Tag Archives: blick

Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketchbooks: They’ve Changed!

I have mentioned the Pen & Ink Sketchbooks from Art Alternatives many times on this blog. Their pocket size sketchbook with the heavyweight paper is the closest alternative I’ve found to a Moleskine Sketchbook, for those who prefer creamy smooth paper, as opposed to the brighter white, toothier paper found in many other competitors’ pocket sketchbooks (such as Hahnemuhle, HandBook Artist Journals, Leuchtturm, and Art Alternatives’ Sketch & Draw). Check out my “Four Notebooks Reviewed” series from several years ago for a detailed comparison.

I’ve used a few of the Pen & Ink sketchbooks over the years and they never seemed to change much– even their packaging was the same… until now. While trying to meet a minimum for free shipping at Blick, I decided to throw in a couple of these sketchbooks, but I got a bit of a surprise!

Here’s the image for what I ordered:


But here’s what I got:

I couldn’t care less if they change the design of the paper band, and in fact the new branding is quite attractive, but I was horrified to see that they’ve changed the construction of the notebook itself to the diagonal elastic that Art Alternatives has used on their Sketch & Draw line for a while. (See my Sketch & Draw review).

I didn’t like the diagonal elastic on the Sketch & Draw, and I don’t like it on the Pen & Ink. Very disappointing update– I wonder if they’ve changed anything else about the notebook, but I haven’t even taken the shrinkwrap off to investigate.

Jet Pens has updated their product image, so they are selling the new version. Amazon still has the product images with the orange bands, but like Blick, they may actually have stock with the new design, since the UPC codes are the same. If you order from them, you’re taking your chances, but since the listing says there are only a few units left, maybe it’s from older stock with the orange band and vertical elastic? (The product descriptions have been wonky on Amazon for years– there is a disconnect between the image and the actual paper weight. This listing seems to be the medium weight sketchbook with 192 pages of 54lb paper– don’t buy it unless you want the lighter weight paper comparable to a regular Moleskine. This listing has the same product image, and references 54lb paper, but the title says “heavy weight” and the customer Q&A indicates that the description is wrong and the product is actually 92 pages of 110 lb paper, similar to the Moleskine Sketchbook paper weight.)

The price on these at Blick is just fantastic– currently $5.69 for the pocket size sketchbook. And their customer service department was great about resolving my issue of not wanting this version of the product. It’s not like I desperately need more sketchbooks anyway, but I can’t help being sad that they changed these! I’ve ordered one on eBay that seems to be the old design, just because, well, you know…

Let us know in the comments if you’ve recently seen stock of the old design, or if you’ve tried the new ones!

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.

sketch & draw02

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.

sketch & draw03sketch & draw05

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

Review and Giveaway: Canson XL Mix Media Sketchbook

I think I first came across this notebook on the Blick website. It comes in several sizes, and I was excited to see that one of them was 3.5 x 5.5″, a rare size for sketchbooks. I went to the Blick retail store in Manhattan to see if I could check one out in person, but they only had other sizes, so I ended up placing an order online. Here’s what I got:


Here’s the Canson sketchbook next to a pocket size Moleskine for comparison:


The notebook is a pleasing shape and heft– a sharp-cornered rectangle, with a soft cover.  (The item photo at Blick shows rounded corners, so this may have changed since I bought mine.) The cover is fairly thick and substantial, with a faux-leather texture. On the back is a label with price and brand info– fortunately it peels off very easily.


The paper is heavy enough that the whole notebook only bends slightly. The square spine reveals the stitched binding underneath.



When you open the notebook, there’s a space to write your name on the inside front cover, but otherwise it’s completely plain inside– no ribbon marker or pocket, no other branding. The pages open quite flat.



Given that this sketchbook is marketed as being suitable for mixed media work, I would hope it had substantial paper that could stand up to most pens, and happily, this does turn out to be the case! While the 160 GSM paper has a bit of tooth to it, it feels ok with fine rollerball pens, and really shines on showthrough and bleedthrough, with only the toughest pens showing through. I also tested it with watercolor paint after these photos were taken, and found that it held up well, with minimal buckling.



I think this is a fantastic little sketchbook for artists on the go. It will slip right into your pocket, with no annoying hard cover or wire binding. Some people might want to protect the outside and corners by using it with some sort of notebook cover, but I think it should hold up pretty well as is. And at $4.49 for a 48-page 3.5 x 5.5″ sketchbook of this quality, it’s a great bargain at Blick. It also comes in 5.5 x 8.5″ for those who prefer larger pages, at only $7.99. (The manufacturer’s list prices are $7.70 and $14.35 respectively, but they are 41% off at Blick.)

Canson XL Mix Media Journal
If you want a chance to try the Canson Mix Media Journal for free, I’m giving one away! I’ll select 3 lucky winners from entries received in these ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing “Canson XL Mix Media Journal” and “@NotebookStories”, and follow @NotebookStories.

On Facebook, “like” the Notebook Stories page, and post something containing the words “Canson XL Mix Media Journal” on the Notebook Stories wall.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Canson XL Mix Media Journal” and “Notebook Stories” and link back to this blog.

The deadline for entry is Friday March 1 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner.

From Our Readers

Time for another look through the mailbag!

From BMT:

This might come under the “fell off the face of the Earth” dept.

In the early sixties, possibly 1960 or 1961 a loose leaf company (Mead?) marketed a failed loose leaf product named “Nifty.”
Instead of the conventional rings on the left side, it flipped up like a legal pad. There were two “pegs” that held the special two-hole (on the top) loose leaf paper as well as a convenient pencil compartment with a magnetic catch.

The TV commercial, in black & white of course showed a cartoon of kids on a school bus singing “…take Nifty to school with you…” with the bus sounding “honk-honk” on the horn. The verse was repeated two more times.

My mother bought me one, but the product flopped as fast as it came out, and I can’t find one word of the product anywhere on the net.

From Ayanna:

I purchased a fabulous sketchbook @ Blick Art Supplies in Pasadena,CA in June of this year. The notebook was a larger size than I usually use and I fell in love with it. The size is 9×12 and it is manufactured by Fabrica (Libretto Holdings in NYC) which seems to be a subsidiary of Benneton. It has a vinyl cover that you can slip business cards or photos into and 120 blank pages. This notebook is perfect for designing lines and collecting mood images etc. I have contacted Fabrica via email and no one has returned my calls. Have you ever seen this book before or do you have any information on where I can purchase another similiar style?

From Jordan:

My question lies with the movie “Shutter Island”. In the movie, Leo Dicaprio’s character uses a soft-cover notebook throughout to take notes, and I love it. The only problem is I am terrible at recognizing notebook brands, types etc. I was wondering if maybe you could help me, I would REALLY appreciate it.

Can anyone help find these notebooks?

Other readers have written just to say hello and share interesting links:

Check out Caribbean Princess’s blog for some great Filofax posts.

Katie introduces Gadanke, her line of creative writing journals with unique and inspiring prompts.

And Paul recommends this book: Tennessee Williams: Notebooks. It includes descriptions and photos of the notebooks themselves, something that often seems to be lacking in books about writers’ notebooks!

Hand Book Journal Value Packs

I’m a big fan of the Hand Book Journals, so I was excited to see that Blick has 3-packs at a great price, 53% off the suggested retail. Unfortunately it’s only for the large size, and only in black… but if you use them, it’s a good chance to grab a few!
Hand Book Artist Journal Value Packs

Hand Book Artist Journal Value Packs

Followup on Giant Sketchbook and Tiny Notebook

For those who were wondering about the very large and very small notebooks featured recently in readers’ collections, here you go!

The humongous sketchbook is available at Amazon here: Sketches in the Making Giant Hardcover Sketch Book
and was previously available at Blick  with the image and description below (the dust jacket is removable, with a plain black cover underneath):

Sketches in the Making Sketches in the MakingThis is a coffee table book with a big difference! It’s not just a collection of drawings and illustrations, at least not to start with. Instead, this giant, hardbound blank book invites you and your friends to create the keepsake of a lifetime. Leave it on your coffee table and watch as the blank pages slowly fill up with artwork created by you, your family, and friends. This conversation piece is bound to become an historical record of good times shared with those you know and care about. It’s also a great gift idea! The book weighs an amazing 8 lbs (3.6 kg) and contains 348 sheets of blank, 75 lb (110 gsm), acid-free white paper. The book jacket is printed to give the appearance of a genuine coffee table book. Hardcover. 348 sheets. 10¾” × 12½” (27 cm × 32 cm) .

As for the teeny weeny notebook, it’s made by PSN, a Dutch company.


I’ll be reviewing some of their notebooks here soon. Unfortunately, they do not sell direct to consumers, but you can check out the list of retailers on their website, most of which seem to be in various European countries or former Dutch colonies such as Aruba. Now that’s a notebook field trip I’d like to take!