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Old 03-13-2007, 10:51 PM
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Sketchbooks!! What they are - how they may be used.

I’m a sketchbook addict. There…I’ve said it. It’s true. I love sketchbooks. I love shopping for them, I really love owning them, and I love carrying them with me everywhere I go just in case I have a free moment to jot down an observation. I take a small one with in my handbag and use it as my journal. I draw in it, I write in it and sometimes I make grocery lists in it, but it is as essential a tool to my artwork as any paintbrush or reference book. I really believe that no artist should be without one!

That being said, they can also prove to be very frustrating if you have the wrong sketchbook, because if you don’t like it, don’t want to carry it, and hate the way your preferred medium works in it – you’ll never use it. I hope this little article will help you choose the book that will work best for you, and perhaps give you an idea or two to use in your own constant companion!


I’ve used many different styles of books as my sketchbook – from simple, lined composition books to the trendy Moleskine sketchbook. I’ve gone through countless spiral bound sketchbooks, glued-spine books and Coptic bound beauties. But when it comes to picking the right book – it’s all about the paper. A typical spiral bound book with the label “sketchbook” is perfect for pencil. It has enough tooth to grab the graphite, but isn’t so rough that the pencil skips across the page. This kind of book will not take any kind of wet media very well, so watercolor or very wet ink washes will be frustrating, although regular pen and ink work would do fine. Bear in mind that sketchbooks are not necessarily for making complete, finished works of art, but if it is frustrating to use, you won’t use it! Spiral bound books work well if you like working in a one-page layout, either portrait or landscape orientation. But, if you like to create two-page layouts, working across the spiral is impossible, and if you like to scan your work for posterity, or for displaying on WetCanvas! or on your personal webpage, that spiral causes some problems.

About 18 months ago, I purchased my first Moleskine sketchbook. These are lovely little books – handsomely made and a very nice size for tucking in a purse or briefcase. There are MANY different types of Moleskine, so you have to do a little bit of research. The plain or ruled Moleskine contains a thin paper made for writing. It is NOT suitable for sketches, as anything you do – pencil, pen or otherwise – will bleed through to the other side. There are two different types of Moleskine sketchbooks. One is labeled “sketchbook” and has a bluish-purple wrapper, the other is the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and has a pale pink wrapper. The sketchbook is bound on the long side and comes in small (3 ½ x 5 ½ ) or large (5 ¼ x 8 ¼ ).

The watercolor sketchbook comes in the same sizes, but is bound on the short side. The paper is stitched into signatures, and the book opens completely flat, so drawing across the center is easy.

The sketchbook can be difficult to get used to at first. The paper is heavily sized and has a slick finish, and is about the same weight as a standard cardstock. Pen work is fabulous in this book – the pen just glides across the page without any effort. Graphite is wonderful, as well and for the same reason. Adding wet media can be a little tricky, however. Washes of watercolor puddle up and soak in and aggravate, but they can be used to advantage – if you decide to accept the strange behavior and incorporate it into the sketch! Adding a little bit of soap to your water can help avoid the problem entirely. I’ve found that, while watercolor is repelled by the sizing on the paper, acrylic ink soaks in quickly and loses all it’s vibrancy immediately. Other than the acrylic ink issue, however, I’ve not found a medium I can’t use in the Moleskine. I’ve used pencil, pen, colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic paint, watercolor crayon, Inktense pencil and poster markers, and have loved it all. The key is to not fight the paper – find it’s limitations and either work within them, or use them to your advantage!

Gold Ruffles Daylily in Moleskine Sketchbook - ink and colored pencil

The Moleskine watercolor sketchbook contains 200 gsm cold press watercolor paper and takes a watercolor wash quite well. It actually is a good, all-around sketchbook, as both pencil and pen do well in it. I have found the landscape layout to be a little tricky for me, but that’s a personal preference.


Gold Ruffles Daylily in Watercolor Moleskine
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Old 03-13-2007, 10:58 PM
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Re: Sketchbooks!!

I’m currently working in a hand+book journal co square journal that is also stitched, so that it lays flat when I’m working.

The paper is somewhere between a typical sketchbook and the watercolor Moleskine. It takes all media well, including light washes of watercolor or acrylic ink. The square format is interesting, but requires some forethought in planning! I have to say that I miss my Moleskine (I’ve filled 2 in the last year, cover to cover) and as soon as this one is done, I’ll be going back!

So, those are the basics of the sketchbooks I’ve used – but apart from quick sketches and thumbnails and working out compositions before I start a painting – what else is a sketchbook good for? Well…experimentation, of course!

One of my favorite things to do when I get a new sketchbook, is to go through and pre-color random pages – a swath of watercolor, a spray of ink, a glued in swatch of handmade paper, or even a complete coating of acrylic paint. I find that when I get to that page, I can work whatever random paint is already there into the sketch. For example, on this page, I used some opaque watercolor all across the two-page spread of my Moleskine sketchbook before I made my first mark.


Then, when I started sketching the old photographs from one of Deirdre’s (deepat) WDE’s, the antiqued nature of the pages seemed perfect for the images! You can see in this one how the watercolor interacts with the Moleskine paper.



In this spread, I had pre-colored the pages with a swath of red/orange watercolor. The weekend I made these sketches, my husband and I had gone to an open-air art and music festival in July, when it was quite warm. The shimmery red/orange at the top fit perfectly with a warm summer afternoon.




In this example, I coated both pages of a two page spread with purple acrylic paint, and then used a white, water-based poster marker to sketch my very aged cat, Pugsley. The image turned out kind of ghost-like, which fit the circumstances very well – she was always like a little ghost – coming and going quietly!


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Old 03-13-2007, 11:10 PM
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Re: Sketchbooks!!

I love to use my sketchbooks for journaling, as well as honing my skill at drawing. Whenever my family and I go camping, I always spend a bit of time drawing what we’ve seen, and writing about the event. This picture shows how I set up in the field, with my small journal, portable watercolor palette, and water brush. (The Diet Coke, Fritos and dip are optional )



The water brush (that transparent green thing on the right) is a wonderful tool for sketching outdoors – it holds clear water in the barrel and is easily cleaned with a squeeze of the barrel and a swipe of a paper towel. The finished sketch you see there is shown in this picture…


watercolor and ink in hand*book journal

I often incorporate many elements into one page or spread, such as here, in another camping journal page,


ink and derwent inktense pencils in Moleskine sketchbook

and here in my garden journal page.


watercolor crayon, and ink in Moleskine sketchbook

However you use your sketchbook, and whichever one you choose, make sure you use it! Hone your drawing skills, design and layout and composition skills in a small space before you move on to finished work. Experiment with color in a space that no one has to see but you. Journal and draw your every day life and leave behind a lasting legacy for the generations that come after you! And most importantly…have fun!!


Mama Dee's pound cake recipe, ink and watercolor in Moleskine sketchbook
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Old 03-13-2007, 11:23 PM
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Re: Sketchbooks!!

Diahn,
What dedication to your sketch books!!! I take mine with me but seldom does it see the light of day when I'm out and about. I suppose I need to join the ranks and get a moleskin. It seems I paint only in studio now and I do that daily. Gone are the days of camping BUT spring is coming so I might be able to get some good old sketching time in with a bit of camping.
Thanks for the encouragement to keep at the sketch book in my bag...one day I might actually get it out and just 'sketch.'
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