Monologue is a sketchbook/journal company based in Singapore but they’ve just established a beachhead in North America in the form of a website. They sent me examples of their sketchbooks for review and I’ve been using them for a couple weeks. I thought it time to talk about them here.
They produce several sketchbooks and a many journals but for purposes of sketching, the choices come down to these three “sketchbooks.” If you use lined journals, however, I encourage you to peruse their website.
All three sketchbooks contain 140gsm (~90lb) Italian paper. The paper surface is similar to Stillman & Birn Alpha paper if you’re familiar with those sketchbooks. I’ve found that it handles watercolors fairly well and that it handles my fountain pen inks just fine. Ballpoints, gel pens and pencils work well also. In general, I give the paper high marks, though it’s not for those wanting to work wet-in-wet with big sloppy washes. You can’t scrub this paper, though, so expect limited ability to lift pigments as it generates pills quickly.
Hardcover and softcover sketchbooks
I’m going to talk about the hardcover and softcover A5 and A6 sketchbooks separate from the larger one as their design is so different. These smaller books can be purchased with either a hardcover, similar to a Stillman & Birn or Canson sketchbook, or as a softcover, more like a Moleskine.
Both books in either A5 or A6 size come with 64 sheets (128 if you use both sides for the math-challenged among us). The hardcover books have a small cover overhang while the softcovers have no overhang and the corners are rounded. Both can be made to lay flat – a big plus.
Personally, in small sizes I very much prefer the softcover, no overhang format, as it makes the overall footprint smaller and easier to shove into my pocket or art bag. I noticed that the website indicates that the hardcover sketchbooks are available in a variety of colors (big plus) while the softcover is only available in black. Both covers are high quality and the A6 softcover that I’ve been using is holding up nicely to the abuse I’ve foisted upon it.
In my opinion, both sketchbooks suffer from a fatal flaw, at least for me. The pages are perforated. Monologue believes we sketchers want to remove pages from our sketchbooks and while that may be the case on occasion, a more general concern is that our pages don’t fall out. The odd thing is that Monologue doesn’t feel this same ‘feature’ should exist in their lined journals.
To date I haven’t had any pages fall out but there are other issues associated with perforations. The perforations make it very difficult to do two-page spreads as many like to do. Also, I found that a decision must be made whether to use the whole page or to exclude the portion that would remain in the book if you did remove the page. There are esthetic dilemmas in either case (click on photo to see a larger view):
The most annoying part of the perforations, however, comes when you want to turn the pages of the book. The pages bend at the perforations rather than turn as an entire page, which means you’ve got to be very careful when doing the simple operation of flipping through your sketchbook. In short, if you like perforations (is there anyone?) then you’ll like this ‘feature.’ For me it’s a deal-breaker.
In conclusion, these sketchbooks have a lot going for them if the perforations aren’t a problem for you. The price is certainly right (A6 soft-cover sells for $6.99).
Large, gorgeous A4 sketchbook
This book is a a stunner. It features a fabric cover that feels almost like velvet and there’s a nice design embossed on the front cover. The inside features a blue lining. The cover can be folded back entirely to reveal a large pad of 9×12, 140gsm paper that’s glued into the cover. I did this sketch in it and it performed well for me. I would absolutely love this sketchbook if the paper were spiral bound so I could flip it back along with the cover.
But therein lies the rub. Once again the Monologue people believe that sketchers want to tear the pages out of their sketchbook as they work and this book is designed with that in mind. The website suggests that this book has perforated pages, though mine does not. You can just separate the pages from the fabric binding they are glued to (not sewn). The paper is bound with a cloth binding along the top and the idea seems to be that you’ll use it like you would a legal pad, tearing out the ‘used’ sheets, leaving the beautiful binder for the recycle bin I suppose. I confess I’m not smart enough to understand this.
Possibly, if you were to use this sketchbook in a studio, you could flop the binder open on a desk, draw on the pad side and keep the sketches you create in the book. But if you’re on the street, you face the problem of pages either hanging in the breeze or bent back as in the photo. In either case, the weight of these pages cause the drawing surface to bend and curve upward. Yes, you can pull it down but this places considerable strain on the glued edges of the paper. A rubber band might hold it flat enough but the problem will get worse and worse as you progress through the book as more and more of the weight of the book will reside in those bent-over pages – unless the used pages are either removed or fall out on their own.
Each of uses our sketchbooks in a different way but regular (mandatory?) page removal doesn’t seem to be one of them. But if that’s the way you use your sketchbooks, by all means check out these new offerings from Monologue as in all other ways these sketchbooks are good value.