Thursday, 18 June 2009

Product Feedback: Winsor & Newton sketchbooks

If you're ever dissatisfied with a sketchbook it's always worthwhile letting the manufacturer know exactly what you think, especially if you are a watercolourist. A lot of people who sketch don't only use light watercolour washes. A number want to produce proper watercolours and will always need a paper that will cope with this.

Check out out what happened to Sue Smith (Sue's Sketch Blog) - see Sketchbooks - when she tried to buy a Winsor & Newton sketchbook which had paper heavy enough for proper watercolour washes and what happened next.
  • Sue was after more supplies of her favourite Winsor & Newton White Paper Hard Back Sketch Books - 170gsm with a blue cover
  • she could only find a White Paper Hard Back Sketch Books –110gsm (with a black cover) in her local art shop. The product guidelines indicate that this is suitable for use with pencil, pen and ink and light water colour washes - so this is, of course, not suitable for somebody who wants to do proper watercolours
  • Her local art shop advised her that the sketchbooks with the heavier weight paper were still made (now with a black cover) but need to be ordered - so that's what Sue did
  • When the new sketchbooks arrived she found that the paper was completely different
I collected my new books expecting them to be the same quality as the blue covered ones I have used for years, so was sadly disappointed to find that they were not. The paper did not respond well to wet in wet watercolour or heavy washes, the surface breaking up and going fluffy.
Sue Smith - Sketchbooks
  • I checked the website description of the product she had been been supplied with and it states that These heavy weight paper sketch books are suitable for pencil, pen and ink and light water colour washes. Basically exactly the same as the 110gsm sketchbook!
  • Sue wrote to Winsor & Newton asking whether they had changed their paper. It turns out they had - and you can read their reply in Sue's blog post Sketchbooks.
  • Winsor & Newton also sent her one of their Luxury Artists’ Water Colour Sketch Book as a gesture of goodwill (see right to see what this looks like)
Paper changes

Winsor & Newton, like a number of other art material manufacturers are faced all the time with changes in their supplies of paper.

Sadly, that's just a fact of life. Paper mills have been going out of business for a long time now. Life becomes very difficult for art materials manufacturers because their view is that the art paper market is extremely price sensitive. Obviously they only want to design products they feel confident they can sell.

It makes for some very difficult decision-making - and it's an area where manufacturers could do with more input from their customers!

It's very important therefore that artists let manufacturers know when they really like their products and also when they don't. Are you really price sensitive - or do you just want a good quality product that does the job?

A Luxury Sketchbook and woodfree paper

This Luxury watercolour sketchbook is described as having woodfree paper.
The Woodfree fibres used in manufacture ensure the paper is 100% acid free, increasing the longevity of your paintings.
This means it's actually NOT the same as the best watercolour paper. It struck me as very odd that a sketchbook which is described as luxury should not use the best watercolour paper.

For the record the best watercolour paper is made from 100% cotton fibre (eg Arches Watercolour paper) or a mixture of cotton and linen (eg the Royal Watercolour Society Watercolour paper)

How to find and buy a Winsor & Newton Luxury Artist's Watercolour Sketchbook

I've never ever seen these luxury sketchbooks in any of the art shops that I frequent in London. (If you want the best try looking at Cornelissen's supply of watercolour sketchbooks and sketchpads)

So I decided to try and find out where it was possible to buy them and I did a search on the Internet. Some of the biggest online art materials suppliers do not stock them - according to the description used on the Winsor & Newton website. I could only find three small less well known stockists - and one of them was out of stock. However if you try different product descriptions - which I discovered only after 15 minutes of trying different combinations(!) - you can also find them at Heaton Cooper, Ken Bromley and Discount Art - none of which popped up in response to using the W&N description as the search term.

Curiously, these sketchbooks are not even available through Winsor & Newton's own online shop. Which considering it's obviously a very specialist product seems most unusual!


Winsor & newton get a thumbs up from me for providing a feedback form on their website. It makes providing feedback very easy.


Quality: I find it really surprising that an art materials manufacturer which is so well known for its artist quality watercolours shouldn't make more of an effort to make sure that a sketchbook described as luxury actually used the best watercolour paper.

Customer satisfaction
: Three cheers for Winsor & Newton for providing
  • an appropriate response to Sue's experience. She gets to try a suitable sketchbook for free and to make up her own mind what she thinks about the paper and its relative value for money (ie it only contains 15 sheets)
  • a way of providing feedback, comments and asking questions on their website.
Customer dissatisfaction: Winsor & Newton get a big thumbs down from me in relation to
  • the quality of paper used in the 170 gsm sketchbook,
  • the briefing provided to their suppliers about their products and
  • distribution arrangements for their ONLY sketchbook which can be used for proper watercolour.

My advice is to have a think about you how can get the best sketchbook for your needs and also influence future product design and pricing by providing feedback to the manufacturer.

For example:
  • Think about learning how to make your own sketchbooks from your own favourite watercolour paper. That way, you get to determine the type and quality of the paper you want to use.
  • Always provide feedback to the manufacturer if you are ever disappointed with a product. Let them know precisely why you are disappointed. If you want a better quality product tell them!
  • Always provide feedback to your local art shop - they need to know when products aren't doing the job as good suppliers will also provide feedback to manufacturers.
  • Write about your experience with your sketchbook in your blog. Intelligent art materials manufacturers keep an eye out for what people are saying about their products! I've know completely new products emerge as a result of adverse comments by artists on the Internet! :)
Check out my resource site Paper and Non-Canvas Supports - Resources for Artists to find out more about different papers and sketchbooks


Felicity Grace said...

That's a very fair review Katherine. I'm a very big fan of Winsor & Newton paper, they always provide good quality paper and sketchbooks, although I have to say, I have found the distribution a bit strange too. It seems to take a very long time for them to get the (faux) leather journal out and I remember it being near impossible to find it on the internet. I had to take photos of mine to show those interested in it! I wonder how their distribution works?

I wonder too if Caran d'Ache would listen to a plea to extend the colours in their 'Museum' range?!

Making A Mark said...

I'm sure they would Felicity. You do a post and I'kll feature it on here coupled with my own comments about that range

suessketchblog said...

Well done for tracking down some suppliers Katherine - I tried as I was interested to know how much these books retail for, but couln't find them listed anywhere. I also hadn't realised your point about the paper - I certainly would have expected it to be top quality. However, I am not complaining, it was a freebie after all!

Anonymous said...

lots of very useful information here and I'll remember that when i go buy more supplies. At this time I'm using the watercolor pads which are limiting in the since that I only have one sheet available at a time, so a full on watercolor sketchpad would be nice to look at. I have made my own up, which is fun because I added other kinds of paper as well for just sketching or even writing. Love all the useful hints and tips for sketching and painting plein air, which I have just started doing.
peace n abundance,

Anonymous said...

ps. it is very true about companies wanting customer feed back. My father wrote a company of hunting knives with a lifetime guarantee even against loss and sure enough they sent him a new one.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks CheyAnne

Rob said...

I've been using the luxury pads, and at first I didn't like the paper, it seemed a little soft and under sized, but once used to it I rather liked the quality it gave. Very good for granulation effects and lifting out but not as good for scrubbing out and very crisp detailed work. I usually use Arches but I've found the paper in the pads better in use than I expected.
Some paintings done on the paper are here:

Unknown said...

I just recieved 3 A3 Winsor and Newton sketchbooks. The paper is excellent, but the binding of the book is quite poor. The one I am using currently, has the paper detached from the cardboard. If they were bound as well as the Moleskine sketchbooks, I would be in love with this product...

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