For the second year in a row, I embraced the Inktober challenge. It was the perfect chance to test drive my brand new Grey Book by German manufacturer Hahnemühle. It’s a handy A5 portrait bounded sketchbook, with 40 sheets of light gray 120gsm paper. Closed, it measures 15.5cm by 21.7cm, making it easy to carry in a large jacket pocket, or a small bag or backpack. Open, it offers a surface of 29.7cm by 21cm (exactly an A4 sheet) to sketch upon. It comes with the usual Hahnemühle marking red ribbon attached to the spine, which I actually end up never using, but gives it a charming appearance to the sketchbook.
The beautiful dark grey dyed cover with sharp edged corners, mimics the texture of timber and it’s very lightweight, making the Grey Book easy to carry around. Hahnemühle’s logo is stamped in bas relief on the back cover, bottom center. Although my book passed the test of wear with flying colors (it was used intensively for a month and a half), the cover of one of my fellow sketchers Grey Book saw intense wear on the surface. It probably shouldn’t be your sketchbook of choice if you go on a rough ride, but it’s perfect to carry it around in your day-to-day life.
I didn’t treat it very nicely in the first few dates. To create a sense of contrasting light, shadow and deepness that my theme of choice – Game of Thrones – required, I aimed to get deeply inked pages in black (Platinum Carbon), white (correction fluid) and blue (Sennelier Indigo ink). This rough treatment took the paper to the limit. After the first few pages, it shouted the safe word “Bleed!” The heavily wet media, eventually bleeds to the next page, rendering another shade of grey to it (I knew I couldn’t write my way around this!) I had to forsake brushes and correction fluid and go for softer ink usage. Worth the try though.
I learned my lesson, and throughout most of the sketchbook, I used softer tools and techniques – a Pilot Parallel pen loaded with Platinum Carbon ink, a Kuretake Bimoji brush pen, a red Pilot V-Sign pen and a white Uni Posca, both brush and felt tip. All worked beautifully! No bleeds. No smears or smudges. Quick to dry. The artwork – line or stain – remained crisp and clear.
The Grey Book is an excellent training tool for working on the spectrum of light, midtones and shadows, because it puts you in the unusual place of having to work the extremities of this spectrum, while carefully preserving the grey background. I can easily see the Grey Book appealing to both beginners who will find it challenging and unusual but enticing, and experienced artists who will use it to test light and shadow in preparation of a larger work.
The paper texture is generally smooth, but with enough grain not to feel like satin and to make the user feel some friction and texture when sketching, which appeals to most casual sketchers, and also provides a competent surface for experienced artists to test new techniques and concepts. Be careful with the fingers though. I’ve stained almost every page just by gripping the sketchbook a bit too hard.
One feature that took me by surprise is the fact that the grey paper easily acquires the tint of the surrounding light. Depending on where you’re sketching or leafing through the pages, the atmosphere around the paper optically affects it in a very noticeable way. You can be sketching on a yellowish warmer grey paper, or a blueish, almost violet cool grey. That makes for an unusual but very gratifying sketching experience!
A downside of the Grey Book is that it doesn’t open to a completely flat surface along the spine, unlike the Watercolor Book, which kind of hampers sketching across the seam. Still, it’s flatter than most hardbound sketchbooks I’ve used before.
Pros final count:
- Awesome texture and paper
- Awesome cover look and feel
- Powerful light-shadow training and experimentation tool
- Chameleonic gray paper
- Portable, lightweight, resistant
- Bleeds when wet media is heavily applied
- Stains easily from gripping fingers
- Open spread isn’t completely flat in the gutter
Christmas is coming! The Grey Book makes for a great and affordable gift (8.34€ in my local art supply store) for either an experienced artist who can test future works based on midtones or just wants to try out a different surface to work on, or a beginner sketcher, who can benefit a lot from the educational potential of playing with the midtones, highlights and shadows.