What sketchbook to use for a mini-roadtrip?

August 16, 2023 | 22 Comments


I have a mini-roadtrip of 6 days coming up soon and I’m trying to decide which sketchbook I should use. I’m absolutely loving using the Square Softcover Alpha book by Stillman and Birn and so I’ve been thinking… should I take that book with me?


  • It’s lightweight and such a nice size to hold
  • The small size means that it’s easier to pull out and do a quick sketch
  • I’m really loving using a different format than normal (I’ve been mainly using portrait format for years)
  • The square format is great for horizontal scenes
  • I like the way my sketches fill the spread and that I’m often going to the edge of the page
  • I like Alpha paper for all the different types of sketching I’m doing at the moment

But I am worried about a few cons…

  • The smaller size page means that I’m not having enough space for the amount of notes that I like to add (and when I’m travelling I often like writing more than normal)
  • It’s hard to fit vertical subjects onto the square page (I don’t like rotating my sketchbook)
  • I’m worried about the number of pages!

46 spreads in the book = 7 or 8 spreads per day which for a small book feels a little tight! So I did a little research…

When I did my Big Roadtrip in 2021 I sketched between 6-12 different sketches each day. I was using an A4 sketchbook and would mostly fit one-three sketches each spread. I know from my recent use of the Square book that I’m mostly doing one sketch per spread so I could easily do more than 7 spreads per day.

Therefore I’m thinking about using a 8×10″ softcover Alpha.


This has been my favourite format for many years and the larger page addresses all three cons. It has the same number of pages as the square book but the extra height means that I won’t use as many pages.

I still like the idea of the square book but at the moment I’m leaning towards the 8×10.

A little more research…

To help with my decision-making process I took some photos of my recently completed square book and an 8×10 that I took away with me to California a number of years ago. The comparison I’m interested in is the page usage and layout – not comparing sketches or media. 🙂

What is really interesting to note in these examples is that I typically did two sketches per spread in the 8×10 and hardly ever did one spread for the full double spread (which I know I’ve done more in recent years). So this exercise makes me feel comfortable that the 8×10 will give me plenty of pages for a 6 day trip.

But I’m still deciding… so what do you think? Which book should I use?

(If you are reading this via email, please click on the article title link below and add a comment on my blog. Thanks!)


  • Ginie Udy says:

    Liz, I think the fact that you like to add notes and reflections to your pages, especially when travelling is an excellent reason to go for the 8×10. That’s the sketchbook I was using for the Teacup course, and loved it. Just wondering if you find the soft covers not as sturdy when you’re out on location. I was clipping it to a backing board when at home, but when I’m out I often don’t take the board. So like to use books with hard covers.

    By the way, I love seeing that sketch of the Golden Gate Bridge. I think I remember you saying once that the result you got in that sketch on the Alpha paper was the moment you realised that Alpha was for you! Breakthrough moments like that are so special and I love the way you encourage us to share our breakthroughs in a special place in each course.

    And finally thank you for the great Livestream this morning for the Foundations Group Self paced course.

  • Frieda Kamstra says:

    I would take the 8 x 10 for the road trip. Also because it makes you feel more comfortable and you will have more room for your notes.

    It will pull out less easily but you are used to that.

    Maybe try the square when you go for a weekend trip to see how it works.

  • Alice B Riley says:

    I’m voting for the 8×10. Giving you room and less stress about positioning. Perfect size to add your notes along with your sketches. Safe travels!

  • Betty Osborne says:

    Not sure if this counts as a real reason for you to consider (you are, after all, doing this for yourself) but given the option of which page seems more pleasing to me and more fun to read, the 8×10 beats the square image by far in almost every single instance you post, I find the 8×10 more interesting, satisfactory and visually intriguing.

  • Joanne Lichtenstein says:

    I agree with the other comments, take the big one! That way you won’t be limited by space and can write as much as you like on your spread.

  • Jacque Defenbaugh says:

    The 8x 10 gives more room for notes. Important in a travel book, I think.

  • Susan Loeb says:

    Take the larger one for sure. It allows for plenty of writing space and several drawings. I like it the best. I also love the soft cover Stillman and Birn sketchbooks. They are the best!

  • Deanna Glendenning says:

    I love seeing those comparisons! I must say that I’ll be the oddball because I like the square. You definitely do not want to limit yourself because of the size of your book. It seems like your gut feeling is to take the 8×10, so you better go with that!

  • Annette Wierstra says:

    I love these comparisons. For me, the small square for sure. I love the portability and the square is such a pleasing space for my brain. I save the bigger books for home. But I think you need the bigger book. Your instincts know you want more space.

  • Lois Houston says:

    I’d say go with the 8×10 – that two-inch difference won’t be that big of a deal in your bag, but it seems to make a lot of difference in how you sketch and lay out your pages. And you won’t stress about not having enough room!

  • Suzy Henry says:

    I like how the square one turned out and it seemed to fit exactly the situation you were in with your family being in town. Your mastery of composition makes this one a triumph. And! I’d go with the 8×10 for the road-trip because you already know what works for you when you are traveling. I think this dilemma is the perfect proof that there is no “one-size-fits-all” and being mindful of that makes for a more enjoyable experience.

    I didn’t hear you say you were looking for a challenge, but I’d love to see and hear how a mini (2×2 or 3×5) would wok for you.

  • Pamela thomson says:

    The big one. Then you will have no regrets. Nothing worse on a trip than wishing you had done something else. Also the book is a journal, you must have places to right your comments ad what other doodles you want to do. You would have no room for that in the small format. I agree, use the book on a weekend trip and not on a big holiday.
    Enjoyed the live chat yesterday. Thank you and to Chantal too for doing such a great job.

  • Marsha Perkins says:

    For sure the 8×10. Spreads don’t look as cramped, and plenty of room for writing. Thank you for sharing your pages!

  • Ionne McCauley says:

    I agree with the general consensus that you will probably be happier with the 8 x 10. I know you like to write more on your pages and I don’t see as much of that in your square one. I have just filled a square one myself and was surprised by how much I enjoyed that one. So I can see your dilemma. Thanks for the sharing this with us Liz, it’s good to hear that others try to work out the perfect format too. But, there’s always a next one isn’t there! 🙂

  • Phil Baker says:

    I’ve been using the square version on my vacations simply because it fits in my small shoulder bag and it’s always with me.

  • Janet Hill says:

    Liz, my thought is that over the years when you look back at your sketchbooks and trips taken, using the larger book will remind you of so much more… I’d go with large. And also, for all the reasons everyone else hit on.

  • Diane Mills says:

    I recommend choosing the 8 x 10 version because it offers more ‘white space’ around your sketches, plus space for comments about your travels on the pages, rather than the smaller, 7 1/2 x 7 1/2 square sketchbook. Sorry for suggesting the extra weight to carry around! Thank you so much for sharing your exceptional knowledge and experience with us, and I truly love your ‘5-minute sketching Architecture’.

  • Diane Warger says:

    You create beautiful pages in both sizes, but I think the 8 x 10 may be nicer to have on a trip in case you need more room. Have fun.

  • Kate Ramsey says:

    Having just done a long road trip to Darwin I would say to think about which size is easiest to carry with you when you are not in the car.

  • David Morgan says:

    My suggestion is the 8 x 10 due to the fact your sketches would not feel complete without the copious comments you make.
    I believe those comments would make make for better viewing years down the track when the mind becomes a little cloudy. Happy holidays.

  • Jamie says:

    It’s a bit late for me to weigh in, so I’ll just say I know I’ll love seeing what you choose/chose!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone! I went with the 8×10 and was really happy with my decision!

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