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.