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How To Choose A Sketchbook!
This is one of the most common questions I get asked by my community. I’ve compiled the below guide with some key points and reference guides. What I would advise though is that finding a sketchbook is a matter of experimentation. My favourites may not suit your style or vice versa.
My Personal Sketchbooks.
Before I start this guide on how to choose a sketchbook I wanted to share what I use. Choosing your sketchbook will be personal to you. It will evolve as your creative style changes. As your confidence deepens, so too, will your curiosity to explore more artistic themes and genres which may require different types of sketchbook. You will stumble upon new brands and papers and gush over which to choose!
I also just want to say that none of the suggestions in this blog post are sponsored. They are all recommended through my own personal experience.
I keep more than one sketchbook at a time, however, I did start with only one. Those familiar with my story will know that I started drawing in a basic A5 Daler Rowney Ebony Artist’s hard backed sketchbook that was used for family note taking and sat on the kitchen counter. When I “took it over” to use it to support my mental well being on a daily basis, I used it for a daily sketching habit for a few months. (In fact, I still have the shopping lists and DIY measurements in the first few pages of this book!)
I am still experimenting with the sketchbooks I like and I think will always do so!
I would, however, recommend starting with one sketchbook if you are new to keeping one so you avoid becoming overwhelmed.
A few years later, however, I have the following on the go;
- My daily sketchbook is a Seawhite of Brighton square book with over 90 leaves. Its 150 gms in weight which means it can take some watercolour washes. (I love the crinkly pages as I fill it up!) I use it to get quick sketches down on paper as opposed to anything too in depth. It’s a general sketchbook, a repository of ideas and designed to stay true to supporting my well being by helping me document my day in pictures. I would recommend using an A5 sized sketchbook as your minimum daily sketchbook.
- Travel Sketchbook. Whenever I visit a special place or go away on holiday I take a dedicated sketchbook for the occasion. I am always in a different frame of mind when away from the day to day. I tend to have more time as well as look at things with a different perspective. I tend to also invest a little more money in my travel sketchbooks as the memories I want to treasure need to be put in a special place. The quality of art work I tend to produce is also better than my day to day drawing – another reason to invest a little more in these sketchbooks. My current sketchbook is a Fabriano. I also love to use Hahnemuhle, or Stillman and Birn.
- Small sketchbooks. I love working in square formats. I have square sketchbooks for the following. Daily quick sketches when I am out and about. I keep small sketchbooks for different themes. For example, I have dedicated a small spiral bound sketchbook solely to chickens, and another hard-backed sketchbook to landscapes. I sell the sketchbooks I use in my “Sketch from Scratch Kits.”
- Themed sketchbooks. These I keep when I am working on specific paintings or for commissions. They range from small square sketchbooks (as above), A5 to A3 in size depending on what I am doing and I tend to ensure that I keep the pages of these sketchbooks to a slight minimum (no more than 40) as they are largely project focused and document time limited contracts or support pieces of art work. These may also include the concertina sketchbook!
I have learned a lot from famous artists that kept sketchbooks. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was known for coming back to his sketchbooks and adding details to his sketches up to 10 years after he’d started them! His collection of drawings were all jumbled together and only sorted into themes or folios later on in history! You may similarly choose to just keep one sketchbook for everything.
….And (sigh) my collection of sketchbooks keeps growing as I learn more about this unique craft.
How did I learn to choose my sketchbooks? Below I list some considerations to bear in mind when thinking about finding a sketchbook.
As you read through this article think about what you want to use your sketchbook for, what you are willing to pay and the type of drawing you might like to produce. Think too about whether you want to fill both sides of the paper or just one.
Across all my posts, I advocate that you should aim for a paper weight of 150 gsm, which is classed as a heavier weight paper. I tend to now go even heavier to a 200gsm weight paper so that I can focus on using paint and avoid buckling.
The heavier the paper the more medias such as ink or watercolour you can try in it. If you are aiming to keep a sketchbook that is only filled with pencil sketches or for doodling you can opt for a lighter weight paper such as 100 gsm or less. The heavier you go means you are covered should you discover you enjoy working in different mediums.
Type of Paper
Paper is milled and pressed into a variety of formats. You can choose whichever colour you’d like to work on. The most common paper colours are white, cream, or toned darker papers.
The 3 major types of sketchbook papers you may come across will be;
- Hot pressed. Imagine the paper has been ironed and the fibres pressed flat. I love to use hot pressed paper as my drawing lines are better accentuated on the page as it’s smoother. Watercolours tend, however, to not sink into the paper as quickly and pool on the surface which creates a different approach to painting.
- Cold pressed. This type of paper has been treated with a cold metal slab which means that you still achieve some smoothness with raised paper fibres. This is usually the type of paper recommended for those starting out with watercolour. Paint sinks into the ridges of the paper faster than with hot pressed creating specific effects. Still great to draw on.
- Rough. This paper has lots and lots of texture which means that it may not do what you want it to do! Many people love using these types of sketchbooks to explore texture and pattern for example.
Where possible, aim to also buy paper that is acid free. This protects the integrity of your work and preserves the materials you use on your paper for longer.
My other top tip for you as you become more confident in sketchbook purchasing is to pay attention to the brand of paper used in your sketchbooks. Some sketchbook brands are proud to reveal the high quality paper brands they use such as Artistico Fabriano, Bockingford, Saunders Waterford, Arches, Seawhite of Brighton…the list of high quality paper manufacturers is indeed endless. You will come across specific types of paper that you may love. The challenge then will be to find it in a sketchbook format you love working in.
To understand about the size you need to first ask yourself what you are interested in drawing or filling your sketchbook with.
I started with an A5 sketchbook which was portable, and not overwhelming to fill at first. It also opens up to an A4 sized page if you rotate the sketchbook. You can buy sketchbooks in the standard “A” sizes. These are rectangular in shape and sold as standard. Their sizing is as follows;
- A4 21 by 29.7cm
- A5 14.8 by 21 cm
- A6 10.5 by 14.8cm
- A7 7.4 x 10.5cm
I do work in larger sketchbooks to these, however, they tend to be used for specific projects as opposed to being a sketchbook. I like to think that the sketchbook is first and foremost a place to deposit your ideas.
The other common sizes to use are the square format. Again, I love to use this as my standard daily sketchbook as it supports me with formatting my page and allowing more space to work in the page. Most sketchbook brands offer a square alternative.
The final type of sketchbook I enjoy using is the Concertina sketchbook, to which I linked my own sketchbook above. These are great for creating specific linked themes and can produce lovely sketchbooks.
Cover and Type
The cover of a sketchbook is an important consideration to make. I always feel that there has to be a “book” element to a sketchbook. You can simply purchase a loose leaf, tear off paper pad, but this defeats the object. There are a variety of options to consider when it comes to the cover;
- Hard backed. If you plan being out and about a hard backed sketchbook will protect your work from the elements. Check how it is bound to ensure that the pages won’t fall out. If your sketchbook is likely to undergo lots of wear and tear then choose a hardbacked sketchbook with a medium number of “leaves” (aka pages.) Hardbacked also means that you can sketch across the pages and vary the layout of your paper more freely than other types of books.
- Softbacked. These are heavier weight paper based sketchbooks, refined plastic or leather. I tend to use these sketchbooks at home or for very short based field trips. You can however invest in more expensive leather soft backed sketchbooks or covers. Beware though that this might commit you to buying the same sketchbooks time and time again!
- Spiral bound and hardbacked. The sketchbook brand that is great at producing spiral bound is Pink Pig. Highly affordable and good quality, these spiral bound sketchbooks are ideal for gathering single page sketches. Drawing across the page is more complicated, however, if your aim is to perhaps eventually frame your sketch work or turn it into specific art pieces the spiral bound sketchbook can be an excellent option for you. Plus if you want to gather other resources or add more paper into your sketchbooks – almost like a journal, these sketchbooks are ideal for this purpose.
- Perforated. These sketchbooks tend to come in a spiral bound format initially with perforated edges designed for you to tear out the pages. I use these for specific pieces of art work.
- Handmade, artisan, and hardbacked. I love to purchase handmade books from artisans. They are more expensive but well worth it. My favourite go to artisan producers of sketchbooks in the last few months are Books n Boxes and PrintUrchin Press & Bindery, that make beautifully covered sketchbooks with quality brand papers inside.
Another consideration is around the orientation of your sketchbook. Do you want to work in portrait or landscape? I often think that this links to whether you want to work across both sides of the page or just one, are you interested in sketching landscapes or more objects? The best way to establish this is to experiment. I use both but for very distinctive purposes.
You can buy a good quality sketchbook at a reasonable price. A high quality sketchbook is not cheap. When you consider the level of effort you put into it, and the memories and symbols it carries, price may become inconsequential. If you are just starting out, however, there are plenty of good quality budget sketchbooks out there with quality paper.
As you have probably gathered from this post I would find it impossible to choose a favourite brand or type of sketchbook. As your creative style develops, so too will the ranges of different sketchbooks you will want to buy and try. The secret though is to ensure that you finish one and learn what you can from using its paper.
Make sure you take your time in buying a sketchbook. It is an important “tool” of the trade that will make an impact on the quality of your drawings, thereby encouraging you with what you produce!
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