After my positive experience with the Seawhite of Brighton Starter Sketchbook, I decided to take the Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal out for a test drive. This is their best effort to replicate a better Moleskine Artist’s Sketchbook and they did it. First of all, its a true A5 size. Second, on Amazon, its priced at $12.50. Third, the paper is 130 gsm cartridge paper. And it has 128 pages.
While the Moleskine Artist’s Sketchbook claims to have heavier weight paper, it repels most liquid media making it entirely unusable for me since I like to add watercolor to my sketches. So… after quite liking the 140 gsm paper in the Starter Sketchbook, I was willing to accept a slightly lighter “cartridge paper” to have a light water-receptive paper for sketching at a reasonable price.
The Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal cover is a slightly flexible hard cover like the Moleskines and the rounded corners too. Its not a stiff cover which makes it firm enough to support your writing or drawing but not overly stiff. I have other sketchbooks with stiff covers and square corners that could double as weapons. The Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal also has a sewn binding and will lay flat with a little training.
The paper in the Artist’s Travel Journal is a warm white which is quite pleasant compared to the bright white of the Starter Sketchbook. I immediately went to it with pen and ink and watercolor and while the paper did waffle a little bit, it did not resist the paint nor did it pill. WIN.
I tested an assortment of fountain pens with good luck as well, though the paper did absorb the ink a bit more than Rhodia or other paper more specifically designed for writing. I didn’t have any issues with splining or feathering except with a rollerball and then only very minorly. Felt tip and fine tipped fountain pens behaved well on the paper making it a good book for art journaling, mixed media and dry sketching with light wash or ink. Its definitely not watercolor paper but it can withstand a little bit of water and wet media. Enough to be a big step up from the Moleskine Sketchbook.
The Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal includes a ribbon bookmark and a gusseted pocket in the back for scraps and momentos as well so all the details are still there. And there’s the vertical elastic. To the untrained eye, no one will know its not a Moleskine unless you tell them. And I would because this book is just better.
I did a second round of testing because I was feeling it… and with ink, watercolor and colored pencil, I was still thrilled with the overall performance of the paper. Yes, I got a little waffle after it dried but nothing terrible, all things considered. I slapped the elastic around the cover after everything was dry and hopefully that will help flatten things out over time.
And in my second round of pen tests, I added in more everyday pens like Fineliners, a Pilot G2, some gel pens and a Pilot Precise. I guess I was worried I was feeling too cocky about the sketchbook being good for me but maybe not right for someone else.
Now, I feel fairly confident that if you’re looking for something MORE than just writing paper — that you want more than a Leuchtturm 1917 or Rhodia Webbie because you want to sketch or do some pen and ink or markers or watercolor, the Seawhite Artist’s Travel Journal is a good option. Its not the top tier. Its the everyday sketcher. Its a notebook that doesn’t make me feel like I’m messing up the “good notebook”. Its a “work” book. It good enough to get the bones of a sketch or idea down, capture my everyday adventures and get banged around in my bag. Does that make any kind of sense?
Moleskine has introduced its Smart Writing Set, a notebook and digitally-enabled pen that works in combination with an app that syncs with the Moleskine Notes app, Google Drive or Evernote. The notebook is designed with rounded pages to look more like the shape of a tablet. Maybe to visually differeniate it from the regular notebooks? It features 100 gsm paper and NCode encoded pages to help sync with the digital app.
The Pen+ features a tiny camera and internal memory to store digital data as well as an actual rollerball nib. The pen comes with a charging cord as well.
I’m fully prepared for backlash and vitriol from this post, but, over the years, Moleskine continues to be the measure used — for better or worse — for all other notebooks. First and foremost, Moleskine notebooks are available in a multitude of sizes, configurations and form factors. The overall aesthetics are streamlined and understated. While you might not love them, its hard to truly dislike them. If anything, they are plain. And they are ubiquitous. You can buy them almost anywhere: the airport, the bookstore, the coffeeshop or your favorite boutique.
What really spurred me was a recent comment that suggested that the paper stock used in the Moleskine Cahier, Volant and standard Moleskine Notebooks was different. Well, that gave me something worthy of investigation.
So, I bought one of each at the standard large size (5″x8.25″ or 13x21cm slightly smaller than A5), new, off-the-shelf from my local Barnes & Noble. I wanted to make sure I had recent editions and not ones that had been sitting on my shelves for months or years that may have been manufactured with different paper stock. I purchased all plain notebooks since I like to use guide sheets and Moleskine paper is very conducive to using your own guide sheets as the paper is not super thick. Of course, all the Moleskine notebooks are also available in other colored covers but I went with plain black. The Cahier I couldn’t find a black version so I went with grey as the next best option for neutral.
I also tested the week-on-two-pages planner for 2016, also with the soft cover, which I got through Jenni Bick. I was curious if the process of adding printing created any coating on the paper that might alter ink adhesion in any way so the planner is my monkey wrench in the testing process.
Of course, my expectations are not that the Moleskine notebooks are all of a sudden 100% fountain pen friendly or anything like that but there are many readers who don’t need all-day, everyday fountain pen friendly paper. And there are lots of other notebooks that we often rely on heavily that don’t support fountain pens the way we wish they would like the Baron Fig, Field Notes, or Word Notebooks.
As pen and pencil aficionados, we also love gels, rollerballs, ballpoints, pencils, felt tips, brushes and all sorts of other mark-making tools. And sometimes, we need something that is easy to find in the size that fits our favorite Fauxdori, Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter or whatever other carryall or pocket we need to stuff with paper.
No. of books
perfect bound, stitched
ribbon bookmark, gusset pocket
perfect bound, stitched
sticker sheet, all pages are perforated
glued slit pocket, last 16 pages perforated in each book
First things first… a spreadsheet of specs!
The first thing I noticed when I put together my spreadsheet is that the Cahier 3-set is a better price value, page-per-page, than the Volant or the soft cover notebook, sales or discounted pricing notwithstanding. Of course, the covers are not as durable but the Cahier sets include the perforated pages in the back and the pocket so there are still some “extras”. I just thought it was interesting to note.
My experience with the large, soft cover plain notebook is pretty much identical to the XL version. The paper behaved as well as I expected and I’m finding that the flexible cover is a good compromise between the classic hard cover Moleskine notebook and a floppy paper cover. The soft leatherette cover actually feels very nice in hand and allows the cover to be folded back or to lay flat as I need it. It also slims the book ever so slightly so its not quite as bulky overall. The soft cover notebook still includes the gusseted pocket in the back, ribbon bookmark and the vertical elastic like the classic hard cover version.
The covers on the Volant feel the most rugged of the three. They are more plasticky feeling than the leatherette quality of the soft cover which feel more supple and upscale. However, I do like that all the pages in the Volant are perforated as an option. If you are looking for a notebook that could be used for lists and leave-behind notes, the Volant offers the easiest flexibility. There are no extras in the Volant — no ribbon bookmarks or pockets in the Volant so its a very stripped down and streamlined notebook. The writing sample on the Volant was absolutely consistent with the plain notebook. My husband voted the Volant his favorite.
The Cahier notebooks are lovely to look at with the exposed stitching and the kraft paper covers. However, the paper in the Cahier did seem to be more inclined to feather the fountain pen inks than in either the Volant or the soft cover or the planner. Even the J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor in my TWSBI EF behaved nicely in all but the Cahier. Now I don’t know if the Cahier paper behavior was a fluke but it even shadowed and bled to the reverse more than the other three. Maybe that’s part of why its a slightly better price value? You get what you pay for?
Finally, for comparison, I also tested the week-on-two-pages 2016 Weekly Planner (with the same soft cover as the plain notebook) to verify that, in printing, the paper quality didn’t change. I used all the same pens with the same inks as I did on the plain paper which I assume was not run through printing press and the results were consistent with the plain notebook and the Volant. The Cahier paper still seems to be a little more absorbent than any of the other papers but generally speaking the printing lines don’t seem to alter the quality of the paper. So if your preference is lined or graph paper, Moleskine notebooks will withstand the same scrutiny that the plain books do.
One of the things I really enjoy about the Moleskine paper is the warm white color and the smoothness of the stock. The warm white color is very inviting and easy on the eyes. I find it less intimidating than a stark, bright white sheet found in other notebooks.
For the writing tests, I left the full-sized images available to view so that you can get as up-close and personal with these photos as you’d like. As you can see, with most everyday, fine line pens the Moleskine paper performed pretty well. Even fine fountain pens were mostly well-behaved. I particularly like how felt tip pens pens behave on Moleskine paper like the Sharpie Pen and Staedtler Triples Fineliners. They sort of grip along and make lovely marks.
Because the Moleskine paper is very smooth, if you do prefer a very fine writing tool, you are unlikely to snag an 0.25mm on the tooth of the paper. Pencils also glide across the paper. Even the finest Pilot Hi-Tec C, Energel Needletip or (my current favorite) Platinum Carbon Pen, skates across the paper. Despite the issues with some fountain pens and fountain pen inks, many writing tools are a joy on Moleskine paper.
Since most of my daily writing and drawing work is done with a 0.5mm or smaller tool, the Moleskine paper is really quite adequate. And all of the plain paper performed the same. What I did notice was that heat or moisture from my hand could affect the paper. Its not heavyweight paper by any means but honestly, neither is Tomoe River. Sure, Tomoe doesn’t feather but its transparent and takes an age to dry so there are trade-off’s with any notebook or paper you may choose.
From the reverse of the pages, you can see some ghosting and show through on the top row which is the planner and the Cahier but not so much as to be distracting when written on the other side. With the plain paper notebooks, I tend to only use one side of the paper anyway. For the planner, I use mostly color coded gel pens for daily use so they don’t show through as much as the testing actually demonstrates. Generally speaking, the reverse of the pen tests were not as bad as I was expecting them to be. Of course, I didn’t try a lot of wide calligraphy fountain pens but even my brush pens behaved with some discretion.
So, in the end, the Cahier paper does seem to be a little thinner, and a little lower quality, than the paper used in the Volant and standard notebooks. I’d be more inclined to recommend the Volant and the soft cover notebooks over the Cahier if you’re going to dip your toe back in the Moleskine pool.
Part of what spurred my interest in all this Moleskine business was when I started using my Moleskine XL for a daily sketchbook late last year. I’ve warmed back up to the possibilities of the Moleskine notebooks. I’ve carried the XL everyday, to and from work, doodled, written, stamped, scribbled, watercolored and basically treated it as the workhorse object it was designed to be treated. To no ill effects. For three months. I’m happy to keep drawing in it. In fact I look forward to continuing to fill the pages and THAT is why we have notebooks. This goes back to the whole reason I keep a notebook — so that I write and draw and make marks.
I think whatever notebook makes you want to make marks, write your story, save your memories, doodle, scrawl or write your grocery list, don’t feel guilty about it. If you love a Moleskine, use it. If you prefer an Italian embossed leather notebook purchased on the Bridge of Sighs, than use that. The best notebook is the one you have with you, no matter which one you choose.
I’ve noticed a lot of analog tool makers are also making apps. I thought I might take a look at a few of them and see if any of them might of use with or in combination with your favorite analog tools.
Moleskine offers several apps at the moment, the latest being the Moleskine Timepage Calendar for iCloud, Google Calendar and more (iPhone and Apple Watch). Its a paid app that claims to be revolutionary. It looks like a clean, simple calendar app that is designed to integrate seamlessly with existing calendar tools like iCloud, Exchange and many others. It is a $4.99 paid app so I’ve just downloaded it to give it a try. I have been using Fantastical for years on my phone without complaints so I’m trying the Timepage as an experiment. The app has beautiful typography and a very simple design. The default view is the week-at-a-glance and if I swipe to the left I get a monthly calendar view with each of the days with activities highlighted with “heat circles” indicating activities from various calendars – i.e. work, personal, birthdays, holidays, etc. The method to build individual events in the app are a little different than other apps like the default Calendar app or Fantastical but I quickly figured it out. It is actually pretty elegant and uses a built-in weather app and a lot of natural language elements that make it feel very friendly. My work meetings are all scheduled through digital calendars and I don’t always get them moved to my paper planner so having an aesthetically appealing interface to view these makes having work meetings a little less painful. If you haven’t invested in a calendar app beyond the default app that ships with your iPhone, the Moleskine Timepage is actually a lot nicer than I thought it would be.
Moleskine also offers their digital Moleskine Journal app (free with in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad) and a Moleskine/Creative Cloud connected app to work the Moleskine and Adobe Creative Cloud notebook (iPhone only). The Moleskine/Creative Cloud Connected App has only one very lackluster review. The notebook was designed to work for Adobe creative products like the Evernote/Moleskine notebooks work with the Evernote app system though it appears most folks aren’t using the Adobe or reviewing the Adobe Creative Cloud version.
There’s a Moleskine Photo Books app for the iPad (free) to help build a photo book through their service. Again, there are very few reviews and I don’t know anyone who’s actually used Moleskine’s photo books as an option so I don’t know about the print quality. But if you’re feeling brave, please let us know if you like the app and the quality of the photos you receive.
Baron Fig has released two digital products to compliment its analog tools: Spark and Mosaic.
Spark ($0.99 + in-app purchases) is an iPhone and Apple Watch-enabled set of creativity prompts. The reviews look positive as quick flashes of ideas to help stir thinking and mindfulness. Think of it as your digital page-a-day calendar with better typography.
Mosaic ($1.99) is Baron Fig’s answer to a digital notebook. While I prefer to write my notes on paper, there are moments when I just don’t have a paper and pen with me but I do have my phone and the Mosaic app lets me capture those little tidbits so I can transpose them later. I do wish there was a way to export projects or share them but they are sort of trapped in the the Mosaic app. Its good for to-do lists and quick reminder notes though.
Exaclair (AKA Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Quo Vadis):
LifeNoted (free + in-app upgrade $1.99 for full version) is a calendaring, journaling and to-do app all rolled up into one. You can add photos and videos as well plus tagging. While it looks like it keeps it all the appointments and to-dos together, I don’t find it to be the most aesthetically appealing app. But if you’re juggling professional, personal, home and family commitments, this might help balance it all. There’s more information available about the app at Life Noted.
ME Journal is the app interface for the Quo Vadis Habana ME (Multimedia Enhanced) Journal. The app is available for iPhone and iPad. I wrote a review last fall about my experience with the ME Journal.
Do you know of any other analog companies that are dipping their toes into the digital world? Or vice versa? Let me know if I missed anyone.I live in both the analog and digital worlds so I won’t say I don’t appreciate efforts to make my digital world as pleasing as my analog world but I do still have some reservations about it. How about you?
Its not just me, right? Besides perpetually questing for the perfect pen, ink, notebook, planner, pencil, ad nauseum, you also are on the perpetual hunt for the perfect bag too?
I have several bags that are pretty close but not perfect. There are occasions where I need something slightly smaller, slightly larger, slightly more rugged or slightly more dressy, etc. Gentlemen in the audience who have fewer requirements, I suspect, and more pockets (“I am only slightly jealous of the amount of pockets sewn into men’s clothing,” she’s says ironically) but I also hear men raise similar ranges of needs so I’m trying not to pigeonhole anyone. Is there a “perfect” bag or can we ever get to one or two perfect bags? One for work, one for travel and maybe one for weekend jaunts?
I work a corporate, 9-to-5 job and I feel I’ve reached a point where most backpacks look too academic to carry to work. However, I do carry a good deal of stuff with me so I need a decent-sized bag. I like being able to switch between some sort of handle for getting in and out of a car and then use a shoulder strap/cross body strap for the 0.25 mile walk from the parking lot to my desk. Really. It’s a big campus.
Usual contents of daily bag are:
pen case (pictured is my favorite LWA member-only pen case)
I’ve considered one of the Moleskine MyCloud bags ( I know, its crazy talk but I like the subtle exterior and the bright interior colors). They look well-constructed as well. There are an assortment of internal pockets for devices, pens and accesories but I cant’ find many review online so I am having to scrounge information. I have space credits (AKA money in my PayPal account) right now so I’m considering the reporter ($139.95) or the tote ($159.95). I do agree that our bags are our mobile offices and our desks-on-the-go especially when travelling.
Do you have a favorite bag? Or are you, like me, still hunting for the perfect combination of good looks and functionality?
Oliver Jeffers sketchbook illustrations for the United Airlines in-flight magazine. It looks like they were drawn a pocket-sized Moleskine Cahier using waxy colored pencils and some white ink or gel pens. Gorgeous!
I made a bunch of maps for the United Airlines inflight magazine. They are all geographically accurate.
I picked up the Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketch with medium weight paper in the pocket (3.5×5.5″) size. I chose the blank version though it is also available in graph and lined plus a heavyweight paper version. In the images on Jet Pens, the lines on the lined and graph looked much too dark for my liking. I’d rather use a blank book with a guide sheet. It’s described as medium weight (80gsm) paper, but it feels like the same weight, maybe a tiny bit heavier, than Moleskine’s standard paper.
From the outside, its pretty indistinguishable from a Moleskine pocket hardcover. It has a stiff leatherette cover, elastic closure and a ribbon bookmark. Upon opening the book, the paper is a soft white and there is a gusseted pocket in the back. If you like Moleskines but wish for a cheaper alternative, at first glance, this would make a great option at a mere $8.
There’s a few things that actually make the Pen & Ink Sketchbook a better value than a standard Moleskine. First, the bookmark is sealed on the end so it shouldn’t fray. Also, the paper is slightly better quality than the Moleskine paper. Not epically better but, in a side-by-side comparison, there is less feathering and splining with the Pen & Ink paper than Moleskine (shown on the left). With everyday writing tools like rollerball, ballpoint, gel, pencil and fine-nibbed fountain pens, I found the paper totally acceptable. Yes there is a little showthrough but nothing that wouldn’t be expected at the paper weight and price point. The elastic closure also feels more durable. We’ll see how it performs overall but it feels like it will survive longer than a Moleskine elastic.
This is an everyday pocket notebook at a very reasonable price. It has 96 pages (192 sheets) which is comparable to three Field Notes for about the same price. So, if you prefer a hardcover pocket notebook with the classic good looks associated with a Moleskine, this is a good alternative. If you’re hoping for more substantial paper, you might consider the heavy weight paper version (145gsm) instead.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.