Review – Daler-Rowney Simply Pocket Sketchbook (3.5×5.5) Hardback

Every time I have the time, I foolishly look in the notebook section at Walmart (both the office and/or crafts). I don’t know why, I always know that the notebooks won’t be great but I’ll be swayed to buy one anyway. In this case it was a hardback pocket sketchbook that I thought was only a dollar (it’s about 5 times that). The book basically has the same dimensions and look as a Moleskine Pocket notebook, but with 72 sheets of 100 gsm (65lb) “sketch” paper (heavier than the Moleskine notebook, lighter than their sketchbook, and with fewer sheets than either) at a discounted price. But is it a worthy “replacement”?

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The cover is very Moleskine reminiscent, being a black sort-of faux leather wrapped around cardboard, but in this case much more shiny and plastic-y. There are visible creases on both the front and back because the spine has been stiffened to remain flat, meaning the covers more or less “hinge” open. There is an elastic band attached to the back cover that does its job of holding the book together when wrapped around and warps the covers a little bit. Also on the back cover, stamped slightly off-center is the Daler-Rowney logo.

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Inside there is no strict “this book belongs to:” or logo page before getting right into the 72 sheets of “ivory” sketching paper, augmented by a very cheap looking/feeling black ribbon bookmark. Inside the back cover is a page-size pocket with cloth folds for strength, and I never use these so I can’t tell you much more than that.

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The paper itself is good. It is indeed fairly thick and heavy, with a grain that is smoother than most sketchbooks I’ve encountered but more toothy than any “notebooks” I’ve used. Aside from telling you that it’s “acid free”, the sticker on the front cover also has a picture of a pencil and a nib (I assume standing in for all ink pens) and it handles these two quite well. If you use pencil, there is a little bit of show-through if you go looking for it, but you could easily use all 144 “pages” of the book. The show-through becomes much more prominent with ink, especially from felt tip, brush, or fountain pens. There is also some minimal bleed-through with the more intense ink pens, but I never got it to actually mark on the next sheet. Still, it reduces the usable space of the sketchbook to 72 pages when using inks. Feathering is also a bit of an issue. There isn’t much of it, but when it happens (mostly with fountain pens) there are long thin lines of ink stretching away from your mark that almost look like little hairs. They’re pretty hard to see from far away, but when you notice them it’s hard to un-see.

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For the price it’s a nice little sketchbook (even if it cost more than I thought). It’s held up to a few months of moderate use from me with virtually no battle-damage, and while I suspect it to be less durable than a Leuchtturm or Moleskine it is short enough that it’ll probably last until you finish with it. The paper is good quality and pleasant to write on, and the handy pocket is there with an elastic band closure to keep every thing tidy. It’s a pretty good, if unrefined, option if you want a black pocket sketchbook.

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Review – Fiskars Cutting Mat (12×18)

If one is cutting things for hobby purposes for much time and one doesn’t have a table which would deal well with sharp objects, a cutting mat is really a no-brainer. But how well do the more common ones really work?

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Fiskars cutting mats are easy to find in many places. The particular one I use is 12×18 inches, but has a border of about a half-inch, extending the dimensions to about 13×19 but with rounded corners. Each edge is marked with a ruler that is accurate and the mat is divided into inch squares.  A couple of angles are also laid out in one corner. Most of the information on the mat is printed on a sticker on one of the sides (it’s double sided).

Being made of a fairly slick plastic, the mat can clean up easily after things like paint and plaster, but it has a texture that prevents the items being cut from sliding around. The mat is self-healing, but that really only applies to small nicks, anything larger might get a bit better, but will obviously never go away. Most things of this nature don’t inhibit the use of the mat. And it can take quite some beating from blades. If one is using this for hobby projects it will easily hold up to almost anything that is thrown at it (or rather cut on it). Obviously it has an upper limit, as it was cut into shape in the first place, but for normal personal (not industrial) use, it’ll work for a long time.

It does its job, I don’t know what else to say. Placing this on top of a table before cutting something for hobby, personal, or artistic use will almost ensure the safety of the tabletop. It works, and you can buy them from Wal-Mart.

 

Mini Composition Showdown

A while back I reviewed the Dolgen Inspira mini composition book. I have quite a few books like this and instead of reviewing them all I decided to just compare them all together. So here’s the mini composition showdown. Mead vs. Inspira vs. Top Flight.

First off, covers and binding. All the covers are the standard composition marble pattern, with the Inspira being the most crowded followed by the Mead and then the Top Flight. The binding on the Top Flight is a sturdy fold stitch with eight signatures, while the Mead and Inspira are weak, simple glue binding. All notebooks lie flay fairly well, though the Top Flight takes more breaking in. Cover durability again goes to the Top Flight with the other two tied. The cover corners are straight on some of the Mead, clipped on the Top Flight, and rounded on the Inspira, meaning the Mead with the square corners will most likely tear up quickest. Other Mead notebooks have rounded corners.  If you want color the Mead and the Top Flight are the way to go.

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Their dimensions are about the same, with Inspira being slightly taller and Mead being slightly wider. The Mead and Top Flight both have eighty pages, while the thinner Inspira has sixty. The smoothest paper belongs to the Mead, the roughest to the Inspira, and the Top Flight is very akin to newsprint, unfortunately, not very high quality. All are not archival quality paper and fade rather quickly on the shelf, though they are bright white out of the package. None are very good at holding ink, but the Inspira is best without bleeding, followed by Mead and Top Flight.

What will really make or break these books, though, is their large price difference. The Inspira are three for one dollar (U.S.) the Top Flight are five for three dollars, and the Mead are one to two apiece.

So if you can organize all that and determine the best for you you’ll end up with a very nice pocket book. Each one is suited subtly to a different task so the main challenge is finding out what is best for you. They are certainly not the best memo books by any means, but they’ll certainly work, especially in a pinch.

Review – Dolgen Mini Composition Book

Okay, this is kind of a cheat. But little notebooks are art supplies to someone. Even with the small price, should you get these small Dolgen composition books? Are they worth it?

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These little books contain about 60 pages of narrow lined paper. The stock is thin, and bleeds easily, but it is still about the same as average copy paper. They’re about 3½ X 2¼ inches, so they fit nicely into a pocket. They aren’t that great for drawing, but they excel at little notes and ideas.

The binding is fairly poor. I get the impression that it will fall apart quickly, but not as quickly as it takes to finish the book.

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These things are small, easy to carry, and really handy. They’re great for jotting down notes and the like. While they obviously aren’t made for drawing, a quick sketch or two definitely won’t hurt them, one just has the lines to contend with. At the three for a dollar price I paid for them, they are superb little notebooks.

Review – Escalada 3.5 x 5.75 Pocket Journal

So, you’re out and about, you’ve just finished your last pocket notebook and are looking for a new one. You happen across one. It’s got 80 sheets of thick sketch paper and is only a couple bucks. It even looks kinda nice in its faux-leather binding. Is this small Escalada journal a good buy? Let’s see.

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We’ll start with the binding. It’s surprisingly good, it flexes well and doesn’t break under standard usage conditions. The binding, as well as the cover is of course cardboard covered in faux-leather with a slightly unattractive sheen. This layer holds up alright, though it does start to peel and rub off at the corners which is very unsightly. It also gets gummy in high temperatures and begins to take the shape of whatever is next to it, so where the elastic band is there will be a permanent set of grooves. But it hasn’t melted or gotten sticky in the time I’ve used it and I live in the middle of the desert.

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The paper is 80 sheets of 74 lb drawing paper. It’s thick but flimsy, it feels as if it’s falling apart sometimes and ink bleeds through and can be easily seen on the other side in some cases. Yet I have had no instances of marking on the next page. It has an easily visible grain and does at times warp ones drawings, mostly pencil though and not very much. The roughness is a bit unsightly to me but that’s just personal preference. Despite the flimsy feeling of the pages they are very stout and remain ridged most of the time. They resist bending, however I feel that if they did bend they would soon fall apart.

It’s an alright pocket sketchbook. It’s cheap, both in price and manufacturing, but it does do its job well enough. Just carrying it in a bag or a case won’t do much harm to it, especially since it only has eighty pages and can be run through fairly quickly. However, if your life is a bit more rough and tumble than most this is not for you, it will look ugly shortly and fall apart not long after. It does best if you’re looking for a notebook to store in your bag or somewhere on the cheap and don’t have too much preference as to the quality of the content you put in it.

Review – 3M Post-It Notes

When one is being an artist, one must get ideas. But sometimes one can’t get them to the drawing board immediately: they may be working on a project, or about to fall asleep (like that ever stops artists), or have and actual job to do, or just be out and about. During these situations sticky notes come in handy. Now, sticky notes are one of the rare instances where to entire set of products aren’t just called the name of the largest brand (Kleenex for tissues, Oreos for stuffed cookies etc…). Sticky notes are everywhere, you can find them at almost any store for fairly low prices. So is it worth paying a little more to get brand-name 3M Post-It Notes?

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I would say yes. First, for the obvious reason that they are more adhesive than most other brands. I know that sticky notes are made to be easy to peel on and off, but I still want them to stay where I put them (I’m convinced that the T.V. shows use glue to hold their sticky notes on those boards). Second, they’re a great size. I hate those thin, flimsy sticky notes, and the ones that come in different shapes are annoying to place and serve no purpose. Any bigger and they would be cumbersome, any smaller and one couldn’t write on them. Now I do realize that other companies make their sticky notes in the same size, but the quality is lacking, which is the third reason I like 3M Post-Its. The quality of the paper is unmatched in any other sticky notes to my knowledge. You might not think it matters how good the paper is on a sticky note. But being able to simply write something and stick it somewhere without having to worry about the paper or your message being damaged is a great thing.

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So yes, 3M Post-Its are worth it. They are better than the competition in every way one would want a sticky note to be better (and they make awesome bookmarks). They stick, write, and place well and are a must have for any office and artist.

Review – Imagine Plus 110-pound Card Stock

By: Austin Smith

After paper the new thing that one would most likely move on to is card stock, in this case Imagine Plus 110-pound 8.5″x11″ card stock. This stuff is a little more “advanced” and one could actually create “finished” projects on it. “Finished” being a subjective term.

110-pound card stock is obviously much thicker and heavier then paper. It takes pencil and ink well; heavy inking and even light painting also work well. The stock does buckle under water quite easily, though, so over-inking and water-based paints aren’t recommended. And painting on anything lighter than Water-color type paper could lead to buckling.

The stock itself is smooth, with enough friction to not go sliding around. Pencil is taken and erased well. Ink is quickly absorbed. The grain is noticeable at times but rarely affects the work that is on it. Heavy ink shows through, but the likelihood of someone seeing the back is negligible.

The size of the paper being 8.5″x11″ makes it a rarely seen art surface. The size, like that of copy paper, is simply unconventional. It is a good material for people just “graduating” into “finished” artwork.

While the stock is nice and useful, most will quickly pass it up for superior art surfaces.