Drawing Basics: The Best Sketchbook?

8 Dec 2008

Above, a selection of sketchbooks for drawing from Kunst & Papier, Palo Alto, California.

Above, a selection of sketchbooks from Kunst & Papier, Palo Alto, California.
About two weeks ago I opened up a discussion regarding the best pencil for drawing.

Now I'm interested in the best sketchbook. Although I had an opinion about the best pencil, I find that I love just about any sketchbook, so long as it has decent paper and can open up and lay reasonably flat while I'm working on a figure drawing.

So, please let me know what you think. I'm asking the American Artist community brain trust to speak up on what makes a good sketchbook. I'll be writing a short piece on this topic for the Winter issue of Drawing mag, so please, share your opinion, and help our readers out.

What do you find most important when choosing a sketchbook? Whether it...

- is spiral bound or cloth bound?

- has ample sheets to last you a while?

- has high quality paper?

- fits in your pocket or is big enough to hold a large subject?

- has a hard cover or a soft one that won't poke you when it's in your backpack?

- looks good?

- is durable?

- has a means for securing it shut?

- is inexpensive enough that you feel free to draw as much as you like?

- is "green" or otherwise friendly to the environment?

- is simply the one you are familiar with?

 

Please share your wisdom, good people!

bob

 

 


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Comments

Blackbird_61 wrote
on 8 Dec 2008 11:06 PM

Hello - Thanks for starting this forum, I think its great. : )

My Favorite Sketch book is a rather humble, Mead Academie Sketch Portfolio. At $7 for 50 Sheets it has ample sheets, I use my mostly for life drawings at my favorite coffee shop; a person sits down, and I just do a quick (10 to 20 minute) sketch while they sip and read; so I get alot of poses from a familiar angle, but the studies in Hair, and clothing are well worth it, also "real people" in a real enviroment, not everyone is model pretty. I generally fill one up in about 2 months of trips out.

The Paper is a little heavy maybe thicker than my 60lb pad, maybe 75. The working Surface is 11x7&7/8ts to big for ones pocket, but it fits nicely in my shoulder bag, along with a discreet little pencil kit. The Pad has a soft cover, and has never been inconvient to work with out in public, and the perferated papers are a real plus.

- looks good? It looks quite nice enough to show a subject after I have completed a sketch, I will usually approach my subject, show them the sketch and ask for their name to title it, and if it was a very successful sketch sometimes gift it to them. (I usually make a quick tracing if I mean to give away the original.)

These pads hold up for 2 or 3 months in my bag before being retired to the growing stack on my refernce shelf, but yes I feel they are quite durable. There is no means to lock the pad shut, but this has never been an issue. I do like the perferated sheets though, its easy to clean up the edge of a sketch I have given away.

- is simply the one you are familiar with?

No actually I have a Nice Cason Pad I use at home at my desk and some Strathmore Pads, but the Mead Pads get more work than all my other pads combined. ... I am just now returning to drawing after a long layoff.  In my previous walk along this road I perfered A2 and A3 sized Pads; so about 2 to 4 times this sized working surface; but that is for work at my desk. For my day trips this has just been a wonderful pad.

on 9 Dec 2008 7:00 AM

The things that are important to me in a sketchbook are: a spiral binding so it can lay flat or be folded completely open; a hard cover so it won't flop around; and smooth paper that can hold up to ink, pencil and light washes. Spiral bindings do get in the way sometimes, but the folding completely open is worth the problems for me. I don't care about brand or looks as I'm not a journaling-sketcher and I rarely show my sketchbook to anyone. As for size, I tend to like the ones that are around 7 x 10 inches. I find that size to be pretty portable but also big enough for me to feel comfortable working on.

Bob Bahr wrote
on 9 Dec 2008 7:26 AM

Interesting, BB.

I use one of those large triangular binder clips to keep my big sketchbook closed. This sketchbook is spiral bound, so I fold the pages over and use the clip to secure the book open while I'm sketching.

so, you use your sketches as reference material. I'm using my drawings just to improve my draftsmanship---I'm not at the point yet where I can assemble reference material to compose a bigger drawing or a painting.

Blackbird_61 wrote
on 9 Dec 2008 9:25 AM

Primarily my day trips are just now intended to build up my skills, but I do have two ideas that will use these sketches as a reference.

1 is a Portrait of Frederick; where I intend to transfer these sketches to a much larger sheet and maybe a canvas; I have recently seen some very interesting Graphite and oil work that has the feel of a drawing in a painting.

2. I have an idea for a bit of graphic story telling thats going to need a fair number of faces for minor charactors - so I will be tweaking some of the faces as I develope the charactors.

Blessings, BB.  

Kells L. wrote
on 11 Dec 2008 7:27 AM

Any sketchbook worth using has got to have paper with good tooth.

I like newsprint but  hard to find that isn't 'slicky'. Just cannot seem to find good newsprint for sketching anymore. I like BB's pad also.  Mead Academie Sketch Portfolio has a pretty good tooth.

I used it in college (in the dark ages).

Kells L. wrote
on 11 Dec 2008 7:44 AM

I really prefer  newsprint paper but finding "toothy" newsprint is almost impossible.

My sketchbook should be  about 8" X 10" Mead Academie Sketch Portfolio has just about  the right tooth for me.

Bob Bahr wrote
on 11 Dec 2008 8:37 AM

Kells, I came across a good pad of newsprint at the SCAD art materials show in Oct. I'll write down the exact name of the product tonight when I get home. I love it--and it has a good tooth.

Bob Bahr wrote
on 15 Dec 2008 7:11 AM

Kells, I have that newsprintlike pad here at the office today, ready for tonight's drawing session.

It's called

Bogus Rough Sketch

9x12 70lb

100% recycled, chemical free, biodegradable., rich brown color

Bee Paper makes it It's called 892.

Looks like you can get it in yard rolls or in 18x24 pads, too.

I'm having a hard time finding an online retailer, but here's one page:

www.c2f.com/.../productdetail.asp

spring2004 wrote
on 18 Dec 2008 5:23 PM

I use 2 sizes.  First is 3.5x5.5, hand-book by Global Art Materials, Inc., Kansas City, MO sometimes available at local art/craft stores.  It has a sewn binding and elastic closer, opens flat, paper is good for pencil, ink, and washes.  Paper is thick enough NOT to pucker with reasonable washes. This one resides in my purse.  This is a Moleskine look-alike. I buy purses to accommodate this little book.

Second is Raffine spiral bound sketch book that takes pencil, pen, washes. This one is 5.5x8.5 and resides in my little kid-sized back pack that contains my sketching and WC gear and goes everywhere with me.

Third: Often I buy sheets of WC paper that I like, cut it to 9x12 or 8.5x11 size, get Office Max or equal to spiral bind and attach  a cover and a backing board.  This one goes with me on days off and holidays when I will have more free time and want paper that cooperates with WC washes.

Big sketching fan here!

cgull wrote
on 19 Dec 2008 10:00 PM

I use just about any book that is on sale. It seems the black cover ones (whose name I foget) has first place as I have 17 of them filled and 9 empty. They must go on sale freuently.

I like Aquabee because I can use some watercolor in it.

I yearn for a book with 140# paper in it.

It's not the book, it's the amount of use it gets.

Bob Bahr wrote
on 23 Dec 2008 7:53 AM

"I buy purses to accommodate this little book."

That is a beautiful quote, Spring2004.

marcdalessio wrote
on 26 Dec 2008 1:09 AM

Kunst & Papier No. 1003 13.

Lightweight, large paper-size, and really nice paper to draw on.

on 29 Dec 2008 4:12 PM

Great topic! I always carry a sketchbook with me--I've done so since I was a young teenager. The most consistently used one in recent years is the Cachet Select Sketch book, [75 lb. paper, 8x10" wire bound but not spiral... large double wire loops go through rectangular holes in the brown hard covers and in the pages. It has an attached elastic band to loop around the end to keep it closed when not in use.] It opens completely flat or folds back on itself easily and is small enough to be unobtrusive but large enough for decent sized, on the spot drawings. I have even done plein air watercolors in them and the paper holds up pretty well for wet work, although that's not its primary purpose.

My most recent is a small, pocket sized Moleskine with very heavy (almost card stock weight) cream colored paper and elastic band to keep it closed when not in use. This was prompted, in part, by a recent break-in to my truck: the thieves stole 2 large bags full of art, watercolors, drawing and sketch pads and art materials--thousands of dollars worth of stuff! One item stolen with the bags was a large, hardbound sketchbook in which I was deliberately doing only pen & ink and wash drawings... I had at least 120 finished drawings in it -- over 2 1/2 years worth of work! (Artists Beware: Insurance won't cover it!!) After that grievous loss I decided I'd carry my sketchbook on my person at all times and not leave it in a vehicle ever again, hence the pocket size. However, I have another new Cachet sketch book ready and waiting to be used and will no doubt start in it soon... also being careful not to leave it in a vehicle. "Once burned, twice shy," as they say.

cgull wrote
on 9 Jan 2009 6:33 AM

I have several. One is te standdrd black 8  x 11. I use this a lot for pen and ink. And it is easy to carry. NOot to heaby.

I have one made in India that has paper about 300#. Paper is like handmade paper.

And I have the red one (??) that takes a bit of wate#4rcolor. You can find these at Blck or Cheap Joe.

I want one that has 140# paper but haven't found one yet

Aaything that takes drawing is good. Done some nice stuff on paper napkins while earing (and drinking)

on 14 Feb 2009 8:17 AM

I've been drawing in sketchbooks for 20 years.   I've accumulated 52 sketchbooks in the past 10 years.   This much sketchbook time has allowed me to use most every brand. Sketchbooks have traveled with me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and to the top of Half Dome.  My favorite sketchbook brand is Catchet.   Canson is very similar with about 200 pages in either.   My best sketchbook holds 224 pages of blank freedom.  I buy sketchbooks in bulk, about 10 at a time.

I promote sketchbooks to parents who has a child with an interest in art.   I gave my son and daughter their first book with the 2 stipulations.  1.  I would only draw for them in their books and not to tear out the page.   2.  They shouldn't put anything in there they wouldn't share with others.  When they finish a book, I charge them $5.00 for any size book they like in my stash.   If a child is willing finish and purchase their own books, they are an artist.  I get loads of positive feedback from parents who implement this technique.   They discover the interest is not only art, but also writing.

Another great thing about this idea is my children have the drawings bound and notes from my wife and I on their progress.   How great is it to build a scrapbook (the best sketchbook) that is more personal, confidence building, and a journal of your growth in art and with your family.   Now they have a better journal of their artistic journey than most professionals.

I've actually taken the pages from 50 books an build a website around the sketches that only my family enjoy.   www.bestsketchbook.com  Where I've released the images royalty free for people who need a quick illustration for their books, magazines, coloring sheets, patterns, etc. is open to all those people who love my sketchbooks.

artdude wrote
on 30 Jan 2011 10:49 PM

These don't fit in your pocket, but I like the plastic coil and how they lay flat. The coil is thin so it's unobtrusive. www.layflatsketchbooks.com. They've got quite a selection and are always in stock. I like the story boards.

bsketchbook wrote
on 12 Jul 2013 2:59 PM

SO I usually buy :Strathmore Hardbound Art Journal - 400 Series Recycled Drawing Paper (80 lb.) 11x14" - 96 Pages ; I like the durability, I am rough on travel and they hold up well.

But I did recently buy the Bogus recycled rough sketch: 9x12inch 70lbs 50 sheets and I am not digging it. - I usually just take old paper bags from the grocery store and unfold them into a large single sheet to get this kind of paper. But when I open the bogus rough sketch sketchbook  and flip to the first few pages or so the pages break free from the binding and now I have loose paper - so I like the paper but It will not be convenient to carry around - and I probably wont buy that one again.

Another sketchbook I buy a lot is the pocket sized moleskin - so classy and small, good for notes. small sketches, ideas etc.

I am looking for a good value on a watercolor pad or book if anyone has any ideas for me - thanks, - b

acmcc24 wrote
on 12 Jul 2013 7:42 PM

Hmmm.  I'm left handed, so a simple top spiral bound has always been my friend.   Its a generic 9x12, 50lb, smooth finish sketchbook with just enough tooth to keep smudging to a minimum.  It's taken quite a beating from me and hasn't fallen apart... yet.  Even though I love hardbound books for their professional feel, a spiral bound is forgiving to numerous paper inserts and I don't have to worry about keeping the book open let alone the binding breaking.  I've never heard of the company - Studio 71, but they made a wonderful sketchbook.

on 27 Jul 2013 9:24 AM

The perfect sketchbook for me is one that lays flat, is small enough to fit into a large purse but large enough to create several thumbnails on one page, is light weight, therefore no heavy covers, is economical not to be intimidaing ,  has good quality of paper which will facilitate graphite, pen & ink, watercolor (not wet into wet) , has a mechanism to keep it closed , is environmentally friendly and is plain dark color not to show wear and tear or busy, detracting designs.    

Dont want much do I.  

cestjeffici wrote
on 27 Jul 2013 9:54 AM

- is spiral bound or cloth bound? Cloth bound although I sometimes make my own using Rollabind discs so I can mix paper types

- has ample sheets to last you a while? At least several outings but not too much

- has high quality paper? yes but this judgement varies if I am using different media

- fits in your pocket or is big enough to hold a large subject?Big enough

- has a hard cover or a soft one that won't poke you when it's in your backpack? No preference

- looks good? Not a concern

- is durable? moderately

- has a means for securing it shut? not a concern

- is inexpensive enough that you feel free to draw as much as you like? My time is worth much more than the papaer I'm drawing on

- is "green" or otherwise friendly to the environment? Too little impact to worry about

- is simply the one you are familiar with? Big factor

cestjeffici wrote
on 27 Jul 2013 9:55 AM

- is spiral bound or cloth bound? Cloth bound although I sometimes make my own using Rollabind discs so I can mix paper types

- has ample sheets to last you a while? At least several outings but not too much

- has high quality paper? yes but this judgement varies if I am using different media

- fits in your pocket or is big enough to hold a large subject?Big enough

- has a hard cover or a soft one that won't poke you when it's in your backpack? No preference

- looks good? Not a concern

- is durable? moderately

- has a means for securing it shut? not a concern

- is inexpensive enough that you feel free to draw as much as you like? My time is worth much more than the papaer I'm drawing on

- is "green" or otherwise friendly to the environment? Too little impact to worry about

- is simply the one you are familiar with? Big factor

Jan Schafir wrote
on 27 Jul 2013 10:50 AM

I have been painting/sketching since 1965.  My teacher told me "ten minutes" a day.  This was my first assignment in drawing class.  I grew to love it, and it is now a way of life.  You can imagine how many different  types of sketchbooks I have tried and collected.  Sine I am primarily a watercolor painter, my favorite sketchbook at this

point  is one with watercolor paper.  I put an abstract wash of colors on the paper first, then  sketch with a fine, waterproof pen over the top.  I also like the sketchbooks with one sheet of drawing paper next to a sheet of w.c. paper.  Cheap Joes makes these.   they have spiral bindings.  Jan Schafir

1Dragones wrote
on 27 Jul 2013 11:32 AM

I mostly prefer to work on unbound sheets, which are taped to a drawing board, however, at times a sketchbook is handy too.  My favorite sketch book needs to meet several criteria:

is spiral bound.  Laying flat open is a must. Although I have several clothbound sketch books, I rarely use them because they won't stay open and are a big problem for that reason.

has ample sheets (at least 60) so it will last awhile.

has high quality paper to enable me to produced a finished sketch, which I would then remove, mat, and frame before showing.

size in the range of 5X7 for travel to 9x12 (or rarely, 11x15) for home use.

has a hard cover so as to protect my work better.

looks good. (Don't much care about how it looks, as nobody other than myself usually sees it.)

is durable. This matters especially for the travel sketch books more than the home use ones.

has a means for securing it shut (nice, especially for travel, but not a major concern).

is inexpensive enough that you feel free to draw as much as you like. Yes!

is "green" or otherwise friendly to the environment (Perhaps shockingly to some, this doesn't matter to me if the above criteria are not met first.)

is simply the one you are familiar with? - Not a major concern.

Thom Well wrote
on 27 Jul 2013 7:48 PM

Spiral bound  move causing the pages to rub together ,But they do lay flat .Hard cover is more secure as long as there is good  Paper ? I think that is the way to go .Thanks , Tom

on 30 Jul 2013 12:33 AM

I like a sketchbook that lays flat, and has high quality paper. My favorites have been Strathmore and also Canson sketchbooks. I feel like Moleskine would seem too precious to feel comfortable to draw in.