112 pages, this comes to 25ct a page, 50ct a sheet. Compared to a Hahnemühle Nostalgie that gives 80 pages for € 10,90 hitting 14ct per page so almost half the price. So for the illo 2 out of 5 stars but that could be different in your locale.
  • Binding: The book is stitched and lightly glued so it can lay very flat and is sturdy enough to be fine with additional stomping to get even flatter. 5/5
  • Other things? It has an elastic band, a little envelope in the back and it is square which is rather nice for instagram if you are into that kind of thing.

Overall verdict: 3 out of 5 because of the inconsistent quality and high price. If all books were like the first and they were some €10 cheaper, they would be awesome.

All this leads to the point of this story, I will be selecting a new sketchbook to go with my fountain pens. Instead of committing to a full book without knowing what I get myself into, I will do three (or more) pages in each of the types of books I own to get a feel for the book and to be able to score using the above properties.

Contestants

The books that are currently on the list to be judged:

  • Hahnemühle Nostalgie sketchbook
  • Hahnemühle Cappuccino book
  • Clairfontaine My. essential (Dot grid journal)
  • Rhodia Hardcover Webnotebook
  • Sakura Sketch note Book, by Royal Talens
  • Stillman & Birn Alpha series premium Sketchbook
  • Paperblanks journal
  • Rhodiarama Goalbook