This series of posts features watercolor/art journals, with a focus on some that are suitable for wet media- Stillman & Birn, Seawhite of Brighton, Leuchtturm 1917, Derwent, Moleskine, Handbook Journal, Leda Art Supply, Pentalic, Fabriano, Canson, Strathmore, Bee Paper Company, Arches, and Tomoe River paper.
Here in Part II, we will look at Moleskine, HandBook Travelogue Journals, Fabriano, Canson, Strathmore, Bee Paper Company, Arches, and Tomoe River paper. A few brands are reviewed in more detail, because I have more experience with them. General info will be offered on some.
The good thing about Part II, is that most of my initial rambling got done in Part I. So, we can get straight down to some journal reviewing business! If you happened upon this post first, please see Watercolor/Art Journals Part I. This is a long one, a lot of products are presented.
I want to say again, that a journal choice is a personal preference, and people like what they like for different reasons. I hope that the info presented helps you to find your watercolor/sketch journal love, or avoid some that might not be right for you.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the Tour de Journals…
This is a brand loved by a lot of people, but there is something fishy going on with the labeling of the Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Journal. The paper does not feel like the 135lbs it’s labeled as. Am I the only one that thinks this? Then I got to looking at the labels on three different watercolor journals- the Moleskin Art Plus Watercolor- 200 gsm/135lb, the Hand Book Travelogue Watercolor– 200gsm/95lb, and the Fabriano Watercolour Book– 200gsm/90lb paper. All 140lb non-journal watercolor papers that I see are 300gsm, I’ve never seen a brand that has said anything different. Then why are the 200gsm watercolor papers varying so much in how many pounds they are? Maybe I’m missing something? I’ve been trying to find other blogs that talk about it, but I haven’t found anything helpful. I’ve also looked up watercolor paper converters, none of them convert 200gsm to 135lbs. There must be something I’m not getting. I know I’m not the only one though. It can be a confusing paper world out there. In the US, many of us look at the LBS. over GSM. I’m going to start paying attention to the GSM. over LBS. to better understand the actual thickness of paper.
Labels for comparison
Paper color comparison- Moleskine Watercolor on top, Travelogue Watercolor on bottom.
Moleskine watercolor paper is slightly textured and ivory or light beige, it’s also 25% cotton with 30 sheets/60 pages. Both sides of the sheet can be used. Use too much water and some buckling will happen. I’ve used the pocket size and I like that little journal. These all lay flat, have an elastic strap, and a pocket in the back. There is something inviting about the feel to them, nice, sleek, and sturdy.
Below- Pocket Moleskine Watercolor and Moleskine Art Plus.
Moleskine Art Plus– this thing can take some multi-media abuse! Acrylic, markers, pastels, all kinds of things, but it’s not good for watercolor. The paint will bead on the surface, and then the surface will deteriorate if blending is attempted. I’ve been able to “color” with more opaque watercolor in it. Lots of sumi ink, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and marker in the example above. I’ve made these layered muti-media pieces on both sides of the paper with no bleed through. Copics will bleed through, but they do that with most journals. The bird sketch a few photos up is also the Art Plus.
Global Art Materials distributes the Handbook Journal Travelogue Series. One classified for sketching, and the other for watercolors. Both types of journals have linen covers, an elastic closure, and a clear envelope inside the back cover.
I tried the Travelogue Watercolor after taking guest Doodlewasher Marc Taro Holmes‘ class Travel Sketching in Mixed Media on Craftsy, it’s a great class. This is on the supply list. I’ve done a few paintings in it on both sides of the paper. Even though I’ve only done a handful of paintings in it, mine looks a little bowed in the middle. Not overly excited about the journal, but I will continue to use it. It seems to be a product that is widely distributed, so probably easy for folks to get.
The paper in the Travelogue Watercolor is white, not quite as absorbent, and stiffer than the Moleskine Watercolor paper. I expected it to buckle more than it did. Their site doesn’t say anything about fiber content other than the paper is made at a 400 year old European mill. It’s 30 sheets/60 pages. The Travelogue’s binding and overall cover quality isn’t as nice as Moleskine, it feels more flimsy. I’m comparing it with the Moleskine Watercolor because they seem more similar than other papers/journals being reviewed here. Below is the Grand Portrait size 10.5″x 8.25,” There are two other sizes, Large Landscape and Pocket Panorama.
Travelogue Sketch Journals, the description states- “128 acid-free sheets of heavyweight buff drawing paper, available in 5 formats and 4 colors, accepts light watercolor washes without buckling.” I like that they come in square. It’s a surprisingly durable little journal and comes with a lot of pages. Okay for light wash, but go too far and the paper will start to deteriorate. It does better “coloring” with watercolor over painting with it. The green one pictured in the middle of the stack below is filled with a lot of different media. As you can see, the pages look similar in flatness to the other two, which are not filled. These are sturdy with a lot of pages and good for multi-media use. The entire Travelogue line is available at many local art stores and online retailers.
Travelogue Sketch in three different sizes- Pocket Portrait 5.5″x 3.5,”, Square 5.5″x 5.5,” and Large Landscape 5.5″x 8.25.” Ink mandala painting in the square size.
Fabriano– This Italian company that has been making paper since the dark ages:
“The cradle of papermaking in the western world is found in the city of Fabriano. For more than seven centuries, Fabriano has been famous the world over for its production of the finest art and writing papers that embody the perfect marriage of innovation and tradition. Papermaking at Fabriano mills began in 1283 and the remaining examples of paper that exist from this time indicate the advanced state of papermaking at the mills.”
Fabriano Watercolour Book top right in photo-“Watercolour hardcover book… The thread sewn have 30 sheets of 200 gsm paper. Acid free paper, FSC certified, 25% cotton content. It is inside and surface sized for optimal painting results.” The paper cotton content, color and feel is similar to the Moleskine Watercolor. I don’t know where I got this book from. I have not painted in it, but added it in so you know of its existence.
Fabriano Venezia, sometimes “Art Book,” or “Drawing Paper” is added to the name. This says drawing paper, but you can totally watercolor on it, and on both sides of the page. It’s a 48 page sturdy journal with a distinct cover. The paper is nice, sturdy, minimal buckling with a wet wash. Doesn’t quite open flat, but with some use, it might. I couldn’t find the LBS/GSM info. I did a few paintings in it and one pen and wash sketch. The paper holds up well, but the paint dries slightly flat looking compared to other papers. Description from Cheap Joes– “Fabriano Venezia Art Books feature heavyweight Fabriano Accademia acid-free white fine art drawing paper with a very alluring texture. The stylish cover print recalls the Venetian mosaic pattern from the Piazza San Marco, and the Ingres flyleaf print displays Fabriano watermarks from over the centuries. Each art book includes a red Bordeaux linen binding and satin ribbon bookmark.” They come in three sizes, 4″x 6″, 6″x 9″, 9″x 12,” might not be super easy to get all sizes available if you are in North America. I got this on Amazon in the summer of 2015 for $21. That’s a lot for a 6”x 9” sketchbook. Below- watercolor.
Paper comparisons between the Venezia on the left and the Fabriano Watercolour Book on the left.
The next three- Bee Paper, Strathmore and Canson XL are in a sort of a category. These are the journals that I do all the stuff in that I don’t want to do to the others. Like glitter, testing out media, messy and strange swatches, and singed them- that’s the Ghost sketch below, or whatever it is. Stuff gets interesting during Inktober.
Second picture- top is the Aquabee Deluxe Sketchbook with gouache and Gelly Roll and Strathmore Visual Journal below with Neocolor II. Ghosts- ink, pen, pencil, colored pencil, Bic lighter, in the Aquabee Super Deluxe.
Bee Paper Company has an assortment of journals. I’ll comment on the Aquabee Super Deluxe Journal. This paper buckles more than anything I’ve ever used. I have a filled 9”x 9” journal and the cute little 6”x 6.” It will flatten out some in the end, but during, it’s a buckler. See how fat they become from the side view below. From their site:
“The only sketchbook you’ll ever need! Don’t be confused by the name of Aquabee’s exquisitely well-rounded paper for mixed media! Our 808 Deluxe Heavyweight Sketch is 93 lb, (150 gsm) NpH archival quality drawing paper. This natural white sheet has two distinct surfaces. The top side of the sheet has tooth for dry media and works well as a cold pressed watercolor sheet. The bottom side is fabulous with pen and ink and works well as a hot pressed sheet for watercolor and other mixed media.”
I like that they come in square. I keep saying that about square journals. Last year I participated in a 100 Mandala Challenge, the square journals are handy for symmetry. This is the journal that I did all those strange swatches in for the Daniel Smith and M. Graham posts. After I filled up the larger 9”x 9,” I switched to the Canson XL because I had one, and that paper is nicer and buckles less.
This isn’t a journal, but worth a mention. Bee Paper Company Aquabee 100% Cotton Watercolor Paper. 50 6”x 9” sheets for $20 on Blick or $18 on Amazon. I got this from my local art store for about $18. It isn’t the best watercolor paper, but with 50 sheets in a non-threatening small size, it is so worth the buy. Ink and watercolor used in the example on the right.
Strathmore makes a lot of different types of papers and journals. If you’ve read some of my watercolor paint review posts, I use the student grade 400 Series Watercolor 140lb/300gsm paper to do swatches on. I have a large 11” x 15” spiral bound that I do the swatches in so that they are all in one place. But you’ve probably also read that I don’t like painting on this paper, so I use it for swatches only. This feels like the same paper in the Strathmore Visual Journal. There is nothing wrong with this paper, it’s sturdy, doesn’t buckle much, and can take a lot of media. There is a smoothness to it good for sketching. For whatever reason, I don’t like painting on it. They have a 500 Series Imperial Watercolor professional grade paper that I have not tried.
Canson Paper– Another company that’s been around forever.
“Canson® was founded in 1557 by the Montgolfier family. Its development and destiny are intertwined with the history of France and the history of Art. Rooted in tradition, Canson® respects this heritage and its duty to always provide consumers with outstanding paper.”
I will choose any of their varieties of paper over Strathmore. Canson manufactures a ton of different papers and is the maker of Montval and Moulin du Roy, as well as other varieties of watercolor paper. This review will focus mostly on their XL Series, which is their student grade line, and specifically the Mix Media. They also have a watercolor paper in the XL Series. Example above- gouache, watercolor, and Gelly Roll.
“Canson XL Mix Media Pads contain more sheets at a comparable or better price than other value pads in the marketplace. The 98 lb (160 gsm) paper features heavy sizing, making it excellent for watercolor and acrylics, as well as dry media. The fine tooth paper erases well and blends easily. The true size sheets are micro-perforated.”
I like these journals, perforated pages, paint looks vibrant on the paper, a few size options and the large 12”x 9” is only around $8 or $9! It’s not so pricey and “special” that anyone would hesitate to be as expressive as possible or mix paints or go crazy in it. The Aquabee Super Deluxe of the same size is at few more dollars. Available at local art stores and many online retailers.
Montval Watercolor Paper– “Canson Montval is a fine quality, acid-free, natural white, mildew resistant student watercolor paper. Prized for its texture and resistance to repeated washing, this Cold Press paper is suitable for all wet media techniques, including watercolor, gouache, wash, and acrylic painting.” On the right is a comparison of the Canson XL on the bottom and the Montval on top. Haven’t used it, but showing it as an option.
Arches– Most people know this company for their professional grade watercolor papers.
“1492, a historic year, memorable for two special events: the discovery of America by Christopher Colombus and the founding of the ARCHES® paper mill, which has endured through the centuries, to the pleasure and satisfaction of numerous renowned artists, art publishers and printers who have remained attached to its outstanding qualities.”
Arches Field Watercolor Book– I’m adding this in because I have one, but as you can see, it remains wrapped. Must be saving it for something special. Mentioning it in case some people don’t know of its existence. “15 sheets of 140lb cold press watercolor paper, natural white, 10-x-7-inch, double wire binding allows book to open flat.” My reflection in the plastic looks like I’m assuming the pose in the airport security line.
Honorable mention- Hobonichi Techo Planner or any journal with Tomoe River paper. I’ve seen some stunning things painted on the magically thin 52gsm Japanese paper. This might seem like a strange thing to sketch and paint in, but it has a cult following. Guest Doodlewasher Yukari Bromfield almost exclusively sketches and paints on this paper and she introduced me to it. Thanks Yukari! Most fountain pen enthusiasts have heard of this paper. Many fountain pen retailers like Goulet Pens and Vanness1938 sell loose sheets and small jot books with the paper. JetPens sells all that, plus the Hobonichi Techo Planner. Nanami Paper sells large journals full of it, but you have to keep your eye out to score one. Have an interest in the paper- there is some serious ink porn, and info here in this 3:42 minute video. Below- the Hobonochi Techo with watercolor and a loose sheet of Tomoe River with pen and ink wash.
In closing- the man, the hair, the happy trees, the encouraging PBS legend- Bob Ross, episodes now on Netflix! One season at least. He’s so soothing. I’ve been watching it before I go to bed. Bob Ross: 13 Happy Little Facts About the Iconic PBS Painter.
All about paper.
Paper weight– LBS. and GSM. conversion and explanation.
How to choose the right watercolor paper.
Paper sizes explained.
Did you get enough here?! 😉
I’m working to finish up June with a post on brushes. Next month is all watercolors. To kick off World Watercolor Month, and to raise awareness of art education, we will take a look at watercolors suitable for children. Then we will be going on a world tour of watercolors- Japan, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK! This is an ongoing Saturday series of watercolor and art supply posts.