Advantages hard wearing, well-made binding, good quality acid free paper, suits many kinds of media
Disadvantages paper can go crinkly with watercolours, may not suit charcoal/pastels
|Value for money|
My four years at college and uni doing nothing but art courses must have been good value - their legacy hasn’t left me. In some cases, I’m talking literally. Upstairs in my room (and also on my desk, in my desk and anywhere else I’ve been) I can usually rely on finding a leftover sketchbook with empty pages when I feel like drawing. One such specimen is this A4 Polypro Sketch Book.
The cover is pretty tough grey plastic with a slight metallic sheen, so pretty neutral. I’ve never decorated mine with stickers, paint or glitter glue (largely because I mainly used them for uni projects) but at least one of mine has still got its price sticker on, five years after being bought so I’d say that if you customised it with anything self-adhesive, it should stay on for a while; oil pastel, watercolour etc wouldn’t work on this surface, although acrylic paint might.
I’ve occasionally used the back cover as a substitute cutting mat when I couldn’t find anything else suitable and although a Stanley knife or scalpel will leave permanent score marks on the plastic, it won’t cut through the cover with just one stroke. (I don’t advise using your sketch books instead of cutting mats but it’s a decent temporary alternative.) Impressively, the cover is around 0.5cm longer and maybe 0.25cm wider than the paper inside so offers the contents some protection, possibly important if the book for is likely to end up on display at an exhibition/degree show etc.
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with wire-bound books - it depends where the binding meets. Luckily, the join on this one is between the back cover and the inside cover sheet (thick black card, which gives some stability so the book doesn’t flop or bend if I’m working on my knee) so it doesn’t tend to get caught and open itself; I have lost front and/or back covers on other books where the join was on the outside so this book is comparatively well-made. The spiral binding itself only adds about 1cm width/0.5cm height so fitting it into a rucksack that could take A4 books shouldn’t be a problem and it will open flat on a desk etc without the binding getting in the way of your work - a problem I’ve had with wider metal bindings.
The A4 sketch pad is far more practical than the A3 one in the same range; the A4 one is bound down the 297mm (long) side and is wide enough to work in without becoming floppy. The A3 version is, unfortunately, also bound down the 297mm side, leaving the 420mm (A3 ‘long’) side open. The covers are made of identical material, but in A3 format it just becomes too bendy if you’re working on anything but a table, desk etc. The A4 format suits the cover thickness much better.
The contents of the sketch pad are good quality. I would call it cartridge paper, but to me cartridge paper is slightly texture whereas this plain paper (no lines, grids or graphs) is really smooth and bright white rather than cream or off-white, like good quality photocopier paper. However, at 140gsm, this is nearly double the thickness of copier paper; it’s thin enough to fold easily (I have done all sorts with my sketchbooks) and would cope with a standard hole punch, but also thick enough to make any drawings etc look like you’ve sourced decent paper to work on.
Having worked with all kinds of media, I find this pad suits to certain types better than others. It copes perfectly well with pencil sketching and also line drawings in biro/rollerball. I don’t tend to use ink straight from the bottle but I can easily write (or draw) on it using a cartridge pen or fountain pen without the ink sinking through to the other side of the page. I’d be quite happy to pull a sheet out of this pad if I wanted to frame a finished drawing; it’s certainly good enough for that.
It manages reasonably well with watercolours, but it depends how you define ‘watercolour’; if I sketch something using watercolour pencil and paint over it with a damp brush, it blends the colours well, but if the brush is too wet or I use watercolour paints, the paper will go crinkly and end up slightly wavy round the edges once dry (although not enough to ruin the finished artwork, and it won’t go soggy or absorb the moisture, either). I can’t recall whether I’ve ever used acrylic paint in these books but I don’t think the paper would struggle to cope with that kind of thick paint; you’d probably just have to wait longer for it to dry before using subsequent pages. I probably wouldn’t use charcoal, oil pastel or soft pastels in this book; I'd go for more textured paper. Also, soft pastels and charcoal can be dusty and transfer colour easily, so you may be limited to using one side of each sheet.
Like many sketch pads and display books, the paper in this one is acid free. I didn’t understand the importance until I got to uni and was told to make sure photos were mounted on acid free board because any materals containing acid can damage colours in photos (I think the photographic paper too, but I’m not certain). I’ve used a few of these WH Smith sketch books to store photos taken as development work for different projects and modules (most were stuck down with masking tape or sellotape) and, almost five years after I graduated, the photos I did stick into my WH Smith books are in as good a condition as the ones I stuck in prettier, more expensive alternatives for end-of-project assessments.
As mine still has the price on the label, I know that c.2005 this book cost £4.99 but today WH Smith’s website says it’s £5.19. Usefully, this is one of their art supplies that I have seen in my local (fairly small, ‘a bit of everything’ rather than ‘let’s have a really comprehensive art/photo albums etc’ section) branch so it shouldn’t be difficult to find. Definitely worth considering, whether you’re a student or you just enjoy drawing and sketching.
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