Monday, September 5, 2016

Compare sketchbooks: Strathmore Mixed Media, Canson All Media Art Book, Moleskine Watercolour, Stillman & Birn Alpha

This is part ten of twelve in my series of watercolor paper tests, comparisons, and reviews. Here I am testing five mixed media papers, journals, and sketchbooks: Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media paper, Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound Art Journal, Canson All Media Art Book, Moleskine Watercolour Album, and Stillman & Birn Alpha Hardbound Sketchbook. See this post for introduction and photos of all the papers and this post for conclusions.


Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media paper


  • Finish and weight: Vellum surface, 140 lb. (300 gsm)
  • Composition: Acid free
  • Website


Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound Art Journal 


  • Finish and weight: Vellum surface, 90 lb. (190 gsm)
  • Composition: 100% cotton, acid free, lignin free
  • Sizing: Internally sized
  • Website


Canson All Media Art Book with Montval 90 lb paper (185 gsm)


  • Finish and weight: Cold press, 90 lb. (185 gsm)
  • Composition: Acid free, no optical brightness additives, mold-resistant treatment
  • Website


Moleskine Folio Watercolour Album 


  • Finish and weight: Cold press, 135 lb. (200 gsm)
  • Composition: 25% cotton, acid free, no chlorine
  • Website 


Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook


  • Finish and weight: Medium grain, 100 lb. (150 gsm)
  • Composition: Acid free, chlorine free, lignin free
  • Sizing: Internal and surface sizing
  • Website 


Paper color


Of these five papers, Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media is the coolest white and Moleskine the warmest white. Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media is a very slightly warm white, whereas Stillman & Birn Alpha is bright white. Canson Montval 90 lb, the paper in the Canson All Media Art Book, is a medium white.


Color brightness


Yes, but avoid using too much water on thin, hard sized papers such as these. Colors on the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media and Moleskine appear slightly more subdued to my eye, as these two are the warmer whites of the five.

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Canson All Media Art Book with 90 lb. Montval paper with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Moleskine Watercolour with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Stillman & Birn Alpha with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Paper texture


Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media is the smoothest paper of the five but still shows some granulation in washes.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media feels softer to the touch, its texture just a little reminiscent of Strathmore 500 Series Aquarius II, but smoother, less thirsty and colors more vibrant. It makes for lovely washes with a little texture, but be aware that as a thinner paper it will cockle just like the other papers. A good alternative to regular watercolor paper!

The texture of Canson Montval 90 lb is quite prominent in granulating washes, a somewhat diagonal alligator pattern. Moleskine also has a visibly directional texture pattern but less prominent. In terms of Stillman & Birn Alpha, granulation looks similar to Moleskine, but without any directional pattern.


Paper sizing and absorbency


All of these papers react similarly to watercolors. The paint sits on the surface for some time due to the hard sizing, allowing for some reworking until it sinks in and dries out. The paper cockles and paint gathers in puddles where it dries as a thicker layer, mostly without backruns.

The Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media is the hardest sized of the five papers. I do not recommend using too much water on this paper, nor too thick of paint layers as the paper repels water a bit and the paint can take on a pasty look as it sits on the surface. Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media, having less sizing and more texture, is more suitable to watercolors in my opinion.

Canson Montval 90 lb is another hard sized paper, with a smooth surface that allows for the brush to flow easily. Moleskine is similar, but with slightly less sizing, and Stillman & Birn Alpha again is harder sized.

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Canson All Media Art Book with 90 lb. Montval paper with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Moleskine Watercolour with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Stillman & Birn Alpha with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Paper cockling


Yes, all of these papers cockle with watercolors. Except for Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media, they are all thinner than regular watercolor papers (this paper still cockles a lot).


Pencil/pen/brush and ink


Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media has a smooth surface, great for drawing. It feels responsive to both pencil and pen and pen lines turn out black and glossy. Brush and ink take time to dry because of the sizing and larger areas look uneven and a bit blotchy because of this.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media has more tooth to it, feels more responsive and pencil lines appear darker than on the 400 Series. Pen lines, however, are less smooth as the paper is more textured and also thirstier, so draw slowly to give the ink enough time to sink into the texture. Brush and ink dry a bit unevenly here too.

Canson Montval 90 lb is a harder sized paper with a smooth surface that allows for the pen or brush to flow easily. Indents remain after deletion as with the prior two papers. Pen lines are relatively smooth and turn out black and glossy. Note that brush and ink on heavily sized papers take time to dry, so also on this paper, and there is risk for uneven areas.

The Moleskine watercolor paper is easy to draw on with pencil or pen, responsive and smooth, deletes well, slight ghosting visible. The smooth surface yields thick dark pen lines. Brush and ink takes some time to dry but dries nice and glossy.

Stillman & Birn Alpha is hard sized and has some resistance in its surface, which makes for coarser pencil and pen lines. Still, pen lines turn out black, although brush and ink look subdued and dry blotchily.


Size and portability


I have to add a category here, as size and portability are important factors when it comes to sketchbooks and journals. After all, if you don't take the sketchbook with you, it will be of no use!

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media used to come in a hardcover wire bound journal but is now only available in pads. Thus, if you do not feel inclined to take with you a glue bound pad of 6"x8" or 9"x12" (the two most portable formats) you will have to cut the paper to size yourself and bring with you loose - or bind into a new journal.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media, on the other hand, is available in both softcover and hardbound journals in a few different sizes, although my favorite binding, wire binding, is not available. I prefer wire binding as it allows you to flip the pages over completely, which makes it easier to hold in my opinion. I tested the hardbound 8.5"x11" journal, which is a good format, not too heavy and the spine is not too wide at ½” (important!) Still, if I am standing up and holding this book, my hand tires quickly of holding up both the entire spread.

Canson All Media Art Book is only available in a 9"x12" spiral bound hard cover journal, but the hard covers and the wire binding are so perfect that Canson gets points for those alone! In my opinion, Canson does make the best black hard covers in my opinion, with a pebbled texture that is a bit glossy, sturdy, does not get fingerprints too easily, and can even be washed off (lightly, but still!) if needed. This book is, however, heavy to hold for a long time if you are standing up.

Moleskine Watercolour is available in four sizes, a pocket size, a so-called "large" size of 8 1/4"x5" (21x13 cm), A4, and A3. It is the only journal tested that is landscape oriented (it opens horizontally, wide) and I find it very hard to hold if I stand up as I generally prefer a vertical format. But the smaller sizes pack easily, are well designed with pocket and elastic closure, which are definite plus points, although I personally wish the books were a bit wider.

Stillman & Birn's sketchbooks are available in hardbound, wirebound, and softcover and many different sizes, portrait as well as landscape, including my favorite format 7”x10” (approx. 18x25.5 cm). They come with three different papers; medium grain, cold press, and smooth, and two different colors; white and ivory (a light yellow). I tested a hardbound Alpha journal with medium grain paper but would probably use a wirebound Beta journal if I did it again, as the paper is thicker.

The hardcover journals need to be broken in before use, which means that they need to be opened wide, 360 degrees, first in the center and then throughout the book, in order to lie flat, a deterrent to me. I like the hardcover material, but find the sketchbook heavy to hold and too thick to easily fit into my bag, approx. ¾” (2 cm) thick, compare this to Moleskine’s and Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal’s ½” (14 mm).


Cost and availability


Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media is available in rolls and pads.
  • List price for a 9”x12” 15-sheet pad is $10.79, online it can be found for around $4.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media is available in sheets, rolls, hardbound and softcover journals.
  • List price for an 8 ½”x11” 32-sheet hardbound journal is $31.99, online it can be found for a bit over half of that price.
  • List price for a 20”x30” sheet is $4.29, online it can be found for about one dollar less.

Canson Montval 90 lb is available in sheets, rolls, blocks, pads, and the All-Media Art Book.
  • List price for the 9”x12” 50-sheet hard cover wire bound book is $32.45, online it can be found for about half of that price.
  • List price for a 20”x30” sheet is $3.00, online it can be found for about the same amount.

Moleskine Watercolour is available as sketchbooks in four different sizes, called notebook/album for the pocket size and 8 ¼”x5” size, and folio/album for the A4 and A3 sizes.
  • List price for an 8 ¼”x11 ¾” (A4) 30-sheet hard cover book is $29.96, online the price remains similar.

Stillman & Birn Alpha is available as sheets, hardcover and softcover journals.
  • List price for an 8 ¼”x11 ¾” 62-sheet hard cover book is $25.99, online it can be found for about $20. For a mini-test of their other papers, see this post.
  • List price for a 20”x30” Alpha (medium grain, white, 100 lb) sheet is $3.25, online it can be found for about half a dollar less.
  • List price for a 20”x30” Beta (cold press, white, 180 lb), Delta (cold press, ivory, 180 lb) or Zeta sheet (smooth, white, 180 lb)  is $5.25, online it can be found for about a dollar less. 
  • List price for a 20”x30” Gamma (medium grain, ivory, 100 lb) or Epsilon (smooth, white, 100 lb) sheet is $3.50, online it can be found for about half a dollar less.


History and continuity


The Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media paper was introduced in 2011 and the 500 Series Mixed Media paper in 2012. For more information about Strathmore, see this post.

The Canson Montval All-Media Art Book was introduced around year 2001. For more information about Canson, see this post.

Moleskine is the name of a notebook that was reintroduced in 1997. Since 2006, Moleskine (the company) is owned by France-based Syntegra Capital and they went public in 2013. The Moleskine Watercolour Album is manufactured in China. The watercolor paper was redesigned in 2014.

Stillman & Birn was originally founded by Viennese bookbinder Philip Birn in New York in 1958. The company was then relaunched in 2010 by Philip Birn's nephew, Michael Kalman, and his co-founder Oscar Hernandez, and is now based in New Jersey. Their sketchbooks are bound in the United States.


Conclusion


Selecting a sketchbook is very much a matter of personal taste and also how you are using the book. Do you sit or stand up when you draw, do you work inside or outside, do you draw large or small, what media do you use, etc.

Still, in terms of the papers in these sketchbooks, I found that the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper worked very well with watercolors and it is also 100% cotton. In fact, this could be an alternative to regular watercolor paper and I will definitely explore this further.

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media is the smoothest paper and the hardest sized of the five but still has a little texture. Note that pens as well as brush and ink may take longer to dry on hard sized papers and may dissolve if you add watercolors too soon.

The papers in the Moleskine Watercolour Journal, Canson All Media Art Book, and Stillman & Birn are all a bit similar in that they are hard sized papers that take watercolor relatively well. Moleskine is more yellow, more prone to backruns (which does not have to be a disadvantage), Canson more textured and harder sized, Stillman & Birn less textured but also hard sized.

My personal preference when it comes to sketchbooks is to cut both watercolor and drawing paper to size and bring with me loose between the covers of a taken-apart 7"x10" wirebound black hardcover journal!


Översättning. Jag jämförde fem olika papper och skissböcker för mixed media: Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media, Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Art Journal, Canson All Media Art Book (med Montval 185 gsm papper), Moleskine Watercolour och Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook.

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media finns bara som block limmat på en sida och är ett slätt och hårt limmat papper som tar blyerts och tuschpenna bra. Flytande tusch ser däremot grått och lite ojämnt ut i mina test, vanligt för hårt limmade papper (liksom papper med hög absorptionsförmåga). Till akvarell rekommenderar jag att för bästa resultat att använda mindre vatten och inte alltför tjock färg då färgen annars lätt klumpar sig på papperet och vattnet kan ta tid att torka in.

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media finns med hård och mjuk pärm samt i lösark och är ett bra, tunnare (190 gsm) alternativ till vanligt akvarellpapper, 100% bomull dessutom. Det tar både blyerts och tusch bra, dock kan flytande tusch bli ojämnt då papperet är ganska absorberande. Den bok jag testade hade 32 sidor i format liknande A4 och var ca 14 mm tjock vilket jag tycker är en bra storlek.

Canson All Media Art Book innehåller Canson Montval 185 gsm akvarellpapper och finns endast i ett format lite större än A4, en tung och tjock bok på 50 blad, men spiralbunden vilket jag gillar då man slipper hålla hela uppslaget öppet och kan vika bak ena halvan av boken. Papperet är hårt limmat med lite väl distinkt ytstruktur. Blyerts och tuschpenna får bra flyt. Tusch med pensel ser jämnare och svartare ut på detta papper än de föregående.

Moleskine Watercolour är ett papper i en lite varmare ton som tar blyerts, tusch och akvarell bra. Flytande tusch ser jämnare och svartare ut även här. Moleskine finns i fyra storlekar, fickformat, 21x13, A4, och A3, och är alla smala om ryggen, 30 blad och ca 14 mm, vilket gör att de mindre lätt kan fås ner i en väska. De öppnas dock i landskapsformat istället för i porträttformat, vilket jag tycker gör boken svår att hålla under någon längre tid om man står upp och ritar.

Stillman & Birn kommer i tre olika slags papper och två olika vikter, ett tunnare papper med medium ytstruktur (150 gsm) i vitt eller gulvitt, ett kallpressat papper (270 gsm) i vitt eller gulvitt, samt ett slätt vitt papper (150 eller 270 gsm). Finns med hård och mjuk pärm, spiralbunden och som lösark. Jag testade Alpha, det tunnare pappere med medium ytstruktur, men hade nog fått bättre resultat med Beta, det kallpressade papperet, då Alpha är tunt och bucklar mycket vid akvarellmålning. Jag tyckte även att den bok med hård pärm som jag testade var lite för tjock och tung för att lätt ta med sig, 2 cm och 62 blad. Dock framträder granuleringar bra även på detta tunnare papper, men jag kände motstånd med blyerts och penna då papperet är hårt limmat. Tusch med pensel blir ojämnt även här.

Vilket jag föredrog? Jag tyckte att jag fick bra resultat med akvarell på Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media som dessutom är av 100% bomull. Ett annat papper jag gillade som var betydligt slätare var Canson All Media Art Book, dvs Canson Montval 90 lb, vilket dock inte är 100% bomull.

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