I was looking for a small sketchbook to fit inside my minimalist watercolor sketching kit, and the Hand Book Artist Journal [affiliate] seemed to be a perfect fit. This sketchbook is sold on the web and in stores by a lot of different names — Hand Book or Handbook Journal, Travelogue Drawing Journal, Global Artist Journal, etc — but most of the reviews were positive and the price was quite nice for paper that supposedly accepts pencil, pen, and watercolor.
The description of the sketchbook sounded perfect: Attractive and functional featuring 128 buff colored blank pages, a durable elastic closure, and a useful clear plastic envelope to hold notes or business cards. The heavyweight sheets are 130 gsm and acid free with a light, toothy surface that accepts pen-and-ink, pencil, markers, and light watercolor washes without buckling.
Well, I love buff colored paper that doesn't buckle under washes, and the accessories sounded awesome. (I'll take an elastic closure and heck, I'm sure I'll find a use for that clear plastic envelope.)
I've been using the sketchbook for several weeks now, and yes, it is a beautiful little sketchbook. However, I think the paper is a tad overrated.
If you want more info, here is my full review.
The Curb Appeal
Oh my the look of this thing is lovely. The warm green fabric (aka "cadmium green") is an exquisite color, and the journal is a pleasure to hold in my hand. It feels soft and buttery and natural and warm, and yet kind of expensive, all at the same time.
I have such mixed thoughts regarding the insides of this sketchbook. I will admit that the "buff-colored" paper is a nice neutral surface. I love avoiding the stare of a stark-white page, so no issues there. The binding is nicely stitched and the sketchbook does lie almost completely flat when opened.
But ah, the paper quality. (And this is where it counts, folks!) The best description that comes to mind is "thirsty!" This paper will drink your ink and pigment. This can be good in that it can handle a fairly heavy dose of water. This can be bad in that watercolor has a hard time staying vibrant on such absorbent paper.
I did make a small, non-staining watercolor goof, and it scrubbed out easily without marring the paper. So that was cool! However, I had a mess of a time erasing pencil. This paper is so thin and soft, I kept accidentally wrinkling and folding the pages while erasing. Also, my HB lead easily indented the paper even though I sketch with a light hand.
So yeah, the "heavyweight" description for the paper is a bit of an exaggeration.
Unfortunately, I think I paid for the curb appeal and accessories. This sketchbook lacks the quality inside that the beautiful outside and fun little goodies seem to promise.
One other small mentionable: The nifty storage envelope is attached to the inside of the back cover, so that means whatever I put in it could be felt through the pages as I sketch. Not good.
I'm continuing to use the Global Hand Book journal. I like its portability and it's fine for what I bought it for, which is rough pencil and pen sketches with very little watercolor. However, I don't really plan to buy another one.
Because of its beauty, I would still recommend this sketchbook but only to folks who:
- Just want a journal for writing
- Only need it for simple sketches in watercolor and/or ink
- Do not care to erase
- Only want to put small, extremely flat things into the envelope
If you need more, I believe better alternatives are out there.