The SPD, formerly known as Society for the Physically Disabled, in Singapore sent me a sketchbook to review last month.
This sketchbook is called the SPD Painter's Journal. It's a sketchbook custom made by people who suffer from physical disabilities. It's a new product and it's not on their online store yet, but you can order it through phone (+65) 6579 0741 or email (sales @ spd.org.sg without the spaces).
The one that I have has 52 pages of Saunders 100% cotton coldpress watercolor paper at 190gsm. The texture is feels like medium grain to me — it eats through pencils fast! The size of the sketchbook is 5.5 by 7 inches. It's smaller than A5.
The sketchbook sells for SGD $35 which is slightly more pricey compared to other brands. But this sketchbook features 100% cotton paper so that's where the premium comes from. And it's for a good cause to help out people with less fortunate background.
The interesting thing about the sketchbook is the variety of customisation available.
You can choose from 10 different colours for the cover. The material is some sort of waxed canvas and it's really durable and waterproof, so it's easy to clean. I've thrown my sketchbook into my bag many times and there's no sign of dog ears on the corners of the cover.
You can also customise the type of paper inside. By default, it's either the white or cream coloured Saunders 190gsm coldpress paper. Or you can just bring your own paper down to their location at 2 Peng Nguan Street to get them to bind your paper into a sketchbook. For bookbinding, it cost $25 for A5 and smaller sketchbooks, and anything larger will cost $30. I went to their building a few days ago with my own paper, Arches and Fabriano, to get them to bind. Overall, each sketchbook will turn out to be more expensive I seriously prefer the Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper.
Other things you can customise would be the corners. For thinner sketchbooks, you can have rounded corners. The thicker sketchbooks can only have sharp corners. I was told that those rounded corner covers are notoriously difficult to make. Bookbinding is still mainly a manual process that requires a lot of manpower, and these sketchbooks are still handmade.
You can also choose to add a ribbon, the rubber band that holds the covers together and an inner pocket.
And finally, you can choose whether you want your name embossed on the cover.
These are the custom bound sketchbooks I've commissioned. The paper used are Arches Coldpress, Arches Hotpress, Fabriano Artistico Coldpress and Fabriano 25% Cotton. Each watercolour pad that I bought could be made into 4 sketchbooks.
The Arches watercolour pads I bought are the 20 by 14 inches with 20 sheets in each block. So when you cut them horizontally into half, fold them, you get a sketchbook around the size of 10 by 7 inches. The sheets are 300gsm so they are thick. I had my sketchbooks customised to only 40 pages each.
If you buy three blocks of Arches, you can either make 12 sketchbooks at 40 pages each, or 8 sketchbooks at 60 pages each.
As mentioned, the default paper is only 190gsm so it does buckle when you use heavy washes on it. I've tried Sharpie markers on it and there's some slight impression that can be seen on the opposite page so definitely avoid using markers.
I prefer white paper as the colours come out fresh and saturated. If you go for the cream coloured paper then prepared to get a warmer tone.
The paper is quite dry and thirsty so if you go over with your brush quickly, it will tend to leave those dry edges.
Because of the medium grain surface, I do not recommend broad tip pens for drawing. The lines would look a bit rough, like pencil. It's better to use fine point, or those rollerball point pens, e.g. Uniball Eye or Vision. I use this sketchbook mainly for pen, ink and watercolour. It works well.
The medium grain paper texture is nice for granulation effects.
For my watercolour sketches, I tend to go slowly with my applied washes. I also mix more paint than I would normally do because this Saunders paper is very absorbent and takes in a lot of water.
The paper's characteristic is that it may show some tiny spots of paper white. That happens when your washes don't go slow enough and don't fill the valley of the paper grain. Some artists like that effect. I'm partial to it.
Here's a sketch with pencil and watercolour. If you want to use pencil, use those technical pencils that do not require sharpening. This paper will dull down your wooden pencil within a second or two.
Since it's called the Painter's Journal, I suppose it's more suitable for painters. However, it's great for pen, ink and watercolour sketches as well. You just have to make sure you use the right tools and note that the paper is quite dry. It's a quality sketchbook. Overall, it may be slightly more expensive but I think it's for a good cause.
Below are selected scanned pages from the sketchbook.
Virginia Hein's workshop
National Museum of Singapore
Coffee Bean cafe at Bishan