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Archive for November 17th, 2009

As an artist and art journaler, I am always on the lookout for high-quality, convenient journals I can use for making art. For basic doodling with pencil I can use anything, but when making art, I need a journal that can handle marker, watercolor, charcoal, ink, colored pencils, as well as pencil and pen.

The cover is made from thick, textured cardboard that begs to be embellished with metallic markers and collage. It opens flat and would be an excellent choice for creating an art or travel journal.

The cover is made from thick, textured cardboard that begs to be embellished with metallic markers and collage. It opens flat and would be an excellent choice for creating an art or travel journal.

When I received a package of journals to review from Karen at Exaclair, there was an Exacompta Sketchbook in the box. It appeared innocuous enough with its textured black cover, but the silver edged pages, cloth spine and the silver embossed cover intrigued me and urged me to explore the paper within. Was it as nice on the inside as the outside?

The pages have silver edges that sparkle against the black background and add a sense of elegance.

The pages have silver edges that sparkle against the black background and add a sense of elegance. You would never guess that the sketchbook retails for about $12.00.

The Paper

According to Exaclair, the Exacompta Sketchbook contains heavy weight 100g paper that is ideal for use with a fountain pen, calligraphy nib, rollerball or felt-tip pen. The cream-colored paper is pH neutral, made up of 25% cotton, and has a bit of texture to it. The cotton fibers and a water mark can be seen when held up to the light and the sketchbooks are sewn and bound, meaning the books open flat while pages won’t become loose and fall out with use. I didn’t use a calligraphy nib or fountain pen in this review, but I did used a very wet Tombow roll pen, markers, charcoal and watercolor. I was pleased with the results, the paper performed beautifully.

The paper color is soft ivory in color, which is easy on the eyes and the perfect backdrop for pencils and charcoal. It is fairly thick, but it is not near as thick as Moleskine Sketch paper. Rather than being smooth, the paper is slightly textured with a laid finish.  If you look closely, you’ll find the texture is more pronounced on the front side of the page than the back, making the vertical pattern more visible on some pages and the horizontal texture more visible on the others. If you want a consistent paper texture on a 2-page illustration, you will need to use the center of one of the paper signatures where the 2 pages are from a single side of the sheet, thus having the same texture all across.

This charcoal rendering of the wolf was done across 2-pages. The lft page is the backside of the page and is smoother than the right side, which is the front side of the page. On the left, the vertical texture in the paper is more visible while on the right, the horiaontal textures are more prominent.

This charcoal rendering of the wolf was done across 2-pages. The left page is the backside of the paper and is smoother than the right, front side. On the left, the vertical texture in the paper is evident while on the right, the horizontal textures are more prominent. While some of you might find the paper's texture and pattern distracting, I like it and think it adds some vertical energy to the rendering.

Charcoal
Charcoal is my favorite medium for this paper. It goes on smoothly and does a good job of picking up the paper’s texture. The charcoal stick makes a lovely, rough sound as it leaves a mark that really adds to the sketching experience. The deep color contrasts well with the paper and it is very satisfying pressing the color onto this paper. The texture can be enhanced by blending or rubbing the charcoal into the crevices and wiping the surface free of the excess powder. For areas that need to be to be dark black, extra pressure will push the charcoal down into all of the nooks and crannies.

In this close up image, you can see the horizontal texture of the paper on the right page. On the left page, the vertical texture is more visible.

Ink and Markers
I also used ink and marker on the paper to see how well these mediums performed, and like most other journals from Exaclair, the paper performed beautifully. The ink from my Tombow Ultra Roll Pen went on smoothly without skips. This is a wet pen and yet there was no bleedthrough and only a minimal amount of showthrough. I was surprised to find that the raised lines created by pen pressure were more visible than the ink on the backside of the page. I was pleased to use a paper that handled ink so gracefully, and was thrilled to know I can use both sides of the paper for my work.

The results of the marker test were similar to the ink test in that there was no bleedthrough and very little showthrough. The color appeared rich and saturated and the surface remained intact and unblemished. I was able to use multiple layers of color without the surface of the paper turning to mush.

Markers and pen in a Exacompta sketchbook. The paper's surface seemed unaffected by the watercolor markers and Tombow roll pen. There was no bleedthrough with either medium and little, if any of showthrough.Watercolor Paint
Then came the real challenge; wet, sloppy watercolor. So many have sketchbooks failed this test so I was interested to see how well the paper performed with this medium. The first light layers of wash went on with minor buckling, but the paper produced colors similar in brightness and clarity to watercolor paper. After the paint dried, the paper flattened a bit, but there was still some buckling and cupping. Unlike some coated sketchbook papers, there was no beading up or resistance. Each subsequent layer went on like the first and I was able to apply multiple light layers to achieve a reasonable depth of color, but the more layers I applied, the less stable the paper became. After completing the yellow areas, I managed to remove some of the surface of the paper, creating some small lumps of colored paper.

The watercolors were bright and lively on this paper, but I don’t plan on using watercolors with this paper for anything other than quick color sketches or for testing certain effects. The paper buckles less than most, but it is still enough to make using watercolors a less-than-rewarding endeavor.

Watercolors are clear and bright on the paper, but the paper buckled from the wet medium. While it was less than expected, I wouldn't recommend it for anything other than light, quick watercolor sketches. In the areas that received the most wet paint, the surface started to break apart resulting in some lumpiness on the page.

Final Impressions
I love this sketchbook. The paper is exquisite and it is a good value if you are inclined to bargain shop. The street price is about $12 although you can purchase it online with a Madeira leatherette cover for about $20.

This would be an excellent sketchbook to use for art journaling. It handles a variety of mediums, lies flat when opened and is big enough to comfortably draw in and small enough to transport. The cardboard cover can be easily customized with paints, collage, metallic pens, fabric giving you limitless options for creating a journal as unique.

Pros

  • Superb, Clairfontaine paper
  • Excellent choice for art journaling
  • Handles a variety of mediums well, especially wet pens
  • No bleedthrough and minimal show through, so you can use both sides of the paper
  • Colorful ribbon bookmark for easy page retrieval
  • 200 pages of high-quality paper for just $12
  • Opens flat
  • Cardboard cover can be easily customized

Cons

  • Paper buckles when using watercolor paint
  • Hard to find in stores

Exacompta Sketchbook “Livres d’Or” Sketchbook Specifications:

  • 10 signatures of 20 pages
  • 100 gsm which is roughly a 65 lb. paper.
  • Multicolor ribbon.
  • Black cover & silver edge
  • Cloth binding to match cover
  • Textured hardboard covers
  • Sewn binding

According to Karen at Exaclair, this Sketch Book is going to get more of a prominent spot in Exaclair’s 2010 catalog. The paper comes from the same mill in the Netherlands that produces Clairefontaine’s fine art paper – http://jherbin.com/schut_mill.shtml. Thank you, Karen, for supplying me with this great little sketchbook to review. I really enjoyed it!

Have you used this sketchbook? If so, leave me a comment and let me know what you think about it!

Exacompta SketchbookThe Exacompta Sketchbook has a textured, black, cardboard cover that begs to be embellished with metallic markers and collage. The logo on the front cover is in a silver foil and measures just over an inch. This would make an excellent art journal or travel journal.

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