Since I first began sketching and painting, I've been trying out various sketchbooks nonstop. The choices are certainly plentiful, almost overwhelmingly so. From binding to size to paper, the variety seems endless. However, I'm sure it's a good thing because there are as many varieties of artists as there are sketchbooks.
Even with all of the choices, the perfect sketchbook hasn't found its way into my hands... until now! I finally decided to DIY my own watercolor sketchbook, and I am extremely happy with it.
Please don’t be hurt, Sketchbook Manufacturers. I really have enjoyed certain aspects of most of the sketchbooks I have tried, but so far none have earned staying power in my arsenal.
Mainly I’ve had issues with the papers.
I work almost solely in ink and watercolor, and finding a paper that can handle both of those mediums equally well is certainly a challenge for a beginner. Watercolor loves paper with a tooth to it; pen does not. A conundrum, to be sure.
My lack of satisfaction probably has a lot to do with lack of skill. I am sure more experienced sketchers and artists wouldn’t struggle with certain papers as much as I do. However, my lowly level of expertise needs a paper that can handle me— Me being a bit of a scrubber, a too-much water user, and a major eraser.
I’ve found two papers that fit all of these qualifications extremely well. Arches 140-lb hot pressed and Strathmore Mixed Media 400 series papers are pretty amazing.
The Strathmore paper even takes many dip nibs and inks like a pro! However, neither of these papers come in a spiral-bound, smaller-sized, landscape-formatted sketchbook.
Yeah, I know. I’m kind of picky.
So I finally decided to DIY a sketchbook with these papers along with a few other papers thrown in. The easiest solution should be to run down to my local copy shop and have my precut paper spiral bound, but I live in the sticks, and the sticks don’t have a local copy shop.
Plus, I liked the idea of being able to easily remove or add pages so I could place sketches flat when working at my desk, swap pages between sketchbooks, or exchange out papers as I find new ones want to try.
I figured the simplest solution would be a three-ring mini binder. A half-letter sheet is a great size for a portable sketchbook, and I liked the affordability and adaptability of a binder.
I was settling for a plastic binder UNTIL I ran across Mandy Jean Chic’s Etsy shop. Unlike many leather binders and journals I had previously shopped for, Mandy Jean’s gorgeous goodies are affordably priced. Total score!
I ordered a 3-ring mini binder, and Mandy was absolutely fabulous about working up a custom color for me at no additional charge. I know she must have been pulling her hair out after all of the extra dye orders and numerous samples she sent my way, but she never balked. In fact, her exact words were,
“We want to make sure you get exactly what you want. We value your time, money and support. We would rather take the time and design your perfect item than just sell you what we have available.”
Yeah, so I can totally vouch for Mandy Jean’s amazing customer service also.
Thanks to Mandy Jean’s heroic efforts, I am now loving my new DIY sketchbook. The only change I made is that I replaced the elastic closure with a simple leather strap - or more precisely, a leather shoelace. I also picked up a mini 3-ring punch and it works great even on 140-lb paper.
I'm now DIY happy, and DIY done! Don't mind me... I'm out sketching!
Review Update: Though I still absolutely love this binder and use it constantly at home, I found it was a bit too heavy and bulky to comfortably carry when traveling and field sketching. Since I wrote this post, Mandy Jean has moved all of their leather goods over to her husband Brent's store, The Leather Quill Shoppe. They have even expanded their line and offer absolutely beautiful products. I still highly recommend this amazing company!
This post contains affiliate links but it is not a sponsored post nor did I receive any discounts or commissions from Mandy Jean Chic. I just love her stuff! No matter what, you will always get my uncluttered, unbiased opinion. It's a promise!