Above: Sketch with a Pentel Brush pen, fine point with pigment ink, and another Pentel Brush pen filled with dye-based, watersoluble ink. 8.25 x 10.5 inch Hand•Book journal. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
In November I was in an art supply store and walked past their display. They had an 8.25 x 10.5 inch journal. I'd never seen that size before and since all my journals are currently on growth hormones I had to buy one. It was pricey, about $35. But I felt it was worth it as a test, and I had good memories of the last one I'd used in 2009 (more about this later).
First I have to say that the journal was well made. The sewing and binding were tight and well executed. The journal opens flat and scans flatly across the gutter.
The journal, with its real bookcloth cover (I selected a dark blue one) was a delight to hold. A real delight. We live in an age of "faux" this and "faux" that. I have commercially made journals with all manner or synthesized faux leather coverings, and others that have rubberized covers (I really don't understand this whole move to rubberize the surface of everything, even some of the dust jackets on novels I've purchased lately have been subjected to this treatment). Am I the ONLY ONE in the world who hates touching these things? They feel slimy and tacky simultaneously. I have very dry hands so it's not an excess of sweat on my part that makes them unpleasant to hold. One bookseller told me the treatment was to combat shop ware, and then confided in a whisper that on darkly printed cover art the finger smudges were more noticeable. Sigh.
I just wish someone would stop that. I like to hold books that have cloth covers and Hand•Book delivers on this.
So, well-made (and my journal held up throughout one month of furious use), and a delight to hold.
The size (8.25 x 10.5 inches) was also wonderful for me. I like to fill the whole page with an image and then if I'm so inclined I like to write a bit about the event or subject in the negative space—or leave it blank.
I opened my book and started right in with a mixed media piece that I'll show you in another part of this review. The brush pen loved the paper. (REALLY loved the paper—just enough drag to let you know where you were going and had plenty of traction to stop quickly; just enough texture to make use of the brush pen's tip of individual synthetic hairs. This type of brush pen is my favorite as it gives you so many more options than the felt-tipped brush pen.)
When I started working with other media everything fell apart—the paper wasn't happy. I have prepared three more posts dealing with aspects of this paper's response to different media. Today I just want to mention that the paper wasn't happy with wet media.
This was a surprise to me, since I remembered working on it with wet media before, and because my friend Roberta Avidor had worked in these books with watercolor. I was frustrated and puzzled.
I also couldn't stop drawing on the pages with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. (I'm pretty much a brush pen addict.)
Because I was bothered by the paper not matching my memory I called a friend who had an older journal of this type and borrowed it from her. The book had been part of a round robin and I had worked HEAVILY in gouache on its pages for my entry. Other participants had also worked in mixed media.
For my part the early stages of the gouache painting as well as thicker later applications all had worked well. I remembered also that the paper had less bend to it and that it was more opaque (i.e., I couldn't see what was on the next page spread as easily).
When I got my friend's book, I had Dick measure the paper's thickness in the three books: my friend's (8.7 mil.); a small journal of this type I'd purchased sometime before 2010 but not used (8.7 mil.), and the new 8.25 x 10.5 inch (7.8 mil). We tested multiple pages in each book to double check. The newest book had thinner paper.
This would explain many of the frustrations I was experiencing with the book.
This is either a global change in their paper production or an indication that they can't control their manufacturing tolerances. For an artist the difference in thickness can make a significant difference in what can be accomplished on a sheet.
When comparing the three books, actually when they were open on the table and I was waiting for Dick to get home and measure the paper, I noticed that the unused pages of my friend's book, which had no artwork of any sort were turning color on the outside edges. The book was from 2009-2010 and that's just five years. This is the type of discoloration I expect to see in acidic paper.
There was also a color shift from my small journal (unused) and my new large journal, but the color of the pages was uniform and I put that down to simply a different batch, which is normal).
Throughout the end of last year you can see posts of my pages from this test book. I went crazy with the brush pen in it because that's what worked best. Every time I made a drawing I felt sad that I couldn't take it further with other media.
I also found that when I use some of the dye-based, fugitive, and watersoluble inks that some of the Pentel Brush Pens (specifically many of the ColorBrushes) contain, I could get that ink to seep through the paper sometimes on its own (when a lot was applied) but always when I added water. The pigmented inks did not do this.
So if you want a nicely sized book that is great for pencil, colored pencil, and some pens, in particular the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and you like a little texture on your paper to give the brush pen a bit of drag, this is a good choice.
Note that if you want to scan heavily inked drawings made in this book, and not see the images from the next spread coming through, you can place a sheet of black paper or cardstock behind the page you're scanning and that usually stops most of the "see-through" effect. (This will not in any way remedy the seep-through of the dye-based inks.)
I have a lot of favorite papers that are lightweight, but lovely for sketching on with pen. I still make them into books despite the show-through qualities. That for me is not a deal breaker.
If you purchased one of these books years ago note that they are not the same and you might want to purchase one to test it before investing in buying in bulk. And based on the discoloration of the paper in only 5 years I would think of these books as better suited to notebooks than art journals.
I have written more about my experience with different media in three more posts that I'll be posting during this next week, but my basic recommendations listed above don't change.
I'm very sad about this because I really enjoyed holding this book in my hands and that's a big part of journaling for me as I sketch standing up holding my book 90 percent of the time.
I wish other manufacturers of bound journals would return to fabric-covered boards.