The Strathmore Visual Journal has been around for many years now, but I remember when it first came out... or at least when it began gaining popularity.
I'm familiar with Strathmore's Mixed Media Visual Journal because my daughter enjoys using it, so when I first began sketching and painting, I tried out its paper. I wasn't too impressed with how it handled watercolor, so I moved on and sort of forgot about these sketchbooks.
A while back, I needed a new mixing sketchbook, so I stopped by my local art store. Low and behold, I discovered that there's an entire line of Strathmore Visual Journals including one filled with (*gasp*) watercolor paper!
Yes, it's also been around a while. Yes, I'm kind of slow with these things, probably because I hate shopping and rarely take time to look around to see what's new.
I've nearly filled up four of these sketchbooks, so I thought it was time for a full review. Below, I share my opinion of the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal, how well it works (or doesn't work) with pencil, pen, and watercolor, and the positives and negatives of its watercolor paper.
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Initial Impressions of the Strathmore Visual Journal
Before I tested the paper, there were several positive things that I noticed about this sketchbook. Even after carrying it around and (most likely) abusing it for about six months, these positives have stayed with me.
Here are some of my favorite things about the Strathmore Visual Journal.
Multiple Paper Options
This review is only about the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal with 140# paper, but just in case this one doesn't work for you, wow the choices! A list of what Strathmore currently offers in their Visual Journal line:
- Visual Watercolor Journal with 140 lb paper
- Visual Watercolor Journal with 90 lb paper (similar in price to the 140# but has more pages)
- Visual Mixed Media Journal
- Visual Drawing Journal
- Visual Bristol Journal - Vellum
- Visual Bristol Journal - Smooth
Price is the sole reason that I originally purchased the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal. After all, I only needed something to use for watercolor swatch tests and mixing experiments, and less than $12 USD for a 9x12-inch sketchbook with 140# watercolor paper is a freaking good deal!
Sturdy Cover & Binding
I noticed the heavy-duty binding and cover in the store, but after months of use, I've really come to appreciate these features. A sturdy cover is a great protector and essential for sketching in the field. (It's hard to draw or paint in a floppy sketchbook when there's no desk or table within miles.) And the bindings on every Visual Journal that I have still look brand new.
Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal Paper
I know you're itching to ask, "So how's the paper?" Before I review the guts of this journal, I think it's important to take a moment to acknowledge and accept that this journal doesn't house artist-grade watercolor paper.
Breathe in, breathe out, and repeat after me: It's a sketchbook. And it's a budget sketchbook.
Okay, I'm glad we've gotten that out of the way. In the past, those two qualities have not inspired confidence, but this journal has performed surprisingly well within certain limits. (More on this in a minute.)
The photo above is how I mainly use this sketchbook; it's my watercolor experiment notebook where I explore mixes, values, color combos, and more. The affordably of this sketchbook frees me to have fun without worrying about blowing through expensive paper.
I use the watercolor journal with 140 lb paper, and this stuff is massively thick. I wouldn't be surprised if the grams weren't a bit higher than typical 140# paper. The color is a lovely, warm white, easy on the eyes but not creamy enough to be a distraction.
The paper is different on each side (above photo). The front of each page has a lovely texture reminiscent of water flowing across a shoal. The backside has a vertical, snakeskin-ish pattern that I'm not fond of, but I use this side. I don't think it's a huge issue, but I'm glad this texture is only on one side. If you prefer this texture, you can easily flip the journal around and and use it.
Because yeah, once the thin marketing cover is removed, it's nearly impossible to tell the front of the sketchbook from the back or the top from the bottom. Constant confusion! A lot of sketchbooks have this issue, and I've eliminated the hassle by placing stickers on the front.
To summarize things... Does it paint like artist-grade paper? No way. Does it work just fine for how I use it? Yes, it does. If you'd like more in-depth information on this paper, please continue reading or skip to the overview at the end of this post.
Media Performance in the Strathmore Visual Journal
I don't sketch in graphite or pen, but I do use both. (The sketch above is pen and watercolor.) I also like to use dip pens for lettering. I work very heavily in watercolor and don't tolerate a paper that can't handle a substantial amount of water along with a bit of lifting and scrubbing.
In other words, I expect my paper to keep up. So here's how the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal performed with each of these.
If you're heavy into graphite, the paper's texture might be an issue, but it works fine with preliminary sketches and quick studies. Pencil marks erase easily, but I have noticed accidental smearing likely due to the paper's heavy surface sizing.
The Visual Journal works great with pen—felt tip, fountain, and dip. Because the paper is heavily sized, ink takes longer to dry. Though the texture does prohibit flat calligraphy nibs, it hasn't been an issue even with an ultrafine 01 Micron. There's also been no bleeding or feathering with any of the inks that I use.
For budget watercolor paper, the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal performs well. It can handle a heavy dose of water without curling or buckling. Pigments lift easily, and the paper can take a small amount blotting and scrubbing. Instead of going into greater detail here, below are examples from my sketchbook as well as more information about the paper.
Sketches in the Strathmore Visual Journal
Though I rarely use this sketchbook for finished sketches, I couldn't resist fully testing it out. Below are some examples of more completed sketches in the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal along with my observations on each.
On the left is one of the first sketches that I tried in this journal. Since the paper handled light watercolor and dip pen so well, a few days later, I tried it with something a bit heavier.
When I tried to use multiple layers for the nature sketch on the right, the paper immediately bogged down and the pigment muddied. I was sketching and painting this page while clinging to the side of steep hill in 45-degree weather, so I thought the issues might be operator error.
The next day, I set out to test whether or not the issues I had noticed the day before were caused by me or the paper (or both), so on these two pages, I really pushed the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal to the max. I used a combination of fine point and heavy pen, watercolor stamping and multiple layering.
Just as I suspected, the Strathmore paper couldn't keep up. It was fine for the first layer, but by layers two and especially three, the paper lost all performance. Pigment soaked into the paper and disappeared making colors muddy and objects messy.
I've posted this Daffodil and Crocus sketch on my blog before, so it may look familiar to you. When I did this sketch, I decided to go easy on the journal paper and try to work within its limits. Washes were performed in a single, quick layer, and then I used another single layer of light drybrushing to fill in additional color and value.
This did the trick, and I liked the result. However, I don't like being limited in this fashion when I'm sketching. I'm still using the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal as an experimental notebook, but I prefer a hardier paper for daily sketching.
Overview of the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal
The key question to evaluate any art supply is whether or not I would purchase it again. In regards to the Strathmore journal, I would definitely consider it. If you're new to watercolor (beginners often paint a bit dry) or work in light layers and want a sturdy sketchbook on a barebones budget, I think you'll enjoy the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal.
If you've been painting with watercolor for a while on artist-grade paper and have the budget for a higher quality sketchbook, you may be disappointed in this journal. Or you may not! It really depends on how you paint and what you expect a sketchbook to do.
Overview of the Strathmore Visual Watercolor Journal:
- Extremely sturdy cover & spiral binding
- Thick paper that can handle a lot of water
- Pigments sometimes have difficulty adhering to the paper
- Watercolor tends to float & muddy on the surface
- Best for single layer watercolor & textural dry brushing
Strathmore Sketching Set Giveaway!
Others often share with me that they really want to draw and paint, but they don't know where to begin. Well, it's time to jump in! I've put together a beginner sketching set to encourage you to take the first step toward your artistic journey. Even if you're not a beginner, I think you'll enjoy playing with all of the fun goodies in this kit.
Here's what's included:
You Can Draw It in Just 30 Minutes by Mark Kistler
The publisher recently sent me a copy of this book, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it! I'm normally not a fan of the let's-draw-a-bunch-of-shapes-to-make-a-frog technique, but Kistler is very encouraging and has a fun easiness about him that makes sketching less intimidating. And I actually learned a lot from his process! I think you will also.
Strathmore 300 Series Sketchpad
A minibook is great for beginners who tend to be intimidated by too much white space. This little 3.5x5-inch sketchpad is filled with 100 sheets of Strathmore's sketching paper and allows plenty of pages to practice all the exercises in Mark's book.
General's Sketchmate Kit
This kit has ALL you need to get started sketching and includes the tools mentioned in the book like various pencils, a blending stick, and a fabulous Factis eraser. (Okay, Mark doesn't mention this one, but I love this eraser!) There's also a handy little reference guide tucked inside.
Strathmore Visual Journal
This 5.5x8-inch sketchbook is filled with 22 sheets of 140 lb cold-pressed watercolor paper and is perfect for when you're ready to dive into watercolor. To ease the pressure, don't start with a painting. Instead, begin by splashing some paint around. This little journal can handle it!
American Journey Watercolors
I transformed an eyeshadow case into a makeshift watercolor palette that includes four, basic colors that can be used to paint nearly anything! Palette includes Joe's Green (PG7), Joe's Blue (PB15), Joe's Red (PR254), and Joe's Yellow (PY154). If you don't know what these numbers mean, this article explains things. For color mixing ideas, see this post.
Enter to Win
This giveaway is open to legal residents of the U.S. age 18+ with a valid U.S. shipping address. Enter from August 11-20, 2017, using the Rafflecopter entry below. Just follow the prompts for each entry. (Complete giveaway rules & policies are located here.)
A winner will be randomly chosen and notified via entry email within 24 hours after the giveaway ends. Winner must respond within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen.
Thanks, and best of luck!