Even though I haven't been watercolor painting for very long, I've known about Arches papers for most of my life. My grandmother often painted on Arches cold pressed and always had stacks of cut sheets at her desk. When I began painting, it was only natural I would start with Arches.
I've tried a variety of other watercolor papers, but so far, I use Arches the most. I like the creamy color of the paper and enjoy painting on both their cold and hot-pressed papers.
Last fall, I finally splurged on the Arches Field Watercolor Book and was so excited when it arrived. The size seemed absolutely perfect. The paper is Arches standard ivory white and a superb thickness.
So I threw it into my pack and headed to the mountains to sketch.
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In the photo above, you can see my first sketch. I immediately noticed a difference in the field book's paper. It did not perform like what was accustomed to with standard Arches cold-pressed paper. Pigment took forever to dry, almost as if the paper had been oversized. More than 6 months after I painted this, I can still smudge the ink in the October date.
I've also noticed other differences in the paper. The 140 lb paper is gloriously thick and barely curls with repeated washes (like my beloved Arches). Even with heavy watercolor, I have no trouble using both sides of a sheet. However, I'm not overly fond of the texture (not like my beloved Arches).
The texture of the field book paper appears more like rough than cold-pressed. This roughness makes it harder to paint small or capture fine details— not necessarily an asset in a 7x10-inch sketchbook.
Maybe because of the texture and/or the possible sizing issue, a lot of pens refuse to write on it at all. Graphite also tries to skip across the surface and doesn't stick well, easily smearing into a gray mess.
At the advice of another artist, I've been able to get the paper to relax by wetting it first. This seems to smooth it out just a bit and helps pigment to stick. However, it's quite a pain to prep paper in a "field" sketching book.
Because I noticed such a difference in the paper's performance, I reached out to Arches and asked if the paper in their sketchbooks is manufactured the same as their sheets and blocks. Arches responded very quickly and said that it is. However, Arches did mention that the texture may vary from one batch to another one.
On a positive note, the cover and spiral binding are of excellent quality. The cover is an elegant black and comprised of super thick board. I often have problems with spiral bindings stretching, tangling, or coming away from the paper. However, you can see in the photo that this binding has held up perfectly.
This sketchbook has been constantly tossed into a pack and various suitcases, hauled on multiple hikes, spent evenings on the beach and in the field, and even used during a spring shower. It still looks brand new.
Still, I am not completely smitten with this sketchbook. The paper often frustrates me, but since we adhere to the "use it up" motto around my house, I've stuck to this sketchbook regardless.
To give you an idea of how the paper performs, here are some additional sketches from its pages.
In all honesty, I'm torn. Because I love Arches so much, I want to highly recommend this sketchbook, but I don't plan to purchase one again. Whether you will like this sketchbook or not probably depends on how you sketch and what mediums you use. This sketchbook may work wonderfully well for you... or it may not.
Heavy watercolor - A
Light watercolor - B
Fountain Pen - B/C (depends on nib)
Dip pen - B/C (depends on nib)
Micron (fine tip) - D
Micron (bold tip) - C
Pencil - D