For sometime now, not even consciously, I’ve been slowly moving away from sketchbooks. Well okay, sort of.
I really love sketchbooks. Like, really. And I really love buying beautiful sketchbooks and trying new sketchbooks.
However, I’ve noticed that lately I will fill up about a fourth of a sketchbook and then default back to watercolor paper. This process has repeated itself so much that I’ve amassed a stack of partially used sketchbooks. This isn’t good for my budget or our tiny little rental house.
I’ve started to realize that as much as I love sketchbooks, I love watercolor paper even more.
I’m not even that crazy about blocks or pads. Instead, I really love the feel and performance of full sheets.
As I prepared for a recent family trip to Washington D.C., I sat down, sorted through, and cleared out my stack of partially used sketchbooks. As I did so, I tried to evaluate what my hangups might be or what might have changed and why I'm no longer finishing them. I could only come up with one, main reason.
I've gotten pickier.
When I first began sketching and painting, sketchbook paper didn't bother me. Neither did cheap brushes or paints. Back then, I had no experience with high-quality tools, so I couldn't recognize when something wasn't up to snuff. (Southern saying meaning up to standard.) Now I notice. And now the less-than-snuff stuff bugs me.
There are very few sketchbooks out there with artist-grade watercolor paper, even less with my preferred brand and type of watercolor paper. I can make do with sketchbook paper and easily look past a good sketchbook’s paper limitations, but I would prefer to not deal with those limitations at all.
I've considered stitch binding my own sketchbook, but I currently lack the patience and inclination to learn such a thing. (I even find it a chore to measure and cut watercolor paper. I usually just tear it into usable sizes.) I don't care for spiral binding so the copy shop idea is out. This post was probably as close as I'll ever get to a DIY sketchbook, and though I love the binder and use it at home, it turned out to be way too heavy for travel and field sketching.
I know. Picky. Picky.
My D.C. Sketching Kit
After a bit of soul searching, I decided to forgo my longstanding love affair with sketchbooks and pack small, individual sheets of watercolor paper for our trip to D.C. Since I often carry multiple sketchbooks, this plan turned out to be a much thinner, more lightweight way to travel.
My complete D.C. sketching setup is below, and you can read more about the pack and what I usually keep in it here.
- My beloved Tom Bihn backpack with Freudian Slip organizer
- Thin plywood (Hubby DIY) for a drawing surface
- Binder clips
- Saunder's Waterford 90lb CP watercolor paper
- Thin piece of plastic as a cover/protector (cut from an old notebook)
- Ginometer (fantastic for urban sketching!)
- Assorted pocket brushes
- Woodward & Father travel palette stocked with 16 colors
- No 2 Pencil & separate eraser, pencil sharpener, chip brush for cleanup, etc
- White gel pen (these are the best!)
- Platinum Preppy fountain pens in assorted nib sizes
- 005 Micron pen
- Collapsible travel cup
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Washington D.C. Travel Sketches
I spent 5 days sketching and journaling our time together in and around D.C. All of my pages are below. (I removed a few minor details out of respect for others' privacy.) Below the gallery is my take-away from my Sans Sketchbook Experiment.
P.S. This isn't the first time I've sketched D.C. I have additional sketches from a past trip here.
Tip: Hover over the right or left arrows to stop the auto scroll.
- I loved, loved, loved using quality watercolor paper! Even 90 lb paper worked way better than normal sketchbook paper. Though my journaling pages are usually rough, quick, and don't always require watercolor paper, I was able to relax because I knew that it was there if I needed it.
- I liked working on flat sheets. A lot. Though I missed having a front/back/spread format, it was great to not have other pages or a binding in my way. I felt a sense of freedom from those irritations while journaling our travel days!
- I really liked the size of the paper, which is 7x10-inches (17.5x25.5 cm) or approximately a full sheet of watercolor paper cut into nine pieces. Since I don’t like to carry sketchbooks this large because of the weight, I’ve never used this size when traveling or field sketching. I found it perfect for recording a day of travel and really want to try out this size in the field.
- I miss the organization of a sketchbook. It hit me about Day 3 that I had left no margin space for a future binding, and now I have no idea what to do with my sketches! Before, they would have already been in a storage system (aka sketchbook). Now I just have loose sheets that really should be together, because one of the things I love about a sketchbook is the story that it tells.
- I missed the privacy of a sketchbook. I’ve learned to hold a sketchbook so no one can really see what I’m doing but me. Not so with single sheets! Paper on a clipboard doesn’t attract a crowd like an easel (thankfully!), but I was still a bit self-conscious. I couldn’t have handled this when I was a beginner, but I think I can deal with it now. Still, I missed my incognito sketchbook.
- I didn’t want to use my “good paper” for quick travel notes and on-the-go sketches. Sheesh, you’d think I could find a happy medium here, but I really struggled/struggle with this mindset. By Day 3, I had quit carrying paper and began toting around a small Tomoe River journal (in the photo above) for daily notes and quick sketches. Later that evening, I used those notes and sketches to compile my daily journal page. Old habits die hard!
Will I Stay Sans Sketchbook?
This experiment certainly isn't over. I really want to invest more in this idea and give myself a longer adaption period. Just like forming any new habit, all my Sans Sketchbook Experiment may need is time.
I may continue to carry individual sheets but also carry a thin journal that I use for quick sketches and notes. If I'm working on pages that I want to keep together, I'll have to learn to leave a margin for binding.
I think I'm onto something good if I can figure out how to make it work for me. Game on!
However, I'd rather be sketching & painting than spending inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out a setup.
If I can't adapt within a reasonable timeframe, I have my eye on this sketchbook at Ken Bromley (but oy vey that price!) or this more affordable spiral-bound version at Jackson's Art. If I don't enjoy the transition to single sheets, I plan to try one of these beauties or figure out a simple way to bind my own.
Back to the drawing board!