Update April 2021: St Louis Art Supply sketchbooks added
A few years ago, I wrote an article called "Best Watercolour Sketchbook for Artists" that featured some sketchbooks I think are good value for artists. The quality of those sketchbooks are good, but for artists who demand the absolute best watercolour paper, there's just no substitute for 100% cotton watercolour paper.
100% cotton watercolour paper is more durable, and more importantly is able to handle all sorts of watercolour techniques well, more specifically wet on wet techniques. Creating smooth colour blends is a lot more easy on 100% cotton watercolour paper than those wood pulp or cellulose paper. Good watercolour paper allows your paint to move and blend into other colours.
Below is a list of sketchbooks made with 100% cotton watercolour paper.
The Perfect Sketchbook
The Perfect Sketchbook is the first sketchbook that I know of that's made with 100% cotton watercolour paper. The idea for making such a sketchbook came from Erwin Lian, an artist based in Singapore.
The Perfect Sketchbook has gone through a few releases since its initial release after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015. The current version of Perfect Sketchbook is sold by Etchr Lab, a company based in Australia. The watercolour paper is still 100% cotton, but there's no mention of the paper's brand. Earlier Perfect Sketchbooks used Fabriano Artistico and Saunders Waterford.
Price? US $94 for a bundle of three A5-sized 44-page hardcover sketchbooks and US $134 for A4-sized ones. That works out to be US $31 for each A5-sized and US $45 for each A4-sized.
Just for comparison purposes, an A5 Moleskine Watercolour Album with 60 pages (non-cotton) is US $13 on Book Depository (with free shipping) and the A4-sized one is US $22.
SPD watercolour Sketchbook
If you're in Singapore, you can consider supporting SPD, formerly known as Society for the Physically Disabled.
SPD sells a 15 x 18.5cm hardcover 100% cotton coldpress 52-page watercolour sketchbook on their online store. The size is slightly smaller than A5 but it's still a comfortable size to draw on. There's no mention of the brand of the watercolour paper used but it's good watercolour paper. I've filled up a whole sketchbook with watercolour sketches and it performs really well.
Price is S$35, does not include shipping. Overseas shipping from Singapore is expensive. Last time I checked, it's S$17 shipping from SingPost for a sketchbook of this size and weight. So that makes the total S$52 (~US $37)
SPD also provides bookbinding services from S$25 or more. I've got them to make a few customised sketchbooks for me with various brands of watercolour paper and their service is excellent.
Koval is a company based in Poland that makes artist sketchbooks. They sell non-cotton, 50% cotton and 100% cotton sketchbooks.
Their hardcover sketchbooks are well made, has good binding, comes with a large rubber band to hold the covers together. The 50% cotton watercolour paper is Fabriano5 and 100% cotton is Fabriano Artistico.
The price depends on the size of the sketchbook. Currently, a 2.5-inch square hardcover 80-page sketchbook is US $25.95, and an A5-sized 60-page hardcover sketchbook is US $46.95. Shipping is not included, but not expensive.
Paper is also available with hotpress smooth surface.
Arkademie is a company based in Singapore that makes high end sketchbooks. Many of their products are leather bound and hence extremely resistant to wear and tear. I've tested several products from them before and the quality is great. Because of the leather cover, their sketchbooks feel really different from other brands. It makes you feel luxurious when sketching. Yeah, I can't imagine I said that but I did.
Here are sketchbooks from Arkademie that are great for watercolour.
Arkademie Artist's Sketchbook is a 60-page leather-bound sketchbook filled with Fabriano Rosaspina paper. a 60% off-white 220gsm print-making paper. Fabriano Rosaspina is not marketed as watercolour paper but for some reason, it handles watercolour really well. I've filled up a whole sketchbook during my Tokyo trip and I really enjoyed using the sketchbook. The only downside is the sketchbook can't open completely flat. Price is around S$67 to $97 (US $48 to $70).
Arkademie ANCONA is a 46-page sketchbook with either a cloth-bound or leather-bound cover. The paper used is also Fabriano Rosaspina. These are only available in A5 and B5 (18 x 26cm) portrait. Price is from S$67 to $83 (US $48 to $60).
Arkademie SOMERSET is a 46-page leather-bound sketchbook that uses 190gsm Saunders Waterford coldpress watercolour paper. It's available in A5, B5 and Imperial Super Octavo-portrait format (21 by 28cm). The leather is orange in colour vs black of the Artist's Sketchbook. You can see more photos at https://www.parkablogs.com/content/first-look-arkademies-somerset-waterc...
If you want a sketchbook that works great with watercolour and makes you feel great each time you look at it, consider Arkademie.
Khadi Papers watercolour sketchbooks are made with handmade 100% cotton 210gsm watercolour paper from India. Because the paper is handmade, you can expect some imperfections, such as blemishes on the paper or the occasionally issue with sizing. Despite the so called quality control issues which actually happens rarely, I still enjoyed using this sketchbook very much. I love the deckled edges and for some reason the cheap looking cardboard cover.
The paper is able to handle watercolour techniques and heavy washes really well. The paper is labeled as either smooth (coldpress) or rough.
These are the different sizes available
- HB3 - 28 x 35cm
- HB4 - 21 x 25cm
- HB5L - 13 x 32cm
- HB5 - 13 x 16cm
Sometimes there will be a letter S or R which represents Smooth (coldpress) or Rough.
Strathmore Travel Journal
Strathmore is a well known paper manufacturer from USA.
The Strathmore Travel Journals use 300gsm 100% cotton watercolour paper.
They are available in paperback (A5 portrait and 7 x 10 inch portrait) and spiral bound (3 by 9 inches). There are only 20 pages in each journal so they can be filled up rather quickly.
Design of these journals look nice. The paperback has a rounded corners and a large coloured rubber band to hold the pages together. Because there are fewer pages and it's not a hardcover, it's lighter compared to other sketchbooks. And it's also very compact since it's so thin. Downside is since it's paperback, drawing on it laying it down on firm support is going to make the pages wobble.
Current price of the 7 x 10 inch is US $22 and the A5 (5.5 x 8 inch) is US $17.50.
St Louis Art Supply
St Louis Art Supply is an art store based in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, so I'm not sure if they can ship overseas.
At the time of this review, they have the #102 Cotton Drawing (portrait, $21.95) and #502 Pro Mixed Media (portrait, $28.95) watercolour sketchbooks which feature 100% cotton watercolour paper from Fabriano.
Main selling point is the sketchbooks are spiral bound which allows you to fold the pages back to keep the sketchbook compact. This allows you to hold the sketchbook easily especially if you need to stand and sketch. The cover is designed such that it will cover the wire on the front and back while the spine is exposed, and this makes it easy to keep the sketchbook on the shelf without the wire affecting other books.
Paper is also available with hotpress smooth surface.
There are sellers on Etsy selling their handmade sketchbooks too with 100% cotton watercolour paper. E.g. Rosi Garmendia.
Good paper is expensive so it's not surprising that sketchbooks made with such paper are expensive.
Five years ago, many of these sketchbooks weren't even available. At least now there are options we can choose from. So you can decide whether they are worth the money or if you prefer the cheaper non-cotton watercolour sketchbooks.
For more art product reviews, visit https://www.parkablogs.com/content/list-of-art-products-reviewed