Every so often I'll retest things. Products change and you might just be missing out on something that would be really fun and useful.
Years ago, before the current rebirth of the Moleskine I used their notebooks for writing and some pen sketching. When they were reintroduced I initially tried a sketchbook. I found the paper was a little slick (even for me, I like slick paper) but the size and the binding just weren't what I wanted. I was making sketchbooks not only for myself, but for other customers and I didn't have any interest in the Moleskines.
Right: Gouache test on Moleskine sketchbook spread. You can see that even with a controlled amount of water the pages will buckle. On the bright side you can do some fun and drippy things on the page, and you can use the "repelling" qualities to add texture to your page. The repelling qualities can be clearly seen in the lower left of this page spread where the paint bubbled up and wouldn't settle on the page. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
A year passed and I took another look (because so many friends were going on and on about them). I discovered that the paper had changed, it was almost bright yellow and had a very odd smell to it. I read reports that these were bad batches of books, but since I wasn't using the book I didn't give it much thought—not something to concern myself with. I returned the very yellow journal I had purchased and didn't think about it. (Those pages were very, very yellow, not just creamy yellow like the pages shown here.)
Left: Sketch with Faber-Castel Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen on graph paper which was then torn out and collaged down. Color is from rubberstamp ink. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Recently however, it has become clear to me that I need to keep my options open for when I stop binding. So I decided to revisit the Moleskine.
Right: Finch sketch with some gouache. I have to say that I actually enjoy painting with gouache on this paper If I'm working tight and dry (i.e., with very little water). I think this image shows that. However, I was wheezing horribly by the time I finished (and my asthma is normally 100 percent under control, unless I stand in a field of rag weed!). I have to be kind to my body. I can't use something that causes me physical distress. If the paper did air out over time and didn't smell like it does dry and worse when it's wet I'd have to say I'd be tempted to use these books at least for my in studio journals. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Left: A bunch of quick sketches of pet-store birds as I race against my allergic reaction to this book. I also got quite itchy after my session with this book. The only variable was the book—all the media used were media I use regularly with no problem. I think there is a sizing on the paper that my body doesn't like, or maybe because I was having trouble breathing I generally felt like crap. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I had purchased a Moleskine Sketchbook to use for my 2011 fake journal but the paper had such a horrible and persistent odor (chemical and woody all at the same time) that even after months of airing out the book wasn't usable to me. I went ahead instead with a Moleskine Watercolor Journal for that project.
Watercolor Moleskine: You can see my first page in my Fake 2011 Journal here.
Accept for the landscape orientation I enjoyed working in that journal. But it's good to have variation, so by the end of the month I think I was actually having fun with the landscape orientation.
Right: I found that even a light application of wet media, without a lot of scrubbing could sometimes go through the page to the next spread—the paper was not uniform in its handling. Read also my note about the paint seeping through the spine sewing and the interesting reaction it had with the paper—not something I see on the other papers I use. That's not a deal breaker so if you don't mind the smell I think you could be happy in this book—I just find the paint reaction as it crept through very curious. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Let me say right now, the ONLY MOLESKINE I will happily use at this time is the WATERCOLOR journal that is 8 x 11 inches or so. (See the above "sidebar." It is landscape so I don't much care for that orientation, but it's a good book, the paper is OK and I have found it serviceable, as long as I don't have to stand up and sketch and hold the wide page spread in my hands.
Left: Collage, rubberstamp ink in a masked area, and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. If you like to work with rubberstamp inks in masked areas like this the paper is marvelous for that—quick to apply on the slick surface, but also quick to dry. The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen works well on this paper, though it is not as fun for me to use on this paper as on the Fabriano Venezia's paper. I also find that over the course of the usage time I was getting very irritated with the yellow cast to the paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Right: Another Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch, this one with washes of gouache. I have to say that working more loosely here, trying to lay in light washes I found the paper more frustrating to work with. I did enjoy slopping on the background colors. It was almost like finger painting with a brush the way other colors would stay or lift off depending on pressure. I know over time I would find working on this paper daily a task and not fun. If you are interested in working on your watercolor or gouache technique I recommend that you buy one of Moleskine's watercolor books, or make your own watercolor book, or buy one of the wirebound watercolor books commercially bound by others. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I still had the unused sketchbook version of the Moleskine on my shelf so the other day I got it down and decided to work as quickly as possible, with as many materials as possible, through as many pages as possible—just to see if I needed to readjust my thoughts about this commercially available sketchbook.
Left: In this sample I drew first with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen as I have frequently written about on this blog. Then I used heavy layers of gouache over the image to hide those lines. I found the paint more difficult to control on this paper than other papers I use. That takes the fun out of it for me. I could of course adapt to this paper, but the odor is worse when wet so it was physically uncomfortable for me to work on this piece. Click on the image and view an enlargement.
What you see in this post are the pages I created over a 2-hour or so time period. (I was interrupted so I don't recall exactly how long it all took.)
My main problem with this book is still that the paper has an off-putting smell to me (even after airing out for over a year). It is worse when you wet it for using light applications of wet media. I thought if I worked with it in the studio and worked with it quickly it wouldn't be a problem, but it was. The book remains shelved and unfinished.
Left: My final notes at the end of my experiment. I think it's important when you try a new product to take notes on the day to remind yourself of the experience—what worked, what didn't, how things worked, how things felt, what the fun factor was, if there were any odors (pleasant or unpleasant), which media worked for you on the new paper and which didn't—and so on. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I suppose 10 years from now I'll buy another Moleskine Sketchbook. I'll test it to see what the paper they are using is like (how it has evolved, perhaps through buyer demand, or just the change of manufacturing conditions). I'll work with it to see how it handles for what I want to do at that time. For now I'll not buy any more of these journals—I'd always have a headache and that's no way to enjoy journaling.
Now if smells don't bother you, or if the odor of this paper isn't a smell that bothers you, you might just want to check out this sketchbook. I found the paper OK to work on even though it often wanted to repell watercolor. (You'll have to accept and get used to the yellow cast of the paper.) I think the quality of the binding is well-done compared to the various "copies" on the market. It's a sturdy little book.
But keep the things I mention in mind—test first by buying a small sketchbook before you jump in. And be sure you are getting a sketchbook—there are all sorts of different lines within this brand. All have different weights and types of paper. Be sure to compare apples to apples.