Posts in category "reviews"

Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils review

Watercolour pencils are one of my favourite mediums, and I’ve been using them for a very long time. But in recent years I relegated them to my sketchbook, because I was concerned about using non-lightfast mediums in work that I may exhibit, gift, or sell. The lightfastness of watercolour pencils I used (Koh-i-Noor Mondeluz and Derwent Inktense) varies greatly within a set, and typically the colours I use most often (like reds and purples) tend to fade a lot faster than others. I didn’t want to take any chances.

The most renowned artist-grade pencil brands that claim to be lightfast are Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle and Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer. Museum Aquarelle are eye-wateringly expensive. I don’t really trust Faber-Castell ratings anymore, as some independent tests showed considerable fading of some colours. (Guess which? Yes, the ones I use the most: reds and purples.)

Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils lightfast guarantee

Then I discovered a hidden gem, medium-priced artist-grade lightfast pencils: Royal Talens Van Gogh. Finding reviews for this brand is hard. Very few artists seem to know about them. I directly asked a few popular YouTube artists why they haven’t reviewed them yet, and they said they’ve never heard of them!

They’re also hard to find in art stores around the world. I’ve ordered mine from Amazon UK and I’ve seen them in other European Amazon stores, but none of the independent art supply stores where I usually shop. Even though these stores carry other Talens products, they don’t seem to import Van Gogh pencils. They're also available on, but reportedly they're being shipped from Japan? I don't know.

I’m satisfied with other Talens products (like their Van Gogh and Amsterdam paints), so I decided to trust the very few reviews I found that claimed it was a pretty good quality product for the price, and the independent blue wool lightfastness tests that confirmed the official ratings.

I’m writing this review because there are so few of them out there! If you’re able to get these pencils for a good price where you live, they definitely deserve to be shortlisted.

36 set of Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils

The box is a basic metal tin with a hinge. The pencils are laid on a plastic tray with a velvety finish. The velvety lint sticks to the pencil, and some of it got on my test paper, so that can be a bit irritating. Other than that, the box is decent quality, and all the pencils arrived in good shape. Some of them moved around the box a bit, which is common with shallow plastic trays.

The pencil barrels do not match the colour of the actual pigment. The swatch card that comes in the box is pretty accurate to dry pencil application, but there’s always a colour shift with watercolour pencils (see below).

I published a short video with a quick recap of my impressions, but my more in-depth thoughts follow in the rest of this article.

Color swatches

I swatched them on Canson Imagine 200gsm smooth mixed media paper. I don’t normally paint swatch charts this neat, but I wanted to make sure they all fit on one page.

Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils swatches

The dry to wet colour shift is not very pronounced in most colours. They do get a bit more vibrant, but not as dramatic as Inktense. The benefit of this is that if I go over a dissolved wash with a dry pencil (to fix, soften, or intensify color of an area) I can leave it dry, and it will match the layer below. Washes appear significantly more vibrant while they're wet, and as they dry again they’ll settle into a slightly duller shade, just like watercolour paint does. (This depends on each individual pigment, with some colours having a bigger drying shift than others.)

These pencils feel hard, similar to Polychromos. Inktense and Mondeluz are both a lot softer and a bit crumbly. Van Gogh pencils leave barely any crumbs. Some pencils feel harder than others. I noticed that vibrant colours (with higher pigment load) are quite a bit softer than the muted or pastel shades. With the muted/pastels, I really had to dig into the paper to fill the area. Usually pencils sets are more balanced, but this one is all over the place. I suppose this is where that cheaper price comes into play.

Dry and wet swatches of Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils

Even when my application was scribbly, my pencil strokes dissolved very easily. There are no visible marks on the smooth mixed media paper. On textured paper the marks are very faint. The pigment travels far on the vibrant pencils and covers the blank swatch area. The pale pencils like Naples yellow light, Naples yellow red, Lilac, and Cold grey light almost disappear under the brush and don’t travel at all into the surrounding areas. I don’t expect to be using these colours much.

I was curious to see how the pencil names compare to the Talens Van Gogh watercolour paints with the same name. Some of the name choices seemed weird right off the bat. For example Ultramarine looks nothing like the PB29 Ultramarine pigment, it’s more similar to Cobalt blue. They could’ve just named it “Sea blue”. (Faber-Castell Ultramarine also doesn’t resemble actual Ultramarine at all.)

Comparison of Van Gogh watercolour paints and pencils

None of the swatches look so alike in hue that I’d be convinced they contain the same pigments, but some of them are close enough. At least colour matching the pencils with paints won’t be that difficult.

There’s a bit too many blues, greens, and yellows for my liking, with a few near-duplicates. I love that there are 4 violets which is quite rare, but I’d like a saturated crimson red (like Permanent red deep which is available in the 60 piece set).

I'm missing 1 or 2 very dark chromatic colours (such as sepia or indigo blue), that I could use instead of black to apply very strong shadows. All the colours except for Ivory black shift lighter when diluted with water. Ivory black is the only one that becomes darker with water. The darkest pencil after Ivory black is Ultramarine violet! In all the other colour pencil sets I own the darkest shades are brown and blue, and I’m used to using them for deep shadows.

Not that I’m opposed to using black – I do use it a lot when I need actual black, but when I mix deep shadows on a portrait I avoid it because it “dirties” the colours. Speaking of Ivory black, it's definitely not the darkest, most intense black pencil I own, probably because it contains more filler than Stabilo All, Mondeluz, and Inktense. It's better for sharp lines than to fill in large areas.

White pencil is not included in the 36 set. I don't mind since I've found white watercolour pencils to be pretty useless. They turn transparent as soon as you touch them with water and I doubt Van Gogh's is an exception. (I use a white wax pastel or white gouache when I need strong highlights.)

On an unrelated note, even though it prominently says “Holland” on every pencil, the box states they are made in China. I was a bit disappointed to learn that, but it also explains why they're cheaper than their European-made competition. My older box of Van Gogh Sketch pencils doesn’t specify country of origin, which can either mean they used to be produced in the Netherlands, or they didn’t disclose they were produced elsewhere.

Using watercolour pencils in artwork

My first test of these pencils was a stained glass inspired coloring page I've drawn in my old Winsor & Newton A5 hot press sketchbook recently. The hard pencil point was quite useful for getting into the tiniest areas. I haven't sharpened any of the pencils as I was coloring it. All of the colors I used are very transparent, so the brush pen ink lines remained crisp. All the visible strokes on the robe and the dark violet side panels are caused by the brush, not the pencils. (This paper is very sensitive to lifting.)

Saint Death Cathedral Window ink and watercolor pencils drawing by Nela Dunato

My second test was a quick raven study loosely based on a reference photo, in a Clairefontaine Carnet de Voyage sketchbook.

Raven study drawing with watercolor pencils

You can see on the progress photos I took that my chicken scratch pencil marks dissolved without issues, even too well. I wanted the branch to retain some bark texture, but I lost most of it as soon as I touched it with a brush. Later I became more careful in order to preserve pencil texture. (Digging in the pencil tip also helps.)

It took 3-4 layers to get the raven dark enough because I started off too light. I'm used to working with Inktense, so I need to get used to applying heavier layers with Van Gogh. The background is bad because I didn't take my own advice (see below) on avoiding washed out colors and layering didn't help. (And because I improvised instead of sticking to the reference.)

I don't normally use watercolour pencils on their own.

After I switched to watercolour paint, I started using colour pencils to add details, intensify shadows, soften transitions, and fix watercolour mistakes. However, the paper that works best for watercolour usually has a strong texture that results in grainy pencil marks that are very difficult to blend. I don’t like the look of paper texture in my artworks. I prefer more organic textures created by the flow of paint, or those I intentionally make myself.

I can achieve a smoother look on hot press surfaces. But I already have so many cold press papers that weren’t cheap, and hot press paper is ridiculously difficult to find in Croatian stores. I realised watercolour pencils would work better on cold press, as I can blend them to get rid of the texture. So my plan for using these in artworks is over watercolour, to add fine details and deeper values where necessary. That may mean my expectation from these pencils is different from other people’s.

For someone who wants to complete an A4 or A3-sized painting with a strongly coloured background, these may not be soft enough. Getting the whole page covered will take a long time.

My final test before I start using them in earnest was a fantasy mixed media painting in my typical style. I drew a forest fairy in a Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal, which honestly I'm not a fan of because it has a grainy texture I mentioned earlier. So if they work in this sketchbook, I'm sold. Click on the image to see it larger, and the closeup:

Fantasy fairy mixed media drawing with watercolour paint and Van Gogh watercolour pencils

First I filled in all the large areas with watercolour paint. I used Van Gogh and Roman Szmal paints that I colour-matched to the Van Gogh pencils. I found that these worked out pretty close:

  • Van Gogh Quinacridone purple blue paint and 568 Perm. violet medium pencil
  • Van Gogh Payne's gray + Burnt sienna paint mix and 403 Vandyke brown + 701 Ivory black pencils
  • Roman Szmal Perylene maroon paint and 348 Perm. red purple pencil
  • Roman Szmal Cobalt Teal + Van Gogh Viridian hue (Phthalo green) - I didn't use a pencil, but 661 Turqoise green is close

After the paint layer (see progress photo at this phase), I added shading and details with pencils, blended them with water, and then corrected, softened and deepened areas with dry and blended pencils. The hair got a few more layers of pencils and paint, but the skin is mostly shaded with pencils. Blending removed most of the grainy paper texture. I added highlights and wispy lines with white gouache. (I added some with a light gray pencil too, but these are quite faint.)

I loved using these pencils alongside watercolor. I got just the effect I needed, and being able to match them to the paints I already have is wonderful. I'm happy with this purchase.

Review highlights


  • Probably the most affordable guaranteed lightfast pencils in Europe.
  • Very strong pigment load in the bright colours.
  • Decently balanced colour range in the 36 set that can work for portraits, botanical art, and landscapes.
  • Supposedly open stock, but I don’t know where to get them.
  • Many common colours are a close enough match to Talens Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Roman Szmal watercolour paint, which is great for combining mediums.
  • All but a few pastel colors are transparent enough to not cover up ink lines.


  • Hard to find in local and independent art supply stores.
  • Pastel and muted shades are way too pale, they don’t make sense for watercolour pencils. I’m guessing they’re matched to the regular coloured pencil set, but the two mediums require different approaches.
  • Huge variability in hardness among different pencils. (Pigmented pencils are softer, pastel and muted are harder.)
  • I’m missing a very dark indigo or sepia in this set for strong chromatic shadows.
  • Velvet tray lint.
  • Made in China.
  • Limited layering, though this may be true for most watercolour pencils.

Are Van Gogh pencils artist grade or student grade?

Royal Talens Van Gogh pencils are artist grade. Talens calls them “fine art pencils” on the tin and the marketing literature, and they are tested and graded for lightfastness according to rigorous industry standards.

There’s a bit of confusion among artists, because Van Gogh is a line of student grade paint. Here’s the Royal Talens hierarchy of paint lines:

  1. Artist grade: Rembrandt (oil, watercolour, acrylic, pastel), Talens Gouache Extra Fine (gouache)
  2. Student grade: Van Gogh (oil, watercolour, acrylic)
  3. Children & novice: Talens Art Creation (watercolour, gouache, acrylic, pastel)

Since there are no pencils in the Rembrandt line, their highest grade pencils are bumped into the Van Gogh range. This makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. The Rembrandt packaging looks as if it was designed a hundred years ago. It’s clearly aimed at traditional oil painters and watercolorists, and this demographic has little interest in colour pencils. The Van Gogh range keeps in step with contemporary trends (like metallic, dusk, and pastel watercolours), and is aimed at budget-conscious mixed media artists.

For pencils, the Royal Talens hierarchy looks like this:

  1. Van Gogh
  2. Bruynzeel Design
  3. Bruynzeel Expression
  4. Talens Art Creation

Some pencil reviewers incorrectly place Van Gogh on a rung below Bruynzeel Design. The price is similar, but Bruynzeel Design has nicer packaging, and they’re a softer core that’s pleasant to use. Sounds great, right?

However, the individual pencil lightfastness of Bruynzeel Design Aquarel varies drastically. I went through their catalogue and counted 17 pencils with the lowest “0” designation (fugitive), 7 pencils with marginal lightfastness (+), 14 pencils with good lightfastness (++), 9 pencils with excellent lightfastness (+++), and one pencil (Burnt Ochre) without a rating. Anything below good (++) is not considered archival, and that accounts for half of their entire range. They can't be considered a higher grade than Van Gogh.

Avoid the washed out look with watercolour pencils

When using watercolour paint or markers, we can layer as much as our paper allows. We tend to work from light to dark: starting with large areas of light tones, and then adding deeper and darker shadows on top of them. This is not the way to work with watersoluble pencils and pastels.

Because pencils and pastels have a lot of binder that holds the core together, that binder can fill up the tooth of the paper faster than watercolour paint can. This means that after a while, we can’t add any more layers because of the wax buildup. The pencil “skates” across the surface. (Smooth papers fill up faster than textured ones.)

I saw a video portrait demo by an artist using these same pencils, and he used the “light to dark” approach: filling the entire areas of skin and hair with light values first, blending them with water, and then adding darker and darker shadows with each layer. In the end, when the artist wasn’t able to add any more layers, the portrait still looked washed out. The darkest pencils didn’t leave strong enough marks to get that contrast.

What’s the solution? Apply the entire range of values from the very first layer.

When I draw with pencils and crayons, I first add the shadows and highlights, and then blend them with midtones. The whole drawing has a good amount of contrast from the very start, and each subsequent layer allows me to deepen the shadows further. I’m not “wasting paper tooth” on colours that won’t even be visible in the final drawing.

It’s fine to mix in a bit of the same colour across the entire area to tie the drawing together, but I tend to do that more towards the end, when I’m sure I’ve got enough contrast.

Let me show you an example I did on Canson XL watercolour paper (smoother side):

Layering watercolour pencils: light to dark, and dark to light

The left sample was quite challenging. I didn’t mess it up on purpose, it looks patchy because I couldn’t even control my pencils anymore, they were just sliding over the wax buildup.

The right column is how I normally work. The colours are richer, and the transitions are smoother. The amount of layers applied in both samples is the same.

Alternatives to Van Gogh pencils?

In most watercolour pencils brands, the lightfastness ratings vary by pencil. This means that if you consider lightfastness of your art supplies important, you wouldn’t be able to use many pencils from a set in professional artwork. (In general, watercolour pencils are less lightfast than regular colour pencils.)

As I’ve already mentioned, the only other watercolour pencil brand whose entire range is archival is Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle. It’s also the most expensive.

Watercolour pencil brands that have variable individual lightfastness ratings (or whose self-proclaimed ratings have been deemed unreliable by independent testing), include:

  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer
  • Caran d’Ache Supracolor
  • Derwent Watercolour
  • Derwent Inktense
  • Prismacolor Premier Watercolor
  • Koh-i-Noor Mondeluz
  • Arteza Expert Watercolor Pencils
  • Cretacolor Marino
  • Bruynzeel Design Aquarel

I haven't included the Winsor & Newton Studio Collection on this list because their official testing is still in progress, and independent testing results are pretty bad.

I’m sure there are more brands, but these are the ones that I’m familiar with.

Many of the brands listed are available open stock, so you can check individual ratings and purchase only the archival pencils. That way you won't end up with a bunch of pencils you can't use in your fine art or commissions, so you may actually save money. Some brands list ratings directly on the pencils, but others don't, so you'll need to find their official chart online.

If lightfastness is not important to you, Van Gogh pencils may not be the best choice. Especially if you need a set you can use on its own, that can easily cover larger areas.

  • If you want the most vibrant colours and don't intend to use the pencils dry, Inktense pencils are super saturated and quite soft. They're less prone to lifting than other watercolor pencils, but they don't dry completely waterproof. They have a huge dry to wet shift, more than any other watercolor pencil I've tried.
  • If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, Koh-i-Noor Mondeluz are as pigmented as expensive brands and very enjoyable to use. You can also use them dry.
  • Some watercolor pencils come in woodless form (Koh-i-Noor Progresso, Arteza Woodless, Cretacolor Monolith, Derwent Aquatone). You're getting a lot of usable product, and it's easier to apply color to large areas. You can still sharpen them to get a fine point, and save the shavings to use as paint.

Coloring Bliss channel on YouTube has a comparison video of 26 brands of watercolor pencils. It sadly doesn't include Van Gogh pencils, but it does include most of the brands I listed as alternatives, and quite a few more budget brands. (Her top choices are Albrecht Dürer and Inktense.)

If you do like combining pencils and watercolour paint, I think these are a great set because of their ability to draw fine details and stay sharp for a long time, which is exactly what I need.

I hope this review has been useful!

Note: Some links contain affiliate codes. I may earn a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon, at no additional cost to you.

Faber-Castell Polychromos 30 colors set in a pencil roll – color list and swatches

I recently decided to get more into color pencils and bought a set of Faber-Castell Polychromos. I was deciding between three allegedly lightfast* brands: the Derwent Lightfast, Caran d'Ache Luminance, and Polychromos. The latter was the cheapest of the three, and I'm a mixed media artist anyway, so it seemed like a good choice.

I really liked this faux leather pencil roll set of 30. However, there was no list of exact colors included in any online product description, so I crossed my fingers hoping I would get a good selection with enough beige, pink and brown colors for skintones.

Faber-Castell Polychromos 30 colors set in a faux leather pencil roll

Here is a complete list of colors I received in this set:

  • 101 White
  • 107 Cadmium yellow
  • 109 Dark chrome yellow
  • 110 Phthalo blue
  • 112 Leaf green
  • 113 Orange glaze
  • 118 Scarlet red
  • 120 Ultramarine
  • 121 Pale geranium lake
  • 125 Middle purple pink
  • 127 Pink carmine
  • 132 Beige red
  • 136 Purple violet
  • 153 Cobalt turquoise
  • 156 Cobalt green
  • 167 Permanent green olive
  • 170 May green
  • 172 Earth green
  • 175 Dark sepia
  • 188 Sanguine
  • 192 India red
  • 199 Black
  • 219 Deep scarlet red
  • 233 Cold grey IV
  • 235 Cold grey VI
  • 247 Indanthrene blue
  • 264 Dark Phthalo green
  • 268 Green gold
  • 272 Warm grey III
  • 273 Warm grey IV

I have not found this information even on the official Faber-Castell website, and they don't have this set listed in their swatches table PDF. The only other place where I've seen the full list is the Q&A section of! This is the reason why I'm making this post, in case someone else is looking for this information.

This selection of colors doesn't match up with any of the smaller sets. There are some colors in the set that are also present in the 12, 24, and 36 set, but many colors that are a part of the 12 and 24 sets are not included in this one. They are replaced by colors which are normally only found in the biggest 120 set. I find this strange, and I have no idea what this "special" selection of colors is supposed to be. It's not a portrait set for sure, because very few useful skintones are included (I purchased 7 additional shades to make a decent range.) It's not a nature set, because it has 4 different blues and only 2 browns (3 if you count Green gold as a brown). My only explanation is that they chose some of the "leftover" colors that are not needed in their other limited sets.

I promised swatches, so here they are on natural white Hahnemuehle paper, and on Clairefontaine gray mixed media paper. I have a calibrated display and tried to match it to what I see in person, but you may be seeing something completely different on your own display. (Click on each image to see the larger version.)

Faber-Castell Polychromos 30 colors set swatches on natural white paper

I added a strip of white pencil on the bottom of each swatch (on white paper) to see what ligher and pastel shades I can get by mixing them. It's not super clear, so I'll have to do separate larger swatches for that.

Faber-Castell Polychromos 30 colors set swatches on dark gray paper

Below are the additional colors I purchased for shading the skin:

Faber-Castell Polychromos beige, peach, and brown swatches on natural white paper

I know for a fact that it's possible to achieve decent skin tones with fewer colors, but I figured since I splurged so much already, I might as well get every possible shade I might need. It was a birthday present to myself.

Overall I really like these pencils. They are definitely not soft – it takes a lot of pressure to lay an intense color, and they're supposedly very break-resistant. But they're great for detail work, which is what I need them for. I was able to achieve very rich and smooth skin tones by layering brown, beige, red, and dark blue shades.

Faber-Castell Polychromos light and dark skin tones mixes

I intend to use them mostly over watercolor or soft pastels, because I don't have the patience to complete large drawings using only color pencils.

Here's the first drawing I completed almost exclusively with these pencils. The shadow/demon silhouette is a mix of Creatacolor Nero and Polychromos Black with some solvent to make the surface more even. The portrait is shaded using 6 or maybe 7 different Polychromos pencils.

The Shadow – colored pencil drawing by Nela Dunato

Click to see larger image in my art gallery.

I recorded the entire drawing process from sketch to finish:

Here's a flowers study on Strathmore toned gray paper:

Polychromos colored pencils on toned paper: Tulips and roses drawings

* I say allegedly, because that's what the companies claim. However, some people's lightfastness tests had shown that Polychromos has quite a few unstable colors (especially bright reds, purples, yellows and oranges). The ASTM-rated Luminance had tested fully lightfast, but I don't want to spend that much money when I'm not even making money with my art. I'll be careful not to use any of the unstable pencils in works I want to preserve. Thankfully, my skintone colors are safe!

I am however very intrigued with the Van Gogh pencils, which are also ASTM-rated and highly lightfast in independent artist tests. I set my eyes on a watercolor pencil set, and will probably get them soon.
Update: I got them! Read my Royal Talens Van Gogh Water Colour Pencils review.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product on Amazon through my link, I will receive a small commission fee, at no additional cost to you.

Video: My portable sketching kits collection

Being a mixed media artist, in my 15 years of sketching on the go I discovered that just one sketching kit doesn't fulfill all my creative needs. That's why I've developed not one, not two, not three, but five different sketching kits for every occasion, and I share them in this video:

The five kits are:

00:13 Minimal sketching kit
04:14 Basic sketching kit
07:02 Watercolor sketching kit
15:16 Study sketching kit
23:37 Travel sketching kit

For a text summary and a complete list of tools I mentioned in the video, read the article on my main blog: 5 types of portable sketching kits I use: watercolor, minimal, travel kit & more

In other news, I updated my sketchbooks comparison review post again with some new sketchbooks, and the table is now color-coded. I have some new interesting sketchbooks on my table at the moment, and when I get a chance to test them thoroughly, I'll add them to the post.

My Sketchbooks Comparison & Reviews: Canson, Moleskine, Hahnemühle, Strathmore, Clairefontaine... (2023 update)

My sketchbooks

I'm a sketchbook addict — whenever I come across a sketchbook that looks promising, I must have it.

I've been updating this review collection with many new sketchbooks that I've been testing over the years. (I'm also deleting discontinued sketchbooks.) I have quite a few more on my shelf that I haven't even had a chance to try yet, so you can expect more updates.

How I approach my reviews:

  • I live in Croatia, which means I don't have access to many brands which may be common where you live. Many of the sketchbooks I've featured here are purchased locally. I sometimes buy sketchbooks when I travel, but I rarely buy them online because of high shipping costs.
  • I switch between different techniques, so I favor sketchbooks that can handle multiple wet and dry mediums. This may not be relevant for all artists. The score in the comparison table reflects how versatile a sketchbook is, not necessarily its overall quality. My favorites may not be your favorites!

Sketchbooks reviews

Comparison table is provided at the bottom.

Note: Links that point to the Amazon shop are affiliate links, meaning I get a small cut if you buy the sketchbook. The cost is the same for you.

My current favorites

Moleskine Art Plus sketchbook

Moleskine sketchbook review

Update 2023: My review is many years old and I never had the inclination to purchase another one, but from what I've heard online, the quality is not what is used to be. To that I wonder "What quality?", but apparently some folks used to love it.

Considering all the hype about Moleskines, I was very disappointed with this particular sketchbook.

I knew it was not designed for water-based media, but I expected it would at least handle ink well, and it doesn't. Fineliners and brush pen look a bit faded instead of pure black, but the results with my calligraphy pen are very poor - streaky, patchy, and leaky. Don't let my sketch examples fool you, I increase the contrast in Photoshop before uploading. In reality the black ink is nowhere near black, the paper just soaks it up. There are visible streaks where the layer of ink is thinner. The paper is very smooth, but it's also coated and it prevents ink from setting properly. Thick black marker bleeds through.

You can use watercolor pencils on it and the paper won't buckle, but rub the paper with a wet brush too much, and you get patches of water leaking through the paper that ruin the uniformity of color. Both the color and watercolor pencils lose their vibrancy on this paper, because the slick surface doesn't hold on to much pigment. The final artwork colors are impacted by the yellowish tone of the paper.

You can use this sketchbook with opaque media such as gouache and acrylic. After giving up on using this sketchbook for sketches and drawings, I switched to using it as a mixed media art journal, and for that it works quite well. This, the thickness of paper, and the fact that the book opens absolutely flat so you can work across the spread are the only advantages in my opinion. If you aren't too concerned with ink and markers showing through the other side, you might as well buy something more affordable (see Royal Talens Art Creation). If you're only going to use it for mixed media (especially over gesso), then it's fine.

Verdict: I hated using it, and I will never buy one again. You've been warned.

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Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Moleskine Watercolor Notebook

Moleskine watercolor sketchbook review

The hardcover book is bound in faux leather, has a bookmark ribbon, elastic strap, and a back pocket. However, the wear and tear of travel really shows on the thin spine cover and I was worried it might fall apart. (Hardcover sketchbooks by most reputable brands are far sturdier than this one! Literally any other brand on my list.)

The paper is a 200gsm cold pressed watercolor paper, supposedly made of 25% cotton. (I don't know if this was the case when I bought my first one, but the newer ones state that on the cover.) It's great for just about any water media and double-sided use. The texture makes it less than ideal for smooth ink drawings. Advanced watercolor artists may not find this paper impressive, but it's good for mixed media and quick sketches.

Verdict: It's pretty good in my opinion if you're not too fussy about your watercolor paper. I bought another one and may buy more if I run into it in a store.

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Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Canson ArtBook: Universal Sketch Book

Canson ArtBook: Universal sketchbook review

After testing all my drawing instruments on it, I love it! I keep using it again and again. The paper is only 90gsm, but it's not as porous as other drawing papers, so nothing but a thick alcohol marker bled through for me. Paper grain is very fine so my brush pens, dip pens, fountain pens and calligraphy pens glide over it and I can say this is absolutely the best sketchbook for ink of all the other ones that I've tested so far. No feathering, no bleeding, no ugly yellow paper tone, opens flat, has 112 sheets (224 pages), a rubber band, and a back pocket... It survives years of wear and tear being carried around in bags, and to me it's well worth the price.

Watercolor warps the paper a little. It's not bad with light washes so you can add splashes of color to your lineart, but it's not intended for wet washes. But I'm stubborn and have done pretty complex watercolor drawings on this one with decent results. Since the paper is so thin, the warping flattens out over a few days while the sketchbook is kept closed.

This is one of my favorite sketchbooks for small colored and watercolor pencil drawings, because I can get intense colors, as well as smooth strokes and subtle shading.

It's advertised as resistant to erasing, and I can confirm that it really is. I was able to get 2B graphite lead and light color pencil strokes completely off without a trace of residue.

Verdict: So far this is my favorite sketchbook for everyday use. I filled up 4 of these since 2012, and keep buying more.

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Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Canson 180° ArtBook: Universal

Canson 180° ArtBook: Universal sketchbook review

The paper in this sketchbook is exactly the same as in the above reviewed Canson ArtBook Universal sketchbook, so I'm not going to repeat it. Notable differences between the two are that the 180° has no spine cover so it can lie fully flat, and has fewer pages (80 compared to 112 the former has). It also has a magnet clasp instead of a rubber band which sounds fancy, but I don't really care. I think it just makes the sketchbook more expensive and less resistant to wear.

I have the A4 sized one which is too big to carry around on a day-to-day basis, so I don't use it very often. I like it for life studies, ink drawings, and larger pencil sketches.

Verdict: I prefer the regular Universal sketchbook because it has more pages for less money, and I don't have any issues working on two spreads since it opens pretty flat too. But if the regular Universal sketchbook is not available, this one is the closest substitute.

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The links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Canson ArtBook: One

Canson ArtBook: One sketchbook review

I bought this one only because my usual Canson ArtBook Universal sketchbook was not available, so I thought this one would be similar enough. It's not. I regret buying it.

The paper in this one is 100gsm compared to the 90gsm in Universal, but it's quite porous so it's only good for dry media. Ink and other wet media doesn't move across the paper, it just soaks up and sometimes goes through to the other side (see photo). Even fineliners feather out on this paper if you draw slowly. High-quality watercolor pencils and watersoluble pastels don't dissolve into uniform surfaces. The initial lines remain visible because the pigment sticks to where it first landed.

Another issue I have is the binding. ArtBook One has 6 signatures with 8 sheets each so it doesn't open fully flat, which means that if you want to scan your full-spread drawings, half a centimeter along the spine won't scan properly. ArtBook Universal has 14 signatures with 4 sheets each, which makes the binding looser so it opens fully flat. The binding on One also contains way too much glue that seeps into the centers of each signature and the sheet sticks together until you detach it (see photo), which is just unforgivable. Granted this sketchbook is much, much, cheaper than Universal, but a brand like Canson shouldn't drop the ball so hard on any of their products.

The ArtBook One has no rubber band or pocket, and the cover is faux textile (not faux leather).

It's pretty great for dry media. Colored pencils, charcoal, and pastel apply very nicely and blend well.

Verdict: Unless you draw with charcoal and pastel pencils regularly, I think Canson Universal is undoubtedly a better option, and the price difference is worth it.

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Canson Montval watercolor

Canson Montval watercolor sketchbook review

This spiral-bound watercolor sketchbook features the same paper available from Canson in large sheets and blocks. I bought it only because there were no hardboud watercolor sketchbooks avalabile in my local art store at the time. I'm not a fan of spiral-bound sketchbooks for traveling as the pages get frayed at the edges and ink rubs on the opposite page.

Update: Canson now made the same Montval paper available in a 24-page spiral-bound hardcover form, with an elastic band. While pricy, it's definitely more practical than the small pad I used.

The paper is decent 300gsm cellulose watercolor paper that I often used for my large paintings. The cold-press texture means my ink lines are not as crisp, but for quick watercolor and ink sketches and doodles it's fine. I had to protect some pages with tissue paper because the ink rubbing was destroying my fragile watercolor paintings. If I only get 12 sheets of paper, I really want to be able to use both sides.

Verdict: Would not buy again because it's spiral-bound and a handful of pages, so I filled it up very quickly.

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Canson Montval Torchon

Canson Montval Torchon sketchbook review

This spiral-bound watercolor sketchbook features the same paper available from Canson in large sheets and blocks. Most of my complaints about this sketchbook are the same as for the regular Canson Montval above: pages rub against eachother in my bag, and there's too few pages in the book in my opinion, and even at that rate it's not cheap for the size.

The paper is decent 270 gsm cellulose watercolor paper with a "snowy" surface. Because of this surface, the paintings reproduce much better in photos than they do in scans – the bumps are quite pronounced by my scanner. The brush pen lines are decently crisp, and the wet-in-wet watercolor paint spreads really nicely so as far as urban sketching goes, I might actually prefer this surface to the regular cold-press Montval.

Verdict: I don't know if I'll ever buy it since I lean more towards the stiched watercolor notebooks... so I'll say no.


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Canson ArtBook: Mix Media

Canson Repositionable ArtBook: Mix Media sketchbook review

I received this sketchbook as a prize in a contest. I admit I would not dare buy it myself because it's fancy and huge. I found it so intimidating that I kept putting off using it for years. It even inspired one of my blog posts: Are you saving your "nice" notebooks for later? Learn why you should stop it.

This 224gsm mixed media paper comes in the regular spiral-bound Canson Mix Media ArtBook, but mine is the "Repositionable" spiral-bound sketchbook that doesn't seem to be available any more as of 2022. (There may be some leftover stock in certain stores, but it's not listed on Amazon, nor the official Canson website) In the Repositionable ArtBook you can pull the papers out and put them back in, which makes it easier to work on and scan. With the bulky nature of the sketchbook, sometimes I prefer the option of working on a single sheet of paper. Other times I work directly in the sketchbook that's propped up on an easel. The pages are perforated so you can also tear them off. One thing that bugs me is spiral-bound sketchbooks that don't have an elastic band.

Do not confuse this one for their popular XL Mixed Media sketchbook – this one has completely different paper. XL Mixed Media has two variants: 160gsm paper with a subtle texture (which buckles a lot with watercolor), and 300gsm paper with a strong laid texture. To complicate matters more, there's also the Canson Mixed Media Artist sketchbook (300gsm).

This is one of the best heavyweight cellulose sketchbook papers I've used. I've tried it with watercolor, acrylics, ink, colored pencils, water-soluble crayons, etc. With watercolor the paper gets a bit wavy, but it's not too bad and it works OK for wet in wet effects. I did have some issues with the darkest colors lifting though, so if lots of layering is needed I wouldn't recommend it. In fact, lifting color is so easy I started using this technique for soft highlights.

One side of the paper has a stronger texture typical for cold press, and the other one is a bit smoother so it's better suited for dry media, ink, and markers.

So far I've only used one side of the paper (because it's so fancy!), but I wouldn't mind using both sides as an art journal.

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Verdict: Great paper for mixed media. Nifty "repositionable" trick, but I think the standard spiral-bound Mix Media ArtBook would work for me too.

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Canson ArtBook: Illustration

Canson Repositionable ArtBook: Illustration sketchbook review

Update: As of 2022 Repositionable sketcbooks are no longer available. There may be leftover stock in certain stores or second-hand. I believe their Illustration paper is now renamed "Comic/Manga Illustration", the weight and description is the same.

I received this one as in the prize package as well, so most of my feelings around it are the same. This one doesn't have a regular sketchbook version, only sheets of paper which are quite expensive.

This 250g paper has a smoother surface. Canson refers to it as "super smooth", although I don't agree since it has narrow vertical grooves that show up strongly when working in colored pencils. Canson recommends it for pencil, pen, ink and markers (solvent and alcohol based). I don't use markers but watercolors, so you bet I'm going to break the rules.

The experience of drawing with ink on this paper is wonderful. Since the paper is thick, there's no bleeding or even shading on the other side, so I can comfortably use both sides of the paper.

Coloring with pencils is a bit of a challenge, given those grooves I mentioned earlier. It takes a lot of effort to get rid of those, and even then it doesn't always work unless you want to resort to using solvents (which I did try, but I'm not a fan). Watercolor pencils are a better option than regular pencils.

Watercolor paint goes on surprisingly well, and I even had some granulation show up. It buckles a bit on a size this big, but not too bad. It works quite well for the combination of watercolor for the base layers, and colored pencils for details and shading.

Verdict: I like it more than the Mix Media paper for the kind of work that I do. Due to the size and its portfolio-like nature, I use it only for final drawings, not for sketches. Unfortunately it's no longer available in sketchbook form.


All the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Strathmore Mixed media Visual Journal

Strathmore Mixed media Visual Journal sketchbook review

After unsucessfully trying to buy their soft-cover stitched mixed media sketchbook (which doesn't seem to be available in any of the EU-based art stores where I normally shop), I settled for the spiral-bound version. It contains the same 100% cotton 190gsm vellum finish mixed media paper. I bought the largest size intending to use it for artwork, as a possible alternative to my Canson ArtBook Mixed Media paper (above). The ugly branded cover can be torn off to reveal the ugly brown cover. There's no elastic band.

Fountain pens and fineliners work well on this paper. Brush pens will leave smoother lines when applied slowly (and the tip is wet), but faster strokes will have a bit of texture on the edges. But if the brush is a bit on the dry side (as some brands tend to be), the lines appear faded/dull and grainy. This would not be my choice of paper for ink-heavy work.

The paper of this size buckles quite heavily under wet watercolor washes, and I wasn't able to flatten it fully afterwards. The paper soaks up water so it requires working fast in order to avoid hard edges. Layering works much better than on other mixed media sketchbooks I've tested, as the dry layers don't lift as much, but lifting paint on purpuse is still pretty easy. I haven't noticed any pilling while scrubbing the paper, so at least that's the benefit of 100% cotton. It also doesn't rip when I peel the masking tape off, while the paper in Canson ArtBook rips quite easily.

The paper has a dense grainy tooth that accepts dry media nicely (graphite, color pencils, charcoal, pastel pencils). With color pencils the grain is pretty visible, unless you blend and burnish with lots of pressure. Some of it remains visible on dissolved watercolor pencils and crayons as well, even with lots of scrubbing. I haven't had this problem with their 400 series mixed media pads which also have a vellum surface, but it feels much softer. I prefer a smoother look to my drawings.

I sound nitpicky, but after so many recommendations I've heard, I expected to enjoy it more. Perhaps a smaller paper size would buckle less. It's not ideal for any of the mediums I use most often.

Verdict: The price of Strathmore sketchbooks is quite a bit higher in Europe than in the US, and in Croatia it's more than double the price in the US. It's way too expensive to use for experimenting and practicing, as I can get cheaper sketchbooks with a lot more pages that perform just as well. It doesn't suit me that well for detailed mixed media artwork. If you can get it at a good price in the US it's fine, but I probably won't be buying another one.

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Strathmore Softcover Toned Sketch Artist Journal

Strathmore Softcover Toned Sketch Artist Journal review

Mine is gray, containing 60 sheets (112 pages) of 118 gsm recycled paper. The paper tone is medium greenish-leaning gray. The faux leather cover is very soft to the touch and easily indented. The binding is pretty tight so it won't lie fully flat. I need to press on the spine hard to open up the spread and weigh it down to stay open. I like the squareish format and the size that's in between A5 and A4, but I'll likely leave that extra width empty near the spine because it's difficult to scan.

Strathmore recommends this sketchbook for pencils, charcoal, soft pastels, and oil pastels. I tried watersoluble pencils and pastels, and the paper buckles a bit.

There was barely noticeable feathering when applying ink with a wet fountain pen, and the brush pen lines are slightly textured. It soaks up ink, but I haven't had any shading or bleeding on the other side.

The paper has enough tooth, so white and light pencils and pastels stand out really nicely against the paper. The gray background provides a nice contrast to warm skintones and animal fur, as well as vibrant botanicals. But it also works great for monochromatic studies.

It's very satisfying to work with color pencils in this sketchbook and they also erase well from this paper.

Verdict: It's on my shortlist of toned sketchbooks for future purchases, if I can find it at a good price.

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Stillman & Birn Nova Grey Toned Softcover sketchbook for mixed media

Stillman & Birn Nova Grey Toned sketchbook review

Stillman & Birn are louded as the Holy Grail for watercolor, ink, and mixed media artists because they come in an impressive variety of paper types, sizes, and binding. I'm a fan of the A5 soft cover sketchbooks since they're lightweight, so popping one in my bag is a no-brainer. Sadly they're not as common in stores as big brands, so it took me a long time to get my hands on them.

Their 150gsm mixed media toned paper line comes in 3 colors: tan, grey, and black. Grey is a medium value, right about 5 on a value scale (same as Strathmore Toned Gray). It has a warm tone that leans toward pinkinsh. The surface is "medium grain", that is lightly textured. White and light colors stand out really nicely against this gray. Of course, you'll get the best results with opaque mediums like pastels, paint markers, and gouache.

There are 46 sheets (92 pages) in the softcover sketchbooks, sewn into 6 signatures. While the book opens flat, it's a bit harder to make it stay flat than hardcover sketchbooks. However the spine is flush to the scanner bed so there's no issues when scanning (compared to Strathmore Softcover Toned Sketch which always leaves a gap). The cover has a pleasant soft touch finish, but it's not as sensitive as Strathmore.

Watercolor paint works fine. The paper buckles quite a bit, but when the page dries it flattens out pretty well, and I have no issues drawing on the opposite side or scanning the page. The obvious issue is that the colors will look quite muted on this paper (at least mine do since I only use transparent pigments). The less obvious issue is that the paper appears a shade darker while it's wet, so the color shift (from wet to dry) on this paper is much stronger than on white paper. But I have to say warm metallic watercolors like gold and bronze look very cool on this paper.

Ink pens are slightly affected by the paper grain. Quick, dry lines look textured or broken up. Slow, wet lines look fairly clean – I can see the texture when I look closely, but it's not too bad. Fountain pens glide over the paper without issues. I prefer super smooth paper for ink, but I can work with this.

I was most interested in using Neocolor II water-soluble pastels in this sketchook because they're opaque and vibrant, and don't need a ton of water to dissolve. I like how my test drawing turned out, and I expect this would be a great sketchbook for gouache as well.

Watercolor pencils work well too. The high quality brands I'm using dissolve with no visible marks. Light colors are very transparent (like watercolor paint) so they don't show up that well on this paper. Bright colors like red and teal are slightly muted compared to white paper, but still very nice.

Colored pencils take a bit of effort to fill in the texture, I was only able to do that with heavy pressure. Soft and opaque pencils like Derwent Drawing show up better on this paper than the hard and semi-transparent Polychromos, but they're both highly pigmented so I see no issues using either. Bright orange and red colors really glow on the gray backdrop, while yellows tend to be more transparent. Erasing light strokes is easy.

Charcoal and pastel pencils work fine for quick sketches, but layering is limited so I wouldn't use this sketchbook primarily for those mediums. While the paper texture captures the pigment, it's also very easy to wipe it away.

Verdict: This one is the most versatile of the toned sketchbooks I've tried so far, so it's currently my favorite one. But in many online stores they're more expensive than Strathmore Sketch, so I have to decide if I want to pay more to be able to use wet media.

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Hahnemühle Kraft sketchbook

Hahnemühle Kraft sketchbook review

I recieved this one for free from Hahnemühle to review. Finally a spiral-bound sketchbook with an elastic band! It looks quite plain with tan covers, with 80 sheets (160 pages) of smooth 120gsm tan colored kraft paper.

The toned paper makes it possible to draw with both dark and light media, and get a nice range of shades with minimal effort. The surface is very slick, much smoother than any other sketchbooks I've used. It works wonderfully with ink – any pen glides over the page with no snag or skipping. Brush pen lines are perfectly crisp. The paper is pretty sturdy, too. I haven't had any leaks, even with heavier ink application, so I'm able to use both sides of the paper.

Due to the smoothness of the paper, my white pencils do not come out as opaque on this paper as they do on Strathmore Toned Sketch Artist Journal. I assume their Cappucino sketchbook might perform better with color and pastel pencils, but I haven't tested that one yet. So that's the only drawback of this sketchbook: color and watercolor pencils are much paler on this paper. I have to press really hard to get a strong coverage. Pastel pencils come out stronger, but it depends on the color and possibly the brand. White gel pen, paint markers, and gouache so far performed best when it comes to opacity.

When it comes to water-soluble media such as pencils and crayons, it holds up well if you're careful enough. Too much scrubbing, and the paper might eventually pill. I haven't tried watercolor on it, I don't think it would work. (Hahnemühle now makes toned watercolor sketchbooks too.)

Verdict: I like it for quick portrait and animal sketches and studies in ink, since there's a ton of pages so I'm not afraid to "waste it". I don't know if I'd buy another one, as I'm currently testing several other toned sketchbooks.


Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Hahnemühle Watercolor Book

Hahnemühle Watercolor sketchbook review

This one is in many ways similar to the Moleskine Watercolor Notebook. I bought it while I was traveling, and now I'm bummed that I haven't picked a larger size. The paper is comparable to Moleskine in many ways: the thickness, texture and feel are pretty similar. I've seen other reviewers compare it unfavorably to the Moleskine, but I personally haven't noticed any difference. I don't use a lot of wet-in-wet effects so maybe that's the reason.

The cold press texture means that my ink lines are not super smooth, but I like the effects I can get with a dry brush, which is a new trick I learned. My fountain pens and brush pens all work nicely on this paper. Texture is visible when used with color and watercolor pencils, so I first add a flat watercolor wash to cover up the white of the paper.

Verdict: I'm on my second mini sketchbook and both have traveled with me quite a bit! Whether I keep buying this brand will depend mostly on whether it's easier to find them in stores than other brands.

Buy on There's also a portrait version.


Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Hahnemühle D&S Sketchbook

Hahnemühle D&S Sketchbook review

I recieved this one for free from Hahnemühle to review, and I still haven't made up my mind about it. There are pros and cons to it, but I'm not using it as much as my other sketchbooks.

It's an interesting sketchbook for sure, with bulky natural white paper of a buttery texture. Gritty enough to catch pigments from dry media, but it's not textured so blending is smooth. Pretty much a dream to work on with color pencils, pastel pencils, charcoal and graphite. But you know me, I can't possibly be constricted to that.

The paper can handle some watercolor and ink with minimal buckling, but it's not really intended for that, and the colors lose their vibrancy. Ink lines are fuzzy, so I have entirely given up on that. Watercolor pencils and crayons fare better, and it's OK for gouache. Acrylics would probably work too.

It doesn't have a strap nor the back pocket, but it has a bookmark ribbon. The binding is pretty tight, so I avoid full spreads.

Verdict: If you mostly use dry media, it's really nice! But if you prefer using mixed media and ink, not so much.

Not on Amazon, here's the Hahnemühle product page.


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Hand Book Drawing Journal

Handbook Journal sketchbook review

This was my first square sketchbook, which made the experience of using it interesting. The paper is a natural white, so not too creamy yellow, and it didn't affect the colors of my final drawings too much.

The paper has a slight tooth, but my inked lines with brush pens, fountain pens, and calligraphy pens came out smooth with minor feathering. Heavy ink application may leak onto the other page. Ink did not smudge after it's dry.

It worked very nicely with colored pencils, pastel pencils, as well as water-soluble pencils and crayons. Heavier applications of graphite or color tend to transfer onto the opposite page.

I did use light watercolor washes with this one, and it was OK. Not great, not terrible. Gouache worked quite nicely. I did some ink wash too, by going over fountain pen ink with a wet brush, and that came out nice without the paper getting too warped (but I only used a very small sketchbook size, I don't know what happens on large sizes.) Hand Book has a watercolor sketchbook too that I haven't tried.

Verdict: I got it as a gift and used it up, but I wouldn't buy one. The paper is not that great in my opinion, and they are not cheap.

Buy on There are portrait and landscape versions.


All of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Winsor & Newton spiral-bound sketchbook 170gsm

Winsor & Newton spiral-bound sketchbook review

My sketchbook is from 2005 so I didn't feel that my review accurately reflected its current quality, which is why I deleted it.

If my understanding is correct, the current 170gsm sketchbooks (both spiral and perfect bound) have the same paper type as the 110gsm below, only slightly thicker. This means it's not a good paper for wet media because it lacks the necessary sizing.

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Winsor & Newton hardbound sketchbook 110gsm

I haven't spent a lot of time with this sketchbook yet, as I'm forcing myself to complete the many, many sketchbooks I started a long time ago. I'll just note some of my initial impressions for now and come back with a more thourough review.

It contains 80 sheets (160 pages) of 110 gsm cartridge paper intended for dry media, perforated alongside the spine. I didn't realize the pages were perforated when I bought it, and I'm bothered by it because it prevents pages from lying completely flat and drawing over the entire spread (which I often do). The build quality of the sketchbook is among the flimsiest that I've had. It's just been sitting on my shelf, and there's already some tears on the black cover wrapping paper. The front and back cover are not lined up properly. The decade-old spiral bound sketchbook feels a lot more premium than this, and held up really well during this time. It's unfortunate that the quality has gone down so much.

The surface is less smooth, and gray and sepia brush pens show a slightly grainy texture. Black lines look fine, but there's some barely visible feathering on wet strokes. I've had worse, so I wouldn't discount this sketchbook for ink completely. Some brush pens I used leaked through the paper, so using both sides of the paper may not be possible with ink. Fountain pens work fine, but the ones that are especially wet do feather.

The paper surface is prone to pilling and warping. I wouldn't use it for more than quick, light watercolor washes.

Colored pencils and pastel pencils work nicely on this paper. The fine grain accepts layering, though getting rid of the grain with pencils takes some effort.

Watercolor pencils and watersoluble crayons work well, but I'd be careful not to scrub too much as I don't feel like the paper can handle it.

Verdict: Given the drop in quality, I don't think I'll buy them again.

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Royal Talens Art Creation

Royal Talens Art Creation sketchbook review

I bought this one locally out of curiosity because of its 140gsm paper which is supposed to handle light washes of watercolor, and is also very smooth. Sounded good for my ink and watercolor technique, but does it meet the expectations? I'd say it's so so. I like it better than the Moleskine sketchbook which it shares very similar features with. Both are hard-bound with thick cream-colored paper, open flat, have an elastic strap and bookmark ribbon, rounded page corners, and both feature covers in black and red. (Talens covers also come in other colors, but otherwise I'd say it's a pretty convincing copycat of the more popular Moleskine.) If I had to choose between these two, I'd pick the Talens one. But would I choose it overall? Not really.

I pop this one in my purse because I got the mini size, so I can doodle in it with brush pens or fountain pen, which it's very good for. But watercolor buckles the paper a bit even with less watery applications, so to me it's not better than my everyday Canson Universal. The cream paper is really not my thing.

Verdict: If you like the Moleskine sketchbook, you will probably like this one, and it's cheaper. I hate the cream-colored paper, so I won't be buying more.

Buy on There are portrait, square, landscape versions.

Update 2023: There's a new white paper version in the Art Deco and Corkwood cover. I can't find it on Amazon US, so it may be only available in Europe for now.


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Clairefontaine Goldline

Clairefontaine Goldline sketchbook review

The paper is medium weight (140gsm) and has a fine tooth. Works well with ink, the lines come out very smooth and I haven't noticed any leaking on the other side. Dry media works well of course, but to be honest I haven't used it much in this one. It is advertised for dry media, so I expect that shouldn't be a problem.

Watercolor buckles the paper slightly, but the colors come out on the page bright and saturated (since the paper is bright white), and I haven't noticed any damage while dragging the brush over the wet page, so that's better than most sketchbooks on this list. I also used it a lot with mixed media and acrylics.

Unlike most hardbound sketchbooks it has no back pocket, strap, or bookmark ribbon. I can't remember how much I paid for it, but I think it was pretty affordable. It's a bit tight around the spine, so it takes an effort to lie it flat, but I was still able to paint full spreads.

Verdict: Seems good so far, it scored very high in my versatility test. I might get this one again if I don't find something I like better.

I can't find the exact one I have on Amazon, here's the Clairefontaine product page.


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Clairefontaine Watercolour Carnet de Voyage

Clairefontaine Watercolour Carnet de Voyage sketchbook review

Literally meaning "travel sketchbook", this is a sturdy hardbound book containing 60 sheets of 180gsm paper. The covers are wrapped in canvas (and I suppose they could be easily painted with acrylics), available in a gorgeous red, cream and gray color. There is a bookmark, but no elastic band.

The paper has two distinct sides, one with a weave grain, and the other is smooth. Water-based media works better on the grainy side, and the smooth one is better for sharp ink lines, but if you want to use both neither is great. Another odd thing is that because of the stitched binding the order of grainy vs. smooth pages is random: grain on the left, smooth on the right; then a spread with both smooth pages; then a spread of both grainy pages; then smooth on the left, grain on the right. For this reason it's difficult to use full spreads, since frequently they're a different type of surface. I'd prefer to have consistent paper throuought.

One time I had a wet watercolor wash completely leak through to the other side of the paper (small flecks of water and pigment). I was working on the smoother side. It didn't happen again, but because of this I'd say referring to this sketchbook as a "watercolor" one is a bit bold.

Verdict: It's another one of those "I'll use it up eventually, and never buy it again". I don't see any advantage to this sketchbook over the Goldline. It's not that great for watercolor.

Clairefontaine product page


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Artway Enviro

Artway Enviro sketchbook review

Artway is a lesser known UK brand aimed at art students. I was attracted to this sketchbook because it's made of 170gsm acid-free recycled paper. The cover is also unusual, made from bare thin MDF board which feels and smells like an art class drawing board. The paper has a fine tooth and is advertised for dry media, ink, and light watercolor or ink washes.

The ink lines come out very smooth, no feathering or bleeding whatsoever, and no lines can be seen on the other page. I have to leave the ink to dry for some time before applying wet media over it, because if I go over my brush pen lines with color immediately, the ink gets mixed a bit with the color (could be due to the ink I use, and maybe India ink dries faster).

Watercolor pencils and watersoluble pastels work quite well, though I need to keep my strokes even because they don't dissolve completely otherwise. Watercolor buckles the paper slightly, and since I have the A4 version, this is quite pronounced when applying wet paint to a larger area. (The larger the paper, the more noticeable the buckling is.) Since the paper is thick, the buckles don't flatten out in a closed sketchbook as easily as they do on thin paper. I have noticed slight pilling occasionally when I brush over the wet area so I try to avoid that.

The sketchbook comes in A5 and A4 sizes in landscape and portrait orientations. Being a more budget and environment-friendly product, it has no back pocket, strap, or bookmark ribbon. It can be forced to open flat, and I was able to draw and paint over the full spread. It's quite heavy due to the MDF cover so I don't see myself carrying it around in my bag, which may be its main drawback.

Verdict: I like it. It's very affordable and has a high versatility score, so this may be one of the best bang-for-buck sketchbooks in Europe. I already bought a new one before I even finished the first one!

Not available on Buy on | Buy on Artway website


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Fabriano Schizzi

Fabriano Schizzi sketchbook review

I never intended to use this one as a sketchbook. I bought it for my intention journal (not-a-planner) and filled it with writing, and then, inspired by my mixed media Moleskine art journal, decided to recycle this one into a junk journal.

On its own, the paper is thin natural white dry media sketch paper with a bit of grit so it works well with graphite, charcoal, colored pencils, pastel pencils, what have you. Watercolor pencils are so so, ink applied with a brush pen or a wet nib feathers a bit. Works well with fountain pens and fineliners. It would have worked for me early on when I mostly sketched with ballpoint pens and fineliners, but for what I do now, the paper is not good.

I made use of it by covering the pages with gesso, acrylic paint, or watercolor, and work over with various water-soluble media like crayons, Inktense pencils, gouache etc. The paper doesn't buckle a ton which is surprising, making it a very affordable mixed media journal for those who don't want to splurge on actual mixed media sketchbooks.

Verdict: It's OK if you need something extremely cheap.


Some of the links lead to my other website, where I posted newer works.

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Sketchbook media comparison table

I assigned points for each medium I tested on the paper, no gesso or any other primer applied. (I don't have any alcohol markers, sorry.) OK = 1 point, Great = 2 points, Bad = 0 points, and the sum is at the bottom. This is my subjective impression of how well the medium performed – if you like certain effects you may rate them differently.

The score by no means reflect the overall quality of the sketchbook, just how versatile it is with different mediums. You need to weigh your priorities when choosing the one that's right for you.

Moleskine sketchbook Moleskine watercolor Winsor & Newton 110gsm Canson ArtBook Universal Canson ArtBook One Canson Montval Canson Torchon Canson ArtBook Mix Media Strathmore Mixed Media Strathmore Toned Sketch Stillman & Birn Nova Grey Hahnemühle Kraft sketchbook Hahnemühle Watercolor Book Hahnemühle D&S Sketchbook Hand Book Journal Clairefontaine Goldline Clairefontaine Voyage Artway Enviro Fabriano Schizzi
Graphite pencil Great OK Great Great Great OK Bad Great Great Great OK OK OK Great Great Great Great Great Great
Charcoal Bad OK OK OK Great OK Bad Great Great Great OK Bad OK Great Great Great Great Great Great
Ballpoint pen Great OK Great Great Great OK Bad Great Great Great Great OK OK Great Great Great Great Great Great
Pigment ink fine-liner Great OK OK Great OK OK OK Great Great Great Great Great OK OK Great Great OK Great Great
Brush pen OK Great OK Great Bad Great Great Great OK OK Great Great Great Bad OK Great Great Great OK
Colored pencils OK OK Great Great Great OK OK Great OK Great OK OK OK Great Great Great OK Great Great
Watercolor pencils & crayons OK Great Great Great Bad Great Great Great Great OK Great OK Great OK Great Great Great Great OK
Watercolor Bad Great OK OK Bad Great Great Great OK Bad OK Bad Great OK OK OK OK OK Bad
Gel pens Great Great Great Great OK Great OK Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great OK Great Great
Calligraphy pens Bad OK Bad Great Bad OK OK Great OK OK OK Great OK Bad OK Great OK OK Bad
Fountain pens Great OK OK Great Bad OK Great Great Great Great Great Great OK OK OK Great Great Great Great
Paint markers Great Bad Bad OK Bad Bad Bad Great Great Great Great Great Bad Bad Bad OK Bad OK Bad
Gouache & acrylic Great Great OK OK ? Great Great Great Great OK Great OK Great OK OK OK Great OK OK
Soft pastels & pastel pencils Bad Great OK OK Great Great OK Great OK Great OK OK Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Water based markers Bad Great OK Great OK OK Great Great Great Bad OK OK Great Bad OK Great Great Great Bad
Versatility score 17 21 18 25 13 21 17 30 25 22 23 19 21 17 22 27 23 26 19

My new Epson scanner arrived! (Epson Perfection V330 Photo scanner Review)

I bought an Epson Perfection V330 Photo scanner, and tested it today so here's my review!
I was a little skeptic because I read many reviews that pointed out some issues, but so far I had none.

I was deciding between this model and Canon CanoScan 5600F. They are around the same price and have very similar features, and the reviews are equally good (or equally irate). My deciding point was that Epson can open the lid fully up to 180° as the images clearly showed, but I wasn't sure if Canon can do that. Since most of my artwork is larger than A4, this is very important to me.

So, am I satisfied? Yes, pretty much! :D I have scanned some of my drawings and paintings and the scans are just sooo much better than the photos I made of them. Here's an example:

Photo vs. scanner

See the new scan of Animus in full size :)

I used my Pentax k100D SLR for the photo, I took the shot in daylight with a tripod, and preserved the RAW format so basically, that's the best you can get without studio lighting. I retouched it to get more accurate colors, but there simply wasn't enough color information to begin with. Compared to the scan it's washed out.
The scan is very close to the original, the colors are very vibrant, contrast is perfect, I had to make minimal color adjustments. The paper texture is maybe too harsh (it's not so evident in person), but I can live with that.
I noticed on the new scan of Ascent that it picked up even the subtlest creases on the paper, but it can be retouched — as long as all the shades are there (and they pretty much are!) it's good.

I don't really need the transparency unit so much, but 25 Euro difference wasn't a big deal, so it's nice to have that option in case I decide to have fun with my vintage film cameras again.
Canon LiDE models were out of the question because of the CIS sensor which is pretty much useless for anything that's not completely flat. Forget about mixed media/collage, warped watercolor paper, paper that has been folded and such.

One other thought: the scanner software applies automatic settings when you preview the scan. I haven't found the option to turn it off completely yet, but there is a button that resets the settings to normal. You can either use the scanning software settings then to adjust your scan, or if you prefer to use a certain program (GIMP or Photoshop) just scan as it is, and then edit the image in your favorite program, which is what I'm doing.

I've been without a scanner for over a year, but the one I had was not very good (one of the older HP all-in-one printers), it used to cut off subtle shades and this was very frustrating, so photographing pieces was actually a better option.

If you don't have a scanner, it's OK if you have a decent point-and-shoot camera. Some of my artwork photos were taken with a Sony Cybershot DSC-W170 from my hand, and it worked well too. The only trick is that you take it in daylight so the colors are accurate, and you have a steady hand (I take 5-6 photos and pick the clearest one). My sketches and WIPs were taken on incandescent light, so it took a lot of Levels adjusting to get the colors from yellowish to neutral.
If you're thinking about a scanner for your traditional artwork, I can recommend this one. I'll let you know if anything changes :)