When I first saw the Holbein Multimedia Pad, I was smitten with the looks of it— its neutral cover and thinline appearance. Since the cover of the sketchbook and the online description both assured me that it was a pad for "water color" (two words), I purchased one to sample.
According to Holbein's website, here are the pad's specs.
- Official name: Holbein 33 Series Multi-Media Pad
- Cover: Heavy cardboard; tie ribbon closure; spiral binding
- Paper: 28 sheets per pad; 80 lb NpH* pulp paper
- Description: Accepts watercolor, ink, pastel, pencil and chalk equally well.
- Sizes: Available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. I purchased the 7x9-inch portrait.
*I couldn't find any information on what "NpH" means. I have reached out to Holbein and am still waiting for their response. [Update: Holbein replied and said that NpH stands for neutral Ph, also meaning acid free.]
When the pad arrived, I set it aside. At the time, I was busy filling up my soon-to-be favorite sketchbook, the Pentalic Aqua Journal. However, once the Aqua Journal's pages were filled, I couldn't find another. Every U.S. distributor that I checked was completely out of stock.
I was willing to wait, but a hurricane evacuation resulted in an impromptu trip to Washington D.C., so I dug the Holbein Multimedia Pad out of my supply stash and headed out the door.
I have learned the hard way to not leave home with untested materials, but the Holbein was the only empty sketchbook I had on hand. Thankfully, the pad performed well enough in this emergency situation, but "well enough" is oftentimes not enough.
Holbein Multimedia Pad: The Package
My initial attraction to this sketchbook was the pad's unpretentious appearance. I'm a sucker for modern utility combined with old-fashioned, simple design, and this pad has a very clean look that speaks well of its Japanese upbringing. The smooth chipboard cover seems very durable and, due to its spiral binding, opens 180-degrees to provide a sturdy sketching base for in the field and on the go.
The metal spiral is small and neatly molded to the sketchbook, but I've already had issues with it snagging and bending. Also, the tie closure that is attached to the cover is already unraveling and a bit of a nuisance; it was constantly getting in the way while sketching.
Its streamlined appearance proved accurate because the weight and the feel of this sketchbook is lovely. It's thin, lightweight, and portable, easily slipping into the narrowest of sacks and packs.
Holbein Multimedia Pad: The Paper
As with all sketchbooks, the paper is where the rubber meets the road. To be fair, I'll try to judge this paper based on its individual merits as well as my overall impression. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)
Pencil: Though the paper is thin, only 80lbs, and feels soft, it doesn't indent or crumple easily even under heavy erasing. Pencil marks erased easily, and I didn't notice any issues with smudging. The paper has a light texture that becomes very noticeable under graphite shading.
Pen: Microns and felt pens worked okay on this paper, but the texture was a slight issue. Pens with harder nibs like my Lamy fountain pen with an extra-fine nib performed well on this paper. (This was the pen I used in all of the sketches in this post.) Medium nibs did okay, but some inks feathered with this nib. The paper also worked well with my Tachikawa dip nib. I don't use markers, but the one I tried (Prismacolor Premier brush marker) feathered and bled.
Watercolor: No. Just no. I know Holbein touts this sketchbook as useful for watercolor, aka "water color" (two words), but I had serious issues. Washes and lifts are nearly impossible on this paper. I couldn't even make clouds. Brushstrokes left hard lines, and pigment pooled into mud and cauliflowered. Colors faded drastically as they dried. All of these issues are very noticeable in the sketches at the end of this review. This paper worked okay with very dry, very controlled sketches like in the Day 1 illustration at the top of this post, but that's about it.
There are two good things I can say about it in regards to watercolor. One, I noticed no evidence of pilling, which is often an issue with many watercolor and sketchbook papers. Two, though the paper is thin, there was minimal curling. You can see the warbled papers in the photo below, but this wasn't enough to bother me. I enjoy a sketchbook that feels loved on, and the pages somewhat reflattened after the book was closed.
Regardless of these two good things, I was constantly fighting this paper throughout the trip and trying to make it submit to my watercoloring ways. Needless to say, we did not get along.
Holbein Multimedia Pad: Parting Thoughts
I love to try new art supplies, so I'm glad I gave this sketchbook a shot. I will be keeping it because it holds many memories of our days spent together in D.C. but I won't be finishing it or purchasing another. I would have sketched a lot more throughout our trip, but I became so discouraged with the paper that I lost all enthusiasm for it. Another good example of why quality tools are very important!
I really can't figure out the target audience for this sketchbook. The texture doesn't work well with graphite. Ditto for a lot of pens. It is most assuredly not a watercolor sketchbook. Perhaps it works well with college or light acrylic? I'm not sure, but I do know that it didn't work for me. If you've tried this sketchbook, I'd love to hear how you use it or how it worked for you. Just leave me a comment below.
Below are a few more sketches from the Holbein Multimedia Pad that I completed either while we were in D.C. or soon after returning home. It's not my best work, but I'm sure you'll understand why. And I hope this review helps you make wise buying decisions in your own sketching journey. See more reviews here.