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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Letting the journal lead US...

...because really, I've found that the format, style, and even the kind of paper make a huge difference in how I use my journals--at least some of them, and to a certain extent.

I'm playing with lighter, smoother paper in the journal above--Strathmore's multi-media paper I recently bound into a book. It's lighter and smoother than my normal hand-bound journal papers, so not quite as much juicy watercolor work (it does buckle slightly), and more writing--because it's a pleasure to write on!  The pen glides...

I've found the same thing with my Stillman & Birn Epsilon journals, with very smooth paper--in fact that one has become my must-have daily writing journal, where I might do several pages of written meditations or observations, THEN add a sketch, either related or not.  (I'm looking forward to the upcoming Zeta journal, which will have heavier paper but still this gorgeously smooth stuff!)

This robin caught my eye as I was journaling...so he ended up in my lovely Epsilon journal.  The pen skates lightly over the paper, and the watercolor goes on crisp and puddly.

I often add toned paper to my handmade journals...so of course I'm moved to add gouache or utilize light and dark colored pencils or inks...
I recently tried out one of Strathmore's toned paper journals, and found it was a real pleasure to work with...smooth for penwork, but still allowing me to add some color and watercolor.  Yum.

This was a quick sketch with ink and colored pencil in the hardbound Strathmore journal.

What's interesting to me is that I've found that ring-bound journals have a sense of impermanence about them.  I am more likely to either doodle, do color or pen tests, or do work I'm willing to tear out for sale.  I NEVER do that with my case-bound books.

Of course many people work only on loose sheets, in an online journal, or even with an app so their work is only on paper if they print it out...

SO--how do YOU feel about paper and format?  Does a ringbound book feel more ephemeral?  Or is it just me...


  1. Your insights are spot on for me!! Logically, the ring binding should not be such a strong influence, but I find I restrict my work in those to field flower studies, with the final painting beside the study sheet.
    I've been cutting up the Strathmore Mixed media paper for my next journal...and maybe now, I will make it one signature shorter, since I do love my watercolor puddles.
    As for the Stillman and Birn, I finally found a Beta online and can't wait to try it!

    1. Jeanette, Creative Coldsnow has lots of S & B journals! A number of different kinds...I like the Beta, too.

  2. Paper AND surface is of the utmost importance to me. There is just something about how each medium feels between the hand and the surface, as well. I have to find the ZEN..then I go with it for awhile. I LOVE the viscosity of certain paints - and I LOVE buckets of paint, as in housepaint. I will have to try that Strathmore toned. Your sketches and journaling are so fresh and crisp - I love them!

  3. Fantastic post!!! You have me thinking about how and why I use the various sketchbooks I have going now.

    With the spiral bound.......it depends if they feel ephemeral. If big and floppy binding, then yes. But if the journals are made with tighter smaller spirals, then no.

    As for paper surface.......I bounce around. Just looked through each type I have and most have the same type of content, method of application, media used, and writing. But I do find myself leaning towards the Stillman & Birn Alpha for graphite. I LOVE the textured results of graphite on this paper.

    As I type this and more I think about it, I do tend to reach for the better paper and case binding if I'm in a "formal" mindset in what I hope to achieve. I grab for either the Alpha or Epsilon if I'm in a more carefree state of mind. So I guess there is something there that somewhat parallels what you are describing in this post :-)) I just never thought about it before.

    Just as a note - I'm using all Stillman and Birn type journal books plus a no-name cheaper sketchbook I have dedicated to pen and ink plus a handmade African book made of elephant dung I use if I want to sketch on toned paper.

    Thank you Cathy for an interesting article that gets one's mind thinking!!

  4. Yes, spot on, Kate! I like to scan my journal pages and find wirebound book pages difficult to scan.... lots of light leaks and clean up in photoshop needed. I love the special feel of the S&B hardbound books. Still a tad challenging on the scanner, but think when I get further into the book it will lay flatter. I use a lot of my journal page scans to make note cards. I want them to look as close to the original as possible. My mainstay is Fabriano hot press paper, torn down to 11 x 7.5 and folded to 5.5 x 7.5. Right now I'm using them as loose sheets. I've got three years worth to bind - think I better get to it :)

  5. I am in agreement too. The journal's characteristics definitely influence the way i work. My previous few journals were a mix of 140lb cold press watercolour paper and lighter, smoother printmaking paper. I had a tendency to skip the heavy paper if I wanted to just write notes but then I would reach the end of the journal and not have finished using the heavy paper. For my current journal I decided to mix it up, both in size and paper. I bind all my own journals so I could do whatever I wanted to, right? So, rather than the small (and very portable) 15x12 cm journal, I've expanded to 25x19 cm and used only heavy smooth paper. I think it's Fabriano 90 lb, but I'm not sure. It does buckle a bit with watercolour, but not too badly. I'm enjoying the smooth surface and the vast space! I'm more inclined to make notes about my sketches and I like doing several subjects on one page as it makes comparisons easier to see.

  6. I love the smooth surface as well, which works so well for journaling with a pen, even though less so for watercolor than traditional 140# cold press. However, apart from the buckling, it can produce some unique and pleasant effects.

    I don't mind the disadvantages of wirebound books, such as awkward scanning, since they allow you to easily remove pages that are disasters and tend to ruin the original collection of work as a whole -- unless, of course, your intention is to keep a record of the good and bad for your own edification or that of other artists. I understand that the best of the originals can be reproduced to create a new and publishable volume, but they still aren't the originals! Pam avoids all of this by simply using loose sheets and later binding them into a volume -- but loose sheets are more difficult to keep up with and manage that a wirebound set.

    Your squirrels and robin are lovely, but there is something a little more magical or intriguing about the loose sketch in the wirebound book in the leaves. Maybe the sense of the transitory inspires a little more freedom and looseness, a kind of impressionism which I have always loved.

    Thank you for this blog! I love the work the entire group does, and especially yours and Jeanette's!

  7. Ah...size, binding, and paper quality. The triad that keeps all of us wondering, wanting, and sometimes frustrated. Someone should write a book on the subject but, of course, they'd be wrong no matter what they said :-)

    When it comes to binding I'm much happier with spiral when I'm actually sketching - folding it back so I only have to hold the sheet I'm working on). But the second I'm done, I wish it were in a hardbound book. Better storage, easier to pack, and easier to hand to someone when they ask "Can I see your sketches?" The other thing about binding for me is related and amounts to a preference for spiral when the book gets large. I can't sketch on site with a 9x12 hardbound sketchbook. It's just too unwieldy.

    When it comes to paper, I was completely sold on Stillman & Birn Alpha papers until I started sketching in an Epsilon. As a pen guy, it's really an amazing surface and I can't wait to see S&B's upcoming Zeta paper as I love the thickness of the Beta but it's not quite smooth enough for my tastes. I think Zeta sketchbooks will have me agreeing with Goldilocks that they're 'just right.'

    Size is where I become incredibly fickle and over-complicated. I carry a 3x5 cheapy sketchbook for quick-sketching people as I'm trying to figure out how to do that. I generally have with me a 4x6 S&B Alpha and a 5.5x8.5 S&B Epsilon. These are my workhorse sketchbooks. But I like to do building sketches in my 10x7 S&B Alpha (spiral) because it gives me a bit more area so I can do the larger scenes that buildings/cityscapes demand. This notion, of course leads me to want to sketch in a 9x12 and I have an S&B Epsilon in that size. But as I've said, it's too large for me to handle while sitting on a tripod stool and balancing a watercolor palette so it is my desk sketchbook that I mostly use to try stuff. And geez....I've just written a long response :-)

    Cheers --- Larry

  8. Funny you should write about this just now. I plan my next blog post to be on the subject of the perfect sketchbook .. to go up in about a week, but here is an abbreviated version.

    For years I did virtually all my field work in hardbound 8 1/2 x 11 pain paper journals -- 41 of them so far ... but as the years have gone by I can't get as good 'plain paper' and my taste for better paper has been tweaked. So in the past year or so I've put as lot of thought and a lot of experimenting into different sketchbooks. The bottom line is that I don't want to carry a library of sketchbooks around with me (I do a lot of field work), and I want choices. I may have come upon the solution -- for me. I haven't lived with it long enough to know for sure.

    I still live with my trusty hardbound 8 1/2 x 11 plain paper journal for notes and simple sketches. I know it will buckle if I add much water. AND I have made a sketchbook using a "Komtrak" comb binder and a variety of paper. I can swap pages in and out, filing the finished pages in a simple binder and putting fresh pages in. Not quite the ambience of a beautiful journal on delicious paper, but it gives me the freedom to dare to experiment and fall flat on my face, plus I can eventually file the pages I keep in chronological order.

    I treat 'good journals' with too much respect. I hate to mess up a page. I hate to use expensive paper for loose sketches of a critter really too far away to draw, but I'm going to try anyway; and I won't write just notes on wonderful paper. Maybe I'm too Scotch ... but that's me.

  9. Your bottom sketch makes me miss autumn it was so colorful this year

  10. This is so timely! I've been thinking about how and why I choose sketchbooks and how much I struggle if paper does not fit the things I want to draw and how you can see number of sketches go down-down-down and then pick up with the new paper coming into play or change in subjects... the only solution I found so far is to have assortment of papers in single sheets and tape them in - even if it means that I am taping a cheap copy paper half-page on top of the 200 g hot press watercolor paper... it's more important to draw and it's important for me to keep the continuity of my journals - so that I see how things developed - no matter on what type of paper :)

  11. The spirals get in my way, so hardbound is my favored sketchbook style.

    As for paper, I'm enjoying the Hands books. I don't have a lot of time to bind my own paper sets...but so enjoy reading about your paper and materials experiments!


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