Sketchbooks: Sennelier Watercolour USKbook Urban Sketch Book (review)

I’m always on the lookout for sketchbooks with good quality paper. It’s hard to find many locally, and those that are available are often not cheap. When my friend who works in an art supply shop in Italy posted a picture of a new sketchbook she’d bought for herself and her daughter, I asked her what she thought of it because I’d never seen them in stores here, and she kindly posted one to me as a gift.

It’s the Sennelier USKbook. There is a Multimedia one available with slightly thicker paper and a black cover. The Multimedia one is also more pocket-sized at 10X15cm. The one I have is the Watercolour version, which has a green cover and 300gsm rough-textured watercolour paper. It’s 16X24cm, so it’s probably not ideal for small, portable sketching-on-the-go setups, but it’s a nice size for if you want to make a special trip out somewhere just to sketch, or for use in the studio. It’s also lighter than a lot of sketchbooks of the same size. When the paper sleeve is removed, there’s also a nice little embossed Sennelier logo on the front of the cloth cover, though this seems to have been heat-set somehow; be careful you don’t spill water on the logo (as I did) or it will flatten out and disappear.

One of the main things that drew me to the Sennelier USKbook was the format. As you can see from the photo above, it’s not like a normal sketchbook. Instead of having many individual pages, this one opens out like an accordion, allowing you to draw one great big panoramic scene if you want to; alternatively, you can just use it as if they are individual pages based on the fold lines.

I can’t really give much information about the prices of these sketchbooks since no one locally seems to sell them, and there aren’t a lot of online sellers either. I have seen a few of the black-covered Multimedia USKbooks at prices ranging from about $17-25AUD, but these were either on eBay or from the US art supply retailers. Aside from one UK retailer, Cass Art, I am yet to see any of these green-covered Watercolour USKbooks for sale anywhere aside from my friend’s art supply shop in Italy, and they don’t have any real web-presence aside from a Facebook page, so ordering online from them is not an option. Cass Art has them for about £13, which is probably about $20-22AUD, but then you have to factor in postage as well.

I’m not sure how many ‘pages’ the black Multimedia book has, but the Watercolour one has 8 if you open it from the front and 6 if you open it from the back. I have seen a couple of reviews for the Multimedia book saying that its 340gsm surface is very smooth and starts to fall apart after two or three layers of wash. While I didn’t exactly punish my Watercolour USKbook, I did put down a pretty heavy layer of clear water before doing my initial background washes, and I probably had three or four layers of watercolour in some sections. I also used masking fluid on a large section, and lifted out other areas with a tissue, but after all of this, the paper was unscathed. I also did my painting on the page that was glued to the inside of the front cover, and though it buckled slightly at some edges, it has not pulled away or come unstuck. Depending on how staining the colours are that you’ve used, you should be able to lift most of it out if you get colour where you don’t want it, but there will be a bit of a tinge remaining. I doubt I’d get a Multimedia USKbook since I prefer to have some texture in the surface when I’m sketching and painting; I only really like smooth surfaces when I’m doing coloured pencil work.

Though I liked the feel of the paper, it didn’t really feel like a rough texture to me. More like a cold press texture. When I inked the lines of my illustration with a Sakura Pigma Micron, my lines went down easily enough without being disrupted too much by the paper surface. That being said, there is still enough texture there to get nice drybrush effects, or granulating washes if you use the appropriate colours. The paper has a soft cream tint rather than being white, which some people may not like, but I didn’t mind it. It is a good quality watercolour paper.

If you are doing a painting in panorama format that takes up multiple ‘pages’ or a whole spread of the book, there is a potential issue you need to be aware of. Those who are using dry media probably won’t experience this issue to the same extent (if at all), but the folds between the pages effectively form a little gutter. This means that any washes that extend over multiple pages will have a noticeably darker line down them where the gutter is, as the paint will gather here (I suppose any ‘sizing’ in the paper might be damaged by the folding/unfolding as well, meaning this little crease will absorb more pigment and make it look darker). Depending on how much water you’re sloshing down, you could also find it bleeding through these creases to the other side, meaning it could potentially affect any work you’ve done on the back of the pages or even make the paper ‘tear’ at this crease. A lot will depend on your painting style, but if this is a concern, you may be better off to only use one side of the paper, which could make it a relatively expensive sketchbook considering the usable portion for the price. Still, it is fun to have the option to create a panorama-format painting and then fold it up so it’s nice and compact, and the accordion design also lends itself well to illustrative work like medieval scrolls.

Here is a dragon I painted on the first page of my Sennelier Watercolour USKbook. I am planning to fill this book with different sorts of dragons, so keep an eye on my blog.

The Sennelier Watercolour USKbook is really nice to draw and paint in, so if you can find one, I’d recommend buying one. Unfortunately this may be easier said than done since, as I mentioned earlier, it seems that very few places are selling them. You may find you can only use one side and you may need to be careful of laying washes over the creases between pages, but it’s a fun format to work with and it might inspire you to try something a bit different. I love this book and will definitely try to get another one after I’ve filled this one up.

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