I have long searched for the perfect sketchbook with little success. My dilemma with sketchbooks is that they tend to work well for watercolor or pen/ink, but not with both. Since these are my two main sketching mediums, this can be quite a problem.
With the first couple of sketches, I was in love.
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Fountain pens, Microns, and graphite all worked on this paper extremely well. All of the inks I tried absorbed easily, dried quickly, and stayed put. Pentalic’s paper even performed extremely well with dip pens and calligraphy inks, which totally thrilled me!
In regards to watercolor, the 140 lb (300 gsm) paper took every pigment I threw at it, including watercolor pencils. Under heavy washes, the paper would buckle slightly, but I kept the sketchbook closed and the elastic band in place when not in use, and the paper easily flattened back out. I watercolored on both sides of many of the pages with no issues whatsoever. The paper also held up under a fair amount of erasing and even did well with light scrubbings.
The only issue I had with this paper is that it's a bit thirsty. I had trouble rubbing or lifting out even nonstaining pigments. Pigment also dries very quickly on this paper, which I am not accustomed to in my humid climate. When attempting washes or forced bleeds, I had to use a lot of water and work quickly.
The thirsty paper also caused pigments to fade as they dried. The fading was slight, but I'm sharing the sketch above as an example of this. Take my word for it: These poppies were more vibrant when I first painted them.
The absorbent paper wasn't a deal breaker, but I occasionally had to consciously work around it. However, I think the benefits of this paper far outweigh this small matter.
I occasionally ran across a few tiny spots where the sizing wouldn’t perform and watercolor would bead. The problem spots were so minute and only on a few pages, and a good application of water and pigment relaxed the sizing enough to where the problem spots weren’t noticeable, so I don’t consider this an issue. Still, I feel it is only fair to point it out.
I often like to work straight across the binding in a sketchbook. Because of this, I don’t care for spiral-bound sketchbooks, but it is hard to find a bound sketchbook that lays completely flat when open. Since the Pentalic Aqua Journal is bound with six individual signatures, this sketchbook easily opens and stays flat when in use.
The stitching is visible at the center of the signatures. However, this didn't bother me a bit. As you can see in several of the photos (the line in the photo above is caused by the shadow on the scanner and my lack of Photoshop skills; click on the photo to enlarge), I painted right over the stitching and binding all throughout the sketchbook with no trouble.
I read that others have had problems with the binding holding together, but I have used the same Pentalic Aqua Journal for 31 days straight, have constantly tossed it into a pack and carried it to a bazillion places from the beach to the mountains to the woods. So far, the binding has stayed together perfectly.
My main gripe about this sketchbook? The largest journal size currently available is a 5x8-inch book, which is the one that I purchased. I really like this size, but I wouldn't mind a larger format. Good news! I contacted Pentalic with my desire, and the company prompt replied and said that more sizes are already in production.
[Update: More options are now available! Click here to see availability at Amazon.]
In summary, I have really enjoyed using this sketchbook. It suits my sketching and painting style, and I will definitely be purchasing another Pentalic Aqua Journal. I'm also itching to try out Pentalic's Dream Catcher watercolor journal. I really like the looks of this fun, accordion-style format!
Of course, the “best” art supplies vary from artist to artist. If you’ve tried the Aqua Journal, I’d like to hear how it worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!