Updated: Mar 1, 2020
How to choose the perfect sketchbook, or make your own if you can't find one.
I couldn't find a perfect sketchbook with a combination of great paper for watercolors, great format for outdoor sketching comfortably and good binding that will survive a few months of constant use and abuse.
In the past, I have had sketchbooks that have fallen apart, paper warps or crumbles upon contact with water or they’re too uncomfortable & clunky to carry with me for sketching outside/inside/anywhere at anytime. I take my sketchbook with me on trips. I need something portable and easy to pull out and start sketching quickly.
My all-time favorite sketchbook paper has got to be Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Sketchbooks. And here is the reason why: the paper does not warp, it takes multiple washes very well, allows for glazing, charging and lifting color. It's an off white color, which doesn't bother me at all. However, the sizes in which it is available is not my favorite; the 7.75" x 9.75" is great for studies and indoor sketching, I have yet to find this format in hardcover. The softcover books are uncomfortable to hold outdoors. The 8" x 5.5" landscape hardcover book is easier to hold but restrictive, the 5.5" can be quite a small size sometimes. The paper quality is great (140 lb. / 300 gsm). I have heard many complaints about the paper quality but, in truth, I think those people have never tried other brands other than Arches. For the price, around 11 US dollars, I think it’s perfect.
Having said that, I still enjoy other brands of paper, like Stillman and Birn’s watercolor sketchbooks, and Fabriano Artístico paper which a few high-end sketchbook are made with. Lovely paper. I have tried many brands of sketchbook in different sizes and formats, and when I say tried, I mean filled completely. Because in order to have a good opinion of a product you have to use it in its entirety.
Watercolor Sketchbooks are for watercolors
It’s not a pet peeve to have watercolor paper warp on me, I still finish the sketchbook and try my best to prevent any more mishaps, but it’s great when that is not a concern.
Moleskine at the top, which have yet to complete because the paper is very frustrating. I don’t understand what all the hoopla is about with these sketchbooks. They are very bad and very expensive. Escoda in the middle, paper warps with tiniest bit of water. Colors look dull and pool in odd places, and finally, I included my favorite Strathmore 400 watercolor sketchbook at the bottom because it’s clear to see how flat those pages stay. Isn’t that beautiful?
Making my own sketchbooks
I decided to make my own sketchbooks, after realizing that I just can’t deal with cheap paper and odd sizes. While I could just book bind Strathmore 400s in hard cover, doing this would be adding to the price of the book. So I decided my best option was to make my own.
Here is what I did:
- I purchased 10 pages 22” x 30” of Arches Watercolor Cold Press paper 140lbs (worth it)
- Planned the cut sizes on a template on illustrator
- Enough paper for three sketchbooks.
- I cut and binded one On my own
- Realized how difficult it was to stitch the signatures together
- I cut it in two different sizes to vary format
- Took the pages it to a professional book binder to get a hard cover glued on to it
I have yet to hear back from the book binder, but as soon as he hands my three sketchbooks back to me I will test them, take photos of them and post a detailed review, not just on the complete process of making these sketchbooks but also on how they feel while out sketching on the them. I’m very excited!
Update: Here are the sketchbooks. I am currently using one of them, I took it to Vermont on Christmas vacation and have yet to scan and photograph the results. Reviews coming soon.