Can a new sketchbook get you out of a rut?

August 28, 2017 | 18 Comments

I haven’t been sketching much over the last two weeks as I have been swamped with a lot of work (getting SketchingNow Buildings ready to re-open). My excuse is that I am feeling overwhelmed with my workload and I just don’t have the time!

But as I can do a sketch in 5 minutes, is the ‘I don’t have time’ statement really the case? Isn’t it true that we make time for little things even on the busiest day? And my excuse looks even more pathetic when my iphone tells me I have been scrolling Instagram for a total of 30 minutes some days. What!!??

Therefore it must be more of a mindset issue!

What do you think? How much time do you spend on your phone even on the busiest days? If you added them up would you have time for a quick sketch?

Anyway, on the weekend I started a new sketchbook and changed the format. I love the 8×10 Stillman and Birn softcover Alpha but I reached for a 9 x6 hardcover Alpha instead. This used to be my go-to daily sketchbook before the softcovers were available.

I chose this book because I intend to use it during a conference I plan to attend next month and wanted to get used to the size and format again. I plan to use it for taking notes and sketching people, food etc. Quick rapid casual type of sketching.

As soon as I began the book I knew it was exactly what I needed to get out of my non-sketching rut and today I filled 6 pages. None of the sketches are that exciting and in fact it was a ‘major disaster’ that I didn’t have my paints this morning – those elipses for the extra latte I was given are a total disgrace! But hey, it happens when you are focusing on other things – different materials, not wanting the coffee to go cold, and how nice it was to be brought out a second cup because the art in the first one didn’t work out.

The great news is that I feel bonded to my book in a way I haven’t felt for ages. (the sign of this is all the silly notes I am adding)

I think it is the combination of the change in format and the fact that it is a smaller book (ie. its easier to do something quick on a page) that has made the difference.

So, when was the last time you changed sketchbooks – size, format or paper. Did it make a difference to your sketching rate?

So, what do you think: will I sketch this evening (this post is being written at 6pm) and will tomorrow be a good day as well?

Oh! so many questions for you today! 😀



  • I love this, Liz, thank you! I was in a non-sketching phase for a while there myself, and it felt WEIRD.

  • Cathy Inzer says:

    Great idea! I usually change up my paint choices, but that seems to cause another set of problems, lol!

  • Bernadette says:

    Hi Liz! Glad you asked! I
    ‘ve been using a watercolor moleskine A5 forever, and for this month-long stay in Italy, I’m trying the Stillman & Birn softcover alpha. I’m motivated to fill as much as possible, and with 2 days left here, it’s only half full. Oh well.
    It’s a very nice sketchbook, although I do like my moleskines better, because they warp less, when really wetting the page.
    Glad I stretched my comfort zone, even if I do return to my usual!

  • Bruna Tagliabue says:

    Great! I have just received my first 8×10 Epsilon album after a depression phase with my moleskine. I ordered it because I had read one of your post which said that it was the right size for you and I wanted to blame something for my unsuccessful sketches. So I was browsing through your site in search of inspiration ….. and you changed the format to the 9×6!!!!
    ???? I like the feeling of the epsilon paper, smooth and white. I am not good with watercolours and the moleskine was too rough for my pencils.
    I see that you like the Alpha ones, 150gr, same weight as the Epsilon. What’s the difference? Doesn’t the watercolour pass through? I am currently in the phase “fear of writing the first page and ruin an expensive album”

  • Larry Goldfarb says:

    Just finished a 6×9 Field Notes and bought a S&B same size. Aside from the anxiety of the first
    page, I’m reaching for it more often. Another hard to explain observation: unless traveling, i’m more likely to see something I want to sketch in the course of my daily whatever, than going out for the purpose of sketching. Hard to explain.

  • Diane Harvey says:

    “What do you think? How much time do you spend on your phone even on the busiest days? If you added them up would you have time for a quick sketch?” I need this tattooed somewhere as a constant reminder!!

  • Suhita Shirodkar says:

    Yes to switching up books. or whatever it takes to get back to drawing. For me , i move to this one super-thin papered book I always have hanging around but never use until I find myself making excuses for not drawing. nothing like cheap paper to say ” you can make one minute sketches and they don’t have to be any good”. And those quick doodles are usually my way back to finding drawing time in a very busy day.

  • sigrun hodne says:

    Looking forward to see how the two of you (your sketchbook & you) get on, right now it looks very promising!

    I’m a new sketcher and am drawing on a lot of different types of paper – just to see how things work. I have had a lot of fun with Strathmore toned tan. I have also been using the big STILLMAN & BIRN : ALPHA for a few weeks, I love the paper quality, but the size is a bit … intimidating … at least for an inexperienced sketcher like me. I’m planning to try the ALPHA in size 5.5 X 8.5IN next.

  • Manuela says:

    I have tried the 8×10 softcover …. Then Used a Hahnemühle watercolour Book in a5 landscape … Booth frustrated me. The Cheap Hahnemühle paper (they have better ones)… the large size and the softcover of the S&B … yesterday I closed both …. started a new A5 S&B hardcover portrait size …. and her a Flash of motivation

  • jeanette gillings says:

    You’ve made me think Liz… I spend way too much time on Instagram and Pinterest… I need to do less “looking” and more sketching. as for format, I like the 5 x 7 however, I’ve ordered an 8 x 10 softcover Stillman & Birn after reading a previous entry on your Blog. I find it hard to choose which sketch book to use a I’m new to sketching and I don’t want to use a “good” sketch book in case my sketches are not worthy… it’s a catch 22 for me 🙁

  • Flory says:

    This is a great topic! I change sketchbooks often, partly as an ongoing exploration of papers, sizes, and formats, and partly because I’ve bought or been given so many in the last few years! Sometimes I’m inspired to do a big, finished drawing in a Moleskine album (with the old paper, very precious!), which lives at home. But most of the time, I want portability, fairly heavy paper that takes both fountain pen and watercolor well, and neither too big nor too small. My current favorite is Canson Mix Media (NB, not “mixed”) spiral-bound 8.5″ x 6.25″ with the cardboard back piece. It’s lightweight, rigid, and easy to hold. The spiral doesn’t bother me. I have a bigger one too, for when I know there will be a table to put it on. I still like, and use, S&B Alpha books as well.

  • Patricia Langer says:

    Great topic Liz. I did practically no sketching in July then jumped back in with enthusiasm on August 1 when I purchased a soft cover Alpha and a Moleskin landscape. I’ve touched neither since I am determined to fill the Alpha hardcover 9×6 which I love. The other two are waiting for your Buildings course! It’s hugely tempting to jump in now with the new books, but it feels like abandoning an old buddy if I leave the hardcover behind – and I do love it. Weird, right?!


  • Alejandro Morales says:

    I normally use a 9×6 Alpha but in portrait, however, I bought two small softcover Delta and Zeta books in landscape so I could try the format and paper. I love the Delta so much I’ll be buying that again in softcover landscape the next size up (8.5″ x 5.5″?) and I will probably get a 9×6 Gamma portrait as I really like the warmer ivory paper.

  • I think that changing the size of the sketchbook can make a difference. A square format lends itself to certain kinds of sketches and layouts than a rectangular book. I have been working in a Stillman & Birn softcover 8 x 10 Beta since Chicago. It gives me a little more room per page than I was using before, But all of this week I am doing a plein air event so I am back to painting on loose watercolor paper instead.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thank you everyone for the wonderful comments! such a good read!

  • Sandra de says:

    I came back to the moleskin 21 x13cm album to use during a visit to the US. The size was perfect for the quick and not so quick sketches during my travel. Always good to mix it up to get me out of a rut.

  • Wolfgang S. says:

    i often change the format, but this means: i don’t write more. i still struggle to start and write and paint in my note books. it’s hopeless.

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