I’ve been casually dropping comments over the last few weeks about how I prefer Moleskine Watercolour sketchbooks over Hahnemuehle Watercolour books and so I think it’s time to finally explain this in more detail.
My personal preference – not a recommendation!
It’s very important to stress at the outset that this article is all about my personal preference based on the way I like to work – it is not a recommendation! In fact I think that most of you will have a different opinion to me. And so my goal is to help you think about the paper you use and whether it’s right for the way you work and the results you want to achieve.
My own method of watercolour is definitely rather quirky and differs a lot from a more traditional style of watercolour painting and/or a standard ink and wash style. So please don’t copy my decision without making sure that it truly works for you too.
Also it’s super important to note that I love both of these sketchbooks. I really like the Hahnemuehle Watercolour books and I’ve loved using them over the past few months for my 11 week Virtual Trip project. I still highly recommend this book – especially for beginners – as it works well for creating nice watercolour washes. (read my review here.)
If you have read my article Best paper for Quick Urban Sketching you will already know that I want a sketchbook which will enable me to work quickly – to work into damp areas and create lots of hard edges. What a lot of people consider bad marks, are what I like the most!
But it’s not just the texture which is important, it’s also the ease at which I can continue to work without having to wait for washes to dry. I want my sketches to be spontaneous and to flow almost effortlessly and so it’s crucial that the paper I use will enable me to do this. This feeling of flow is the number one goal in my art.
I also want to keep my washes to a minimal (say more with less), with little glazing/layering and for the paper to keep the colours vibrant.
The Moleskine paper is great for all of these aspects and also allows my washes to retain their vibrancy. The Hahnemuehle paper creates softer effects – it’s hard to work into damp areas on the and overall it creates edges which are not as crisp. I also find that the colours are slightly duller. It’s not a huge difference in vibrancy, but the Moleskine is better in this regard.
I love the bright white of the Hahnemuehle paper and its texture, but as a general rule, it’s harder for me to use. This is especially true when I’m out on location ( I’m less patient to wait for washes to dry) and when sketching direct watercolour.
I love the Hahnemuehle books – the cover, the paper colour and the texture and overall I have enjoyed using them! I was able to adjust my usual techniques to (generally) get results I’m happy with. So I’m definitely going to continue to use them.
Moleskine books continue to have quality control issues and have noticeable differences between the two sides. But having said that, even though the texture isn’t my favourite, the overall paper characteristics just work the best for me.
Side by side comparisons
As always, click on any image to view at a higher resolution.
St Albans Church
I think this comparison shows the dramatic difference between the two sketchbooks and how freely I’m able to work on the Moleskine!
Hahnemuehle: Although happy with the outcome, at the time I struggled to get the texture I wanted in the brick work and I’m not crazy about the second layer. The tree texture is nice but there is some big drying shift happening and some areas of flatness. Overall the colours are less vibrant.
Moleskine: This was a loose and free style so it’s not a direct comparison, but I enjoyed this sketch much more! I love the texture of the door and the tree! This sketch was actually done with a little distraction (a friendly man sat next to me towards the end and had a LOT of questions for me) so I’m even happier with the result.
This was the first sketch in my new sketchbook and the A4 vertical format felt really good. It was nice to be able to work larger!
Spanish Mission Building
These two are not a perfect comparison as I felt super comfortable and in the groove when I did the Hahnemuehle version, while I felt very uncomfortable doing the Moleskine sketch (not sure why).
Hahnemuehle: This sketch has lovely soft washes, but the colour is more subdued. This is a good example of what works really well on this paper. Simple washes layered over each other with little wet-in-wet and risk-taking.
Moleskine: As mentioned above this was a little half-hearted effort but the colours are more vibrant and the edges crisper. You can also see a lot of granulation in the sky which is a combination of the pigment characteristic and the paper texture.
I don’t have two comparable sketches of direct watercolour but these two sketches of Edinburgh Castle do explain the difference. The Hahnemuehle sketch was done from photos as part of my Virtual Trip, while the Moleskine example was sketched on location during last year’s visit to Scotland.
Hahnemuehle: As mentioned in my Virtual Trip articles, I generally struggled to do many direct watercolour (paint-only) sketches on this paper. The main reason is because the edges are softer and the paper remains damp for longer. This is one occasion where I was happy with my edges and I was able to resist getting my pen out to firm up the edges at the 70% mark. A big factor in this was the type of image with lots of white space.
BTW my approach to direct watercolour varies a lot from most people’s more traditional method. See this article for more about that.
Moleskine: I did this sketch last year sitting on the footpath (sidewalk) with Esther just before I headed to the airport. It was done very quickly and it’s a good example of lots of crisp edges.
Aside: actually the first sketch was done with Esther too (a zoom call) so both we done while chatting. 🙂
My morning coffee sketch is all about the ritual of starting the day in a way that gets my creative juices flowing. So I’m not trying to make a good sketch and in fact I often try to produce ‘disastrous’ results as I experiment with wet-in-wet techniques.
Overall I struggled getting results I wanted on the Hahnemuehle paper. I couldn’t get the textures in the one wash, and if I left my first pass to dry, I then wasn’t happy with the layered effect.
On the other hand the Moleskine textures that I can create (even if doing crazy things!) always make me smile. I can more easily create a wider variety of marks.
So there you have it, a few side-by-side comparisons.
I’m not going to make a big deal about asking whether you prefer my Hahnemuehle or my Moleskine sketches (although of course I would love to hear any of your thoughts in the comments below) because ultimately it’s about what feels best for me. In fact, I’m guessing that many of you will prefer the smoother look of the Hahnemuehle because that is what you are trying to achieve in your own work! 🙂
But for me, the Moleskine paper always feels right – it is great to paint on, especially when I’m out on location. I can get more consistent results and it suits my crazy wet-in-wet techniques and approach to direct watercolour.
I really love the Hahnemuehle sketchbooks and I’ve been happy with the ink and wash work I’ve been able to produce using them. However the paper doesn’t suit my direct watercolour work as well as Moleskine, and I find that it’s harder to produce consistent results when I’m working wet-in-wet. I’m more likely to overwork a sketch on this paper than I am using Moleskine paper especially when I’m out urban sketching.
I hope that you have found this personal review helpful and that it encourages you to think more carefully about your own work and preferences.
Your favourite paper?
So what is your favourite paper to work on and (more importantly) why?
BTW: Answering the “why?” question is always so much more interesting than just a “what?” question, don’t you think?