Monday, November 18, 2013

Still Life P Q R (Back to Canson XL, Plus Handbinding Cost Comparison)

11/18/13 Still life P Q R. Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolors, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
The weather prediction of 100 percent chance of rain today became correct around 9 a.m. and has stayed correct all day, so it’s a good time for another still life in my alphabetical series – P Q R.

It’s also a good time to complete my review of Fabriano hot press, the signature of which I finished with the sketch of the Columbia Center on Saturday. Of the five 140-pound watercolor papers I’ve tested during the past few months – Strathmore 400 cold press, Canson Montval cold press, Canson XL cold press, Arches hot press (I couldnt find loose sheets online) and Fabriano hot press – the Fabriano delivers the best overall combination of a smooth ink-drawing surface and sufficient but not excessive sizing for the way I paint. But when I compare it to Canson XL, my favorite of the cold-press papers, I don’t experience enough significant difference in the quality to justify the price, which is four times that of XL. So for now (at least until I come across another paper I want to try!), my sketchbook paper of choice is Canson XL, which provides the paper qualities I want for the best value. (Canson Montval runs a close second.)

And as long as I’m on the subject of cost. . . Although I’ve considered paper prices as I’ve tried them, I haven’t been paying much attention to the cost of my handbound sketchbooks compared to purchased sketchbooks because saving money is not a primary motivator for handbinding my books. But now that I’ve bound three books and I’m halfway to filling a fourth, I thought it was a good time to at least run the numbers. Although many less-expensive sketchbooks are available, Stillman & Birn Beta and Alpha were my sketchbooks of choice before I began handbinding, so it makes sense for me use them in my comparison. I preferred hardbound S & B books, but I couldn’t find them online to get prices. However, their price per page is comparable to the spiralbound versions. All prices are from
  • Stillman & Birn 6” x 8” spiralbound Beta (180 pound paper) sketchbook:
  • 25 sheets (50 pages) for $16.19
  • Stillman & Birn 6” x 8”spiralbound Alpha (100 pound paper) sketchbook: 50 sheets (100 pages) for $16.19
  • Canson XL (140 pound) 9” x 12” paper pad, 30 sheets (yielding 120 6” x 9” sketchbook pages) for $4.92
(My handbound book also requires thread, chipboard, collage material, acrylic medium and acrylic paint, but per book, that cost is less than a dollar, so I’ll consider it negligible.)

Unfortunately, there’s no S & B paper of weight comparable to the 140-pound Canson XL, so I’m not really comparing apples and apples. But for the sake of a blog argument, here are the results: An equivalent-sized (dimensions and page quantity) handbound book is about one-fourth the price of an S & B Alpha and one-eighth the price of an S & B Beta.

(Whew! That was way more math than I’ve done in years. I gotta go eat a piece of birthday cake to recover.)


  1. That's a lot of calculating!!! Sounds like your handmade journals are the way to go. That way you also get the paper you want.I don't think I've tried the Canson XL paper. Maybe I'll try it out for my next sketchbook for my scavenger hunts. This is a cute, sort of whimsical sketch.

  2. Thanks for the analysis. As you wrote, cost is not the only variable. I find I like your idea of carrying just a signature or two. It is MUCH less weight and bulk than an entire hard bound sketchbook. And, as you say, the other advantage is using the paper you like best.

  3. What's the Q?!?! You didn't explain your still life like you usually do. But such cute pic!!


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