art & design

Can You Use Watercolour In The Leuchtturm1917?

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In the past, I’ve talked a lot about how to use a bullet journal. You don’t want to spend all your time decorating your bullet journal and forget to use it as a planning tool. I’m not saying you can’t decorate your bullet journal at all. I enjoy decorating my bullet journal pages, I don’t decorate to the same extent as some others who use bullet journals. But I do use a lot of art supplies in my bullet journal. And today I want to answer an interesting question, can you use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917?

I’ve used several different notebooks as bullet journals, but the one notebook I’ve used most is the Leuchtturm1917. This is one of the most popular notebooks to use as a bullet journal and I have to say, it is a great notebook. Many people enjoy decorating their bullet journal spreads using paint, markers and all sorts of other art materials. I don’t do those sorts of decorated spreads, but I do use watercolour and other art materials in my bullet journal. I like using it as a way to add a little colour into my pages.

I’ll use also watercolour and other art materials as part of my daily logs. I’m a graphic design student and will use my bullet journal as a place to sketch down ideas. I found this especially useful at the end of my last semester at university. I had an entirely digital hand in thanks to Rona so my bullet journal became the place where I worked through ideas for my uni projects.

Using Watercolour In The Leuchtturm1917 Notebook

The first thing we all need to acknowledge is that technically you can’t use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. These notebooks were not designed for watercolour paint. Realistically you’d be better off using a sketchbook instead of a notebook. The Leuchtturm notebooks have 80gsm paper, this is a heavier weight paper compared to the Moleskine’s 70gsm. However true watercolour paper starts at 190gsm and goes all the way to 600gsm.

The weight of the paper is extremely important when it comes to watercolour. While something like acrylic needs very little water mixed in with the paint. Watercolour comes much thicker and you use the water to make the paint thinner. While you create lighter tones with acrylic by adding white. With watercolour the white is created using the paper, if you want to create a lighter tone you water down the paint.

Paper doesn’t hold up well to water. It will begin to warp and if you add enough water it will begin to break down the paper. This is something you need to be careful with if you decide to use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917. This is something you need to watch out for with any sort of wet media. There’s a reason stationery fanatics are constantly talking about ghosting and bleed through when buying new pens or notebooks.

I’ve managed to successfully use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917. But I wanted to do a few experiments to see just what is possible. I mention this further down the post but it should be noted that I’m mostly using Windsor & Newton professional watercolour paints for these experiments. As you will see, the brands of paint and pigments used can change how the paper reacts with the paint.

I don’t want you to read this and assume you will be fine using Reeves or Daler Rowney paint. I don’t own these brands of paint and as such, can’t test them. If you’re uncertain how the paint will react to the paper in your notebook it’s always a good idea to do a test swatch first.

Watercolour tests

Light washes of paint

I first tried with very light washes of watercolour. This worked pretty well and I would expect it to. I already used light washes of watercolour in my bullet journal and have never had any real problems. The paint doesn’t react in quite the same way as you would expect when using watercolour paper but you can’t complain considering these notebooks were never made to be used with watercolour.

The paint does dry quite patchy, but the colours are very nice. I’ve never had any problems with the paint bleeding through the page. You can use a decent amount of water before having to worry about it disintegrating the paper.

One of the things which is very obvious however is that the paint won’t react in the same way as you’d expect on watercolour paper. I think its easiest to understand this when looking at this image. Usually, with watercolour, you can blend two colours on the page. The Leuchtturm paper didn’t allow the paint to mix in quite the same way. I also did an example using Khadi paper, this is a cotton watercolour paper, as you can see the colours mixed much better and created a gradient between the two colours.

Heavy amounts of paint

I also did some tests using heavy amounts of paint and water. You can see from the image that the paint has a lot of pigment in it. This caused the paper to warp slightly but that is to be expected with watercolour. I think if you were painting on a full page or double page spread the warping would be more noticeable compared to a relatively small area like this.

MORE LIKE THIS: Leuchtturm1917 | A5 Notebook Review

Again the paint dries to a slightly strange texture. But that will just be because of the paper. One thing I did notice with this heavier application is that the paint took quite a bit longer. I didn’t time this so can’t compare it with how watercolour would dry on a different type of paper. But I would say it took the paint significantly longer to dry on the Leuchtturm paper. Something to worry about in a notebook, you don’t want to move onto another page or even close the notebook before the paint has dried.

Even with all these problems, I’d say the paint still worked reasonably well in the Leuchtturm1917 notebook. You have to remember why you’re using the paint in the notebook. You’re making a spread or adding some form of decoration in your bullet journal. Even if the paint looks a little patchy it doesn’t matter because it still works well enough for the intended purpose.

Using dip pens

I thought I would try using a dip pen to add watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917. I am primarily a calligrapher and this is something I’ve done many times before. You can buy inks specifically made for calligraphy but gouache is a common media to use with a dip pen. There’s no reason why you can’t use watercolour paint as well.

I didn’t have any problems using the dip pen with watercolour paint. The Leuchtturm1917 notebook stands up pretty well when using fountain pen ink and watercolour paint is pretty much the same thing. The ghosting was maybe more noticeable with the dip pen compared to doing an area of colour, but this might be because the pigment was more concentrated in a single area. Overall I had no problems with it.

I did have problems with the pen nib catching on this type of paper, however, I am using an EF Principal nib which is very ‘scratchy’. This nib only works with very smooth papers. The only reason I used it for this example is that it was already in my dip pen. If you’re a total newbie when it comes to calligraphy I’d recommend starting with a Nikko or Zebra G nib.

Does the brand of paint make a difference?

Another thing I wondered was if the brand of paint would make a difference. I didn’t want to go out and buy watercolour paint for this experiment so I was only able to try with two different grades of paint. First I tried the Cotman paints, this is Winsor and Newton’s student grade paint. I then compared it to the W&N professional range, this uses higher quality pigments and is made for professional artists.

The colours I used weren’t quite the same so it’s not a great experiment. But I would say overall the Professional branded paint looks better. Though it still appears patchy, you can’t see the brush strokes as easily compared to the Cotman watercolours.

However, (and this is a big however), realistically you’ll be using these paints to create spreads in your bullet journal. You don’t need to worry as much about getting high-quality pigments which will last for hundreds of years. The Professional branded paints are very expensive, if you already have good quality watercolour paints there is no reason why you can’t use them in your bullet journal. However, if you’re going to go out and buy watercolour paint to use in your bullet journal there is no need for you to spend so much money. The Cotman paints will work well enough for this purpose.

I know there are other brands of watercolour paint which you could also use in your bullet journal. I can’t say for certain just how well these will work in your Leuchtturm1917. If there is a brand of paint you want to use in your bullet journal the best thing to do is make a few test swatches to see how the paper will cope with the paint.

So can you use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917?

It just depends. I can’t say you can or cannot use watercolour because it just depends on how you’re going to use it. I’ve never had problems using watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917 but I also use very little water when I’m painting. To the point, I haven’t even had problems with the paper warping.

But things might be different if you use more water, or cover an entire page in paint. I don’t use watercolour to create spreads, but I know some people on Instagram do incredible spreads in their bullet journal using watercolour.

I think it’s interesting because in a way it will force you to be creative. Yes, you could use watercolour, but with very strict rules on how much you use. If anything you might be forced to do less illustrative work and maybe something more graphic. I’m a designer so I prefer more minimal designs in my bullet journal, and I like how these spreads have turned out. I’ve never tried to incorporate this into a monthly or weekly spread but maybe I should.

If you just have to use watercolour in your bullet journal. Or don’t want to risk damaging the pages of your notebook. I have a few suggestions on alternative ways you could use watercolour and different sketchbooks to try instead.

Alternatives to Watercolour

Use separate sheets of paper

One of the easiest alternative methods is to do your paintings on a separate piece of paper. This will give you more options when it comes to choosing a watercolour paper. I’ve seen several people on youtube work in this way to create an illustration to mark a new month in their bullet journal.

The only problem is that sticking anything into your bullet journal will bulk out the pages over time, especially if you stick a lot of stuff into your bullet journal. I think this just comes down to preferences. I don’t like my notebooks bulking out too much and will avoid sticking anything into my bullet journal if I can. But of course, you may feel different and be happy to stick sheets into your bullet journal.

Use gouache

Gouache is something I use a lot I may use this more than watercolour in my bullet journal. Gouache is similar to watercolour but more opaque. I used gouache a lot in college and it’s a common medium for students to use when learning colour theory because it’s very easy to get a flat colour.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I like drawing shapes in my bullet journal, for the most part, this is done with gouache. It needs less water compared to watercolour so I don’t need to worry about the page warping in any way.

Since the gouache is more opaque, it means that you can’t see the page markings through the paint. I’m not sure if this comes across so much in images, but in person, it’s still possible to see the dot grid through the watercolour paint. When I use gouache the dot grid is almost impossible to see. It’s also possible to almost entirely cover writing done with graphite and ink depending on how thick you apply the paint.

The only downside of gouache is that it’s very expensive. I use the Winsor and Newton designers gouache and this can be anywhere from £3 to £6 for a single tube of paint. I wouldn’t recommend buying these sets of paint unless you know you’re going to use them because they are very expensive. Reeves and Daler Rowney also make sets of gouache, I’ve never tried them so again can’t say how well they will work in the Leuchtturm1917.

Paint pens

I’ll also use pens to doodle shapes in my bullet journal. For this, I use a mixture of Posca and Molotow pens. I much prefer the Molotow pens because the ink is thicker, it literally is paint, and so lays down very flat and is very opaque. However, the Molotow pens are more of an artist tool and are quite expensive. As such, I only have three different colours of this pen.

The Posca pens aren’t quite as opaque compared to the Molotow pens. But they almost work well in the bullet journal and come in lots of different colours. However the Posca pens aren’t made to be used on paper, these are designed to work on surfaces such as wood, tile and stone. So you have to be careful that you don’t pull any paper fibres when using the Posca pens.

Even though the Molotow pens work better on the Leuchtturm1917 paper. I would recommend the Posca pens simply because they are much cheaper and easier to find in stores and online.

Use A Watercolour Sketchbook

If you want to use heavy amounts of watercolour in your bullet journal you might be better off not using the Leuchtturm1917. One person I follow on youtube used a watercolour sketchbook as their bullet journal. This means they can do full watercolour illustrations in their bullet journal and these pages look very nice. I’d highly recommend checking out their channel to learn more.

One of the only downsides to using a watercolour sketchbook is that the pages won’t have a dot or lined grid on them. I know from experience that I like having some sort of grid in my bullet journal and this was the reason why I didn’t like using a sketchbook as a bullet journal. However, if you want to use watercolour in your bullet journal it might be something to look at.


I hope you now have a better idea of whether you can use watercolour in the Leuchtturm1917 notebook. It’s such a tricky question to answer because it’s not like you absolutely can or cannot use watercolour. It honestly just depends on how you use it.

I think it’s important to remember that paper quality in notebooks can change. So even if you’re using a Leuchtturm1917 one of the best things you could do is test your paint in the notebook and decide if you’re happy with the way it reacts with the paper.

No matter what you do, remember that creating lovely illustrations isn’t the point of bullet journaling, it just makes your bullet journal nicer to look at. You don’t have to create incredible illustrations just so your bullet journal looks like all the others on Instagram. You could do something simple and still create a page which looks nice.

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