Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Moleskine Watercolor Journals

Back in 2007, my daughter gave me a Moleskine watercolor journal for my birthday. She knew I liked hers and I was overjoyed. A few months ago I picked up the small format one so that I'd have a pocket version for going out. A sumptuous leather-bound book with 36 heavy, strongly sized pages laid out in a panoramic format with the binding on the short end and an elastic band to hold it shut, the Moleskine watercolor journal seems like the sort of book people paint in on trips to Europe or Africa. In fact, it is.

It's exactly that. The cover is strong leather designed to handle all kinds of trouble and spills. The back cover has a passport pocket with a little note from the company, so you'll never lose your identity papers. The pages are perforated, so you can remove one if you happen to be on the skids and someone offers to buy a painting or commissions you on the spot. This is important if you can paint well. You never know when you'll be broke and people will always offer to buy a painting you like too much to want to let go of, or get you to paint this idea they had.

I thought that with only 36 pages, I'd fill it fast. That was in 2007. I didn't take into account how much time and work I put into even small watercolors sometimes, or that with the panoramic shape I'd sometimes put two or three or four small paintings on a page. I didn't realize the heavily sized pages are so thick and well-sized that you can paint on the back of a painting without ruining the one behind it. I have an Inktense watersoluble ink pencil sketch on the back of the page that's showing, and even with two or three loose washes right to the edges, that Inktense sketch didn't activate at all. It stayed dry exactly as I intended it.

Moleskine notebooks come in a variety of sizes and types. There's the blank-page, gridded page, lined and storyboard versions with many more pages in thin tough paper too. I have a small blank one that's also half full because it has 192 pages. My watercolor journal got two pages painted and then got mislaid on a bookshelf till April 2009, when I found it and decided to start using it a lot.

My goal with mine is to do an art and text journal of my life, like the field scientist's journals in all the movies. You know the ones. Perfect watercolor studies of nature neatly labeled, actual things from day to day life with a little text, well laid out pages with botanical and other life drawings. I drifted from that and included painting challenges I do online because going online is part of my life. This isn't the 1860s. Photography and photo references are part of my life and times.

For an expensive, sumptuous treat that inspires you to greater creativity, I can't recommend this journal enough. It's a bit under $20 for the bigger 5" x 8 1/2" one, a few dollars less for the small 3" x 5 1/2" one that fits in your pocket. The small one, with a pocket set of watercolors can go in a suit pocket, T shirt pocket, jeans pocket or woman's purse anywhere you want to go. Moleskines are perfect for the sketch crawl, lunchtime painting, plein air excursions including going to parks on your lunch, or taking anywhere.

They've become legendary because a few famous painters, writers and directors used them for their professional creative works. Hemingway used and filled a lot of the writing ones, don't know if he used the lined or blank ones. Various famous painters have used the plain paper or watercolor Moleskines. But that's not why I like it.

The reason they kept getting them is that they are so sturdy. They are worth the money for the quality of both the paper and the way they're put together. The elastic band helps a lot. Your watercolors will flatten out again even if you slosh enough water on it that it cockles. My used pages have a little bit of warpage, enough to tell they're used looking at the book from the side. Nowhere near as much as a stack of that many watercolor paintings left out on the desk though, because the elastic band presses them flat and reduces it after the book's closed.

The leather covers are very tough. They do stand up to coffee spills, cigarette burns or other small accidents like your cat grabbing it with claws to pull it off the table. Moleskine journals may get a little scarred but they don't rip. They can be stepped on. They are designed for people who travel and go to places where they might get rained on or chased by rhinos yet want to be able to tell what the painting they did of it before the earthquake was after retrieving it.

They're a luxury. But they're a luxury that makes sense over time. If you get one, you may find yourself doing a lot more lunchtime sketching, experiments and studies. They're so easy to carry around that it's a frequent reminder to do life painting and sketching.

I use my Moleskine watercolor journal as the place for all my color charts too. I used to do color charts of new paints as soon as I got them on loose pieces of paper. They'd get lost, used as bookmarks and never be where I needed them when I wanted to decide which red to use for the shadows in that pink flower. Since I did them in the Moleskine, I've been able to find them every time. Once this one's filled I'll have to keep it handy just for finding my charts again, or duplicate them in the back pages of the next.

If you're into pastels and pastel pencils, you might try painting over some of the pages in a Moleskine watercolor journal with Colourfix sanded pastel primer in various colors. I wouldn't recommend painting on both sides with pastels, but you could tape or glue a piece of glassine to the back of the preceding page to protect pastel sketches and turn it into a pastel journal easily. For that I'd use the bigger one, or one of the even larger ones they make. I don't know if the bigger sizes come with leather covers but I trust the pages and construction will be just as good.

If you ever wanted to try art journaling, treat yourself to one. It'll stand up to being lost, kicked around, shoved under stuff and treated badly. Even if you get distracted and ignore it for a few years, it'll still be good and you'll be happily surprised at how much better you paint. In the time you fill one, you'll be very surprised at how much better you paint.

Date everything you draw and paint in it, that's always good for morale. And sign it, you might be famous someday and then everyone thinks the awful sketches in your first one done while you learned are worth a lot of money. Considering that the awful sketches are likely to crowd up at the front of your first one with lots better ones at the end, it's well worth getting one and dating everything in it.

Here's a scan of one of the paintings in my photo, just to show it up close and give you an idea of the texture of the paper. It's a creamy off-white, a warm white rather than a bright cold white. It has a cold press surface with just enough texture for broken color and drybrush effects, but not so much you can't do fine ink and wash studies in it. Watercolor pencils of all kinds are a joy in it. You can wash and lift and scrub without wrecking the paper -- or the drawing on the other side.

White Callas -- Calla Series #3
5" x 6"
Derwent watercolour pencils and Daniel Smith watercolors
Moleskine watercolor journal
Photo reference by Sharrm from Weekend Drawing Event March 19-21, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Good review, Robert. Thank you! Now I want one... Guess that was the idea! Your sample photos show how flat the pages remain, and how nicely the pencils & paints look.