Sketchbook Strategies Part 1: Reviewing 2019 travel sketchbooks

April 16, 2021 | 2 Comments

As you all know, I take the layout of my sketchbook pages very seriously and this is especially the case when I travel. In the early days I often spent time working out a few specific strategies before travelling but in the past few years (as I became comfortable using the A4 landscape Moleskine books) I’ve been more focused on my sketching than my layouts. But after putting together my Sketchbook Design course earlier in the year I’m determined to put more effort into design.

In 2019 I used the A4 Portrait Moleskine books for the first time and it felt very different from the A4 Landscape Moleskine books. It was much easier to handle and at the time I told myself that I was enjoying using it more. But it did have some compositional challenges.

Last year for my Virtual European trip I went back to landscape format (Hahemuehle) and really loved it, realising afresh how great it is for square and landscape-shaped sketches. So I’m a bit torn as to which format I prefer.

But I’ve decided to use vertical again for my upcoming road trip as I want to put more effort into the layout of the pages. The 2019 European trip was so busy that I really didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked on design (and minimal time finishing off my pages while I was away. So a big part of my prep for this trip has been to review my 2019 sketchbooks and analyse how I used them.

The result of this review has been identifying five different aspects of using A4 portrait format books. They are:

  • More suited to taking risks and doing quick sketches
  • Great for vertical subjects
  • A little challenging for horizontal scenes
  • Perfect for working larger
  • Full of potential for interesting layouts.

Here is a little about each theme…

1. More suited to taking risks and doing quick sketches

As the vertical format is so much more comfortable to handle, it was much easier for me to open up and do some quick sketches. A4 landscape books open up so wide that I’ve been more reluctant to use them for ‘half-opportunities’ to sketch.

2. Great for vertical subjects
I found that I did a lot more vertical sketches which were very handy for a number of European cities that I visited that trip – particularly Paris and Barcelona – with tall buildings. Note: My upcoming trip will not have any tall buildings so it will be interesting to see how many vertical sketches I end up doing.

3. A little challenging for horizontal scenes

If I did a horizontal/landscape sketch I would have space either above or below that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I had to think about ‘weight’ and some of these layouts were difficult to resolve. So I did more square-ish sketches to fill up the full spread. But this is part of my next theme…

4. Perfect for working larger
I found that I often filled a double-page spread with a single sketch (the resultant size is A3). I enjoyed working larger but it meant that I went through my sketchbooks quicker than normal.

It was ridiculously easy for me to fill up a spread! I also found that even my cafe sketches were getting bigger – both the interiors and the teacups!

5. Full of potential for interesting  layouts
This is something that I didn’t fully explore back in 2019 but I do believe that there are more options with a portrait format book.

This review process was so much fun and very instructional. It’s getting me even more excited about travelling and sketching again.

 Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will share some specific strategies and goals that I’ve set myself for this trip.




  • Arlene Lennox says:

    I like a square bound sketchbook because I have the choice of a landscape format when working across the gutter. That format is harder to find.

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