paper review: ecosystem sketchbook

Rating: 4.0

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I've been a big fan of ecosystem notebooks, having positively reviewed their hardback lined journal and created an iPad cover from a large, lined softcover journal. When I found out that they were releasing a sketchbook, I made it a point to get a copy to review, and I have to say that I'm pretty pleased.

The basic setup is very similar to a standard ecosystem hardback notebook: rounded corners on the paper and cover; a bound-in, 100% organic cotton bookmark; a sturdy elastic strap to keep the cover closed; and a paper pocket inside the back cover. The cover is 100% recycled board covered with 100% post-consumer recycled paper stock, and dyed with vegetable-based ink. Unlike the standard notebooks, the word "sketchbook" is embossed on the cover.

The endpapers are printed with ecosystem's leaf pattern, and there is a space to record your name and contact information in the front. Like all other ecosystem notebooks, there is also a serial number printed on the inside back cover that, when entered on the ecosystem website, allows you to register it so that if it is ever lost it can be used to contact you. It also shows you all of the components that went into your specific batch of books, so that you can see the ecological impact of your purchase.

Unlike a standard hardback notebook, the sketchbook is quite a bit larger – measuring 7 3/8 by 9 7/8 inches. Inside are 128 pages of bright white, chlorine free, acid free, 80 lb. paper. I'm happy to report that my major quibble with the early hardbound notebooks – glue that crept between the signatures and locked every few pages together near the spine – is gone. Every page now lies completely flat.

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So how does this perform as a sketchbook? Quite well, I'm happy to report. The paper is generally smooth and uncoated. It takes a medium pencil, ballpoint pen, and brush pen quite well – without any hint of feathering or bleed-through. A sharpie marker bled through, as I expected, but did not transfer any ink to the underlying page. Fountain pen ink was a mixed bag – one very wet pen feathered more than I expected, but I was able to use a 6mm calligraphy nib with several inks without issue.

India ink, when used with a dip pen, fared well – it bled through in some of the wetter places, but I saw no buckling of the paper, and it did not make it through to the underlying paper, regardless. I did not try charcoal or pastel, but I suspect the level of smoothness would make it less than ideal.

Overall, I'm very happy with this sketchbook. Ecosystem continues to produce very nice notebooks that I am happy to use. I think this is one that is definitely worth checking out to see if it meets your needs as an artist.

Note: A review copy of this sketchbook was provided by Ecosystem.

paper review: ecosystem notebook

Rating: 4.5

Much has been discussed about Ecosystem’s commitment to producing a green notebook. The bright, white, 100% post-consumer, recycled paper by New Leaf Paper is prepared using a chlorine-free bleaching process and printed with a soy-based ink. It has an organic cotton bookmark, and the cover is coated with a water-based acrylic.

Additionally, all of the components are sourced in the United States, which cuts down on the cost and carbon emission of transportation. Even the binding, sewing, and cutting are done in a facility with an ecological savings program.

However, their commitment to producing sustainable and ecologically sound products would be for naught if the books themselves weren’t any good. Fortunately, they’re great.

In November of 2009, I purchased a medium, hardback, author (ruled) notebook from Barnes & Noble, and I’ve been using it as my writing journal since. It is exactly the same size and shape as a large Moleskine journal, though it is thicker due to its heavier weight paper. I purchased mine in “lagoon,” which is Ecosystem’s term for their light, sea-blue color covers.

One of the odd things about the Ecosystem line is that certain combinations of size, cover type, and internal paper are only available in certain colors. The medium hardback author notebook at the time of purchase was only available in lagoon (blue), watermelon (pink), and onyx (black). The artist (blank) book was available in kiwi (green), though, and the same size was available in a flexi-cover in clementine (orange). Ecosystem has recently added grape (purple) to their lineup as well – but only in certain combinations. It’s as odd approach, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants an orange, ruled hardback.

Ecosystem has adopted the Moleskine form factor for their books, which appeals to me. They feature rounded corners, a pocket in the back, a sewn-in bookmark, and an elastic band. I have noticed that the elastic bands on these books hold up better than their Moleskine counterparts, and don’t stretch out over time. The bookmark is not as long as Moleskine bookmarks, but it’s plenty big enough to do its job – I haven’t had any trouble with it in the six months I’ve been writing in it.

The front endpapers feature a distinctive leaf pattern, some explanatory text about Ecosystem’s mission and a space to record your name and contact information. The back features the same leaf pattern, the previously mentioned paper pocket, and a unique code with a special purpose. This code can be entered on the Ecosystem website to register one’s notebook, so that if it is ever lost, it can be used to contact the owner. Also, one can see the components that went into one’s individual book – and the environmental savings from it manufacture.

The binding in the hardback notebooks is sewn, so the book lies mostly flat. I say “mostly” because of my major quibble with the book – where most of the signatures meet, a bit of adhesive creeps up between the pages, locking them together near the spine. The adhesive never spreads more than a quarter inch, so the pages are entirely usable – but it’s a bit annoying when the rest of the book performs so admirably.

The paper itself is fairly smooth, though not as smooth as Clairefontaine or Moleskine paper; I have had no difficulty writing on the paper for long stretches of time. The author journal is ruled from edge to edge – the narrow rule provides for 32 lines per page, with a half-inch margin at the top and bottom. The ink itself is neither too bold nor too light – I find it just right for ease of use.

Ecosystem’s notebooks have microperferated pages, of which I was initially skeptical. One of the reasons that I prefer hardback covers is that I’m concerned about preserving the integrity of the book – I throw my notebooks in my bag every day, so they need to be rugged. However, the perforations strike just the right balance – there’s little danger of the paper separating without intentionally doing so, and when you do need to remove a page, it’s easy to accomplish, and a lot friendlier than trying to tear a page out of a Moleskine.

In fact, the perforated pages came in very, very handy when I was at my brother’s wedding, and used the notebook to write up my best man’s toast. After I’d written several drafts, I was able to cleanly and easily tear out the page with the final draft. It worked out marvelously.

So how does the Ecosystem paper stand up to fountain pen ink? The answer, it turns out, depends on the ink. Generally, the paper handles ink well – it is thick enough that show-through is very, very low and bleed-through is generally non-existent. Ecosystem paper is very, very absorbent, though – it drinks ink like it is going out of style – so, thin, easy-flowing inks like J. Herbin and Iroshizuku tend to feather more and produce a bolder line than they do on Rhodia or Moleskine paper. Also, it appears that one side of the paper feathers ever so slightly more than the other – no doubt an artifact of the manufacturing process.

However, using thicker inks like Noodler’s and Private Reserve on this paper is a revelation. I’d never been a fan of Noodler’s inks, in particular, because of their very long drying time on Moleskine notebooks – the ink can take upwards of a minute to dry. As a result, I found myself at odds with other fountain pen users who love Noodler’s – and reported no trouble with drying time. When I finally tried the ink on Ecosystem, though, I felt like I’d reached a new level of understanding when it comes to pen and ink. On this paper, Noodler’s and Private Reserve inks dry almost instantaneously – three to five seconds at the most. Additionally, because those two brands of ink are very resistant to feathering, they don’t suffer from the same level of “bold-ing” that other inks do on this paper.

I can’t recommend this combination of paper and ink enough. Ecosystem notebooks have opened up a whole segment of the ink market to me that I’d previously been avoiding, which, for someone who likes ink as much as I do, is a wonderful gift. Ecosystem products have become my preferred notebooks.

Ecosystem is a brand of Sterling Publishing, which is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. Therefore it is unsurprising that I first found the Ecosystem books in my local Barnes & Noble. It appears that they are beginning to appear in other bookstores as well, and they are readily available online at the Barnes & Noble website or at the Ecosystem website itself.


the great ecosystem ipad cover hack

The fine folks at Ecosystem put out a call for people to hack their large notebooks in service of creating an iPad cover. I volunteered, and a large, flexi-cover, lagoon notebook showed up at my door a few weeks ago. I finally got a chance to play with the notebook today, and I think the hack turned out well.

Below is the ecosystem notebook with the iPad. The notebook is almost exactly the same shape and size and the iPad - it is about a quarter inch taller and about an eighth of an inch narrower.

The first step was to cut the signatures away from the cover. The very first and last notebook pages were affixed to the endpapers, so I was able to use a utility knife to slice just behind them. I also discovered that the blue, fabric ribbon was attached to the inside of the spine using some sort of double-sided tape. It came off easily once I had the book disassembled.

Here you can see the iPad sitting in its new home. Because it is slightly thicker than the iPad, the notebook has enough leeway to make up for the narrower width.

The next step was to figure out how to affix the iPad to the notebook. I decided to cut the bookmark in half and use it to create holders for the corners. Below, you can see the iPad with the bookmarks in place.

Here’s the rear view - I was able to thread the bookmarks through the back of the cover, and then knot them to prevent them from slipping back through the notches I made.

And here’s the finished cover, iPad safely tucked inside. I was worried that the flexi-cover wouldn’t be sturdy enough to stand up to the weight of the iPad, but the result is surprisingly secure. Thanks, Ecosystem!