NOTE: this review features some drawings of nude life drawing models:
I’ve been doing a whole bunch of life drawing in recent years, and even more in recent months. After numerous experiments with expensive sketchbooks (Stillman & Birn, Moleskine, etc.), I realized that for life drawing, I need a sketchbook that isn’t too expensive (so I am not so precious with the paper), has paper that can take quite a lot of different techniques, has a lot of sheets, and is a good size, possibly between A5 and A4. So, I went back to a book I’ve been using on and off for a while now, which I had been dismissive about: the Seawhite of Brighton Square Black Cloth sketchbook, size 19.5×19.5cm. It covers pretty much all my requirements.
Paper quality and size:
The sketchbook is filled with Seawhite’s own 140gsm acid free all media cartridge paper. I usually prefer a thicker, smoother paper, but this paper is a great all-rounder, especially when sketching. It takes just about every sketching medium quite well, from pencil (though it can smudge quite easily) to pen and ink and watercolour washes. The paper has a slight tooth, which plays havoc with the Tachikawa School G pen, but it’s not enough to cause problems with most nibs. I often use the very fine and sharp Conté/Bic Plume Atome on it, and it works very well. Most fountain pens and brush pens really seem to work great on it, and the only feathering I’ve ever had on it was with a Pentel Pocketbrush GFKP with a too loose inkflow, and that was hardly visible (but I knew it was there, and that stuff drives me crazy). The page size is a very nice (and unique?) 19.5cm x 19.5cm. It’s an excellent size for life drawing: all sorts of poses fit, whether lying down, standing or sitting, and you can do a lot of combinations of poses on a single page as well. It’s also a great desk sketchbook, as the square size will allow you sketch out an either landscape or portrait illustration/comic book page and have room left for remarks or small sketches on the side. Or, of course, to just draw finished square drawings in.
Like all Seawhite black cloth sketchbooks, the book has a simple black cover, with an embossed logo on the back. This makes it pretty suitable for embellishing with stickers and such, if you are so inclined. I’ve never has a Seawhite sketchbook fall apart on me, they are very well made. The square book has an added bonus: it seems the thicker size makes it easier to lay open. Seawhite makes great value for money sketchbooks, but the square ones even more so: they have a whopping 190 pages, which means you have plenty of paper. Does this make it rather heavy to carry around? A bit, but since the cover is quite thin (though still sturdy), it doesn’t weight that much more than a standard Stillman & Birn Epsilon. It is quite bulky though, but I manage to squeeze it into a small sized bag nonetheless.
There are a couple of minor problems though: like I said, the paper is slightly rough, which means it unsuitable for my favourite pen. Also, while 140gsm isn’t too shabby, you do feel like watercolour washes really could use a thicker paper, like 180-200gsm. And while the book is sturdy, I would have preferred rounded corners, and these are pretty sharp sometimes. I’d also remark I’d like a elastic closure, but then I’d just be asking for a Moleskine type book. It’s still a shame the travel journal Seawhite sells isn’t made by themselves, and that both its production and paper quality leave a lot to be desired. A Seawhite faux-Moleskine with either their all media cartridge paper or, even more intriguing, their bristol paper, would be a great addition to their line up.
My gripes above aside, this really is my favourite sketchbook for life drawing. High quality paper, great value for money, superb build quality. You can’t fault it for what it is.