I think that my choice of sketchbook has a significant impact on the quality and the frequency of my sketching. In fact it might be the most important decision I make about the materials I’m using.
During lockdown I really enjoyed using the new-ish square format in the Stillman and Birn Softcover Alpha series – it was such a great size and really encouraged me to do a lot of sketching.
But when restrictions lifted and I was able to sketch outside again, I felt the need to upgrade my sketchbook to one with true watercolour paper, a hardcover and in a larger size. So I started a Hahnemühle A4 landscape sketchbook which I had enjoyed using during my big 11 week Virtual European Trip. I normally only use this type of sketchbook (larger size and better paper) when I’m travelling or going on dedicated sketching outings, but I’ve always struggled to feel comfortable using them for everyday sketching. See more about this here.
I managed to fill this book within a three week period and it felt great to use it. But even more exciting is the fact that many of these sketches were done on location!
As I mentioned in a previous article I have been wanting to ‘up my game’ in regard to urban sketching, and this has coincided perfectly with the Group Run-through of Watercolour On Location. I’ve been doing lots of new sketches to share with the group during the weekly livestreams and a better sketchbook has worked well for this.
So all up I’m really happy with my decision to change sketchbooks!
I’ve scanned nearly the entire sketchbook to share with you, so please grab a hot drink of your choice and enjoy scrolling through these pages!
(Click on any image to view at a larger size.)
First spread and first sketching outing outside my local area since lockdown. More about this outing here.
It was a great start to the book but the next day was busy and I didn’t fill a full double-page spread. But it was fine to combine two days together.
Sketches on this spread include sitting outside the cafe drinking my takeaway coffee and a new TWSBI Eco. Aside: I find the ECO pens the most reliable for part-time use so they work great as my coloured ink pens.
My pink cup with pink tea. More here.
It was a warm day so the bi-fold doors to Goodfields were open and I could sketch the people at the long communal table… but oh! I’m so out of practice. It seems an age since this table was filled with sketchers as part of 1w100p.
And some Belgian chocolates I bought as part of my virtual trip to Brussels.
The local St Albans church in Lindfield – one of my regular sketching subjects. Stay tuned for more.
On this day it was really empty in Goodfields so I actually sat inside which was so nice. I miss doing this a lot! (Note: At the time this was sketched there was virtually zero local COVID transmission so I felt okay to sit in.)
The ‘different!’ note pointing to the brown skirt is a personal code celebrating that our church services started again (we have a very large building so the 4 square metre rule is easy to abide by!)
My church bag which hasn’t been used for months and another sketch of ‘that building’!
BTW I have not been able to achieve consistent results on this paper for my usual morning coffee sketch techniques.
Early morning at Goodfields (it was empty) so I could have a fancy breakfast and try one of their truffle dishes. Yum! Sketching gourmet cafe/restaurant meals like this is definitely something I’m missing.
Afternoon outing to Blues Point. This sketch was intentionally stopped early so that I could talk about focus and composition on a Watercolour On Location livestream.
Here is the full spread – I like the colour scheme of this page.
I finally got around to buying myself a new purse/wallet. The zip to my red wallet broke 6 years ago and I decided it was time to finally get around to getting a new one.
A rushed two colour sketch as part of Watercolour On Location (Lesson 1 homework). A strange guy talking to himself and making weird noises came and sat down beside me so I was slightly distracted!
I found my lost Sailor desk pen inside an art book (it had been there for over a year?) and completed my collection of metallic and pastel White Night paints (until they bring out more!)
I wasn’t sure what to sketch to finish off the spread so I left it as it was – with the top right corner empty.
Two versions of the side of St Albans to discuss story inside the Watercolour On Location course. I want to do another version where I position myself in between these two views.
A random page of bits and pieces (including updating some old sketches of a visit to Canberra – it’s been 10 years since I’ve been… so definitely overdue for another visit!)
A quick value study and a two-colour sketch – more work to go through on one of my Watercolour On Location weekly livestreams. I used to sketch here in St Thomas Rest Park all the time when I worked nearby.
The paper wasn’t doing what I wanted for this super quick sketch of my dying tulips.
The tools I used for a Sketching PlayLab session with Paul and Suhita and some friends.
And this is another sketch done just after… Oh! I was tired but had a lot of fun.
I highly recommend Paul and Suhita’s Sketching PlayLab zoom sessions.
The last sketch in the book exploring the transparency of my shadow wash – more work for the Watercolour On Location course!
So what do you think, have I managed to ‘up my game’?
Well, I definitely think I have and upgrading my sketchbook has definitely been a big part of this. I think the main reason is that the bigger book has meant that I’m making more time for my sketches. And obviously, being very actively involved with the Group Run-through of Watercolour On Location has also had a huge impact on the number of urban sketches I have done in the last three weeks. So it’s been a great decision to switch to the Hahnemühle Watercolour book.
But on the other hand I’m missing the freedom which I have when using an Alpha book. I’m taking less risks and sketching less in the half opportunities. I think the size of the spread might be the problem as on a number of occasions I was reluctant to start a new page for a quick sketch.
I found the A4 landscape size awkward to handle out on location until I got used to it. Even though I have used this size book many many times for travel sketching, I realised that it does take time to get used to handling it. When I’m travelling, I sketch all day and so by the end of the first or second day, I’m totally in the groove and feel comfortable with it. It takes more effort to reach this ‘handling ease’ when I’m just doing a single sketch per day.
I really loved using this landscape format for my virtual trip but found it harder to use for everyday sketching. I felt as if I had to put more work into the design of my spread, but in the end that has paid off and I’m happy with the results.
As for the paper and my random comments over the last few weeks… I do really love the Hahnemühle Watercolour books and still highly recommend them, but I have discovered that Moleskine works better for me. This topic needs a separate article – stay tuned for that.
The final thing to tell you is that… drum roll please…
… I’ve started the next sketchbook.
This is an A4 portrait Watercolour Moleskine and it feels great!!! More about this coming up soon!
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you have experienced something similar.
Do you find that using a sketchbook with good watercolour paper works well for your everyday sketching? Or does it sometimes feel too good?