Thursday, January 1, 2009

On Moleskines and Pseudo-Moleskines

NOTE: I apologize for some of the formatting SNAFUs here. This is the last time I use the "wrap text around pictures" option.

First off, Happy New Year! Secondly, a tip of the hat to my three-year-old and semi-retired MySpace Blog. (Somebody out there was reading, right?)

Beginnings are complicated. So to kick off my shiny new Blog let's just start in with an overview of the Moleskines and Pseudo-skines I have known.

A Sketchbook is a personal thing. Everyone who draws or writes daily has her own preference when it comes to paper or pencil/pen/paint/whatever. Of all my Sketchbooks, the ones that were the most fun to draw in were the ones I customized to my liking; and we'll talk about that next time I modify a Sketchbook. (Incidentally, no personal offense is meant if I happen to alter any Sketchbook given as a gift. Also, I love all my Sketchbooks no matter what I say here, it's just that some were more fun to use than others.)

And then, there's the Moleskine. To some people, these pretty pretty books need no introduction. But I'd never even heard of them until I visited the Harvard Coop one day and saw them on display. They are a self-appointed "Legendary Notebook." They were used by Van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway, Amelie, Santa Claus, and some guy named Bruce Chatwin. (He is apparently a writer and in 1986, he bought out an entire stationary store's stock when he learned the notebooks were to be discontinued. One is left to assume they did not cost so much back then, but more on that later). It's pronounced "Moe-luh-skee-nuh". They are different from other notebooks. Better.

They also tend to be a bit on the small side (8 and a half inches for the large), have wildly varying "stats" for want of a better word, and are... a little pricey. Large sizes run about eighteen dollars at list price, and the little ones (five and a half inches, so they are smaller than my hand) are about twelve dollars. In my humble opinion, this is a tad bit ridiculous. It isn't surprising that some notebooks produced in the Moleskine style made by other companies have popped up. Today, I'll rate and rank the Moleskines and Lowfat Moleskine Alternatives I have used.

The Watercolor book is amazing. The paper is a think, partially cotton blend and is a dream to draw on. It takes wet media very well and accepts all kinds of pencil and pen. About the only down side is the fact that it is nearly as long as my forearm when open, which makes drawing in the field and scanning a little awkward.

The Sketchbook fits nicely in the hand and it scans relatively well, so it has that going for it. It accepts *some* pens but not others and it doesn't really like pencil. Don't even think of putting watercolor to it; the paper is practically oak tag, which is a big disappointment. I've heard that those hopelessly devoted to Moleskine usually end up using the Watercolor book as a sketchbook and the Sketchbook for writing exclusively, so lord knows what the quality of the paper in the Notebook is. There is also apparently a trick to improve the Sketchbook: upon acquiring the book, presumably long before you're going to draw in it, dunk your nearly $20.00 Sketchbook underwater. Sure...
Which brings us to the Lowfat Moleskine Alternatives. They tend to have many of the same features (useful pocket, useful elastic closure, dubious ribbon bookmark), and they also tend to be cheaper. They also tend to be a little hard to find.

The first in the row at right is the Papersource Cute Pocket Book. If you visit the link, you'll notice that it's unusual among all these Sketchbooks in that you make it yourself, to your own specifications. Papersource only provides the paper within, and it's... okay paper. It has a tooth, so you can draw in pencil with little difficulty. But it's also very thin. And due to the shape of the book, you can just forget about scanning. However, since it is indeed a Cute Pocket-sized Sketchbook, it is an honorary Pseudo-Moleskine.

Second in line is my friend, the Handbook. They are inexpensive, running between about seven dollars to about ten dollars, they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and their paper is very nice. The only bummer is that I have only ever been able to find them at Dick Blick. Nobody else seems to be even aware of them. But they absolutely give Moleskines a run for their money.

The last one, and the latest Sketchbook, is a Pentallic A La Modeskine. It's the cheapest of the lot by far. Mine cost about three dollars. It has all the features of a Moleskine Sketchbook - including paper that, while not as disappointing as the Moleskine Sketchbook's, is underwhelming. You get what you pay for.
So below (thanks to wonky formatting), are all the Sketchbooks ranked in order of my overall satisfaction. It's funny how Moleskines bookend the list.

The Handbook is the best economic choice, if you can find it. I highly recommend it. And if you can't die happy without using a Moleskine at least once, go for the Watercolor.

As sort of an addendum, I recently acquired this little oddity. It's the local version of the Moleskine City Notebook. I figured it'd be something like the
"Version Exclusive" sketchbooks sold at the Van Gogh Museum. (By the way, "Legendary Notebooks." "Version Exclusive" pads of blank paper. There are jokes to be made here. Mostly ones that only the "Pokemon" fandom would get.)
Well as you can see from the next picture, it's not a Sketchbook or Notebook. I really don't know what it is, but it isn't that. And if the blank pages are the same paper used in the Moleskine Notebook, yikes, that's thin!
So that's my opinion on various Moleskines and similar Sketchbooks. And there's my first Blog post! Yay!

Related Post: Further Sketchbook and Michael Jackson Auction Thoughts

Extremely belated addendum: Stuff White People Like (of all places) has a hilarious over-analysis of the Moleskine phenomenon.

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