Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Review: Uglybooks, No. 1 Tall Size


Very pretty Uglybooks!

Readers of this blog know that although I am loyal to my primary sketchbook brand (Stillman & Birn for many years and currently Hahnemühle), I can be fickle about my secondary sketchbook. The latter is my small, daily-carry notebook that contains casual walk-taking sketches, thumbnail studies, notes, skyscapitos, written observations, backyard bunnies and raccoons, phone numbers, shopping lists and other random what-not. Since the sketches are often made with nothing more than pencil or marker, the paper doesn’t have to be great, but I’m thrilled when it can take a light wash.

For years, I tried every pocket-sized notebook on the market, hoping to find one with paper that could meet my demands. Frustrated, I even made my own for a while. Eventually, instead of continually being annoyed that notebooks intended for use with pencil or ballpoint couldn’t accommodate water-soluble materials and juicy fountain pens, I asked myself: Why not just sketch with simple media that these notebooks were made for? I changed my attitude instead of my notebook. Most Field Notes Brand notebooks have met my needs adequately, if not ideally, and I’ve been adequately happy. I stopped shopping around.

Product info is on the outer wrapper only.

Fast-forward several years, when someone who knew I enjoyed using
red Field Notes Sweet Tooth edition notebooks contacted me: Did I know about Uglybooks?

Made in New York, Uglybooks are simple, staple-bound, pocket-size notebooks like so many others on the market – with two significant differences: They contain 48 pages of unruled, 80-pound paper, and the paper inside is colored. I had never seen a pocket notebook with 80-pound paper of any color! Excited about both features, I ordered cautiously (I’ve been disappointed too many times by other claims of high-quality paper).

The product description and main branding appear only on the plastic wrapper. When removed, the wrapper reveals covers that are entirely blank – an ideal blank slate for stickering or drawing on. The only branding that remains is a logo on the back cover.

111-pound cover stock in bright colors

A great place for a sticker (this one is from my favorite
bag maker, Rickshaw)

Logo on the back is the only branding.

The colored covers contrast well with their interior papers. While design is minimal, it’s clear that someone is having fun pairing paper colors and naming themes.

Contrasting covers and innards.

The “No. 1 Tall” size I bought is 4-by-5 ¾ inches, which is right between the classic pocket size of 3 ½-by-5 ½ inches and the
Field Notes Signature edition (alas, no longer available), which is 4 ¼-by-6 ½ inches. Uglybooks are also available in a “No. 2 Wide” 8-by-5 ¾ landscape format. Although the classic pocket size is fine for thumbnails, I’ve always felt a little cramped otherwise. Uglybooks are an ideal size – large enough to sketch comfortably, yet small enough to fit in a bag pocket or my smallest fitness-walking bag.

7/8/22 gray and black brush pens,
white colored pencil

At three books for $16, the pocket-size Uglybooks are priced competitively for a slightly larger size and heavier paper. The larger landscape-format books are three for $30. (It’s worth noting here that when I had a minor shipping issue, customer service took care of me immediately. I don’t take good customer service for granted anymore – it’s worth a lot to me.)

All books feature hefty paper inside and out: 111-pound cover stock and 80-pound interior paper. “Because the paper in Uglybooks are so colorful and durable, we encourage you to try out whatever type of mark-making utensil you have!” says Uglybooks. Challenge accepted!

Media tests 1

Reverse side of media tests 1

The paper surface is mildly toothy but has no visible pattern (in fact, its similar to my current favorite drawing paper, Stonehenge Lenox Cotton). Media tests yielded no surprises. The only materials that bled through were the Sharpie, Derwent paint pen (minimal) and juicy washes of watercolors. I wouldn’t recommend this paper for watercolor painting, but light, dry-ish washes are fine. (Edited 7/29/22: Customer service confirmed that the paper is acid-free.)

Media tests 2

Reverse of media tests 2

Long before I made the test swatches, I took an “Atlantic” book (navy cover with mossy green interior) out for field testing. The green is just the right midtone for use with a black brush pen and a white pencil or gel pen, my favorite combo for quick urban sketches and value studies. My juiciest brush pens and
Sailor Naginata fude fountain pen, which usually bleed through notebook papers, were no match for this 80-pound Uglybook paper!

7/13/22 The juicy Sailor fude nib was no match for this hefty paper! No bleeding or feathering at all.
(This photo does not show the color accurately; actual color is closer to the scanned image below)

7/5/22 Gray and black brush pens, colored pencil

The “Cane” book (red cover with white interior paper) became my field test for water-soluble colored pencils. The paper took light waterbrush washing better than other notebooks I’ve tried – no buckling or bleeding. Although the sizing is probably not intended for watercolors, it was enough to keep my Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle colors true. The only treatment the paper couldn’t handle was a heavy water spritz, which caused the color to bleed through to the reverse side, and the paper buckled.

7/12/22 Museum Aquarelle water-soluble colored pencils washed lightly

7/14/22 Museum Aquarelle spritzed with water

Reverse of spritzed sketch at left

I was impressed! In my next order, I didn’t hesitate to get all the colors I wanted, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. When I went back to the site a week or so later, all the color options had been changed – and the colors I had ordered previously were no longer available! Uglybooks are apparently limited editions, which means that if I really like one, I’d better hoard buy extras! (I’m guessing that white interior paper is always available.)

An interesting addition was the “Mystery” pack, which promised “cover and interior pages picked completely at random.” Who could resist that? Spoiler alert: Here’s what I got – that yellow looks very promising! I don’t know whether every Mystery pack purchase contains the same three colors, or distribution is truly random, but either way, it’s fun to get a surprise.

The Mystery Pack I received contained these three books

I love the yellow paper with sky blue cover!

7/6/22 colored pencil

I’m picky about midtone colors for tonal sketching: The colors must have enough contrast with both white and black. I’m looking forward to trying pinky-red “Watermelon” and bright avocado green (called “Grunge”), which look like they have potential. I’ve already tried the dark brown “Smores,” at left (I showed more a few days ago), but it’s a little too dark as a midtone. Opaque, light-colored markers and colored pencils pop on it, though. I’ll try it this winter for night sketching, which is also my intention with the black paper of “Lost at Sea.”

As my secondary sketchbook, Uglybooks are a winner! A great size, unruled, high-quality, 80-pound and colored paper – Uglybooks, where have you been all my life?

Media tests 3 on "Smores" paper


  1. Great review, Tina. It does seem these are a cut above the books I use as my scribble books. I like the #1 size for the same reasons you suggest.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review! These are a unique line in an otherwise saturated market of small notebooks!

  2. I love that the cover is one color and the paper is a different color. I didn't expect that! Love the color choices. The ink sketches look really good on the colored papers.

  3. Thanks for reviewing these, Tina, they look great! I wish I knew where they sourced their paper--I sometimes use papers like Bockingford Tint for a heavier weight, colored option, but it's more textured and the palette is pale and limited. What a great find!!

    1. I look at colored drawing papers too, and I've never seen this line of colors before! These books have filled a unique niche!

  4. Interesting! Looks like a nice size for sketching! As always, love your art. ✌️


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