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Notebook Review

For my April 2021 art challenge I chose to test three A5 dot grid notebooks I had previously purchased because they looked amazing and would look fabulous on my shelf. Obviously there comes a time when being on a shelf not being used is just a bit silly, especially when I am busy making and filling journals with all sorts of art creations on a daily basis! So my challenge was to use them, create art in them, use different medium and styles of creating to test and write a review about them. This review therefore is based upon the art pages I created, the medium I chose and my personal opinion of how each book performed.

My challenge was to choose one medium and use it over the three books, using one book per day. So to summarise: 3 books, 10 mediums, 30 days to find the best book for my ongoing purchases.

If you want to skip all the chatter about the tests and just see who wins my vote you can find out at the end.

The notebooks I tested were Archer & Olive, Mindful Giraffe and Scribble & Dot there is a summary of each at the end.

The Archer & Olive (£33 from Under the Rowan Trees) is 100% Vegan, an american brand and the name comes from the owners studio mascots: her cats! Scribble & Dot (£19 from Scribble & Dot) are a recently launched UK based company and are partnered with @OnePlantedTree, a sustainable tree planting initiative across the globe. The notebooks come in nice brand relevant cardboard protective boxes, both have elastic bands to hold the book together, both have a pen loop and a note pocket at the back.  Mindful Giraffe (£22 from Mindful Giraffe) has the best weighted rated paper at 170 gsm, is manufactured in Europe and is FSC certifed. The notebooks themselves are manufactured in the UK. Although not boxed they are nicely wrapped in a paper sheath with a logo sticker holding it in place. All books have two bookmark ribbons, Archer & Olive has a little logo charm on one ribbon. Scribble & Dot has Key, Index and Pen test pages and all pages are numbered. Prices are correct at the time of writing and include postage and packaging.

I designed a scoring system that I would apply to each notebook (features, specification, durability and construction). I created a piece of artwork each day according to my schedule and scored according to how the page performed with the medium, its finished appearance, whether the ink bled on the page and whether it bled through, which in turn would affect the back of the page being used or not. In addition I added a “normal” pen test page where I used a variety of everyday pens and scored it based on general page look and feel and bleed through. 

  1. Posca Pens
  2. Pitt Pens
  3. Ecoline Watercolour Brush Pen
  4. Alcohol Marker
  5. Acrylic & Collage
  6. Fountain Pen
  7. Sharpie
  8. Multipage spread with Acrylic, Collage & Cut about page
  9. Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencil
  10. Gel Pens
  11. Normal Pen Test

Posca Pen

Archer & Olive

In general the pens worked OK, no bleed through or feathering, the ink laid down OK and created a decent enough image but my biggest issue was how easily the paper pitted with the ink and now has a “rough” feel to it.

Mindful Giraffe

The pens worked nicely, no bleed through or feathering, the ink laid down well and created a nice image, some of the inks have a rough feel to the finish, but no obvious page pitting.

Scribble & Dot

The pens worked well there was no bleed through or feathering, the ink laid down nicely and created a good image with no roughness or pitting on the page.

April 3rd Posca S&D

Winner : Scribble and Dot, Posca, April 3rd

Pitt Pens

Archer & Olive

Nice and easy to use and created an OK image. However, the Pitt pens didn’t really layer too well and started to pull at the paper a little, so I didn’t push it too far.

Mindful Giraffe

Nice and easy to use, created a nice enough image, the pens layered ok but did not blend too well, and heavy layering caused some page damage, so care would be needed to not ruin the page if heavily colouring in layers.

Scribble & Dot

Nice and easy to use, created nice images and layered and blended well. I couldn’t be happier with how this book took the Pitt pens!

Winner : Scribble & Dot, Pitt Pens, April 6th

Ecoline Watercolour Brush Pen

Archer & Olive

The paper really wasn’t keen on these pens. They feathered easily and there are no smooth edges to the pen marks. That being said there was no bleed through, but when attempting to layer they scrubbed at the paper causing damage, so I’d say a single layer only with these pens.

Mindful Giraffe

I drew a full page with the pens they laid down nice and easily. However I also did some blending and watercolour feathering occurred when going too quickly but this is not unexpected. On the positive side, there was no bleed through at all.

Scribble & Dot

I drew a full page image, the pens laid down nicely they layered well, created a feathering effect when I was too quick and didn’t let it dry, just as you would expect from watercolour. The paper stood up really well and there was no sign of damage to the paper with the amount of liquid on the page. Once again there was no bleed through at all.

Winner : Scribble & Dot, Ecoline Watercolour Brush Pen, April 9th

Alcohol Marker

Archer & Olive

Nice clear marks on the page with no feathering and blended well, however there was a lot of bleed through but with alcohol markers that is to be expected but it does mean I’m unable to use the reverse of the pages. Layering is not brilliant and I was not able to blend too well with them.

Mindful Giraffe

Nice clear marks on the page, again with no feathering and colours blended well, but again with expected high levels of bleed through so again I’m unable to use the reverse of the pages.

Scribble & Dot

Nice clear marks on the page with the now expected lack of feathering. In this book they blended well on the page and layered nicely but as with the other books there was an obvious bleed through, as expected which again means I’m unable to use the reverse of the pages.

April 11th Scribble & DOt and Alcohol Markers

Winner : Scribble & Dot, Alcohol Marker, April 11th

Acrylic & Collage

Archer & Olive

The paper took the acrylic really well. It held nicely and created a nice background image, it took the collaged elements using a glue stick and has all remained stuck well and nothing is showing through on the other side of the page. I have to say I’m pretty happy with how this performed!

Mindful Giraffe

Once again, the paper took the acrylic really well, it held nicely and created a nice background image, taking the collage elements using a glue stick and has all remained stuck well, and the next page is perfectly usable as nothing is showing through. Closed pages sit nicely with the added elements.

Scribble & Dot

The paper took the acrylic really well, it held nicely and created a nice background image, it took the collage elements of papers and washi tape using a glue stick glue and has all remained stuck well with the now expected lack of bleed through. Again there is enough give in this book that closed pages sit nicely with the added elements.

Fountain Pen Ink

Archer & Olive

The paper really doesn’t like the ink. I had really heavy feathering on all the letters and a reasonable bleed through. I also drew with it and used a water brush pen to create a watercolour effect and it doesn’t have a great look to it. I have to say, I’m really surprised by this, I expected it to do better.

Mindful Giraffe

Some feathering on the letters with a small amount of bleed through when ink is used heavily. I also drew with it and used a water brush pen to create a watercolour effect. This is more along the lines of what I was expecting from these books!.              

Scribble & Dot

Small amount of feathering on the letters with a small amount of bleed through when a heavy blot of ink dropped by accident. I also drew with it and used a water brush pen to create a watercolour effect. As a watercolour the results were pretty much as expected with obvious blending and feathering.

April 18th Scribble & Dot

Winner : Scribble & Dot, Fountain Pen Ink, April 18th

Sharpies

Archer & Olive

As with the Alcohol markers, these have an expected bleed through making the reverse unusable, not as bad as I expected but still there. Otherwise they went on the page pretty well and performed as you’d expect Sharpies to.

Mindful Giraffe

As with the Archer and Olive book there is an expected bleed through making the reverse unusable, although again not as bad as I expected but still there. Otherwise OK usage on the page, created a nice clear picture.

Scribble & Dot

In keeping with the other two books on test, these have an expected bleed through making the reverse unusable. Otherwise OK usage on the page, created a nice clear picture with no obvious paper damage.

Multipage Acrylic, Collage & cut about           

Archer & Olive

This book worked really well in this test. The pages nicely took all medium and ephemera, and isn’t causing any problems with added items. Overall I’m really pleased!

Mindful Giraffe

Once again, this book worked really well with results very similar to the Archer and Olive book. As before, it nicely took all medium and ephemera and isn’t causing it any problems or snagging with added items, This time I added a pocket for a notecard and it still seems fine in the book.

Scribble & Dot

As with the previous two books, this paper worked really well and took all medium and ephemera easily without causing it any problems with added items. The pages are sticking, but that’s pretty normal with an acrylic base page.

Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils

Archer & Olive

The paper in this book is pretty smooth so the pastel has no tooth to grip too, but it took the pencil well and blended nicely. I didn’t apply any fixative so even with the book being opened and closed there is some rub off.

Mindful Giraffe

Again the paper this book is made with is quite smooth so the pastel has no tooth to grip to, but as before the pencil went on well and was able to be blended nicely. As before I didn’t use a fixative so again with the book being opened and closed there is some rub off.

Scribble & Dot

Just like the other two books the paper in this book is quite smooth so as before the pastel has no tooth to grip to, but it took the pencil well and blended nicely. I even added some water to one section and it mixed well and created a nice watercolour effect. To keep the test consistent I didn’t use fixative here either and with the book being opened and closed there is some minimal rub off.

Gel Pens

Archer & Olive

The pens felt scratchy on the paper. This could be my pens but they didn’t give a clean pen line and often skipped laying ink down. I ended up doing a “scribble” style drawing to cover this up. The Gel ink also stayed wet for a long time so I had to leave the book open for 24hrs otherwise it would have smudged.

Mindful Giraffe

In stark contract to the Archer & Olive book, the pens felt nice on the paper, they gave a clean pen line, coloured well. The Gel ink didn’t take too long to dry, and didn’t smudge. All in all, a very good result in my opinion.

Scribble & Dot

As with the Mindful Giraffe book, the pens felt nice on the paper, they gave a clean pen line and coloured well. The Gel ink didn’t take too long to dry, a small amount of smudge when I caught it before it was dry. Some areas could do with a second coat to get a clean covering, but not unexpected from Gel pens. Once again a decent result.

Winner Scribble & Dot Gel Pens, April 30th

Normal Pen Test

I tested the same pens in all 3 books, using the same quotes each time
Brush Pens, Biros, Felt pens, Brush sign pens, Derwent line markers. Pilot Parallel pen, Kuratake brush pen, Faber-Castell Metallic pen, Gelly Roll Pen

Archer & Olive

At this point in the notebook the pages are not sitting flat and there is a visible fold in the page and previous pages being seen. All pens wrote OK with no obvious issues apart from the Parallel pen that has bled through as its a wetter ink.

Mindful Giraffe

The book has some bounce to its pages, not sitting completely flat by now. Pens all wrote OK, no obvious problems with any of them, although the parallel pen does have a small amount of feathering and again has bled through.

Scribble & Dot

Pages sitting nice and flat, no real bounce or showing earlier pages. All pens performed nicely, including the parallel pen which has not bled through this time.

Final Score and Thoughts

Winner

Scribble & Dot Logo

A5
Dot Grid
Notebook

The scores and rating are in my PERSONAL analysis and opinion.

Archer and Olive Ranked 3rd in my tests, with a final overall score of 57%. This is really disappointing to me, it’s the most expensive of the three, and comes in at 20 pence per page. I have several of these books, buying them when I was in a “must have these” trap with a small business that I like and have used a lot. But the reality is that the book just does not warrant the cost.  It’s a perfectly good and usable book but it fails in a number of areas to be a “great” book. It’s lovely to look at and hold but the paper just doesn’t cope well with some of the mediums I have used, and will be using regularly. But ultimately if I want to use the book I want it to perform and this one just doesn’t. Of course if I want it because it looks fantastic sitting on a shelf unused, then it would score better.

Mindful Giraffe Coming in 2nd in my tests with a 66% performance rating, with a very good 14 pence per page cost. The book looks lovely, the design on the front is fun and enticing, has a nice hardback cover, it performed well in my durability and medium tests and it would definitely be on my to buy list again. It doesn’t have all the “bits & bobs” of the other two, but that doesn’t actually bother me. What I want is a book that can stand the medium I am throwing at it and this book did. It’s a nice thickness paper, smooth to touch and can take the medium well. As a direct comparison, Mindful Giraffe come in a very good second place for it’s paper usage. What would I want to improve on their books? Honestly, probably not much, althought I think the price would be my main request for change. I think it either needs to be a little cheaper or the addition of an an elastic closure and a back pocket. Either way, I am putting them in a good place to buy again.

Scribble & Dot is my winner! It got a score of 83%, performing the best across all tests. Although the paper does feel a little thinner, it is 160 gsm and it is also the cheapest in the test coming in at 12 pence per page. This is a lovely book, the cover feels great with almost a faux leather feel, it looks great with the embossed logo of the Bee, the paper feels good with a nice smooth touch, has all the additional bits to make it a really well thought through and an exciting book to have before you even get to the using part of it. Pretty much every medium I threw at the book performed well on the pages. Very little bleed through or pitting of the pages, it stood up well to wet medium and even held well with medium that had pulled at the fibres in the other books, so I will very happily buy more of these books.  Overall this is my winner and would be my go-to book for me, or as presents for family and friends.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I hope you have enjoyed it, and please do ask me if there is anything you want to know that I haven’t covered, or would like me to test. I am more than happy to play in the books and test more medium!


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. I paid for the products discussed, I received no payment and I am not affiliated in any way with any brand mentioned herein.

7 thoughts on “Notebook Review

  1. Cheap and wins with all the testing has my vote! Sounds like you’ve found a winner. And it’s a pretty cover too!

  2. Wow that’s probably the bests and most comprehensive and useful test of notebooks I’ve seen. Interesting to see which one won, and what the supplies did on the pages. Brilliant! Thanks Donna!

    1. It was interesting and fun to do along side the blog along. And it’s good to have something to do daily 😉

  3. What a fantastic and thorough review! Great information here. Thank you! Of course, now I want all the notebooks as well as all the supplies you wrote about. 😀

    1. Ah thank you! I am a bit of a supplies hoarder so I could keep going lol

  4. That’s a really great review. A&O is the only brand I’ve heard of, but you’ve got me curious about the winner. I will need to see if I can find here in the US.

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