Product Review: Watercolor Journals Aren’t All Alike

Yesterday, I reviewed Daniel Smith’s watercolor sticks. I had tried them on a sheet of Canson 90-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper with excellent results. Today, I tried them in a new journal and was surprised that the watercolor paper didn’t react anything like the Canson. Not all watercolor paper, even if it is 140-lb cold-pressed, is alike. And just because it’s 140-lb. doesn’t mean it’s the best.

The Canson sheet (below, left) did a good job of mixing the color on the paper. At 90-lb. it is a good, hardworking, bright-white sheet that stands up to a lot of use. You can see real green between the blue and yellow and a real purple between the blue and the red. The color is smooth and mixes well, but doesn’t soak into the sheet and doesn’t buckle. It’s sold in pads of 50 sheets in a “Biggie, Jr.” pad at art supply stores.

Canson on left, "Art of Watercolor Journal" on right.

The new journal I bought today (shown above, right) is called simply “The Art of Watercolor Journal” and is available at Hobby Lobby, for about $13.00. It has a rubbery cover with an elastic band and a ribbon place marker. The paper is bright white, heavy (130 gsm) watercolor paper.  It doesn’t warp when used for whole-page watercoloring. I think it’s made specifically for Hobby Lobby because there is no other marking on it.  It looks like a Moleskine knockoff, but for me and the work I do, I like this one better. (I know, I know, Moleskine is the Holy Grail of journalers and art journalers. I used them for a long while. But I’m one of those people who experiences slipping watercolor paints–the Moleksine paper is highly calendered–and I have to scrub in my watercolors. For a different opinion of the Art of Watercolor Journal, see the excellent review by Jessical Wesolek of Cre8It.

Pen & Ink journal on left, Arches Text Wove on right.

Pen & Ink Journals (above on left) is a brand I thought I’d like. They have  one just for watercolors, and the paper is perforated so you can take out the pages.  Rubbery cover and elastic closings always delight me. I can drop it in my bag and not worry. I like writing on watercolor paper and it stands up to the fun I have with my journals. So I was surprised to see the color sticks go on grainy and the color not work itself into the paper until I soaked the sticks and applied them directly to the paper (the three color dots). The paper is heavier than the Hand Book journals I’ve tried, (not reviewed here) but neither one really stands up to heavy use and watercolor. The paper is absorbent and not heavy enough to use with watercolor.

On the right above is a test on Arches Text Wove, a paper I love without exception. I once made an accordion journal out of ATW, put it in my pants pocket and forgot it. It went through the washer and dryer, and when it came out, all it was wrinkled. I ironed it and the accordion journal was fine. I’d used Pitt pens, and the color didn’t run. It was jut clean.

Robert Bateman Sketchbook showing watercolor, watercolor pencils, and Pitt pens.

Robert Bateman  Artist Quality Sketchbooks (above) have a book with 110-lb paper, and while it takes inks and watercolor pencils, the stick watercolors don’t absorb and don’t mix that well. They go on a lot more transparent than I’d like. Using a brush swept against the sticks and then applied to the paper leaves the same color as using a watercolor pencil, something I would not expect and didn’t like. To be fair, they are labeled as sketchbooks, and for that they are wonderful–including a heavy back cover for support while sketching.  They take inks without bleeding or feathering and stand up to erasures. But all journals I buy go through the watercolor test because I use watercolors a lot.

When you are choosing a journal, decide what it is you are going to us it for, then choose carefully. You don’t want to discover the journal isn’t right in the middle of precious studio time.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist, as well as a certified creativity coach. She is teaching at Art Unraveled this year, and is writing a book on Raw Art Journaling.j