On my never-ending quest for the perfect notebook, I decided to give the French-made Exacompta Sketchbook from Exaclair (AKA Clairefontaine, AKA Rhodia) a test drive. This very plain book looks as if it were designed as a refill to go inside one of the Exacompta Club leatherette refillable journal covers as the cover stock is just cardstock and the exposed cloth tape spine is probably not particularly durable over the long term. I quite like the look of the leatherette-embossed paper cover and cloth tape so I did not buy a cover. Also, I could not find an option to buy the Club journal cover with the sketchbook paper included or an empty Club journal cover and wasn’t interested in having the lined paper insert available on Jet Pens. Upon further research, a sketchbook with leather-like Madeira covers is available directly from Exaclair. I dislike the quaint painter’s palette and lettering foil stamped in silver on the cover. A well-placed sticker will be needed to cover this up at some point.
The first thing I noticed that set this apart from other sketchbooks on the market is the foil silver edging. This detail really makes this book feel more like a journal and sets itself apart from the classic black leatherette hardcover sketchbooks that were so ubiquitous in art school.
The end papers are printed with pine tree icons from the I loved the built-in ribbon bookmark even though the ends are not sealed and it was already starting to fray. Moments after this photoshoot, I took a lighter to the edges and sealed it properly to prevent any additional fraying only to discover that its a natural fiber and burned. I trimmed the charred bits off and ran the edges through some clear adhesive (like Elmer’s glue) to seal it. Those handy in sewing could also use Fray Check.
The interior paper is Clairefontaine 100g with a noticeable laid texture and watermark. This texture create fine horizontal lines across the paper that can act almost like rules to help keep your writing straight. It is ph neutral 25% cotton rag and is a lovely warm white color. The pages are sewn so the book does lay flat with little effort which is a lovely feature.
I, of course, tested several types of writing instruments on the paper and you’ll see that the writing stood up off the page with no feathering. I did notice an audible scratching sound when using my Lamy fountain pen on the paper. I went back and re-tested with my Kaweco Sport and the sound was less audible but still present. I suspect it is a result of the laid texture rather than a smooth stock. The absence of any feathering with fountain pen ink may outweigh the scratchy sound but I thought I’d note it if you try to write stealthily, this may not be the book for you.
As for the bleed-through, both the Pilot Envelope Pen and the Sharpie are clearly visible to the other side but neither bled through to the next page. I would definitely say that this book, while it may say “Sketchbook” on the cover, would be excellent used as a notebook for writing or note-taking. I will do some further testing with more art medium in this book and verify whether it can handle any wet medium as heavy-flow markers seem to bleed too much to use both sides of the stock.
Regarding availability of the Madeira leatherette covers, the only online retailer I found that carried the sketchbook with cover was Writer’s Bloc for $19 for the set but it was sold out. The covers are embossed with the word “Sketchbook” in a font I find less than appealing.
(This image from Writer’s Bloc)
Overall, I think this is a fine notebook but will hold my opinion as to its usability as a sketchbook until further testing. The price point, quality paper, silver edging, and ribbon bookmark all make this a good choice for daily jottings. The plain black book sells for $23 on Jet Pens.