For watercolor sketching, my favorite sketchbooks are still the Etchr Lab sketchbooks. But I also like to have a journal that’s mostly for writing and drawing. I want this journal to have smooth paper that’s easy to write on, and somewhat lighter-weight paper, so the journal can have more pages.
But there’s a trade-off: lighter paper that’s good for writing often can’t handle much water, even when it’s advertised as good for “light washes”. All lighter-weight paper will buckle more than regular watercolor paper, so I don’t fault a journal for that. But many drawing or writing journals have paper that either absorbs brushstrokes immediately, so you can’t blend at all, or they add so much sizing that the water sits up on top of the surface and runs all over. And in many cases, you dare not rework a wet area at all, or the paper will start to pill or soak through.
But I recently found some journals that are lovely to write in and really can take a light wash nicely: the ZenArt Dot Journals (if you like dots) and Artist’s Sketchbooks (if you prefer plain paper).
They are beautifully made, with durable covers, sewn bindings that open flat, acid-free 120 gsm paper, and extras like ribbon bookmarks, a pocket in the back and an elastic closure. (Alas, they do not come with a pen loop—so I buy adhesive pen loops and add my own.) Prices are similar to most other well-known dot journals (e.g. Rhodia or Leuchtturm).
But the real reason I’m calling them to your attention is that the paper takes light washes better than any other writing journal I’ve tried. I’ve been using them for a while, and I’ve had good luck adding light washes in these journals, with minimal buckling and no bleed-through. But I’ve always been careful to use just a little water and not rework wet areas.
But earlier this week I decided to see just how much water I could add and how much I could abuse this paper before it started to pill or bleed through. I still don’t know the answer to that, because I got tired of messing with it before it started to fall apart on me.
I deliberately added more water than a “light wash”. Then I went back and purposely fiddled with things, drew on top of wet paper with a gel pen, added more water, fiddled some more. More water did mean more buckling (normal for all paper), but the surface never did start to pill or roughen and the water didn’t bleed through to the back. I’m sure it would eventually, but not without going way past any reasonable definition of a “light wash”.
Just to be clear, I’m not recommending these as your main watercolor sketchbook—I still think the Etchr Labs sketchbooks, or your own handmade sketchbooks, are best for that—but if you like to occasionally add some drawings or a little line-and-wash to your writing journal, these are a great option.
(BTW, this article was not written in exchange for free products or sponsorship or any other perks from ZenArt. I don’t get any sort of commission if you buy using links in this article. I don’t do paid product promotions, affiliate links, sponsorships or any other kinds of promotion-for-hire. I’m also not making any guarantees about performance. You might work differently and have a different experience. I’m just speaking as one artist to another about a product I happen to enjoy using. YMMV.)