Posts Tagged 'bookbinding'

Softcover Leather Sketchbook from ToBoldlyFold

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a paper or pen object!

Behold— the Softcover Golden Brown Leather Sketchbook from Etsy bookbinder ToBoldlyFold.

Handwritten thank-you notes and homemade packaging: the perks of buying handmade.

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.

Journal: unwrapped and exposed

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.)

But let's talk about the paper. 'Cause, uh, damn. That's some nice paper.

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.

Like all good handcrafts, this one is stamped by the maker.

two different italic/stub nibs

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.

Lamy Safari EF with Aurora Black ink

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.

Oh hey there, messy handwriting.

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.

watercolors and Pitt artists pens

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.


An Assorted (Yet Cohesive!) Paper Review

In this post, I outlined my initial impressions of four different Clairefontaine papers, which I received generously from Exaclair and bound into a short-term, multi-purpose book (what some people call a “journal”). I used this book during the last weeks of classes, as well as through the madness of Senior Week, and Graduation itself.

And it felt good (really good) to put this book aside after graduation– to start brand new, on a blank page. (What a handy metaphor, no?)

As it turns out, my blank page was on the other side of the country. But now I’m here in Colorado, and yes, I promised fuller reviews. So here we go.

Digital Color Printing Paper

Pentel Pocket Pen and ink on DCP Paper

First, to clarify: this paper isn’t meant for traditional writing and media. It’s for machines, and I’m sure it works superbly that way. But I’m not interested in machines (except, maybe, Leo Marx’s). I wanted to test a loose-leaf Clairefontaine paper– one that could be used for bookbinding!

This has perhaps been one of the few drawbacks to Clairefontaine products– they’re more like, well, office supplies than art supplies. So I really appreciate trying out some loose-leaf paper, which can be used as a raw material for a variety of art projects. The DCP paper is also available in a variety of weights (90 to 350 gsm), which allows for even more customization.

The short version: Use your fountain pens, markers, brush pens, and crayons on this paper; leave the paint and wet media alone. Water-soluble pencils/crayons/pastels have the potential to work well (perhaps if they’re more oil-based) but don’t overdo the water. Stephanie at Biffybeans did a review of this paper, and had similar findings.

Also, this is the time to experiment with bright colors. So channel your inner pop artist.

However, for whatever reason, I found that I did less art on this kind of paper. When I did draw, I used my Pentel Pocket Pen, which left beautiful, clean, high-contrast lines. Writing (in ink) on this paper was pleasurable, but the paper was too glossy to use a pencil, and the thinness also encouraged more minimalist approach.

Stamped! Notice the wet spot to the left; that's bleed-through from the drawing posted above

Continue reading ‘An Assorted (Yet Cohesive!) Paper Review’

Handmade Book with Clairefontaine Paper

In this post, I hinted at a new Book that I was binding using several different sample Clairefontaine papers: Graf It sketch padDCP Digital Color Printing Paper,Calligraphy Art Pad, and the Ingres Pastel Pad.

All the papers serve very different functions, so binding them into one journal is a way for me to provide a more extensive review of each type of paper. And, a way to keep me artistically on my toes! (Sure, we’ll go with that).

I used a simple long stitch and then glued the bound signatures into the cover. To make the cover, I used leftover mat board from an art project, and covered it in some blue ribbon.

(Making a new book without buying anything new = so rewarding.)

I’ve already been using this book throughout the exam season, so that’s why there are already some extra papers sticking out of it.

I think the order of use is: DCP copy paper, pastel paper, Graf It sketch paper, and then the calligraphy paper. I’ll try to post more extensive reviews as I finish each section. However, I have played around with all four papers already, so I can at least provide some preliminary thoughts…

  • So far, I’m loving the paper from the calligraphy pad— especially the off-white color, which I’m not used to seeing in Clairefontaine/Rhodia products. This paper is SO smooth, but less “slippery” than regular Clairefontaine paper. Plus, it’s a bit heavier which means it can handle wet media (sort of).
  • I was actually surprised how much I liked the Graf It sketchpad: it seems like a similar product to those “all-use” sketchbooks that you can buy at craft stores, with the rough-ish paper, but the quality of the Graf-it paper is a huge step up.
  • I love the DCP printing paper because it seems like basic Clairefontaine paper, but has the benefit of being available as loose sheets. I think when I bind small books for gifts in the future, I’ll use this paper instead of regular computer printer paper to fill them. Like the paper in Clairefontaine notebooks, though, it doesn’t offer the same versatility that the calligraphy paper and graf it paper do– it’s definitely more light weight, and not compatible with wet media. My guess is that it’s best used for writing and inking (and of course, printing. I’ll get to that in a later post)
  • The paper from the Ingres pastel pad seems really, really similar to the paper in the Exacompta sketchbook: it’s off-white, laid paper. And hey, I love the Exacompta sketchbook, so this just may be excellent paper. I found that it takes both wet and dry media equally well, and pastels are buttery smooth when used on this paper. This will be my first extended paper review, in the next few days.

Binding A New Journal, Courtesy of Exaclair

Exaclair Papers (except the blue)

This title is a bit misleading: I don’t really “journal,” in the traditional sense of the word. I use to write my thoughts, yes– but also for my creative writing and to write articles, and also as an art journal or sketchbook, and also for boring things like to-do lists and academic planning. Whew.

I always emphasize this to my friends ( it’s a BOOK, not a “DIARY”) who have this image of me sitting down, probably in Victorian clothing, to write, “Dear Diary, today I…”

So. I finished my Kunst & Papier Book with a really awkward amount of time left before graduation. I kept thinking, “Oh, of course this Book will last me until I graduate! and then I’ll make a lovely clean new one for my post-college life! Blank slates all around!”

But oh, no. I finished my Book with four weeks till graduation. So, what, should I start a new one that begins four weeks before a major life transition? That seemed really unbalanced and strange, so I decided against it. Instead I’m going to make a short little Book that I can use for the next month.

And how perfect! I received a lovely assortment of papers from Exaclair to review. Along with a Rhodia dotpad and some stationary, I received a Graf It sketch padDCP Digital Color Printing Paper, a Calligraphy Art Pad, and the Ingres Pastel Pad. So, I decided the best way to test them all would be to bind them into one multimedia writing-art-planner Book.

Clairefontaine Generosity

I’ll update when the book is bound!

Summer Sketchbook


DIY Sketchbook

I’ve posted before about the benefits of making your own books, but I think those reasons are only magnified when making a sketchbook. Because technically, I could journal on anything (a significant other’s tummy, perhaps?)– but when I’m making art, the materials really do matter. Making my own sketchbook means that I can include really nice art papers, watercolor paper, a simple but sturdy cover material, just right page size…

Thus, my summer sketchbook. I bought a stack of large sheets of various art papers: hot and cold press watercolor, two-, three-, and four-ply bristol, and some papers I had never even used before. I also made sure to get different colors– cream, grey, off-white, and bright-white, for a variety. I used red wax thread and a coptic stitch to bind. The cover is mat board, reinforced on one side with duct tape. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll decorate the cover, but the stickers that are on there are extra “birds” labels from a project at the environmental center where I work. The paper dimensions are 11″x11″, which is larger than a normal piece of printer paper, but not too large to carry in my shoulder bag.

(Click on the thumbnails to view full size images)

Here’s what I’ve been drawing in the hot sticky Virginia weather:

I want to be a children’s book illustrator! Done in pastel and watercolor

This one made me want to draw a graphic novel. Done in pen and ink




Two Little Booklets

More pamphlet stitch booklets I’ve made lately. Good for using up my paper! Good for gifts! Good for stress therapy during midterms!

Book #1




Book #2:




Why I Don’t Use Moleskine

My old Moleskines

My -old- Moleskines

I’ve got a cultural bone to pick with Moleskine.

Most people who criticize Moleskine notebooks complain about the price– i.e., why pay $10 or $14 for a notebook when a less expensive one would do just fine? But I believe that good books deserve to be paid for, and a good notebook or journal can be worth far more than $14.

The fact is, the Moleskine notebook really hasn’t been criticized much at all. When it has, the discussions that result are totally flimsy, ranging from halfhearted acknowledgment to open disrespect (this thread and this thread are good examples). Here are a few excerpts from those posts that “argue” in defense of the Moleskine:

  • the M is the mighty M because it just is”
  • “The point of marketing is to sell, I don’t see the point in critizing that. I can’t say exactly why I use Moleskines, they’ve got a certain charm.”
  • “Who are these critics anyway? They’re probably people who don’t even draw or write.”
  • “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Moleskine ‘critic.'”
  • “…you just don’t get it”

Needless to say, it’s ironic that most people can’t articulate the mysterious quality that makes their journal so unique. I would expect notebook users to be better with words. Perhaps the word they’re looking for is “legendary” –but they would only have to look at the label to figure that out. However, my critique of the Moleskine has little to do with its price, or even the quality. It has to do with the cultural space that Moleskine notebooks occupy, and what they represent. In fact, I think they’re a perfect metaphor for my generation’s passivity and hollow creative sensibilities.

The Basics:

Look, I hate to break the news, but neither Hemingway nor Chatwin used this notebook. The company began in 1996, and is Italian, not French. But that actually isn’t new information; We-The-Consumers are totally aware of Moleskine’s marketing techniques, and yet we continue to purchase their product. In 2006, the company began to manufacture their notebooks in China, contributing to economic inequality and unhealthy environmental standards. Strike two?

But instead of caring where our products come from, and what damage was caused along the way; instead of making a conscious decision to use a product from a more genuine or local source; we (i.e. the journalers) adamantly refuse to care.

…and our defense is: “it has a certain something” ..?

Pop Art

I would also argue that the Moleskine (like many other arts-related trends) has decreased artistic diversity. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy visiting Moleskine forums, the flickr pools and blogs, but after a while I can’t help but notice that many of the posts began to look sort of similar. Even the subject matter of people’s journal entries began to replicate itself: sketches of girls with deer antlers, owls, paragraphs written in Napoleon Dynamite-esque bubble letters, …etc. Shouldn’t journals be an expression of your inner unique thoughts?

I fully support an individual’s right to choose the supplies that make her or him most comfortable to write and create. And I won’t lie– I do love good a good fountain pen. Yeah, a blank page turns me on a little. But when I browse Moleskine forums, instead of being inspired by the array of artistic diversity, I come away feeling the desire to write and draw just like all the posts I just read. Basically, I want to copy them instead of trying something different.

Honestly, I think my paper journaling vision is at its most unique when I give up the internet for a little while.

A Journaler’s DIY Manifesto

Thus ends my critique, for the moment, because I’d rather discuss my personal alternative. After deciding that I would no longer use Moleskine notebooks, I began to make my own books. Which, compared to the social angst of the Moleskine world, felt like– Ahhh, yes! I love having complete control over the size of my journal, the binding, the type of paper, the cover. My design choices are infinite.

People talk about the tactile quality of the Moleskine, but there’s nothing so tactile as choosing the perfect buttery paper, or stitching the binding together yourself. For Moleskine enthusiasts who have gotten to the point of developing “hacks” for their notebooks, I would highly recommend just developing the entire book themselves. It’s totally ridiculous to spend so much effort altering a Moleskine when it’s possible to construct the ideal notebook from the ground up (for less money, I might add).

Binding my own books also means that I decide where my money goes, and what it supports. I have lovely conversations with the owners of quiet little paper shops, and I use my money to help preserve locally owned art supply stores. I can use recycled materials (an excuse to go dumpster diving!). Even at this early phase, I’m doing more than journaling; I’m discovering friendships, asking advice from book artists, being inspired. And that’s just the point– journaling is a process, not a one-time Barnes & Nobles purchase. A book is somehow more intimate when you remember when it was just a pile of paper and thread. It’s sort of like planting a garden. ..and then scribbling all over the flowers.

The beginnings of a new journal

The beginnings of a new journal

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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