Tuesday 27 May 2014


I have a confession. I have been somewhat obsessed with sketching and sketchbooks lately - and I love it. I've been sketching for years, sometimes more sometimes less and I thought I would write a bit about the books I have used.

Sketchbooks - bottom to top - Fabriano Venezia A4 and A5; Daler Rowney Petrol; Blank Magneto Book; Stillman & Birn A5 Beta; Moelskine Sketchbook and Daler Rowney Eggshell

Over the years, my medium of choice has been a pen, usually a fine liner or pencil. This was governed by the type of books easily available in South Africa. The ones used most often were simple blank books A5 and A4 from Exclusive Books. The paper was most likely only about 110gsm and not suitable for watercolour. Pencil is fine but unless the drawings are fixed, the pages get very messy, so ink is a better option. 

Occasionally, I would be able to get Daler Rowney's Ebony and these were better and could cope with a light wash. Then I found the Moleskine Sketchbooks but unfortunately not the ones with watercolour paper! The paper in these is lovely for ink and coloured pencil but is averse to watercolour. However, manufacturers have to change things and as I write there is new packaging and I believe different paper. For up to date reviews of these changes,please check Katherine Tyrrell's blog Making a Mark as she will be posting her findings.

I also have an A4 Moleskine watercolour sketchbook that I am using. I'm not too sure how I feel about this one yet... The landscape format makes it a large rather cumbersome surface to work on. It's certainly not the book to pull out when you are trying to be discreet about sketching. And since it appears that the paper in this one has also changed makes my findings above rather irrelevant!

A good value for money sketchbook is the Jasart Sketch and Write, especially when they are on special. These have 150gsm paper, are hard bound and come in a variety of sizes. The book opens flat and is strurdy. The paper accepts a light wash, and can be used to test oil colour mixtures without bleeding through to the next page. The price allows one to be extravagant with page use so I use these for daily studio work. (This satisfies my semi-frugal nature)

A lovely book for ink, gouache, and watercolour is the Fabriano Venezia. It's a bound book, is sturdy and I like the cover. Since the paper is 200gsm it takes a fair amount of punishment. These come in both about A5 and about A4. I say "about" because these are slightly larger than A5 and A4 which comes with challenges when scanning as the page doesn't fit an A4 scanner bed. Another grumble I have is that the book doesn't open completely flat which causes problems when working across the gutter and creates a strong shadow when scanning.

 My basic sketching kit - Fabriano Venezia with a white Lamy Safari for drawing 
& Waterman for writing.

This brings me to the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. I have used a number of these and like all of them very much for use with various mediums. The books all open flat so good to use a double spread and for scanning. 

The first I tested was the Beta 270gsm Weight: 180 lb. – 270 gsm; Shade: Natural White
Surface: Cold Press Media: Watercolor, Dry Media, & Ink
It's lovely for watercolour, though it has a bit more tooth than I like for pen work but still workable. But - the "but" is because the paper is thicker there are fewer sheets in the book so it's not that economical a choice.

Figs - watercolour and pencil Beta sketchbook

The Alpha Weight: 100 lb. – 150 gsm  Shade: Natural White  Surface: Vellum  Media: Dry Media,  Light Wash, & Ink
This is the one I would choose again as a daily sketchbook. It's 150gsm and because of the sizing copes well with a lot of abuse in terms of water. It's receptive to pen and a good number of pages per book so good value.

A favourite for pen is the Zeta Weight: 180 lb. – 270 gsm Shade: Natural White Surface: Smooth  Media: Watercolor,  Pen & Ink, & Dry Media and I do enjoy the rather crazy way watercolour behaves on the paper. 
The Epsilon Weight: 100 lb. – 150 gsm  Shade: Natural White  Surface: Smooth  Media: Pen & Ink,   Dry Media, & Light Wash has similar surface - smooth, 150gsm and copes with quite a lot of water. It's one I'm using at the moment.

Another new one that I am trying is the Hand*book sketchbook and find that I spite of not being a watercolour paper, it is handling paint well - more on that as I do more sketches in this book.

Hand*Book Journal - Ink and Gouache and small watercolour palettes ready to be filled.

Disclaimer: I am not associated in any way with the stores or manufacturers where links have been provided.

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