How I Choose a Sketchbook

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The other day, M. asked me how I decide what sketchbook to bring when I go out to draw. Great question!

At any given time, I have a dozen or more sketchbooks in various states of completion. I tag each of my sketchbooks on the first page with my name, phone, and date started, so I can tell you that the oldest work-in-progress book dates back to (welp!) 2011.

Most of the older ones either have paper that I'm not too fond of or were acquired for a specific purpose (I'm looking at you, Pacon Art Street Sketchbook from the kids' workshop I led). Of course I also have a large and ever-growing stash of new, untouched sketchbooks, including freebies from various conferences and impulse buys.

So which sketchbook gets to ride along when I'm packing my bag? It depends on what I'm drawing (and how I'm feeling). Obviously if I'm just aiming for the smallest kit possible to shove in a purse, I choose a 3"x5" pocket sketchbook, but I usually prefer 5"x8".

Am I likely to work solely in line, or will I do a more involved drawing, perhaps with watercolor? If the latter, I would take a sketchbook with heavier paper, made for watercolor (e.g., Strathmore Field Watercolor, Hand Book Field Watercolor, Fluid 100 Watercolor Block).

Washington Park, Denver, CO

Will there be other, more accomplished artists around? I may go for the familiar to give me a confidence boost (Stillman & Birn Beta or Zeta, Moleskine watercolor).

If I'm aiming for quantity (ahem, Inktober), I may choose a thinner paper. This month, for instance, my Canson Art Book Universal Sketch is on heavy rotation. Since it's hardbound, it survives being shoved into a backpack or tote on my daily commute.

Here's a quick ink sketch I did last week to plan what I'd carve on a pumpkin:

owl pumpkin sketch

Daily challenges are a great excuse to use up pages in sketchbooks I don't like. Instead of letting those books languish in the drawer forever, I can fill them with quick thumbnails, notes in workshops, draft blog posts, etc. And since sketchbooks with thinner paper are usually cheaper, I don't get anxious about achieving perfection on every page!

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