Back Home: My everyday sketching in 3 different sketchbooks

September 13, 2018 | 10 Comments

I’ve been home from my big trip for six weeks now. Wow! that has gone fast and yet on the other hand it seems like a long time ago since I was in Portugal. I have been so busy with finishing off trip articles and gearing up for SketchingNow Watercolour that I haven’t shared any of my everyday sketches.

So, what has been happening with my sketching?

Well, to start with, I have worked in three books – three different sizes and three different paper.

  • Moleskine A4 Watercolour – finishing off the 8th volume from my Europe trip
  • Stillman & Birn Hardcover 4 x 6″ (A6) with Alpha paper – finishing off the book which I started in May just before I headed overseas
  • Stillman & Birn Softcover 5.5 x 8.5″ (A5) with Epsilon paper – started two weeks ago and I’m more than halfway through.

Changing size and paper has been a lot of fun! Each book has different challenges – some work better in some situations.

But as always, it’s a challenge for me to find time to sketch when I’m really busy with a lot of projects on the go. However, the last 6 weeks have been unusually hectic in terms of outings. There have only been 3 days in the whole period where I stayed home and had a normal work day. I’ve have had numerous workshops (and associated prep), meetings, appointments and two trips out of Sydney.

All of these outings have made my sketchbooks more interesting than normal and to a certain extent they have masked the fact that I haven’t established a daily sketching rhythm ie. I don’t have a strategy for sketching when I’m busy at home. I have been wanting to get back to the Everyday Sketching Project from earlier in the year, but more about that in a separate article.

So for today, I just want to think about my three different sketchbooks and share a few thoughts on how the books have worked for me.


Quiet Days

  • Moleskine A4: I love the compositional options of the big book but it felt a bit wasteful to draw quick boring line sketches on good watercolour paper. This spread shows a sketch recording of how I used my horizontal arm tripod for drying clothes. It didn’t feel right to draw such a boring sketchin this book, especially after all the exciting subjects I had had in recent weeks in Portugal.
  • Alpha A6: The jump in size from A4 to A6 was a little radical! I wasn’t super happy with the smaller size because it didn’t give me many options in terms of composition and I got a bit bored with my morning coffee sketch taking up a full spread.
  • Epsilon A5: After the A6 size book this one felt generous. I have made a few adjustments (such as using a tight grid and finer nib for my writing) which have successfully helped me shrink my normal sketching scale to fit this book (I normally use the 8 x10 Softcover Alpha.)

Sketching outings

I have had a few outings where I could make sketching a priority – including a few days visiting beaches.

  • Moleskine A4: This is my favourite book to use when I go out for sketching as the paper works so well for me and I have room to spread out.
  • Alpha A6: I really struggled at times with how small this book was, especially when I was painting with watercolour – I need more room so that my painting can flow. Perhaps if I had changed my normal 1/2 inch dagger for a smaller size it would have been easier, but I didn’t get around to doing that.
  • Epsilon A5: I haven’t ever used an Epsilon book before so it took a little time to adjust. Its very smooth paper is very different from Alpha but I’m loving all the ‘bad’ marks and hard edges it’s creating.


Everyday outings

I have been trying to make a big effort to sketch every time I leave the house and I’ve been happy with how successful I have been – not every time, but on most occasions.

  • Moleskine A4: Whilst this book is big and heavy (too heavy for everyday use) it works well for a multiple sketch approach – as mentioned above, it’s great for composition.
  • Alpha A6: Although sometimes I struggled with the small size, there was one occasion where it was absolutely perfect. I went to a classical concert and did 45 quick sketches. It was so much fun just to turn the page and keep going. The small size gave me a special kind of freedom which I wouldn’t have had with a bigger book.
  • Epsilon A5: As mentioned above, I have been adjusting my sketching and writing to fit a smaller book, and that has been working well. I’m at the stage where I am really getting used to this size and trying new compositions.


Summary: I have found mixing it up very helpful as I try to adjust back to normal life after my grand adventure. And it has led me to discover the A5 softcover Epsilon. I’m loving this book a lot and think I will use another one exactly the same when this one is finished.

But what about you…

Do you adjust the size of your sketchbooks? Never, from time to time, or frequently?



  • Emily says:

    I have the “big” Moleskine for travel, like you use. Love that one. I haven’t tried the Epsilon yet, but I want to…I generally use the 8×10″ Alpha, but I’ve been thinking of going bigger. So many fun options to try!

  • Johanna says:

    I had switched to using a hardcover Epsilon A5 for your Foundations course and love it. The smooth paper is very fountain-pen friendly for the Japanese EF nibs I use for sketching. Since I’m a “beginner,” working with watercolour on the Epsilon paper has been a challenge but I imagine it just takes more practice and time.

    P.S. I’m currently taking your Watercolour course and am loving it! 🙂

  • Tina Koyama says:

    I do most of my on-location sketching in handmade sketchbooks using student-grade cold press watercolor paper that I really like with watercolor pencils, which is my primary color medium the past few years. It’s a little larger than A5, and it fits me well, and I’ve been happy for the past 4 years or so. However, just recently I’ve been exploring graphite more, and the cold-press surface is too toothy, so I am trying out new papers, and I must admit, it’s been very frustrating. I’d like to find a single paper to use with all media, but it’s not really possible. What’s good with watercolor pencil is not so good with graphite and vice versa.

    Beyond that, I don’t change up my format (size) often. But I do also carry a small pocket-size book, and as you’ve discovered, it’s really handy for some situations. For me, it’s when I’m riding public transportation. More discreet because it’s small, and I can tuck my elbows in on a crowded bus seat and still draw easily.

  • Judy K Kistler-Robinson says:

    I have several different size and type sketchbooks going now. Partly this is because I’m new to watercolor sketching and still discovering what I like. I have a small Moleskin unlined notebook (about 3×4 inches and not really sketching paper, came in a set of 3) that is always in my purse. I pull it out at the restaurant or doctor’s office. I’m finishing up a 7×10 inch Canson XL Mixed Media started in May that doesn’t like watercolor much, so I use it mostly with Tombow markers. I won’t get this Mixed Media Canson again. I just started a 4×6 in bound sketch book ordered from Jerry’s Artarama because it was really cheap and I wanted to see if it was the right size to replace the one in my purse. It takes watercolor and markers pretty well. I keep that in my backpack to use at work. And I have a Stillman & Birn Beta Softcover 5.5 x 8.5? that I started in July. for USk outings and travel. So I’m all over the place with size and type!

  • I have several different sizes of sketchbooks. Each has their uses and different papers make one better/worse for a particular sketching event. I sometimes love small ones that I can just tuck into my purse, but then there are times I want something larger and even possibly use it for a double page spread.

  • Kate B says:

    I go through phases. I’m in one now. For 1.5 years, I used the 100% cotton, 140# Stonehenge Aqua paper I tore down to about A5 size and used in my disc bound sketchbook.

    Lately I’m trying out the Strathmore Series 500 Mixed Media in an A5 softcover sketchbook. I want to reduce the size of my kit for an upcoming trip. I’m also finishing a Stillman & BIrn Alpha A5 with Inktober. I don’t really like it for watercolor.

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