Today, I’m here to review three journals from the St. Louis Art Supply company. Two are watercolor journals and one is a Pro Mixed Media notebook. I use the terms ‘journal’ and ‘notebook’ because that is how they are listed on the St. Louis Art Supply product page. However, all three are hand-made sketchbooks with watercolor paper and great design.
All Three Books
Because these books are made by hand there may be slight variations.
- Paper Weight: 300 gsm (140#)
- No of sheets: 25
- Croquis wraparound style-cover
- Wire Binding
- Subject/Title page
- Model number hand-stamped on the back cover
The Watercolor Journals
- Paper: Italian cold press, pH neutral, 25% cotton
- Color: Bright White
- #302 Size: 4.1″ x 7.1″ (105 x 180 mm)
- #303 Size: 7.1″ x 7.1″ (180 x 180 mm)
The Pro Mixed Media Notebook
- Paper: Fabriano Artistico Hot Press, chlorine and acid free, 100% cotton
- Color: Bright White
- #502 Size: 5.1″ x 7.1″ (130 x 180 mm)
Look and Feel
These books are all made by hand, so there may be slight variations. Each has 25 pages of 140 lb (300 gsm) weight paper. Even the covers are this weight.
The covers on all three books are made in Michigan. They made with a soft to the touch paper that has the stiffness and durability of card stock. The finish is matte, making it easy to draw or paint on (see more about that later).
The measured sizes given by the St. Louis Art Supply are for the paper, not the cover size. In fact, the sizes listed don’t include the edge where the coil holds the paper either. You are given the area size you’ll have for artwork.
The covers are considerably larger than the pages – by almost 1/2 an inch. This gives the paper extra protection, but does allow the covers to be creased or folded more easily. After using the books, I can already see an impression that shows where the pages end.
If you are someone who wants your covers to stay pristine, you wouldn’t want to carry these books around. If you like the broken-in look of a well-used sketchbook (me!), you won’t mind the dings and creases.
The covers have nothing printed on them except for the model number hand-stamped on the back.
If you read the specs above, you saw that these books all have a Croquis wraparound style-cover. Where you often see wire-bound books with a separate front and back cover, croquis means the front, back and spine are all one piece. The wire-binding is set into the spine of the cover. The informational piece that comes with each journal is also bound to the wire binding, so you can leave it on if you wish, or tear it off.
I found the wire coil to be very impressive. It’s a heavy-duty metal that provides a solid support to your hand, if you’re a lefty like me, or if you are right-handed and working on the back of a page. There are no sharp edges to wear against the paper as it moves against the coil. It’s easy to tear out a page if you wish, but they aren’t likely to fall out by accident.
Both the coil and the punch holes are large enough to allow quite a bit of expansion if you want to glue or tape things into the book.
The books are easy to fold back for comfortable drawing and painting.
The Watercolor Journals
The St. Louis Art Supply company has a line of sketchbooks, both watercolor and mixed media, labeled Pro. So, I’m taking that to mean that these watercolor journals are not aimed at those planning professional projects. For those who want to art journal, do urban sketching, studies and other casual artwork, these are a very nice fit.
The cover on both of the watercolor journals is Prussian Blue. The paper is Italian *cold press, 25% cotton, and pH Neutral. It’s a light, but thick, stiff paper.
*Cold pressed/Hot pressed/Rough: The texture of a paper varies according to the way it is made. There is no real standard, so a paper by one company may be called hot pressed, while another would call it cold pressed. Generally, hot pressed is smooth with a hint of tooth, great for detail, while cold pressed has more ‘tooth’ – higher points and lower points. Cold pressed is the most commonly used watercolor paper.
The texture is even throughout. The dips in the paper are long and shallow, giving a linen-like texture. The result is that you see the texture in the finished work, but it is easy to paint on.
The paper is listed as bright white, and I’m comparing it here with a sheet of printer paper with the same color name.
The only real difference between these two watercolor journals is the size.
St. Louis Art Supply #302 Watercolor Journal
Paper Size: 4.1″ x 7.1″ (105 x 180 mm)
St. Louis Art Supply #303 Watercolor Journal
Paper Size: 7.1″ x 7.1″ (180 x 180 mm)
St. Louis Art Supply #502 Pro Mixed Media Journal
Although, the Pro is listed as a notebook and mixed media, the pages are watercolor paper. In fact, it’s a higher quality watercolor paper than that in the watercolor journals! It’s Fabriano Artistico, with hot press texture, and is 100% cotton.
Hot press paper is commonly used for highly detailed work. The paint doesn’t move as freely, so it gives you more control. It doesn’t let you get those wild, wet and juicy effects though. The smooth texture means you can easily use pen or marker too.
The cover is the same stock. The color isn’t specified, but I think it’s a Prussian Green.
The paper feels smooth, almost silky to the touch. The ‘tooth’ is barely present, pinprick, shallow dips that would some granulation for pebbly looks – but not much.
The paper color is also listed as bright white, and I’m comparing it to the same printer paper as I used for the watercolor journals.
The paper size is 5.1″ x 7.1″ (130 x 180 mm).
The Watercolor Journals
This is my destruction piece for the watercolor journals. I used masking fluid to reserve the white of the paper behind the hills. I fussed with it, adding color, lifting it, both while wet and dry, and repainting. I did this several times, well past the point when the painting would be considered finished. This allowed to me discover the good points and the limits of the paper.
I discovered this paper does well with masking fluid. It came off easily.
When you lift color, it damages the paper, no matter the quality. Done properly, you blot gently, and leave damage that can barely be seen. Occasionally, you scrub, which is bad for both the brush and the paper, but might be the only way to get a certain effect or undo a mistake. Good paper stands up to some scrubbing, poor paper won’t even handle gentle lifting well. You’ve heard of ‘mud’, that dull, ugly look. Some paper will give you mud when you scrub. Some paper will turn slick and refuse to let you paint over the lifted/scrubbed areas.
The paper lets you lift color easily, almost too much so. The amount of water is key. If your brush is too wet when you go to add another layer of color, you’ll lift what is there instead of adding more.
The paper doesn’t tolerate much scrubbing. I didn’t get mud, but the color refused to build, and it didn’t take long before I could no longer add color to lifted areas.
The paper curled, just a little, in one corner. I was able to take most of it out by folding it back, gently. There was no *dimpling.
*Dimpling. Not everyone uses this word in the same way when it comes to watercolor paper. I was taught that it meant the areas of paper that warp due to uneven amounts of water across the paper. So instead of the corner or edge of the paper curling up, you get small dimples – uneven areas – across the page. You’d see them as raised spots on the back of the paper.
Having done my destruction test, I set out to build up color with only minimal lifting for effect. I was easily able to layer color to create darks and brights by being careful with the amounts of water I used. There was no curling or dimpling.
Controlling the amount of water you use is key for this paper.
I like to do line and washes, which means using both pen and watercolor, so I wanted to test pen on the paper. You can get good, solid lines, though they’ll be a little jagged because of the texture.
Scumbling, or dry painting, is a technique where you use very little water and almost scrape the paint off onto the paper. I do it often when I’ve used up most of the color on the brush. You can see where I did it along the edges of the purple. The texture is very nice for this effect.
I only used a few layers of color and almost no lifting. Confession. I stuck my brush into the wrong green for the grass, hated it and lifted it, though I had intended not to lift at all with this painting.
These journals would be great for quick watercolor sketches. You can get bright, and dark colors but beginners might struggle a bit as they are more likely to fuss (the better to practice with, my dear!).
The Pro Mixed Media Notebook
Although, it’s called a Mixed Media notebook, this is a sketchbook with professional watercolor paper. It has a hot press texture so it is smooth enough for pen and marker, and will work well with almost any wet media.
You can get nice, bold lines with pen and marker of all kinds. With smaller pen lines, you get a faint feathering, because there is a slight tooth to the paper. It’s a little slick for pencil, taking some work to build up. Fixative would be required to keep the pencil from rubbing off over time. Colored pencil works better, but I wouldn’t recommend the book for just colored pencil.
Masking fluid came off with ease.
There was no curling or dimpling. There was no show-through or bleed-through of the inks, not even the permanent markers that almost always bleed to the back of the page.
Fabriano Artistico is a well-known paper. I’ve used it a lot in the past, and I was tempted not to do a destruction piece. But the truth is that paper changes according to the format. That is to say, the same paper bound into a pad may handle differently than when it is bound into a block or when it’s in separate sheets. Nothing mystical about it. The papers may be made with a different formula or *sizing that works better for the format in question.
*sizing is added to watercolor paper to help it absorb moisture evenly and/or help protect it from mold. It may also keep the paint on the surface longer so the color stays brighter. Some sizing may be added while the paper is made – internal sizing – and some may be added afterwards.
With good paper though, the differences across formats will be slight – consistency is a hallmark of good paper.
At any rate, I fussed with this watercolor painting until it got ugly. Artistico doesn’t allow you to lift much color once it is dry so I did more scrubbing. Overall, I find cellulose-based paper allows easier color lifting than cotton. However, with cotton you can usually fuss longer and the damage is less apparent. The difference between the two is the range of effects you can get, and how long you can fuss before the damage is irredeemable (and the cost of the paper, of course).
The paper handled pretty much the way I expected Fabriano Artistico to handle. Notice how much brighter the color is in this destruction piece than it is on the watercolor journal.
For this painting, I used gel pen, and metallic marker. It’s actually much brighter than it appears because of the metallic colors. It’s just almost impossible to get a good scan or photo.
Even though I didn’t use watercolor, I got watercolor effects by using a damp brush and spreading the color, immediately after drawing with the pens.
I used almost the same mix of media to create this painting, without metallic colors.
As mentioned above, the covers on all three books are completely customizable. So, I customized a couple of them.
I drew my shoes with pencil and used gouache for the painting.
I used a little of everything with this one, including metallics. I found the cover stock a little slick for gel pen, though it does work. In real life, this cover is a bit more colorful – as usual, the metallics didn’t scan well. That said, the metallic markers weren’t quite as bright as usual on this surface..
I like the effect I get with gouache better, and opaque watercolors would work as well.
All three of these St. Louis Art Supply sketch books have 25 pages of 140 lb/300 gsm weight paper, bound croquis-style with heavy duty wire coil. They are light-weight and comfortable to use.
The #302 & #303 Watercolor Journals have a 25% cotton, cold press paper, and are a high student quality. Colors lifts easily, masking fluid comes off easily, and you can achieve both bright and dark colors easily. Controlling the amount of water used is important on this paper, so beginners might struggle in that regard. However, this also makes them good books for learning how to control your water/paint ratio. Great books for quick paintings, urban sketches and practice.
The #502 Pro Mixed Media notebook is filled with professional quality Fabriano Artistico hot press paper. As with most hot press paper, you have great control for detail, but aren’t able to get really wet, juicy effects. A great book for those who do botanical and highly detailed paintings.
- #502 Pro Mixed Media Journal
- #302 Watercolor Journal
- #303 Watercolor Journal
- Zebra Zensations Technical Pens
- Zebra Pen Metallic Brush Pens
- Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.5mm Ballpoint Pen, 8 Color Set
- White Uniball Signo Gel Pens
- Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Half-pan Set
- Viviva Colorsheets
- Princeton Aqua Elite NextGen Artist Brush Synthetic Kolinsky Sable Round-Size 10
Disclaimer: I received two watercolor journals and a mixed media notebook from St. Louis Art Supply for the purpose of this review. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in