What I’m Using Now (and Recently)

A reader asked for more details about the notebooks in my “What I’m Using Now” photo. I haven’t been updating that photo as often as I should, though for the most part, it’s still accurate most of the time.

The red and blue notebooks are HandBook Artist Journals that I have been slowly filling with drawings and watercolors and collages over the last few years. Both were started as travel journals but have evolved into not having any particular purpose other than messing around with art supplies. These sketchbooks have been a favorite of mine for years– I love the construction and the cloth covers, which come in nice colors. The paper is good for drawing and watercolors, but a bit too toothy for writing on with fine point pens. I bought quite a few extras and am glad I did, as their prices have crept up lately, at least at some stores. They are still pretty cheap at Blick: $8.80 for the pocket size:
Hand Book Artist Journals, Cadmium Green

The black notebooks in the photo are 3 pocket-size Moleskines, one squared and two sketchbooks. I am currently using one squared and one sketchbook. I tend to have a squared notebook as my main daily notebook for keeping lists, jotting notes, journal entries, etc.– it’s usually a Moleskine, from my stash of older ones, but I’ve also occasionally used a Piccadilly. I also tend to have a sketchbook going for assorted drawings, usually made during my lunch hour when I’m sitting on a park bench observing people. Sometimes I’ll also use a sketchbook, or an unlined notebook, as my main daily notebook too– it doesn’t change things much, other than that I might be a bit more likely to use a bit of watercolor in it here and there. I sometimes do that in the squared notebooks too but the lighter paper doesn’t take to it as well.

One recent exception to my Moleskine/Piccadilly habit was using a Pen & Ink sketchbook as my daily notebook for 3 months. If you like the heavier, creamy paper of Moleskine sketchbooks, these Pen & Ink books might be your best alternative right now. The paper is not quite as heavy as Moleskine’s, but it’s very close, and sturdy enough to handle watercolors and most pens without showthrough or bleedthrough. The main difference between the two brands is the slightly softer cover material and more rounded spine. I thought the cover might get scuffed easily, but this one is still in great shape after bouncing around in my bag for 3 months and being used daily. Also note that there is not the slightest sign of wear around the spine– Moleskines often start to tear a bit at the corners.


I’ve had Pen & Ink sketchbooks in my collection for years but never used one til this, and it made me wonder why I’d waited so long! It’s really a great notebook and very reasonably priced– you can find them on Amazon, though the listings there are a bit confusing in terms of page count/paper weight/ format, so buy with caution. You want to be sure you get the 96 page, 98 lb/145 GSM version, as there is also a plain sketchbook with lighter 80 GSM paper. At Blick, they are only $7.49 each:
Art Alternatives Sketchbooks and Journals

They also make a version with watercolor paper, currently $9.23 at Blick:
Art Alternatives Watercolor Books

I also bought a couple of their squared notebooks, hoping they’d be a good Moleskine alternative, but unfortunately the lines of the graph paper are really thick and dark, to the point where it’s very distracting to write on. I hope they do something about that! I will probably buy a bunch more Pen & Ink sketchbooks– their quality seems to have remained pretty consistent over the last few years, unlike Moleskine’s, but you never know. I’d like to add a few spares to my stash in case things change!

See these posts for more comparisons between Moleskine, HandBook and Pen & Ink sketchbooks:

Four Notebooks Reviewed, Part 1

Four Notebooks Reviewed, Part 2

Four Notebooks Reviewed, Part 3


How about you, readers? What are you using now?

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7 Responses to “What I’m Using Now (and Recently)”

  1. I’m currently using a lined, green A5(ish) Leuchtturm for work, a blank B6 Life Noble notebook for journaling/sketching, and a Hobonichi Techo as a planner. I also have a lined Rhodia pad (4 x 7 in) for random lists (books to read, restaurants to try, groceries, etc.) and a really thick, leather notebook from Barnes & Noble for gaming notes. 🙂

  2. Great in-depth review…..thanks! I lean towards Moleskine sketchbooks and their watercolour notebooks, however, the Pen and Ink ones have me intrigued. Sadly, in Australia, artist quality sketchbooks are hard to come by and if I do find them, they are so expensive. I order my Moleskines online from overseas because it’s much cheaper that way. I like to work directly with pen so the Handbooks may not be for me. Thanks again for a great review. 🙂

  3. My current favorite is the Leuchtturm A5 size for writing/collage. I used the same pocket size Pen & Ink as yours (with the heavier paper) as a travel journal last summer, and by the time I got home 2 weeks later, the cover had almost completely pulled away from the spine. Very disappointing, especially since it was a travel diary. This year I’m going to use a standard pocket Moleskine. I wanted to use a Rhodia, but the thicker cover adds substantially to the bulk.

    – Tina

  4. Interesting, I’m surprised you had that problem with the Pen & Ink as mine have seemed quite durable, although the spine tends to be a bit stiffer than some Moleskines. I did break the spine on a Pen & Ink once, but it was while testing it for the review linked to in this post, and I had bent it way back.

  5. The HandBook journals work well with most pens and markers for drawing. I just find that I don’t want to use super fine pens for writing journal entries in them.

  6. I am loving all notebooks Leuchtturm at the moment. I have one for work, and just finished one as a journal. I also use Fieldnotes (only the special editions, the craft papers ones are not even on my radar) as my everyday notes, lists etc. I find that I go through about 1 a month though and usually have to carry the last one as well as the previous one otherwise I’m copying out lists into the new one…

  7. […] reviewed and mentioned the Pen & Ink brand sketchbooks several times on this site (see here, here, here, and here.) They are the closest substitute for a Moleskine sketchbook with the […]

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