Category Archives: Hahnemuhle

Softcover and Single-Signature Notebooks from My Collection

On my “to-do” list for this blog has been a comparison of various notebooks in similar styles. I thought I’d do a post about softcover notebooks, and one about single-signature notebooks, similar to Field Notes and Moleskine Cahiers. So I went rooting around in my collection to find various examples of these styles, but the results were a bit daunting:

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Not only did I find a rather large number of notebooks, I discovered that there’s kind of grey area between these two styles, so I ended up arranging them in a sort of continuum of variations, from thicker softcover notebooks, through thinner squared-spine ones, to the thinnest single-signature ones with stitched or stapled bindings.

From left, we have the “The II” notebook bought at Kinokuniya, red Piccadilly notebook, softcover Piccadilly notebook, white Conceptum notebook from Germany, Zequenz notebook, Leonardo pocket journal from Papyrus, Fabio Ricci notebook bought in Turkey, Soundless Soliloquy notebook from Etsy, a notebook bought in a museum shop in Portugal, Book Factory pocket notebook, Rendr sketchbook, Canson XL sketchbook, Daler Rowney Ivory sketchbook, Pocket Dept notebook, Rhodia Unlimited notebook, yellow graph paper notebook with green cloth spine from Turkey, Federal Supply Memorandum book, Moleskine Volant, Rite in the Rain waterproof notebook, Clairefontaine notebook from the early 1990s, slipcased German notebook and pencil from Carmen, another old Clairefontaine notebook, a more recent Clairefontaine notebook, Moleskine Cahier, Banditapple Carnet, Miro journals, fluorescent Field Notes given to me by a reader, white notebook from Deyrolle in Paris, Kikkerland Writersblok notebook, Moleskine Cahier decorated by me with stamps, Noted graph paper notebook from Target, Filou notebook bought in Turkey, Northern Central Co. Memorandum book from the late ’70s/early ’80s, Ink Journal, polkadot notebook from Portugal, black school quaderno from Vickerey, white promotional notebook from, (at this point the order gets scrambled in some of the later photos) black Doane Paper Utility Notebook, pale green Bound Custom Journal Memo, HitList notebook, OrangeArt Tattersall notebook, Artescrita 4-pack from Portugal, boxed Calepino notebooks, Word. notebook, Halaby Aero Flightbook, and Hahnemuhle Travel Booklets. Whew! I thought I had also included one other little graph paper stapled notebook that I bought in Portugal, but I can’t spot it in the photos– maybe it’s buried under there somewhere!

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And of course this isn’t even all the softcover notebooks in my collection. It’s also worth noting that of all these notebooks, the only ones that have actually been used even partially (other than pen tests for reviews) are the two old black/grey Clairefontaine notebooks and the Northern Central Memorandum book. I have other Moleskine Volant and Kikkerland Writersblok notebooks that I have used, but they weren’t the ones in these photos. I will probably use some of the graph paper and plain paper notebooks in the future. I ended up feeling like it was impossible to compare and contrast the features of so many different notebooks, but almost all of them have been photographed and described in more detail in other posts on this site already.

What’s your favorite softcover notebook?

Review: Sketch & Draw Sketchbook

The Sketch & Draw notebook is another Art Alternatives product that I picked up at Blick. These are inexpensive sketchbooks with toothier paper, similar to what’s found in the Hahnemuhle and HandBook sketchbooks, but not quite as thick.

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The first thing that really sticks out about this brand is the placement of the elastic closure, which is tucked rather jauntily around the upper right corner on the diagonal. It’s not something you see on many other notebooks, and I think people’s opinions will be divided on it. I fall in the camp of not liking it, ultimately. It looks kind of nice from the front, but the back of the notebook looks kind of weird. It also seems as though it may twist the notebook a bit, so it’s not quite square. I do like the lime green color they picked, and the matching ribbon marker is a nice touch. Overall, it’s almost exactly the same size as a pocket Moleskine, but slightly thicker.

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The exterior of the notebook is otherwise pretty typical– plain black, slight faux-leather texture, and brand name stamped on the bottom of the back cover. The cover overhang is a little more than I’d prefer. The spine has headbands at the top and bottom, but they are a bit too short to cover the whole spine width. Not sure why they bothered with this purely decorative detail without making them fit a little better! One other thing I noticed is that the spine feels a bit loose, which could be good for those who like to paste a lot into their sketchbooks– there’s some space to expand.

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Inside the notebook there is no branding, just plain white endpapers. The pages lie nicely flat. There is an expanding pocket in the back with cloth sides.

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The paper in this notebook, as noted already, is a bit rougher in texture, with a tooth that gives a nice feel to pencil or charcoal drawings. The packaging indicates that it is 110 GSM, but it feels lighter, somehow. Show-through and bleed-through were worse than I expected for this paper weight. The tooth makes it a bit rough for fine point pens, and my Zebra extra-fine brush pen really felt dry and scratchy on this paper. Pencil, charcoal, and thicker pens and markers are more the way to go in this sketchbook. Watercolor also seemed to work fine, without too much buckling or deterioration of the paper from light washes. The colors look flat and even but bright.

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The show-through in the paper and the angled elastic make this a less than ideal sketchbook for me, but I think I could happily dedicate it to pencil drawings and collages, so it’s in my “to use someday” pile despite those complaints. These are available in portrait and landscape formats, and a couple of different colors for the elastic and ribbon. They’re $7.49 at Blick, which seems like a good value for a well-made little sketchbook, even if the paper isn’t perfect.

Art Alternatives Sketch & Draw Books

Art Alternatives Sketch & Draw Books

My Inventory of Spare Notebooks

As you might imagine, I have a lot of notebooks stashed in various places. I have boxes of them under beds and in cabinets and in drawers. They are at home and at the office. They are pretty much everywhere! Lots of them are old ones that I have used. Lots of them are new ones that I have not used. Because of this blog, I have a number of notebooks that I never intend to use, though I do try to give a lot of those away. But what about the ones that I do intend to use? I had kind of lost track of how many I had squirreled away, so I decided to get a handle on it. Hint: there are a lot!

I am rather anxious about running out of notebooks that meet my criteria for regular daily use. What if they just stop making ones I like? It could happen. And what about Moleskine’s decline in quality? I’ve been so dismayed at the way they make their notebooks now that I’ve been buying up older ones whenever I spot good ones. For a notebook to make the cut as a daily companion, it has to be approximately 3.5 x 5.5″ or smaller, with plain, dot grid or squared paper. It has to feel good to write in, and feel good to hold. I prefer that the cover be plain, but I’m open to variations as long as the overall aesthetics are pleasing. In addition to the “daily use” notebooks, I am also including the kinds of sketchbooks that I tend to use regularly for assorted drawing and painting, which have to be the same size, with sturdy plain paper. (I am not counting larger sketchbooks, which I do sometimes use, but much more rarely, so I don’t stock up on them much.) After going through my various piles, here’s my current inventory of notebooks with potential for daily use and regular sketching:

  • 20 squared hardcover Moleskines
  • 2 plain hardcover Moleskines
  • 15 Moleskine sketchbooks
  • 2 HandBook Artist Journals
  • 36 assorted other hardcover or softcover notebooks from other brands, including Piccadilly, Pen & Ink and others
  • 37 assorted staple-bound or stitched-spine cahier-style notebooks, from brands such as Moleskine, Field Notes, Doane Paper, Calepino, etc.

I was surprised that I only had 2 unused HandBooks left, as I had quite a few of those at one point. But the main thing that struck me after compiling this list is that I need to start using those cahiers more! I tried to use one for household notes like room measurements and furniture measurements at one point, thinking it would be helpful when shopping for some new furniture, but that project sort of fizzled out. I toy with the idea of using these small notebooks for single subjects or projects, or for drawing and doodling. They are lightweight and easy to carry, so I keep thinking I should be using them for listmaking, or for sketching when I don’t want to carry a daily notes notebook plus another hardcover sketchbook. I could even try carrying a few at a time bundled into a Traveler’s Notebook-style cover. I could be stretching out the lifespan of my nice old Moleskines if I used more of these cahiers.

Since I tend to use about 4-6 notebooks a year on average, including sketchbooks, the 75 non-cahier spares I currently have may only last about 12 years, or until I am about 57 years old. God forbid that I run out of good notebooks just a few years before I’m ready to retire!!! And I am very healthy (knock on wood) and have a family history of longevity, so I may need notebooks until I’m in my early to mid 90s. I can’t just say “oh, I’m sure I’ll have enough.” Proper planning is key. If my usage shifted to 2-3 full-size notebooks and 1 cahier a year, I’d be all set for about 30 years, til I’ll be 75. Assuming I keep blogging and paying attention to new notebooks that hit the market, I am likely to add some other acceptable notebooks to my collection during that time, so I may not have a shortfall until I’m even older. It still makes me a little nervous to imagine living out the final years of my life with only inferior notebooks to scribble in… and you always hear horror stories about people’s stuff being stolen when they’re in nursing homes… so I guess I will just have to keep collecting more spare notebooks to get me through!


Review: Hahnemuhle Travel Journal and Travel Booklets

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.


Disappointing Notebook Shopping

I went to London recently on a business trip and was excited about having an opportunity to spot some notebooks that might not be available in the US… but unfortunately, the trip was a bit of a bust in that respect. I had jotted down the names of some stationery and art supply shops (thank you to those of you who responded to my Twitter call for suggestions) but I ended up having such limited time for wandering and shopping that I didn’t make it to most of them. I did visit two London Graphic Centre stores in hopes that I could find a pocket size Seawhite sketchbook that I’d seen online, but they were very small and didn’t have much selection. They did have larger Seawhite sketchbooks, both hardcover and staple-bound.

I also stopped in some Rymans and Waterstone’s shops, but again didn’t really see anything that inspiring, mostly spiral bound Pukka Pads. I almost bought a Silvine cash book, but decided I didn’t really need it in my collection. At Paddington Station, there was a little gift shop selling NU notebooks, but again, I didn’t feel the need to buy. Part of the problem is the exchange rate– everything is so expensive in London, you have to really want something to make it worthwhile. I was truly appalled when I saw that a shop at Heathrow airport was selling pocket size Moleskines for £13.99, which would be over $23 US, and that’s just at the official exchange rate, before you factor in the extra charges your credit card will tack on, or the actual rate you’ll get if you change money, which might put it over $26– roughly double the US list price! (I did see lower prices at shops outside the airport.)

So ultimately, I returned from London without a single new notebook. Next time I’ll have to plan my shopping better to see if I can hit some of the more interesting gift and stationery shops that might have more unique items.

Back in the States, I happened to spend a few hours in New Paltz, NY, a college town with some fun, quirky shops. Manny’s Art Supplies was a delight to visit, as they have a fun selection of all sorts of things. It reminded me of a long-gone five-and-ten store from my childhood, with bins of little items like superballs and plastic animals. They had assorted office supplies like ledgers and receipt books, as well as a lot of sketchbooks and notebook brands like Moleskine, Rhodia and Clairefontaine. I bought some art supplies, but no notebooks, unfortunately. Nearby, I stopped in a great used bookstore called Barner Books. They sell quite a few journals, including the ScriptaNotes brand and a lot of leather-covered journals with very decorated covers. I snagged a couple of books that I had been wanting to read, but again, the notebooks weren’t calling my name. Oh well… it’s not like I don’t have plenty of other new and old notebooks in the pipeline to review, including what’s below!

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Do you have favorite art supply or stationery stores where you like to shop for new notebooks? Have you spotted anything new and interesting lately?

Happy Valentine’s Day, Notebook Addicts!

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More on Finishing Notebooks

One of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog was about Finishing a Notebook. The notebook in question was this softcover Moleskine, one of the first notebooks I’d ever used completely from front to back.

At the time, this was a notable accomplishment. That was what I loved about those early Moleskines– I wanted to use every page. I didn’t get itchy about switching to a new notebook. Until that point, I’d been quite fickle, always buying new notebooks and often switching to a new one after only using a few pages. Sometimes it was just because I wanted to try a new notebook, and sometimes it was because I had somehow become disillusioned with the one I was using. Sometimes I just had a grand idea of a single-purpose notebook but never really carried it through.

But for the last decade or more, I’ve pretty much finished every notebook I’ve started. My usage habits have fallen into a consistent pattern of having one daily notebook plus a sketchbook or two going at any given time. The daily notebooks are always used until they are finished. The sketchbooks take longer to fill, but they are also used til the end, except for some that have been used while traveling.

The travel notebooks are a tricky one– I started a HandBook sketchbook on a trip to Paris, but I hardly did any drawings in it. I felt like it should stay a travel notebook, but ended up changing my mind and using it for other sketches and collages at home.

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Another HandBook travel notebook started on a trip to Turkey, but was only filled about 1/3 of the way. I then took it to Portugal, but only filled a few pages. Several more pages were filled in Corsica. It’s still only a little more than half full, but now I feel like I have to reserve it for more travel.

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But in the meantime I went to the Galapagos with a brand new sketchbook, which I mostly filled on that one trip. (It’s a brand I had just discovered and will do a full review on soon: Hahnemuhle.) I also dedicated a sketchbook to a safari trip in Botswana and filled it almost to the end. (I’m better at drawing wildlife than European architecture!) The empty pages in the Galapagos sketchbook are almost 1/4 of the book, but they will stay empty, I think, unless I try to re-work some of those sketches from memory or from photos– I can’t just use it for something else.

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So I’m generally pretty committed to seeing a notebook through nowadays. But I’m a little tempted to ditch the one I’m using right now! It’s an old Piccadilly with squared pages, from a stash of them bought several years ago at Borders. The corners of the spine are tearing quite a bit and the paper doesn’t seem quite as smooth as usual. It has some symmetry issues and the corners stick out a bit, particularly on one side. It’s just getting on my nerves a bit. At this point, I think I only have about 1/6 of the notebook left to use. (it looks like more than that below but I also fill in some pages from the back.)  But I can’t bring myself to bail out. Instead, I find myself writing with wider margins, scribbling inconsequentially to fill space, doodling more, and just generally spacing things out a bit more to use it up faster. I think I’ll manage to hold out til it’s done.

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How about you? Do you use every page of a notebook, or stop and start with lots of different ones? Do you go back to old notebooks and finish them later? Do you reserve notebooks for a specific purpose even if they’ll take forever to fill?