Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Watercolor Basics: Paper Review Strathmore Visual Journal


This post is part of my ongoing Watercolor Basics series.  You can find more posts, including tutorials, here.

Practicing your watercolor skills is important to your development as a watercolor artist, but practicing on the same paper you want to paint your final pieces on may not be an affordable option.  Finding a good watercolor sketchbook can help you hone your skills without breaking your bank, and learning how to work on a variety of papers will increase your flexibility and add new skills and techniques to your reserves.

There are a lot of watercolor sketchbooks on the market, from the Stillman and Birn options, to the Handbook watercolor books, to Moleskine books, and more.  Over the next few months, I plan on reviewing several of the options on the market, to help you find a watercolor sketchbook that will suit your needs and encourage practice.

Today we're taking a look at Strathmore's Visual Art Journal with watercolor paper.  Strathmore has several paper types available in their Visual Art Journal line- from watercolor paper to several types of Bristol. 

The Stats:
  • Cold pressed
  • Heavyweight paper (140lb)
  • 44 pages/22 sheets
  • "excellent for watercolor and collage.  Also good for acrylic, pen and ink, pencil and marker.  Acid free"


Although I'm not the biggest fan of Strathmore's watercolor papers in pads and books, I figured this was definitely worth a shot, as I wanted to do more color sketching.  I picked this up along with the Vellum Bristol Visual Art Journal and the Mixed Media Visual Art Journal (300 series).  I estimate this paper to be in the 400 series range, although there's no indication given.  I'm also assuming that this watercolor paper is a combination paper, or a woodpulp paper with very little cotton rag in it.
The paper is pretty textured- more like Rough or Not than Cold press, but that's perfectly fine with me, as I like cold press as well as Rough. 

The SketchBook





The Strathmore Visual Art Journal with watercolor paper features two heavy chipboard covers which provide plenty of stability in the field.  The spiral binding is double bound, and the wire has been covered, so it's unlikely to catch on thing while in your bag.  All of the Strathmore Visual Art Journals look identical from the outside once the optional cover has been removed.  If you think this is an issue, you can go ahead and write the paper type on the inside cover.

Inside cover

The Cover Reads:

You're holding 44 pages of freedom. 
Unlike typical journals, Strathmore Visual Journals deliver high performing papers and heavy-duty features engineered to meet the intense demands of your creative process.  The wire binding allows the journal to lie flat and open up 360 degrees.  So feel free to reflect, explore, create and mix it up any way you please.  This Visual Journal is designed to hold your life's stories without holding you back.
What is a Visual Journal?  Well, it's whatever you imagine it to be.  It's an inviting canvas.  An open and comfortable place where pens meet paintbrushes, colored pencils meet glued photos, markers meet magazine clippings, and found objects find a home.  Visual journaling is where your creative process can flourish.  It's a no-pressure playground where imperfection is perfectly amazing.  Join in the pursuit to love more creatively.


I don't know about visual journaling, but Strathmore's Visual Journals are sturdy books available in a variety of sizes that seem to hold up well.

The Field Tests

For these tests, I mostly threw waterbased media at my Strathmore Visual Journal.  Most of the illustrations tested are watercolor and watercolor studies, I wanted to test how well the paper handled watercolor, how much it buckled if left upstretched and unsecured, and where or not it could withstand layering and washes.


In January, I even threw Krink's K-60 ink at it.  There was a little bleedthrough, and a whole lot of stink, but it managed to hold up to the acrylic ink fairly well.  These cellulose watercolor papers really handle like heavy mixed media papers.

Here's the Challenge for January's SketchBox Basic as well.  These were Artist Loft Watercolor pencils.  The Strathmore Visual Art Journal handles the pencils well, the poor result is due to the failure of the pencils.


This was one of the last pieces completed in my Strathmore Visual Art Journal, and it features ink (Sailor's Mitsuo Aida) and watercolor (mostly Winsor and Newton).  Granulating colors, like the ultramarine/cerulean mix for the sky, appear VERY granulated and almost look dirty.



These are Winsor and Newton waterbased inks, inked in with a brush.  This paper seems to handle brush inking and lettering moderately well, and does not have so much tooth that a brush would tend to drybrush.









As I worked my way through this little watercolor notebook, I found that I needed to utilize at least one bulldog clip to keep the paper from buckling severely while painting.

I also found that when layered or glazed, paint tended to slough off the paper surface.  This is because rather than soaking into the fibers, paint sits on the surface, which is a common trait of cellulose watercolor papers. This means you can't do repeated washes or glazes, as this will disrupt the pigments below, and the end result is a muddy study.


The Verdict

It's fine for very simple watercolor illustrations with minimal washes and bleeds, but my floral watercolor studies often turned to mud on this paper.  I really like the front and back solid chipboard covers with the smooth coating.  The paper is fairly thick, so there's minimal buckling even when large amounts of water are added, although my book did start to warp over time.  This is easily remedied for painting by simply using a bulldog clip to clip the edge.

All in all, this isn't a bad little watercolor sketchbook, and is fine for quick studies and sketches.   As long as your hand is light, you should have no issues with this sketchbook.


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