Summer 2017 update: I now make sketchbooks with 2mm plywood covers (lighter, stronger and lovelier than cardboard), and use Saunders and Waterford ‘High White’ paper (avoiding the yellow cast of Fabriano). The books can fold completely back on themselves creating a strong and easy to handle platform for your urban sketching! Full details on how to make these are here.
I’ve also been using concertina sketchbooks, great for linked narrative sketches and documenting journeys. Details on how to make these are here.
Original page – December 2013
I love books and almost all my sketching has been in sketchbooks instead of on loose sheets of paper. The sketches have a context, and a narrative sequence has built up over the time I’ve been sketching. Every sketch and scrawl is part of the same story, there are no mistakes just lessons learnt, and I can see progress over the last 20 months.
I started by using ready-made books that contained cartridge paper. This is great for drawing but the quality of the paper limits the ways you can use watercolour (you can’t lift or manipulate the paint on the paper’s surface). There aren’t many pocket-sized watercolour paper sketchbooks available, so I learnt to bind my own, using the method explained in detail at these websites; use whichever one is clearest to you…
Bookbinding looks labour intensive, but it’s fairly straight forward, very satisfying and you end up with a sketchbook you couldn’t buy – you choose the paper, the binding, the size etc. (There are small Moleskine watercolour books, but these are bound on the short side so open very wide, and the paper is too textured for me).
To avoid making the covers for the books I bought a large batch of out of date Moleskine diaries for £1.00 each, stripped them out and refilled the lovely covers with Fabriano Artistico 90lb (200gsm) Hot Pressed paper, using the tecniques described above. This paper is thick enough so sketches don’t show on the other side of the paper, but thin enough to fold, stitch and bind easily. The surface is beautifully smooth, great for small sketches and fine nibs, and lovely to paint on. I’ve tried similar papers by Arches and ‘Saunders and Waterford’ but always return to the Fabriano. I tend to make several books at a time, once every few months, and now I’m confident with the A6 size I’ve made a full range from A7 to A4, refilling other out of date diaries.
Here’s the full range, with their associated palettes…