View Full Version : What's your favorite sketchbook? (long)

06-27-2010, 09:29 AM
I just completed the sketchbook that I was using for my scavenger hunts. It's a Canson Biggie Sketch 9 x 12. I started it when I was taking the Drawing 101 class in the Drawing Forum, and then used it for the hunts. What I liked about it was that it had 100 sheets, and that it took pencil and pen well. What I didn't like was that pen, and most times even pencil, showed through. I wouldn't have cared so much if I wasn't scanning and posting the sketches. So I ended up a lot of the time only using one side of the paper.

I decided to purchase two new sketchbooks - one of future hunts (9x12), and one for sketchcrawls (7x10 or 6x9). I spent several days perusing Cheap Joe's catalog (I had a gift certificate). I copied down item numbers and then changed my mind. (Did I tell you I have trouble making decisions?) After a few days I just spent my certificate on two DVD's and didn't get a sketchbook at all. I decided to just use up all the ones I have now. LOL

Oh, I'm wrong, I did order a 9 x 12 Flexi-sketch for my scavenger hunts.

I have:
Aquabee Deluxe 9 x 12

Strathmore Sketch 5.5 x 8.5 (I will be using this for scavenger hunts - it has similar paper to the previous one only a smaller size)

Cheap Joe Sketchbook - 6 x 9 - great for pencil or pen, not good for washes

Arches Watercolor Travel Sketchbook - great w/c paper - odd size and not enough pages

Small Moleskine sketchbook - cream pages, good for pen or pencil - don't like working that small but it's good to keep in purse for emergencies

Small Handbook w/c sketchbook - haven't tried it yet but also a little small for me

I'm not really 100% happy with any of them.

What's your favorite sketchbook - and why? What medium do you use it for, and what type of sketching do you do in it? Do you buy different types of books for different situations/mediums?

06-27-2010, 12:41 PM
I've got several favorites. It depends on medium.

For basic sketchbook where I'm not using any wet mediums at all, I love the ProArt Wirebound sketchbooks. They have hard covers in a spiral binding and lots of pages of thin bright white sketching paper. I've got them in both the 8 1/2" x 11" and 4" x 6" sizes. I go through the small ones much faster than the large ones but I'm starting to get more into using large ones now. The hard covers, the fact that all the used pages flip around to the back and that the size is letter size rather than 9" x 12" so I don't get the top or bottom cut off by the scanner makes this my favorite cheap one.

Letter size is about $8 and the little 4 x 6" one is $3, there's also a 5 1/2" x 8" size for $5 at Blick. These are the ones I am posting in my Scribble Sketch Books thread, the ones I'll chew through fast with general sketching and all dry media and a lot of Pitt pen drawing, as well as sometimes oil pastels or colored pencils.

Then there's my Moleskines. I love the Moleskines. I've got several, bought a pocket size with unlined paper that has 192 thin pages that still isn't full, but makes a good pocket one. Real small, 3 1/2" x 5" or something like that. There's the 5" x 8 1/2" watercolor one that's nearly full that I've been posting in the Watercolor Gallery forum which has all my color charts in it along with many paintings.

There's my new A4 Folio that may take a long time to fill because it's got that heavy cream paper that's too smooth to take colored pencils well, that seems to work best for pen and ink. But it's good for that, I like the moleskine "Sketchbook" paper a lot for pen and ink.

Then there's the one I ordered and got the Sketchbook instead, but they replaced it and sent on the A4 Moleskine Folio Watercolor Journal, which is awesome, also that interesting British letter size -- 8 1/4" x 11 3/4." It still fits on my scanner.

I even picked up a pair of Mini Moleskine Volant sketchbooks that are 2 1/2" x 4" in black, though they come in colors too. That's easier to fill in pen work, so it's what I'm using for Itty Bitty Book of Kitty.

The thing about the Moleskines is that they're cool. They're black, everything but the watercolor books has ribbon bookmarks, they have an elastic band holding them shut. They're fancy. They're suave. They're vaguely European in their feel, not ordinary. They're special, so that inspires me to do really good stuff in them and try to make them showpiece sketchbooks where all the pages have decent art on them.

It also sometimes made me too intimidated to use them if I didn't feel confident enough to produce something really cool, but once I got them going it was easier to relax and use them. Having more than one helped break that block. I decided I deserved it, and the little extras like that closure band and the bookmark really are handy.

Last and not least at all is one I got for a birthday present in 2004 from my then-housemate, Starweaver. I saw the Sketch Folio with Koi Watercolors gift package in an ASW catalog and ordered one in blue for his birthday present about a month before my birthday, at the same time I got my W&N Artists' Field Box watercolor set. He loved it, including the Koi watercolor set with its water brush.

I really liked the gift I'd bought him. He noticed it and a month later he bought me a black one for my birthday, a fond and silly memory of a good friend. The sketchbook in it was a Canson All Media Book, available at Blick but not listed as a watercolor journal. I held off using it often because I was concerned about not being able to replace it, until I found it at Blick under wire bound sketchbooks and laughed at myself.

Currently that's a favorite because I'm getting close to filling it. I'm using it more than the fancy Moleskines or the cheap ProArt one in part because I'm doing a lot of watercolors, watercolor pencils with wash and pen and watercolor. It's 9" x 12" and has 50 pages of sturdy 90lb cold press paper, doesn't cockle too badly unless I use very heavy washes. It also fits neatly into the Sketch Folio which has those brush pockets and other pockets and pencil holders and so on, for going out. I wanted to be sure to keep one in that. But that runs $20 at Blick.

It's the Canson Montval Field All Media Book. A bit less pricy than the Moleskine Folio and has more pages, but doesn't have the elastic band closure.

A4 Moleskine Folio watercolor version has 60 pages, but that's not 60 sheets, it's 30 sheets and you use both sides. It's $24. So it does cost more.

I guess the ones I like are pretty expensive at that, but the ProArt one is perfect for just doing any old sketching, pencil or whatever. I've used up more of the ProArt ones but may start keeping up more of the multi media books.

I'm also going to get a watercolor journal and turn it into a pastel journal by using Colourfix pastel primer on all the pages to make good Colourfix sanded paper out of them. That'll be fun. I've got the primer, just need to get an extra watercolor journal now.

So favorite really depends on what I'm using it for. The only problem I have with the All Media Book is its size, it'd be great if they did one 8 1/2" x 11" as well as the 9" x 10".

I haven't tried a square one, but that might be fun sometime.

If they hadn't discontinued them I might get more of the Leonardo da Vinci sketchbook from Derwent. I got mine on Clearance, love the sixteen page illustrated essay on Leonardo's sketching in the front and think the paper's good, but haven't used it much since I thought of it mostly as a "must be really freaking good stuff in it" book and haven't finished the last page, a big colored pencils drawing. I probably should get that out and finish it sometime so I can keep going on that one. If I had two then I could actually copy some of Leonardo's drawings from the essay into it, but they'll have to go in a different sketchbook.

I wish I'd thought of that when I got it and bought at least two of those, maybe several, because they'd have been great as gifts too.

06-27-2010, 01:24 PM
I have to say, I haven't found my favorite sketch book, yet. I've got 4 in process and 3 more sitting on a shelf waiting. All the ones I have are good for dry media. If I use pen or heavy colored pencil, I can't work on the back of the sheets. I think they must be what Robert described as the Pro-Art sketchbooks. I know they were inexpensive.

I have 2 of the spiral bound books in use right now and a Moleskine sketchbook. It's great for pen or colored pencil or graphite. I don't touch any of these with water, it cockles too badly and puts me off using any wet media. (Yes, I did try. :o) I have a couple of no name book bound sketchbooks that fall into the same category of pencil or pen only. I'm really in the market for a water color or mixed media sketchbook since I found I enjoy doing pen and wash with water color pencils.

I'm seriously considering making my own sketchbook. I got a couple of sample packs of paper from Legion paper. I tested close to 60 different papers using pencil, pen, colored pencils (3 brands) and water color pencil both wet and dry. I found a hot press water color paper I really like for everything I do. So, I'm impatiently waiting until Blick has the paper in stock and I have some spare $$. I'm going to buy a pile of full sheets and try binding my own sketchbook with it. I've made a few books so I'm pretty sure I can do so. The only question is, if the sizing will cause a problem with the folding, sewing and gluing of the pages. If that doesn't work, I may go to a binder style sketchbook because I really like this paper. And the paper is lovely enough for finished art as well. I figure that way if I work out a technique in the sketchbook, or find a combination of colors that is awesome, it won't change when I do the same thing on a finished piece of art. Because I've found what works in my current sketchbooks, doesn't come out the same on the papers I have for finished pictures. :(

06-27-2010, 03:59 PM
What's your favorite sketchbook - and why?
My favorite are the sketchbooks I make for myself. I like them because I can chose the book size and the kind of paper. I use (for the most part) 80lb Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper (http://www.dickblick.com/products/strathmore-aquarius-ii-watercolor-paper/). I love that paper for sketching and for writing. It's the best I've found so far. I bind the sketchbooks with the Rollabind (http://rollabind.com/) system, so I can pop pages out and put pages in easily.
What medium do you use it for, and what type of sketching do you do in it?
I use a fountain pen. And sometimes gouache and watercolor. But mostly pen. And ink wash using a waterbrush. I also write in it, do a bit of journaling as well.
Do you buy different types of books for different situations/mediums?
I make a bigger sketchbook for my vacations: 7" x 11". My everyday sketchbooks were 5" x 7", and are now 7" x 8". I like 'em roomier these days. All of them are 'landscape' format. Bound on the short side.

I tried a gazillion different kinds of sketchbooks and wasn't 100% satisfied with any of them. Not enough flexibility. The system I use now allows me to totally customize my books. Especially if I get in the mood for some different paper, I just tear (or cut) the paper to size, punch the holes, and pop it in. Piece of cake. ;)


06-27-2010, 08:53 PM
Hi everyone,

It's become apparent in reading this thread (and others in this forum) that I'm not as weird as I thought I was in that I have probably half a dozen types of sketchbooks and multiple copies of most, many of which are started but not yet finished. :)

One thing I have found, as Robert mentioned either in this thread or elsewhere, is that the appearance and quality of the Moleskine sketchbooks makes me want to do 'good' work in there. In some of the other sketchbooks, I'm not concerned about producing real clunkers sometimes because 'it's only a sketchbook'. Someday (maybe!) I'll decide on a couple of types of books that are right for me and leave it at that. In the meantime, I have several years worth of work to do to fill up what I already have...! :lol:

06-27-2010, 10:21 PM
Thanks for all the replies. It helps to know that I'm not the only one in search of a perfect sketchbook. And maybe there is no such thing. Maybe I'm expecting a sketchbook to fill too many requirements :

1. Be small enough to carry easily but large enough not to feel cramped while sketching
2. Have lots of pages
3. Have heavy enough paper that I can use both sides without showing or bleeding through
4. take pencil, pen and watercolor without problems (slight buckling is okay)
5. be reasonably sturdy

Ideally, I would like one for travels, one for sketchcrawls, one for scavenger hunts, and one for just general sketching. This sounds like I sketch a lot, but unfortunately I don't. I'm embarrassed at how little I sketch. Thus all the lonely sketchbooks that have been started and cast aside. I'm trying to really establish the habit of sketching every day.

If anyone else has a sketchbook to recommend, please feel free to comment.

Robert, I like the looks of the ProArt sketchbook. I have a similar one that's almost finished that I use for sketchcrawls. There is no brand name on the cover, and I think it was given to me as a gift.

Carey Griffel
06-28-2010, 09:20 AM
Michelle, have you tried the Moleskine watercolor books? The regular size of Moleskine is really not too big for carrying around. The watercolor book takes pencil, pen, and watercolor. (Sure, the paper's a little rougher for pencil, but you get nice texture that way! And you can use the water soluble graphite, which I think works super well in the watercolor Moleskine!) You can use both sides of the paper fine. The cover is, of course, sturdy. It doesn't have a *huge* number of pages, but neither does it have too few, especially if you're using front and back. I know with the cover and all, a Moleskine can feel "too special" to use regularly, but do like I do, do some doodling on the first page and break it in with something you're not happy to look at. :lol: Then the rest of it doesn't have to feel so special. And if you also carried around a regular pocket-sized Moleskine that you just allot to do rough pencil or pen sketching in, then that will get you going enough for work in the watercolor book. And tell yourself it's okay to use it...you mention that you don't do as much sketching as you'd like, give yourself the freedom to do it when you want to do it--make it available, but don't force yourself.

The Canson book that Robert mentions is also a really nice one.


06-28-2010, 09:29 AM
If anyone else has a sketchbook to recommend, please feel free to comment.
Hi, Michelle! I have a recommendation:
1. Go to your local art supply store and pick out the paper that satisfies your three requirements of paper that you can use both sides without showing or bleeding through, will take pencil, pen and watercolor without "problems", and is reasonably sturdy. (I like 80lb Strathmore Aquarius II paper (http://www.dickblick.com/products/strathmore-aquarius-ii-watercolor-paper/). It meets all your requirements, IMO.)
2. Buy a few big sheets.
3. Decide what size sketchbook you want and cut some of your paper to that size.
4. Cut two pieces of good stiff binder's board (http://www.dickblick.com/products/lineco-acid-free-binders-board/) to a size a bit bigger. These will be your covers.
5. Take this sandwich to your local Kinkos. Ask them to bind it all using "coil binding". (http://fedex.com/us/officeprint/storesvcs/copyprint/finishing.html) Tell them to punch and bind the two pieces of board as your front and back covers. (Be sure to specify which edge of the sandwich you want them to bind. They would ordinarily bind the long edge, so if you want the short edge bound, be sure to tell them.)
Option: If you want to, you can glue decorative paper or something more protective onto the board covers. Fancy it up a bit. I attach a piece of elastic, ala Moleskine, so I can elastic it closed. (http://www.recordingthoughts.com/index.php/archives/2006/03/04/fixing-a-broken-moleskine-band/)

With just this small investment of your time and attention, plus the minimal cost of binding at Kinkos, you will have exactly the sketchbook you want! I guarantee it. No more wasting money gambling on someone else's idea of a sketchbook.


06-29-2010, 11:04 AM
Thanks for the suggestion of the Moleskine watercolor book, Carey. I will keep that in mind. That might be a good thing to put on my Christmas/birthday wish list.

Jan, I'm sure that I would love a book made with my choice of paper, but alas, I am too lazy to make one. I did see an Aquarius pad though that I was tempted to try - too few sheets to use long term, but maybe good to see if I like the paper.

06-29-2010, 11:11 AM
I haven't used a lot of different sketchbooks but so far my favorite by far is made by hand.book. They take graphite well, charcoal okay and watercolor pretty well. I've never tried to use watercolor on both sides but I think they would work okay, there doesn't seem to be much if any bleed through. I just wish they made a larger format. Here's a link to them on Blick;


06-29-2010, 02:22 PM
Hi Michelle,
I'm pretty new to the journal habit so I don't have many answers for you. I do love my Moleskines, though.
I'm including a link to a blog entry in Roz Wound Up where she talks about some new sketch books that are arriving on the market in July, I believe. They are Legion Stonehenge. Might be worth a look.


06-29-2010, 04:26 PM
Thanks David and Dena.

David, I think I have one of the really small handbook watercolor books, but I haven't tried it yet.

Dena - I have used Stonehenge paper a while back for finished drawings, but I never considered using it for watercolor. Will see if I have any left and test it out.

I'm learning that there are a lot more sketchbooks out there than I thought, which should confuse me even more. LOL But more fun trying them all too.

06-29-2010, 07:15 PM
I also have the small moleskin watercolor book and I am just starting my front entry page with Color Pencil. So far its taking the CP really nicely! (Derwent Studios), so very happy with it. I'm very slow when it comes to any type of drawing but maybe when the weather turns cold and its not nice all the time, making me want to play outside, I'll get more done in it! I bought it because I also wanted to experiment with Watercolor Pencils (WHICH ARRIVED TODAY - WOO HOOOO!) so have lots of things to test out in it... once I get the first page finished... and who knows when that will be!! :-)

06-30-2010, 05:49 AM
I haven't had the chance to try out more brands out there but so far, the Daler-Rowney Aquafine and Casnon's XL Mixed media pad works well for watercolor.

For fast sketches, I really liked the portability of Daler-Rowney's CACHET sketch and moleskine drawing notebooks although I prefer the first one because of it's thicker paper density and semi-rough texture.

Watercolor moleskines seem to be extinct here in our local shop, hopefully they'll restock this summer.