Summer21-22: Starting to use a big spiral Alpha

January 3, 2022 | 8 Comments

The second week of my summer break was a little less busy. I still had a few sketching outings but I had a few quiet days at home and did some work. But the big change was starting an 11×14 spiral bound Stillman and Birn Alpha.

This is a big book – even larger than the square Clairfontane Goldline I used for My LGA Staycation last September.  In some regards, the Alpha paper is a little thin for this size but I’m absolutely loving the extra space for my sketches and text. It is a significantly heavy book though! This photo shows its size in relation to my usual 8×10 Softcover Alpha – it’s almost twice as large.

Using a spiral bound is also a big change from normal although I have used them on numerous occasions over the years (see here). The spiral binding is definitely making me more aware of when and why I cross a gutter… and as you’ll see in this article I don’t mind sketching (drawing and painting) under the spiral.

In fact, I love the effect and on a number of pages, I intentionally extended my sketch to do so!

It might appear in the following photos that the spiral visually detracts from the sketch, but in real life, as I flip through the pages it’s much less noticeable. It seems that it’s important for me to work across the spiral as a way of tying the two pages together so that the spread reads as a whole.

The ability to turn the pages back when I’m out on location makes this book very manageable. So I start most of my sketches with the book like this and then open it out towards the end if I decide to extend a sketch to the next page. Alternatively I look for tables to sketch from!

Ok… time to start sharing the pages.

Note: Due to the size of this book (and the fact that I’m busy today getting ready for the Group Run-through of Foundations which starts this week), I’m resorting to taking photos!

A quick visit to Milsons Point, a teacup and a little collage from my morning coffee in the sun and great catchup with my friend Ohn Mar. Hmm, there are more options for collage with a larger page!

A few more Faber Castell Watercolour Marker tests (see this article for more), a tree ID sketch and a little Palladio. Just for the record, this is the only spread in my book so far where I didn’t work across the spiral.

Trying the markers on location on Alpha paper but was hard to see what I was doing with the sun on my page. Also starting to track my Vitamin D using an app (hence the sun angle diagram).

Back to Lane Cove for a little work (end of year review). It was so much fun to be working larger!

After a quick morning sketch (left) I went to Parramatta with my brother and family (4 children under 10) and the uncles (3 brothers of my SIL). It was a great outing but a little hard to do much sketching!!!

This page (on the right) was all I managed to do at the time at St John’s Cemetery.

One more sketch at St Johns (colour added at home) and the foundations of one of the earliest verandahed buildings in Sydney. This is part of the Philip Ruddock Heritage Centre which we were given access to.

Quick sketch (finished on location) of Old Government House in Parramatta Park that I managed to do while the kids were in a play area.

First day of the year: Morning sketch while having a takeaway coffee, and a colour chart…

…a JimmyB building (North Sydney Post Office), more tree ID and a teacup.

I finished the day with a textured sketch at Lane Cove National Park and a little schedule documenting some SketchingNow work that I had to do for the beginning of a new year.

Hmm, the first day of 2022 turned out to be very representative of my current trends in sketching. 🙂

I’m absolutely loving using this 11×14 Spiral Alpha! Can you tell?

Please let me know in the comment section below if you have any questions about this book. Have you ever used a book this big (or even larger)?

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




  • I think ypur enjoyment os evident in the pages! I’ve used an A3 landscape hardback sketchbook (from Seawhite), and your blog made me wonder why I didn’t get another…

  • Sharon Stover says:

    Liz, it is fun to see how you’ve crossed the gutter so creatively. Thank you for sharing. Its always fun to see your work.

    May you have a Happy and Healthy 2022.

  • Mark Evans says:

    Your sketches are always so fascinating, and the big book might even be increasing the perception of that’s even possible! But curiously, one of the most fascinating things about the entire day’s work was the realization of the science behind your solar diagram— wow! What an interesting way to lay down so much information! Solar noon being behind temporal noon by 58 minutes and a sun angle of 79 degrees? The sun moving right to left? It all had me wondering if you were drinking more than just coffee, until I remembered you’re in the land down under. It’s a very interesting way to anchor geography to your art. And An elegant way to present information!!

  • Inge Hoogendoorn says:

    Happy New Year Liz and here’s to a healthy 2022. I love getting your emails. They cheer me right up. The largest sketchbooks I use are Strathmore Toned Tan 9 x 12 and for my personal journal I use a Blueline A790 3 col ledger. I post most of my current stuff in flickr but don’t post the ledger stuff except for the odd drawing. I use coloured pencil on the toned tan and watercolour and gouache on the ledger. Keep those emails coming.

  • Jamie C says:

    The 11×14 spiral bound isn’t even available here! (I just checked the website.) Looks like a very fun size for page design! You can really vary the size of sketches, placement and tell some great stories on one spread! I keep thinking I may need to work larger myself! I will have to try it out once I’ve used up my current stash. I love reading how you are going with the New Year goals. Starting out strong! I’ve recently learned my sun does not get high enough for vitamin D in the winter months, even as south as I am! Crazy! No wonder seasonal depression is a thing! Loved your sun chart.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie! I checked the S&B website and yes! it’s not there… so maybe it is old stock. As for Vitamin D – I just learned about the sun angle too – the diagram is direct from an app I’m using. Also I’ve heard from a number of doctors that the recommended dose especially to boost immunity these days is 2000-4000 IUs! So it’s been fun to track my sun exposure and then top up with supplements. 🙂

  • Cathy Cohen says:

    How do I get into your class and when will you do it again?


    • Liz Steel says:

      Cathy, Signup here
      You can work through the course at any time – at your own pace.

      As I have 5 other courses it will be 12-24 months until I do an interactive Group Run-through of Foundations again… but there are lots of people in the classroom at the moment, so it’s worht signing up now and starting at the beginning (we are on week 5 now) as there is still activity in the early lessons

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