Some gorgeous sketchbook pages from artist Jazz Green:
See more at her website: sketchbooks | J A Z Z G R E E N
Some gorgeous sketchbook pages from artist Jazz Green:
See more at her website: sketchbooks | J A Z Z G R E E N
I was really excited when I heard that Stillman & Birn were expanding their product line to include softcover sketchbooks, especially when I saw that a pocket sized version was available. There are so many options out there for hardcover sketchbooks, and so many pocket notebooks, but these really fill a niche in terms of offering durability, flexibility, portability, and a wide array of quality paper options. I’m ashamed to say I received samples for review almost a year ago and am only getting caught up now, but better late than never!
I’ve reviewed Stillman and Birn’s hardcovers in the past, see here and here. The softcovers are available in the same paper types– 6 varieties, covering different paper weights, textures, and colors, but different sizes.
I tested the 3.5 x 5.5″ pocket size portrait versions, of course! They are slightly smaller than a pocket Moleskine. The covers are a smooth material, not at all leather-like but with a leathery-looking pebbly tone, which you can see but not feel. The covers are neutral shades of grey, dark green, dark red and blue, corresponding to the paper type within– greenish for the Delta, with 270 GSM ivory cold press paper; red for Alpha, with 150 GSM bright white medium grain paper. There is nothing imprinted on or inside the sketchbooks except for the Stillman and Birn logo embossed on the back cover.
The signatures are stitched, and there is a fair amount of glue at the spine, holding the signatures to the cover. The pages open very flat despite the spines feeling a little stiff at first, especially with the thicker papers. After being opened all the way, the covers will stay open for a while but will eventually close most of the way. There is no elastic to hold the sketchbooks closed. No inside pocket or ribbon marker either.
The papers are up to the same high standard as S&B’s other products, performing well with all sorts of pens, pencils and watercolors. Only the bleediest markers show through much on the 150 GSM paper, and the 270 GSM paper is pretty impervious. Even the papers meant for only dry media held up fine with watercolors. From the outside, these sketchbooks don’t look like fancy sketchbooks designed to be kept forever, but with acid-free, archival quality paper, what you create on the inside should stand the test of time.
What’s not to love? This is where I thought I’d be saying “well, they are a bit pricey…” but they’re not! The pocket size sketchbooks have a list price of $10.99 and are currently discounted to under $9.00 for some models at Amazon. With so many options in bindings, paper types, sizes and portrait/landscape formats, Stillman & Birn really offers something for everyone!
And I am offering you all the chance to win a free sample! Four winners will be randomly selected from those who enter in any of the following ways:
On your blog, post something containing the words “Stillman & Birn” and “NotebookStories” and link back to this post.
And for those who don’t have these other options available to them, you can also enter by leaving a comment on this post.
Since we can have 4 winners, I will pick at least one winner from each entry method above, and each winner will receive at least 2 sketchbooks.
The deadline for entry is Friday June 23 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
One of my other obsessions besides notebooks is art supplies. I have way too many, and I don’t use them as often as I should, but I still treat myself to new ones once in a while. And I have to say, my latest purchase is a perfect notebook companion!
I’d seen this particular Winsor & Newton watercolor box before, but kept thinking I didn’t need it– and I really don’t need it. I already have 3 other Winsor & Newton travel-size watercolor kits (including ones similar to this and this), plus another small box that I filled myself with empty pans and loaded with gouache. (That actually didn’t work out all that well, gouache works better out of the tube.) I also prefer metal paint boxes to plastic ones, as they seem more durable.
This new set has their Cotman colors, which are considered student grade, so somewhat lesser quality than the set of artist-grade Winsor & Newton paints I treated myself to a couple of years ago (the black tin seen in the photo above, and opened in the photos below. I don’t think it’s available any more, but Schmincke has a very similar set in a metal box, as does Sennelier.). But it has whole pans, which is very rare for these little sets, and it has slightly different colors than some of my other sets. When it popped up as being a pretty low price on Amazon one day (under $25, which it still is as of this writing), I decided to just go for it. What can I say, I’m weak.
The nice thing is that I can swap out the full size pans for half-pans if I want to fit in twice as many colors. (Even though I usually think less is more when it comes to paints– something like this would be total overkill, in my opinion.)
I’m sure no one has failed to notice the adult coloring book trend that’s exploded over the last few years. Bookstores are jam-packed with them. Many have gorgeous , elaborate designs, but that’s all there is to them: pages to color. For those of us who are always carrying a notebook or journal anyway, the Coloring Notebook provides a way to combine coloring pages with notes and journal entries, all in one package. Let’s take a look at the free sample the makers sent me:
From the outside, it’s very much in line with other Moleskine-type notebooks on the market, with a few variations: a black cover with elastic closure, back pocket, and a ribbon marker in yellow, which matches the head and tail bands. The back pocket is all paper– no cloth gussets– and feels a little flimsy. The cover has a smoother texture than a Moleskine, and overhangs the page edges by quite a bit. It comes only in the 5.8 x 8.2″ size.
Inside, coloring pages alternate with free-form space for writing or drawing. Lined, blank and dot-grid versions are available. I tested the lined version.
There are single page and double page coloring designs, but the coloring pages are always back to back with the lined pages. The lines are not noticeable when you’re coloring due to the dense patterns of the coloring designs. When you’re writing on the lined pages, the coloring designs to show through a bit.
The overall issue of show-through and bleed-through will vary depending on the materials you use. I colored a page with markers and watercolor paints. There was some show- and bleed-through with the markers. The paper buckled a bit with watercolors but was better once dry. At 100 gsm, the paper is not especially heavy-weight, so I wouldn’t really recommend it for watercolors, but markers or colored pencils should work fairly well as long as you have reasonable expectations about the show-through. The images below show the front and back of a colored-in page before I tested writing on the back:
I didn’t test all of my usual pens, but you can see some bleed-through from the Super Sharpie below. Any showthrough from the other pens is camouflaged by the coloring.
Technically, this notebook doesn’t offer any more writing space than most actual coloring books– they all tend to have pages that are blank on the back, or maybe have abstract designs on the back, as they want you to be able to cut out and frame your colored pages. If I were creating a coloring notebook, I might add additional writing pages, as I think most notebook users might be likely to use up the blank space before they finished all the coloring pages, but others might disagree. Either way, it would make a nice gift for anyone who likes to color, and prefers the look of a traditional journal.
You can buy the Coloring Notebook for $19.95 at Amazon.
I will be giving away an unused Coloring Notebook to one lucky winner, who will be randomly selected from entries received in any or all of these ways:
On your blog, post something containing the words “Coloring Notebook” and “Notebook Stories” and link back to this post.
The deadline for entry is Friday October 28, 2016 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner. Please allow a couple of weeks for me to check all the entries and determine the winners.
I enjoyed this Q&A with artist Karen Neale, who traveled around the world sketching UNESCO World Heritage sites:
“Q. How did this idea emerge?
A. My passion is sketching and painting the world around me. Since leaving school, I have kept a sketchbook with me, all through my training, qualifying and working as an architect. Then, in 2000, while working as an architect in London, I realised I wanted to do more with my passion for drawing in my sketchbooks and if possible do some good along the way….
Q. What were some of the learnings and unlearnings along the way?
A. This truly was a journey of a lifetime. My sketchbook was my passport to people and places. When standing or if lucky, sitting somewhere for several hours, simply drawing with just a black BIC biro, I became a part of that place for a time. Sketching erodes cultural and linguistic barriers, as a picture and the process to create it can be universally understood. Everywhere, people were friendly, informative, and inquisitive and offered me great hospitality.”
Read more at: Heritage in a sketchbook – Life and style
I’ve had this Moleskine Sketch Album for quite a while and haven’t gotten around to reviewing it, mainly because I knew I’d probably be disappointed! Moleskine’s quality has been waning for years, and though their regular sketchbooks have been my favorite notebooks for a very long time, I’ve refused to buy any of the currently produced ones because they just aren’t the same anymore. Luckily, I have quite a stockpile of old ones! (After this post where I inventoried my spares and worried they might not last until I was in my 90s, I snagged quite a few more on eBay so now I probably have twice as many!)
Anyway, when the sketch album was first announced, I thought it was a good thing– I’d actually thought Moleskine should make a softcover sketchbook, thinking it could be a good alternative for on-the-go use. But the Sketch Album turns out not to be Sketchbook innards with a soft cover– it’s more like a Moleskine Cahier with upgraded paper.
When you open the shrinkwrap, you’ll notice the cardboard cover, which is just like the Cahiers, not the soft faux-leather used on the softcover notebooks. As usual there is stitching on the spine, and a pocket in the back, which is too tight for tucking much more than a few small sheets. When you remove the paper band, you’ll see that the back has been designed with some reference info and tools. I’m not sure how useful these are to most people.
Since Moleskine started labeling various notebooks as an “Art Plus” collection, they’ve started noting paper weights on the packaging, hoping to appeal to those of us who care about these things. The Sketch Album is 120 GSM. That sounds good compared to most upscale pocket notebooks, which tend to be in the 80-100 GSM range, but it’s a lot less than the regular Moleskine Sketchbook, which is 165 GSM. The difference is obvious– the paper in the sketch album feels thinner and floppier. Each sheet is perforated.
When I did my pen tests, I noticed that the sketch album paper actually feels softer to write on– I could hear the pen tips tapping more audibly on the regular sketchbook. The comparison below features an old “Modo e Modo” Moleskine rather than a current production sketchbook. You can see right away how much worse the show-through and bleed-through is on the sketch album, with just a couple of exceptions. The album wins on how much the Accu-liner marker spreads when it is held on a spot for 5 seconds– the Modo sketchbook soaked it up and made a much bigger dot. And the Super Sharpie seemed to soak into the old sketchbook more too. But otherwise, the album did not do well at all, with fountain pens bleeding and feathering and lots more show-through. I tested some watercolor paints too– Moleskine does not claim that either of these notebooks is meant for watercolors, but I use them in the sketchbooks quite often. In the sketch album, the watercolors seemed to pull up the paper fibers more, creating a speckled texture that is much more noticeable than in the sketchbook.
So would I use this “Art Plus” sketch album for actual art? For pencil sketches, or perhaps fine pen & ink drawings with Pigma Micron pens, yes, I might use it. But I’d be much more likely to use it as an upgrade to the Moleskine Cahier or softcover Reporter Notebook. The sketch album is nicely flexible and pocketable, and the paper feels great to write on with fine point gel ink pens. The paper is a nice step up from regular lightweight Moleskine paper– not enough of a step up to make fountain pen users happy, but others will enjoy it for daily jottings. But if you are an artist who likes the regular sketchbooks, stick with them.
To buy: Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbooks and Albums on Amazon. They also have interesting alternatives like the Leuchtturm Hardcover Pocket Sketchbook Black, which has 180 GSM paper, and the Pen & Ink Heavy-Weight Blank Sketch Book— make sure you get the heavy-weight one which has 145 GSM paper– read the full description.
Moleskine has always been rather cagey about revealing the actual weight of their paper, unlike rival notebook makers such as Rhodia, Clairefontaine, Fabriano and many others who specify their paper weight in GSM (grams per square meter). GSM isn’t the only factor in how a paper performs, but it’s a good indicator, as thicker paper will usually have less show-through and bleed-through.
A while back, I linked to this blog post, which does a very detailed analysis to arrive at an estimated measurement of Moleskine’s paper weight. The author Steve DeLong just updated it to let everyone know that he’s been proven right! Moleskine released the information below about their various paper types (this actually dates back to February 2014, but I guess we didn’t notice at the time!):
Paper and item guide.
|70 g/m² – 47 lb paper
|The classic, ivory-coloured Moleskine notebook paper, suitable for dry media, pencils, ballpoint pens.
Items: Music Notebook
|100 g/m² – 68 lb paper
|A heavier version of the notebook paper. Appropriate for fountain pens and dry media, pencils, charcoal, pastels.
Items: A3 Plain Book
|120 g/m² – 81 lb
|Smooth, ivory-coloured paper. Ideal for sketching and drawing with pencils, charcoal, fountain pens, markers.
Items: Sketch Album
|165 g/m² – 111 lb
|Pigmented directly in the pulp itself, this paper guarantees colour stability and resistance to eraser and marker use. It supports all dry media, pencils, pastels, charcoal, fountain pens and markers.
Items: Sketchbook, Japanese Album, Storyboard Notebook
|200 g/m² – 135 lb
|Cold-pressed watercolour paper with cotton for better water absorption on both sides of the page. Created exclusively for Moleskine, it is suitable for watercolour washes and supports large quantities of water.
Items: Watercolour Album
|200 g/m² – 135 lb
|This multimedia paper makes the perfect base for photos, scrapbooking and collages, as well as drawings with bright-coloured pencils, pastels, gel pens and Moleskine fluorescent and metallic inks.
Items: Black Page Album, Black Page Japanese Album
The surprises here for me were that there is an in-between 100GSM weight used in the A3 plain notebooks, though it makes sense that the very thin standard paper might not hold up well at that size. I was not too surprised to see that the softcover Sketch Album has lighter weight paper than the regular hardcover Sketchbook, Japanese Album and Storyboard notebooks– I bought a Sketch Album a while ago and have had it in my queue to review, and my first impression of it was that the paper seemed lighter. It will be interesting to do some actual tests now knowing that it really is a different weight.
Thanks to Steve for the heads-up about Moleskine’s press release!
I just finished a sketchbook, exactly a year a year after I started it. This was one of my old Modo & Modo original Moleskine sketchbooks. I have a hoard of these older ones and they are still my favorite sketchbook for everyday use– they stand up well to most of the pens I use, and I like the way they work with watercolors, at least most of the time! I’ve occasionally had problems where watercolors will bead up and not adhere to the page, but it seems to be from where I’ve touched the page too much, especially in the summer when I might have sunblock residue on my hands.
Anyway, this was a very satisfying sketchbook for me. I used the front and back of every page. I carried it with me around New York City, on an Arizona ranch, at the beach, and even while kayaking on a lake. I did some very rough, quick sketches of people in the park on my lunch break, more careful sketches of a friend who was willing to stay still for a while, some drawings and paintings from photographs, and some abstract doodling. I really had fun messing around with it, and the result is probably my most colorful sketchbook ever. I’m hoping to keep this up with the next one, and hopefully finish it in less than a year!