It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a paper or pen object!
I haven’t had the time to bind my own books lately, but buying someone else’s handmade book is the next best thing. I put in some long research hours on Etsy, the handmade equivalent of ebay, before settling on this beautiful leather book from ToBoldlyFold’s Cyprus collection. Alas, if you do decide to shop Etsy for a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that most Etsy bookbinders don’t provide detailed information on the type of paper that they use– for these sellers, I recommend messaging them to ask about their paper.
I’ve been dreaming of a leather sketchbook for a few months now. Not one of those Wiccan-looking leather sketchbooks (although they are friggin’ works of art) or one of those fake-wilderness, rugged-leather-but-I-really-live-in-downtown-LA sketchbooks. Just a simple, well-made, hand-bound leather book.
Oh, and I need the paper to take both watercolor and fountain pens (which, as it turns out, is no easy task).
A handmade leather sketchbook on Etsy is going to run you anywhere from $25 to $90, depending on the dimensions (and quality) of the book. Tiny books make my hands cramp so I ruled those out, but there’s no way that I can drop $70 for one of the beautiful journals from Moonbindery. But! Huzzah! ToBoldlyFold announced a birthday sale, which dropped her (already mid-price) books to an “Affordable Splurge” level for me.
So that’s the tale of how I found my newest book. But, as with any journal, the search is only half the battle. So let’s talk specs– and please feel free to ooh and ahh over this sumptuous piece of work.
I was hoping for a warm brown leather cover, but I was intrigued by the 170g “artists” paper, which only available with golden brown leather.
Ain’t no tragedy. The golden leather with turquoise stitching makes a stunning combination.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about the button at first (I preferred the look of a wrap-cord), but it’s definitely growing on me. It reminds me of an old-fashioned pair of good leather boots, or a briefcase. It also reminds me of this adorable art print from Etsy seller Eva Juliet.
Many bloggers in the journaling/fountain pen community tend to dislike bulky covers, or covers that overhang the pages (check out this comparison from Notebook Stories). This is definitely not an issue with this book: the covers are cut square with the paper. The downside of this is that it doesn’t offer much protection– but leather sketchbooks are meant to be worn in, so maybe it’s okay if the edges of your pages get dirty.
When unwrapped, the soft pages easily fold under for compact writing, or spread out in an artsy fashion on a table. If this were bound with a thin paper, the soft leather cover wouldn’t provide enough support for writing– but the thick paper and sturdy long-stitch binding make it easy to write on laps or in trains. (Doesn’t it seem like one should be traveling on a sepia-tinted train when writing in this book?).
(The long stitch also means that every page lays perfectly flat. No exaggeration.)
As it turns out, ToBoldlyFold mainly uses two papers in her books: 115g Rives BFK Lightweight paper, or another paper that she only describes as “High-quality, acid-free 170g artists paper.” I know from experience that the Rives paper is excellent, but I was intrigued by the heavier 170g paper, and hoped it would hold watercolor.
I still don’t know who makes this paper– I’m going to ask the seller and I’ll get back to you all with her answer. We know at least that it is cream-colored and 175 g/m². I tried to convert that to lb paper weight, but the internet is telling me that it translates to only 65lb, which seems awfully thin. This paper is definitely thick, creamy, and hand-torn for fashionably rugged edges.
I did worry that the paper might be too porous for fountain pens and water-based inks. A quick test of all my fountain pens did show some feathering, but far less than I expected. In fact, dry-writing nibs performed pretty swell on this paper. The sample above compares my Pilot 78G italic nib (filled with J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche) with my Parker 45 stub nib (filled with J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage). The dryer combination of the 78G/Bleu Pervenche definitely out-performed the wetter Parker/Lierre Sauvage.
By far, the best combination of Pen&Ink on this paper was my Lamy Safari (EF nib) filled with Aurora Black (at the top). This is kinda interesting because Aurora Black is a super wet ink, compared to Bleu Pervenche, which is quite dry but performed the second-best on this paper. It’s well known that Aurora Black is a super-lubricated ink, though, and I wonder if the greater surface tension kept the ink from soaking in and feathering on the paper. I’ll have to try some other lubricated inks and see if it’s a pattern.
In general though, this is a paper for dry nibs and inks. The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to stick to fine nibs– one can still use a dry-writing italic nib with great results. Check the image below for other pen and ink combinations, with varying degrees of feathering.
Of course, if fountain pens aren’t the biggest priority in your life (let’s hope not; they’re just pens, after all), then this is a fantastic paper for basically every other type of pen, as well as both wet and dry media.
Although this seems to be a fairly porous paper (i.e., it’s not coated like Rhodia/Clairefontaine papers), it’s definitely not fibrous. It won’t catch on your nibs or disintegrate with wet media. You can see in the above image that Pitt artists pens didn’t feather at all, and watercolors also performed well.
Watercolors did absorb into the paper almost immediately, so you won’t be able to blend anything on the page itself. This is a paper more suited to glazing techniques.
Overall, this paper seems like it would make a perfect art journal: lays perfectly flat, strong enough to stand up to acrylics and pastels, sturdy enough for watercolors, and smooth enough for pens and fine nibs. Combined with a beautiful leather cover and beautiful stitching, this is a killer book and I’m excited to keep y’all updated on how I use it.