I forget exactly how I stumbled across the Hahnemuhle Travel Journal, but this is the website where I first remember seeing it, and the photo that got me all excited: Heaton Cooper Studio
Nice plain black covers, a somewhat chunky shape, and no yucky cover overhang! I had to have one. I went searching around to see where else they might be sold, and there didn’t seem to be too many options. Those I did find were all in the UK. The best price I ended up finding was at The Pastel Shop, about £6.02 for a 9x14cm hardcover journal. I also bought a two-pack of softcover journals for £2.78. I waited anxiously for the notebooks to arrive– it ended up taking almost a month due to a software error in processing my order, but they finally arrived, just in time for me to take the hardcover journal with me on a trip to the Galapagos. (You’ll notice that it looks a lot more beaten-up in all the photos except the first few where it has its wrapper still on! I don’t usually manage to field-test notebooks so thoroughly before reviewing them!)
I was not disappointed when I first unwrapped the sketchbook. It was just as lovely as it looked in the photo– thicker than a Moleskine, and with a slightly different texture to the black cover, but very minimal cover overhang. The spine had a funny wrinkly-ness to it, but the binding was sturdy and supple and opened totally flat. The interior was without any branding. The exterior just had a cute little rooster logo on the back. The elastic closure was just the right tightness and the ribbon marker was the right length. The inside pocket was a bit smaller than usual, and there was a slight mis-alignment between the book block and the cover, but nothing I couldn’t live with. In short, it was almost perfect.
The paper inside seemed just like the paper in the Handbook Artist Journals. That is basically what this notebook is, a HandBook Journal interior with a Moleskine exterior. Since these are the two notebooks that have long been my favorites, you would think I’d have died and gone to heaven finding the Hahnemuhle. I almost did.
So why the almost? Well, first of all what I really want to find is a replacement for my favorite Moleskines, the squared and sketchbook versions. If I want toothy sketch paper, I already have my HandBook Journals, which are totally satisfying just as they are (knock on wood, lest they start cutting corners like Moleskine has). If Hahnemuhle offered options with squared paper and a smooth heavy-weight sketch paper, I’d probably buy a hundred of them tomorrow. But I was still glad to have another option with the kind of paper I use for pencil drawing and watercolors a lot.
So it was disappointing to actually test the paper. There was just something about it that was not quite what I was hoping for. My watercolors seemed to look greyish and muddy, just somehow a bit dingy. Other pens and pencils work fine, or about as you’d expect with a paper of this texture. It’s pretty good on showthrough and bleed-through but not perfect. Fountain pens feather out a bit.
It’s not that different from the HandBook paper, but there is something very subtle that makes it not quite as pleasing. Neither Hahnemuhle or HandBook makes any claim that their notebooks are appropriate for watercolors– both of them can only take light usage of watercolors and even wet markers. But I think the paper in the Hahnemuhle has a slightly cooler tone to it. When I look at my watercolor tests side by side, it seems very subtle, and sometimes I even wonder if I’m imagining it, but I do remember just feeling disappointed when I tried my watercolors, and they do seem duller than they do in some of my other HandBook journals. Despite all that, I used the Hahnemuhle very happily all through the Galapagos and had no complaints when using it for pencil sketches. And one advantage it does have over the HandBook is that that wrinkly spine allows it to open much flatter– the HandBook’s rounded spine sticks out rather stiffly, while Hahnemuhle’s tucks itself right in.
Below are Hahnemuhle vs. HandBook comparison shots:
And here’s Hahnemuhle vs. Moleskine:
I hadn’t tested the little Travel Booklets til writing this review. They’re a great idea– I always wondered why Moleskine didn’t offer a sketch Cahier (though they’ve now introduced something along those lines) and that is basically what these are. One signature of sketch pages, sewn up the spine. 20 sheets of 140 GSM paper, so it bulks up to a nice thickness. The back has a glued-on pocket, which isn’t very easy to access but would allow you to tuck away a small receipt or two.
The travel booklet almost seemed to perform a bit better with watercolors– I realized I was using a better-quality set of paints so I did another test in the original journal just to be sure. I do think the paper in the booklet performed a bit better– the wetness didn’t seem to scrub up the fibers of the paper as much, and the colors seemed a bit cleaner. The fountain pens both worked better in the booklet too.
All this has made me wonder if the original Hahnemuhle journal I got was the best representative of its kind, and whether another example might have somewhat better paper… which is a good excuse for me to buy a few more, especially since the Pastel Shop now has them priced at £5.40 (as of this writing), a reduction from their now-higher regular price of £7.20. (I bought my first one almost a year ago.) Unfortunately their “rest of world” shipping charge has increased from £5.95 to £12.95, so it’s not a great deal outside the UK either way… It’s still hard to find them elsewhere, but I did see that you can find the larger size on Amazon. I’m excited all over again at the thought of giving these another try as a sketchbook, even if they won’t become my everyday go-to notebook. With any luck, some US retailer will start carrying these so they’ll be easier and cheaper to buy here.