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Wow, doing research about watercolor paper sure can be confusing! I mean, reading about the different types and qualities of the different watercolor paper out there, considering finish, acid content and PH balance, material content, weight, manufacturing process, painting styles and techniques, environmental factors and, I’m sure, lots more stuff that’s not, right at this moment, coming off of the top of my somewhat swimming head.
And sure, that all really is important when you are looking for the best watercolor paper, and I hope to write a full and detailed article on the different kinds of paper and what watercolor paper is best for a beginner, what watercolor paper is best for advanced artists, what watercolor paper is best for different styles of watercolor painting and so forth. And don’t worry – this is actually a subject I know well, and it doesn’t have to be confusing at all.
Finding the very best watercolor paper for you, in fact, can and should be quite simple.
But today we are going to keep things even simpler – we are looking specifically at the best watercolor sketchbooks and notebooks, and rather than getting into a whole technical treatment, I thought it would be a lot better to just talk about the sketchbooks I know and love.
When you are trying to find the very best watercolor paper available – that is, not sketchbooks but individual sheets, artist pads or studio rolls – you want to consider how the paper is manufactured and the materials used, the texture or finish it has, PH balance, strength and weight and much more, and it seems like it should be the same with watercolor sketchbook.
I have to say, though, that this is where I seem to diverge from a lot of other artists, and have my own somewhat different thoughts and feelings about the best watercolor skechbooks.
I am not so focused on these technical questions, but think instead of more basic things:
Does the sketchbook respond well to watercolor paints and techniques and handle water well?
For example, not all of my favorite watercolor sketchbooks have 100 percent cotton watercolor pape, but they all still manage to be very strong and have excellent water-holding capacity.
And while we hear that it is important to determine whether a sketchbook or paper is hot pressed or cold pressed, I do tend to prefer the latter, with a rougher surface ideal for all types of watercolor techniques – this can still allow for good drawing and detail work as well, and is overall much more versatile than hot pressed sketchbooks. Indeed, all of my choices for the best watercolor sketchbooks are cold pressed.
All of my favorites have excellent paper quality, with a great finish that’s nice to work with, resistant to tearing and pilling, and will offer consistent and reliable results.
All of the best watercolor sketchbooks I recommend here will be acid-free, ensuring that the pages will never yellow or shift in color and will last a long time.
And all of the watercolor sketchbooks on my list will also be very high quality overall, with durable construction and a great look and feel – sometimes as important as any other factor to us aesthetic types!
To me, then, the most important factors in choosing the best watercolor sketchbook are as follows:
So, if you are like me, in that while specifications and details can be important, you are more likely to make a purchasing decision based on how something feels and works for you and your artwork, how it serves your process, how it makes your art look, and how you feel when using it, then this is the list for you!
Instead of offering the 27 best watercolor sketchbooks on the market today, or the 15 finest watercolor journals in 2021, or trying to offer an assessment of each and every brand and sketchbook out there –paper content, PH balance, fiber direction and manufacturing process, chemical composition of the fabric bookmark (I just made that one up) and who knows what else – I’m just going to include the 6 watercolor books that I have used and loved.
These are all great watercolor sketchbooks that work well with watercolor paints, pencils and pens and all watercolor techniques, make my art look wonderful, are very well made and nice looking, are easy and fun to use and actually encourage me to paint.
For all of these and for other, less tangible reasons, each of my recommendations is a sketchbook that I absolutely love to have and use, and recommend very highly.
I think you will love any one of these watercolor journals, and I would love to hear about your experiences with them, and see what you have created in, and with, your new watercolor sketchbook!
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With strong and heavy (200 G/M² (grams per square meter) paper weight) premium quality paper, the Moleskine sketchbook takes water well without buckling, and are great for all watercolor techniques, including washes, layers, fading, blending and mixing colors.
It is a cold press paper, which some may argue may not be absolutely the best for finer work, but I’ve found that they actually work great with pens or pencils and precise detail and is overall much more versatile and better for watercolor in general.
Moleskine sketchbooks are acid-free and PH neutral, meaning the paper will not deteriorate over time, yellow or shift color or contribute to the degradation, color loss or fading of the painted image.
The superb paper quality may be the main draw in this watercolor sketchbook, but what I also love about it is the overall look and feel. It is a substantial piece of kit, solid, nicely designed, easy to use and premium feeling, with a nice hard cover, elastic closure and an expandable pocket inside – solid, useful and durable, but light enough to be easily totable.
Offering exceptionally high quality and consistent results and allowing any watercolor images to look their most beautiful, the Moleskine sketchbook is a great choice for both a beginner, who really wants to explore and learn all aspects and techniques of watercolor as an art form, and the most experienced advanced artists as well.
The Moleskine watercolor album is available in four different sizes, all with the same wonderful design and high-quality watercolor paper:
Available in four different sizes, the Canson Montval watercolor sketchbooks all have superb acid-free heavy-duty paper, made in France specifically for watercolor paints, pencils and pens and suitable for all watercolor techniques.
It is a cold press paper, meaning it has a rougher surface, optimized for all watercolor processes and methods, and is heavy enough (300 G/M² (grams per square meter)) to withstand several washes, layering, scraping, erasing, heavy mixing and other water techniques.
Again, though, I find this wonderful paper imminently suitable for detail work as well. Each sheet is cleverly micro-perforated, and can be detached without damage and displayed proudly.
With some of the best paper quality of any affordable watercolor notebook on the market, the Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor Notebook goes in fact for remarkably resonable price, and is one of the most popular and widely used notebooks among fine and commercial artists, students and beginners alike.
A really beautiful and luxurious watercolor book, the Travelogue watercolor journal is hand-bound in fine European linen and is every bit as beautifully made as it looks, feeling like something truly special and important. And yet the Travelogue journal goes for amazingly low price, unbelievably so, even, when you consider how it looks, how it feels in your hand and how it makes your artwork look!
The Travelogue artist watercolor journal is available in five different sizes and two paper weights – 200 G/M² (grams per square meter) or 300 G/M². While both papers are both cold pressed and acid free, both are suitable for a wide range of watercolor techniques, and both are highly recommended, the 300 gram paper will definitely take more water without buckling, and better handle extended washes, several layers, scraping, rinsing and erasing without breaking down – this allows me to be more free and focused, without worry or distraction, and permits me to follow any technique or style without concern.
A beautiful book which, when I first held it in my hands I instantly imagined filled with beautiful watercolor paintings, the Travelogue artist watercolor journal is cleverly and usefully designed specifically with watercolor painting and artists in mind, and is a very high quality product in every respect – from its lovely linen cover to the rounded edges, the strong and discreet binding, the clever bookmark and elastic closure – and for a surprisingly low price. Very highly recommended!
Sizes: 8.25 x 5.5 Inch | 10.5 x 8.25 Inch | 5.25 x 8.25 Inch | 3.5 x 8.25 Inch | 8.25 x 8.25 Inch
Sizes: 8.25 x 5.5 Inch | 10.5 x 8.25 Inch | 5.25 x 8.25 Inch | 3.5 x 8.25 Inch | 8.25 x 8.25 Inch
Sizes: 3.5 x 5.375 Inch | 5.5 x 5.5 Inch | 5 x 8 Inch | 7 x 10 Inch | 8.5 x 11 Inch
A watercolor sketchbook with a slightly higher price, the Pentalic Aqua Art Journal certainly has a premium look and feel, and is clearly as well designed as it is well made.
Excellent materials and craftsmanship are evident everywhere – the superb finish of the heavy (300 GSM) paper is just ideal for even the most water-intensive work, and works well with any and all watercolor techniques without buckling or damage. The beautiful binding is not just attractive, but strong and long lasting as well, and the Pentalic Aqua art journal will lay down flat, making watercolor painting and drawing easy and fun.
For advanced artists and experienced watercolor painters, the Pentalic Aqua rivals even the best watercolor art paper in strength, finish and presentation, but in a really fine and useful portable package which allows you to work anywhere, anytime and at any level. And for the beginner or casual artist, the quality and design – and how good this journal makes your artwork look – make the Pentalic Aqua watercolor notebook a joy to use.
For my last item in this list of best watercolor sketchbook on the market today I am going to go in a slightly different direction, by recommending some marvelous value-packs from Arteza.
Any Arteza watercolor book would be a great choice – strong, excellent quality paper with a superb finish, great designs and overall quality and a beautiful look and feel – but as multi-packs they are even better, and a wonderful idea for anybody who is learning or just likes to paint a lot without having to worry about running out of space or paper.
Each of these value packs contains two or three separate sketchbooks, with anywhere from 128 to 240 total usable pages of premium, acid-free paper – a big supply so you don’t feel like you are going to run out, and a great value so you don’t worry about how much you are painting.
And they are not just a great deal, they are really great sketchbooks, from one of the most popular and beloved art supplies companies, well made, well designed and wonderful to use – and what a value!
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Spontaneity, simplicity, portability.
I think that there is something about the ritual of painting which is unlike anything else I know, an almost sacred rite, personal, private and wholly undivided, in which I can fully focus on, and express at the very highest levels, my creative energy and artistic vision.
And yet, when I put it like that, all serious and poetic and junk, I have to giggle a little. Yes, it’s true, canvas or fine art paper, easel, beautiful studio lighting, soft background music – that’s the ideal, but not always. Sometimes I want to paint on the subway, or at the park, or whenever / wherever the mood hits me. And sometimes, even at home, by the time I’ve set up the easel, cued up iTunes, put on my serious artist painting smock and beret and assembled my paints and brushes, that mood may have passed.
But with a good watercolor notebook, one that’s made well, designed well, really nice to use and with fine, strong paper – and especially (though not necessarily) with the best watercolor pencils – I can respond right away, with almost no set-up or thought when the mood does strike. I can be at home or away, at any time day or night, flip open my beautiful watercolor book and instantly go with the flow.
Thanks so much for reading my latest article – Best Watercolor Sketchbooks for Artists in 2021: A Look at Some of My Favorites! – and I encourage you to visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for other buyer’s guides, online courses, articles and lots of other resources.