Tuesday, 16 June 2009


A few weeks ago I visited my local art shop in Cambridge to stock up with my favourite Winsor & Newton sketchbooks. I was disappointed to find that the familiar blue covered hard back books were no longer on display, and that the only Winsor & Newton books had black covers and a different weight paper - 110gsm instead of 170gsm. The shop told me that W & N still made the heavier weight books but that they had changed the colour of the covers from blue to black, and that they could order some for me, which they did. 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.

Since then I have experimented with different sketchbooks - a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and a Fabriano Venezia sketchbook.

Meanwhile I wrote to Winsor & Newton to ask if they had changed the paper, and if so, why? This is the reply I received last week.

Dear Sue,

Thank you for your email to Winsor & Newton and apologies for the delay in responding to your complaint. I’m sorry that you have been disappointed with your recent purchase of our sketchbook and I would like to try and explain some of the recent changes that have affected this product.

The paper industry has been struggling for some time and we are aware of an increase in the number of paper mills going out of business. It’s likely that the increase in digital media and technology is partly to blame but also we notice that mills are closing down because it’s very hard to compete in this acutely price sensitive market.

This has had a knock on effect for us as we need a supplier who can help us produce a competitively priced, good quality sketch book. In 2007, our original paper supplier increased their prices making the books no longer viable from this source. As a result we searched the world for an alternative supplier who could offer a similar paper at more competitive prices. However, because the paper is from a different mill some of its characteristics were slightly altered which may be more obvious when painting with heavy washes and I think this is what you have noticed.

I’m sorry for your disappointment with our current product but as a gesture of goodwill I would like to send you some replacement Luxury Water Colour Hard Back Sketch Books (265 x 210mm) which have 200lbs NOT surface paper. Please email me your postal address and I will arrange for these to be sent out.

Kind regards,

Tom Groundes-Peace

I am very impressed by Winsor & Newton's response. I did not request replacements or a refund, merely an explanation and information, both of which were sent. The offer of new sketchbooks was entirely their idea and very generous on their part. I have received two of the new luxury hardback books containing 200lb watercolour paper (far too good for sketching!).

I am still on the lookout for the old style blue sketchbooks, they were such good value. I think it's still possible to find them online.


Billie Crain said...

This is interesting, Sue. I recently purchased a block of Arches HP 140# w/c paper which I've used for a few years and have found this particular block roughs up when I removed both masking fluid and frisket film. I've never had that problem with this paper before. I just figured I got a bad batch. Now I'm wondering.......

B2-kun said...

Quite a thorough and informative post shedding light on the current world climate and forces affecting the production facilites of favorite art supplies. Quite impressed with the thoughtful response you received from Winsor & Newton, and I am glad that I have relied on their quality products for years.

Jeanette said...

I've had similar problems with some watercolour paper and your response from W & N may just be the answer. Cutbacks!

Winsor & Newton were generous and provided a good explanation for the change in paper but it makes you wonder if art papers will deteriorate over time or increase dramatically in price to reflect the current economic climate.

Leslie Hawes said...

Strathmore Illustration board lost its crisp quality years ago, and I was told they were using new presses.
I would much prefer to pay more for materials that remained consistent.