portrait of a little kid, head down, staring out from under her eyebrows with determination, in watercolor in a Moleskine notebook

Painting with Watercolors in a Sketchbook

You can paint with watercolor and get good results when your Moleskine notebook is made with watercolor paper. If your Moleskine notebook is a standard sketchpad, the paper is made for sketching and dry media. But read on for an example of an artist using Moleskine sketchpads for remarkable watercolors anyway!

If you want to experiment with wet media like watercolor or watercolor pencil – especially as a beginner – it’s a good idea to get acquainted with your paints, on papers they were meant to be applied to. At least until you get handy with watercolor as a medium.

three black sketchbooks with no cover details, and a note to mark each one with the media they were made for so you don't paint with watercolor in a drawing pad, and vise versa.
After you take the wrapping off your sketchbook, it’s a good idea to mark the inside cover with the brand and media it was manufactured for. When your sketchbook is full, if you want another just like it, you have the details to order one. If you’d rather not have that exact brand and paper, you’ll know which to avoid.

Why Paint Watercolors on Watercolor Paper?

Painting with wet media on sketch paper, or drawing paper, or printer paper won’t help you understand what your pigments are capable of. As a beginner, your goal is to grow your skills. You aim to learn how watercolors will layer, and blend, or lift to lighten, or bloom wet-into-wet, and granulate, or mix beautifully on watercolor paper.

Watercolor washes on a Moleskine Sketchbook made for pencil and pen and ink leads to beaded paint and visible brush strokes.
Watercolor on the pages of a standard Moleskine sketchbook… the pigments bead and repel, leaving interesting marks. You *could* paint in a moleskine sketch notebook with watercolors, and get familiar with how your paints react, but that may slow your acquaintance with painting on watercolor paper. As a beginner, keep your paints and surfaces consistent to improve your skills.

Switching Art Supplies is Hard

Wil Freeborn is a fabulous painter and illustrator based in Scotland. He paints with watercolor in Moleskine sketchbooks. Since the paper is not meant for watercolor, he’s learned to adjust his application to work beautifully on those pages. He writes in this post that working to master watercolor on sketch paper made switching to watercolor paper a challenge.

I use watercolour pretty much all the time in Moleskine sketchbooks. They react pretty strangely to watercolour almost repelling the paint so you have to work in washes almost scrubbing the paint into the page. From what is kind of a negative thing, I’ve got into painting this way and enjoy the results. So, now I’m trying to do watercolour on proper paper and finding it really difficult.

Will Freeborn
a figurative watercolor painting in a moleskine sketchpad
Painting on watercolor paper in a sketchbook ensures a flat painting surface, minus the ripples you get with a paper made for dry media sketching

Feed Your Art Brain with Familiars

When athletes, musicians and writers work to sharpen their skills, sameness builds competence. Artists are no different. Consistency across your entire art-making practice is key to accelerating your growth and success.

Keeping your palette laid out in the same sequence of colors develops muscle memory. Dipping your brush to collect yellow vs a blue grows as familiar as buttoning a shirt.

Sitting at the same table, with your same paper, brushes, and palette of colors lets you focus on skills, rather than learning new materials + new skills all at once. Keep your rinse water, palette and painting surface in the same arrangement to trigger your brain each time you sit in that chair that it’s time to paint.

A swatch test of six different papers with watercolor applied full strength, and in a light wash, to test how the pigments settle into each paper
Watercolor swatch tests on six types of paper in full strength, and faint washes to see how the paper handles water and pigments. (printer paper, Strathmore Drawing paper, Canson Sketch Paper, Borden & Riley Plate Bristol, Fabriano Artistico Watercolor paper and Arches Hot Press Watercolor paper.

Build Your Art Supply Skills

Grasp the same brushes, mix the same paints and work on the same paper. You’ll increase familiarity and skills with those tools. You want to build your art-making acumen on top of the last session, and the one before that. Each art-making hour accumulates like layers of topographic knowledge. Learning new brushes, random paints and different paper every time you sit down to make art will slow the advance of your painting skills. Too many new tools is a cascade of overwhelm.

A close up from the watercolor swatch test above showing Borden & Riley 120P Bristol at the top, Fabriano Artistico in the middle, and Arches Hot Press on the bottom. Switching your watercolor paper all the time will require constant adjustments in your painting style. Pick one paper, learn how it handles your paints and and stick with it till you know all the ways it works for you.
Pen and Watercolor on sturdy Watercolor paper in a sketchbook

Watercolor Paper vs Sketch Paper

When you paint watercolors on regular sketchpad paper, the pigment often sinks into the paper’s pulp very fast. This dulls your colors, so you don’t get a feel for their saturation levels on watercolor paper, where absorption is blocked by sizing.

Watercolors on sketch paper will bleed through to the back, and travel past the boundaries where you applied your brush. The moisture will ripple the paper (see below) into peaks and valleys that cause pigment pooling.

Painting watercolors on sketch paper makes watercolors frustrating, and we don’t need that now, do we? I don’t think so either.

A light wash of watercolor in a sketchbook made for dry media leads to rippled pages and dull pigment
Even a very light brushing of watercolor on a pencil sketch done on sketchpad paper can cause lots of rippling, and dulled colors.
The same sketchpad as the rippled girl sketch above, but with no wet media. Straight (dry) pencil sketching works beautifully!
The label on Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks says to "flood each page" with watercolour
The label makes it clear that this notebook, album, sketchpad, sketchbook – whatever you want to call it – is made specifically for watercolor.

The Right Art Supply for the Job

Watercolor paper is manufactured to handle water and pigment. (If you want all the details on watercolor paper, <–get this free download I assembled for you.) Sketchpad, drawing, pastel and Bristol paper are meant for dry pigments (pencil, pastel, charcoal, etc), pen and ink, and markers.

The watercolor paper in Moleskine Watercolor sketchbook works well for saturated watercolor, glazing and layering, drybrush and lifting color.
The ability – or, the opportunity – to paint at a moment’s notice: Moleskin Watercolor Notebook with Winsor Newton Travel Watercolor palette and a zipper pouch of pencils, erasers, and watercolor brushes. This is Watercolor Painting on the Go.
Buffed graphite of the portrait below, on the Moleskin Watercolor Notebook next to my reference photo on the right After laying in the graphite, I painted the portrait with watercolor.
portrait of a little kid, head down, staring out from under her eyebrows with determination, in watercolor in a Moleskine notebook
Study for Practiced Resolve 5 x 8 Graphite & Watercolor on Moleskine Watercolor Album

Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbooks

Can you paint watercolors in a sketchpad, or on printer paper, or on drawing paper? Sure, but be prepared for rippled pages (on the left), dulled colors and visible brush strokes. If you want to learn about painting with watercolor, use watercolor paper for both sketching and more invested paintings.
This is the format of Moleskin Watercolor Notebook I keep in my art supply tote bag. Note: When you’re exploring resources for these sketchbooks online, type the exact title on their label for better search results: “Moleskine Art Watercolor Album

a figurative watercolor of a girl on a blue dress, painted in a moleskine watercolor pad
Watercolor of a young girl, painted in a Moleskine watercolor sketch pad

Ten Tips to Stay Calm

10 tips to stay calm during Coronavirus
Gretchen Rubin posted this nice list on Instagram this week. Simple, Doable, Helpful.

Chaotic Seasons

We artists handle chaos pretty well. Making art gets squeezed into busy lives. Art supplies and creative spaces get organized into closet-sized footprints till they feel cozy. Making one thousand decisions about what to paint, and then how to paint it, is what we’re used to.

Juggling hats as makers, organizers, shippers, marketers, and writers is not new to us. We can fold laundry, check on an elderly neighbor, and make dinner while we’re plotting the next painting.

In this time of global fear, we can handle ourselves, because the only thing we have control over is ourselves. Take the reins of your attention, and steer yourself towards noticing the Good Things.

Practice noticing all the good things around your day-to-day life

Make a Plan

Steer Your Own Ship

Here’s to filling time and thoughts with creativity and good things. We are all compassionate, able and resilient. We will get through this together, one day at a time. Uncap a pen, and draw something.

I’ll see you in the next post –


P.S. This missive by the always articulate Danny Gregory really struck a chord with me this week. Do yourself a favor and read it, and then pass it on.

A cat taking a nap in a sunny spot near a window in an artist's studio
In praise of napping.

Art Quote

Seeing is when awareness and attention become constant and undivided, become contemplation. Seeing is not a self-indulgence, a “pleasant hobby,” but a discipline of awareness of unwavering attention to a world which is fully alive. It is not the pursuit of happiness but stopping the pursuit and experiencing the awareness, the happiness of being ALL THERE. This eye is the lens of the heart, open to the world.

Frederick Franck
Visit BelindaTips.com to take a free, short video with 6 tips to paint more often.

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9 thoughts on “Can You Use Watercolors on Moleskine Notebooks?”

  1. As usual, very wise advice! I was only too delighted to clear my busy calendar with the prospect of a stretch of uncomplicated days. Paintings have begun and books are lined up. The Book of Gutsy Women is a good one on audio-book, read by the authors Hillary & Chelsea Clinton.

  2. Okay smarty pants! As if we weren’t inspired enough by you already! I mean I just got the watercolor crayons out last night from under a few centuries of dust, and now I am going to switch paper too??!! Fine then. By the way, some of us introverts aren’t unhappy to be stuck home doing what we do best, keeping house, making art, and reading smart, heart-warming blogs by the likes of you.

    1. Hah! I’m playing with watercolor crayons too this week! Twins! And yes, switch your paper, silly. I too am delighted at the prospect of staying home. It’s utterly glorious. Clinking my mug to yours in this season of Head-Down, Focus, Get-Things-Done. 💕 Thank you for the compliments, my Groobness.

  3. That settle it! I’m burning all my moleskines! (just kidding.) This is so good though, it makes me rethink entirely how I use them.

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