View Full Version : Sketchbook advice (for a very specific project)

Joy M.
10-20-2014, 06:54 PM
Hello all,

I mostly just lurk about and sponge up all the inspiration you provide, but today I require your expert advice.

My parents have this chocolate Labrador named Liberty who's very special to them, and she's beginning to get on in years. I've been thinking the last few weeks that I would like to start a journal dedicated to sketches and paintings of her to give to them when she passes. I don't mean to be morbid! She's got a few years yet.

My dilemma is this: I want to include gesture sketches of her from life, but also want to include developed watercolors. Thus, I need a book with pages that are strong enough for watercolor but not overly precious (I just couldn't bring myself to scribble on 140lb watercolor paper). I've thought about getting Stillman and Birn's 'Alpha' for the purpose. Would that be a good choice? Do you have any other suggestions/recommendations?

Thanks in advance!

10-21-2014, 12:34 AM
Hello Joy,
What a lovely and so special idea! That will be most precious some day.
I too am a lurker, but I use a Moleskine watercolor book for outside and on the move. I like the paper, it's smooth and nice to write on as well as sketch, but great for watercolor too. I don't have others to compare it to, so perhaps others will chime in with other ideas.
I hope your endeavor lasts for years. All the best.

10-21-2014, 12:47 AM
Hi Joy!

You might want to check out Roz Wound Up blog. She did nearly daily sketches of her dog Dottie for five years. Some of these were super quick gesture sketches.

She used: 10 x 10 inch square sailcloth covered sketchbooks from Michael Roger Press. They contain 50% rag drawing paper which has a lovely tooth. Then she used different books and different media. This link describes the project and the materials she used.


I was inspired and started a Stillman and Birn book to do sketches of my own dog but oh my does he ever move when I thought he was sleeping. It's like he knows or senses I'm studying him. I have to be very quick :)

Good luck!


10-21-2014, 05:59 AM
I'd definitely go for the Stillman & Birn journals. I've used many of them. Beta and Delta are my favorites for watercolor and the Rough surface is very toothy, allows dry brush effects and good graphite and charcoal and pastel sketching. Conte comes out wonderful. Unlike most Rough papers, the texture elements are smaller than say Arches Rough, where it's hard to work small without huge patches of texture. They're small but deep, which makes it toothy. I'm using a Beta for my pastel journal currently but my last Delta was also watercolors and just about everything.

Any of the good archival watercolor journals should do it but I've got a particular fondness for the Stillman & Birn ones. Beta and Delta have heavier 180lb paper. Alpha's still got good heavy paper but not that super heavy. It'd be a good choice too, but the Beta paper gets really tough and allows things like heavy washes and razoring and other special effects in watercolor.

I've also got a pocket Moleskine watercolor journal that's great. Nice vellum Cold Press/Not surface, good sturdy 140lb paper that can be painted on both sides, smoother than the Beta but still good. So I'd recommend the Moleskine from experience too. Also archival.

But I'd still recommend Stillman & Birn Beta at the top of the list.

Joy M.
10-21-2014, 09:30 AM
Thanks for the input, everyone!

Doni, I checked out the Molskine watercolor album on amazon, and it says the pages are detachable. Do they seem like they'll come loose, or are they fairly sturdy in spite of the perforation? Thanks! It seems like a plausible option overall.

EP, thanks for directing me to Roz Wound Up! Really inspiring, and a great resource.

Robert, thank you for sharing your experiences with S&B journals. I wish they had a few more pages! Argh. Beta sounds fantastic.

You people have me thinking...

Joan T
10-21-2014, 10:04 AM
Joy, I also like the Beta series because you can use almost any medium on the pages. It takes watercolors well and ink too. Can't wait to see you start this!

10-21-2014, 02:01 PM
I will also chime in on the Beta from Stillman & Birn. I've used pencil, pen, watercolors, colored pencil, and watercolor pencil. The paper takes it all. There is no reason why it can't be a series of books if there aren't enough pages in one book. Having a series on the dog, especially if she has a few more years to be documented, would be even more rewarding. Good luck with your project. We'd love to see what you do.

Joy M.
10-21-2014, 02:33 PM
Thanks Joan and Debby! I'm all but convinced to go with Beta. I hadn't thought about doing a series of sketchbooks...what a great idea!

I still need to think through how I will approach this project. I will likely work both from life and photos, and paint some of her early days with us too. Just not sure if it will all be chronologically ordered or not. I don't mind if it isn't, as I could sketch her currently and then break it up with anecdotal sketches from the past. Hmmm.
Thinking out loud here. :-)

10-21-2014, 07:04 PM
Also chiming in for the Beta! I have a zeta but fell in love with the beta sample paper. Request a few paper samples from them before you purchase a journal if you like to test the different series. More info on my blog :) I love their journals!

10-22-2014, 03:24 AM
"Doni, I checked out the Molskine watercolor album on amazon, and it says the pages are detachable. Do they seem like they'll come loose, or are they fairly sturdy in spite of the perforation? Thanks! It seems like a plausible option overall."

Hi Joy,
I have a Moleskine that does not have detachable pages, therefore cannot answer your question. Anyone else know that one?
Can't wait to see when you get started!

10-22-2014, 06:51 AM
S&B definitely. Beta if you like white paper, delta for a warmer ivory colour.

I've used watercolour, ink, pastel, oil paint, gouache, acrylic, charcoal, pencil, biro eyeshadow and everything but the kitchen sink in them! The pages never buckled or warped or bled through. Ever.

The binding is really strong so will stand up to wear and tear working and later on their bookshelf. It also opens flat for working. I often work across 2 pages and that matters to me.

I made a bad mistake in buying a large folio moleskine watercolour book a few years ago. Disaster and waste of a lot of money. :( . The pages warp and buckle with wet washes. I hate it and it will only be useable with dry media. I'd never buy another.

I hope this helps.

Joy M.
10-23-2014, 04:06 PM
Thanks for the tip Susaleena!

Vhere, your input is super helpful. I don't mind a bit of buckling in my sketchbooks generally, but for this project it would be a definite downer. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Well, y'all will likely see this project commence in a Beta journal when the time comes. :-)

Thank you all for taking the time to share your suggestions!