Last Week: Needing to change my sketchbook

January 28, 2019 | 10 Comments

Today I started a new sketchbook as #112 was finished on the weekend. But hey, didn’t I just start a new book a few weeks ago? Yes, I finished a Stillman and Birn Alpha Softcover 8×10″ size, 120 page sketchbook in only 3 weeks! I think this is a record for an everyday sketching book (ie. when I am not on holiday/vacation).

When I started #112, I expected that I would want to go back to the smaller size (5.5 x 8.5 softcover) afterwards (more casual, lighter weight), and that’s exactly what has happened. Last week, the 8×10 size suddenly felt too big especially while sketching during my morning cafe sessions. The main reason for this change in attitude to the bigger book was because I needed to spend more time working and less time sketching each morning (my workload is getting more serious now). The bigger size page is putting more pressure on me to do a bigger sketch of a fuller scene and I’m struggling to make the time for that. Today, I felt much more comfortable with the smaller size and it suits my agenda for the cafe visits as ‘warmup sketching’ rather than producing ‘masterpieces.’

I know that I discuss size of sketchbook frequently – I’m more and more convinced that mixing it up is a really good thing. What is good fit last month, might not be the best option right now.

Last week’s collection of sketches is a bit of a mixed bag, but I’m still happy with my output at the moment.The momentum to sketch is still there even though the time to dedicate to it has reduced.

Note: These images have been uploaded at a slightly larger size – so click to see them a little closer up. (There was a tech reason why they have been small, but now I’m able to upload larger files! Yay!)

Here they are:

It’s still quiet at the cafe so I haven’t had many options for people sketching.

Playing with shadow shapes

On the left: testing to see what happens when I just use a wash of pure Cobalt for shadows (first pass was totally dried).
On the right: An experimental sketch of a Palladian Villa. I had had a long meeting with Mike about our 2019 Palladian Odyssey Tours that day.

A very hectic day filming bonus videos for the SketchingNow Foundations re-run which is happening at the moment. So my sketches were a little token-istic.

Another busy day – no people at the cafe until right when I needed to leave, an incomplete sketch in a chapel just before a funeral service, and a waterbrush tree from my parking spot after an appointment.

Another cafe visit, and the blue sketch on the top right hand corner is a quick drawing recording the relationship and sizes of heads while sitting on the train.

Another short Friday sketch outing – this time to the Art Gallery of NSW. Two pencil sketches done inside and then a very loose sketch of the exterior standing up – it was very hot so I went super loose and wet with my washes.

I then walked through the Botanic Gardens and paused to do another quick one-pass sketch.

Saturday: over two hours at Goodfields Eatery including breakfast, a measure setup drawing (which I will talk about in this week’s Foundations bonus video)

And then some super quick people sketches before I left. It was actually Australia Day, but I just had a normal Saturday (a bit of work, and some housework). It was way too hot to go out sketching at an official Australia Day event as I have done previously and a quiet day at home was what I needed.

The final spread in the book was recording a birthday celebration – simple one-pass paint only sketches of part of our yummy Japanese meal – including sashimi served on a fancy timber bridge.

So how did your sketching go last week? Are you finding that work is getting in the way (the holiday season is well and truly over)?

Have you ever experienced the feeling that you need to change the size of your sketchbook?

I would love to hear your experiences!



  • John Winters says:

    Hi Liz! I’m currently using an S&B hardcover Alpha wire bound. It’s something like a 10″ x 7.5″ size. While it’s been great to “stretch out” there is certainly more pressure to fill out the pages and add more details. I can’t wait to finish it and move back into a true A5 size. Also, the Alpha paper isn’t true watercolor paper and I’m really excited to use better paper again, usually a Moleskine. My hope is that I have gotten much better at technique working with the Alpha paper and I will see improvement when I got back to the Moleskine! I think the hardest part is I still have about 30 pages to go! Cheers from Arizona!

    • Liz Steel says:

      HI John, thanks for sharing. Yes, the moleskine paper is better for watercolour, but it is remarkable how well Alpha does. enjoy!

  • Ann Langston says:

    LOVE your larger images on the screen!

    • Liz Steel says:

      I’m glad Ann. Enjoy! there was a reason why I wasn’t able to do it before (affected my emails) but we finally got around to fixing that.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    I almost never change the size — I use both a 6″x9″ and a “pocket” size regularly — but I do change the paper fairly often, rotating among white toothy watercolor paper, toned tan paper and white smooth paper. I’m not consistent with media as you are — I like to change it up frequently, so that means the paper changes, too. I enjoy reading about your reasons behind changing book sizes/formats. . . I don’t think I know any other sketcher who examines his/her own process as much as you do (or myself 😉 )!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Tina, As you so rarely change size, it might be fun to make a really radical size change and see if it affects your sketching. Working bigger is a great way to see your mistakes more 🙂

  • I enjoy seeing your sketches and what you are able to create even on a busy day. I have a variety of sketchbooks in different sizes from 4 x 4 (handmade) to 8.5 x 11. Certain days I have time only for something small, but there are days that I have more time and go for the bigger size. I also sometimes work on loose paper taped to a board. There are locations where the subject is something I may want to mat at a future date for either a show or I want it loose to sell it.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Joan. You have reminded me that it would be nice to have a few sheets of tones paper (small size) in my bag separate from my sketchbook for the super quick captures!

  • For everyday sketching I’ve been using Stillman & Birn Alpha 8.5 x 5.5, but I just switched to the smaller 5.5 x 3.5 (inspired by Gabi Campanario, of course!). I have used the smaller one before, but I’ve gotten so used to the larger one that it’s been a noticeable adjustment. I’m glad I saw this post – it will inspire me to keep pushing and make the most of this change. A couple of times a year I also switch to a Laloran sketchbook that is between those two sizes.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Elizabeth – hope you are going well!!! I had fun using a smaller book last year, but it is really too smaller for the flow I want and I can’t make interesting sketchbook spreads. But it was a great exercise.

Leave a Reply