The problem with small sketchbooks

June 5, 2024 | 132 Comments


… is that I go through them too quickly! 🙂

I’m currently using the square Alpha softcover sketchbooks by Stillman and Birn and while I love the smaller size and how light it is to carry around (compared with the A4 hardcover!) I’m completing them in less than in 2 or 3 weeks! That’s too fast! One teacup a page means that I fill pages really easily.

I love flipping through other people’s sketchbooks that span a long period of time (maybe a few years!), but that is not something that ever happens to me. A long time frame would be 6 weeks even when I’m using a large A4 sketchbook.


Out of curiosity, I created this page to record my usage—documenting the number of double-page spreads per day. It took me 17 days (2.5 weeks) to finish the first book and 25 days (3.5 weeks) for the second sketchbook.

I actually want to move to a slightly smaller size (A5 portrait or landscape), but worried about whether they will only last me a week! 🙂


What sketchbook are you currently using? When did you start it, and how long do you think it will take you to finish it?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below as I think it would be great to get a range of responses. It would also be a way of letting me know that you enjoy reading my blogposts regularly (it can be a bit lonely blogging these days!)

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

132 Comments

  • Francisca Pérez says:

    Do not feel lonely, please! It’s the first time I write a comment but I’ve been reading yor blog for five or six years… and I love it. So, plase, keep in mind that we are here even if we are too shy to post.
    By the way, I’m Francisca, from Spain.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi francisca! Thanks for leaving a comment and so nice to met you! Made my day to read this!!!thanks!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    For the past year, I’ve been using softcover A6 size sketchbooks containing 48 pages, and I fill one in about 3 weeks. I don’t find it a problem to go through them quickly… I like seeing all the filled books stacked up in my bookcase!

  • Monica Mitchel says:

    Hello Liz!

    Along with owning all your classes, I too check your blog everyday! I so appreciate all that you post. Please do not feel lonely.
    (I am a bit shy, and do not post very often)

    I have some smaller books to make it easer to when traveling or when I am out and about. It is a trade off having a smaller sketch book vs a larger one. I imagine that if I had to choose, I would opt for the larger. It gives me more options, That said, I bike to the train, and then train to work. I keep small sketchbook (to save space) and kit with me to sketch while waiting for the train or on the train to work.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Monica thanks so much for commenting- really appreciate it!!!! Yes smaller sketchbooks are so much easier!

  • Seawhite do a chunky small hardback sketchbook that’ll take a few more cups to fill…
    Size: 140 x 140mm
    190 pages/95 sheets

    Ridiculously long weblink:
    https://www.artesaver.co.uk/Catalogue/SKETCHBOOKS-PADS/Casebound-Sketchbooks/Black-Cloth-Cover-Sketchbooks/Square-Sizes/Small-Square-Chunky-Black-Cloth-Hardback-Sketchbook-SBBSSC

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Marian. Looks like a cool book with lots of pages. I wonder about how I would go with the paper for watercolour 🙂

      • Yvonne Frindle says:

        The 140gsm “all-media” cartridge paper that Seawhite uses in these books is surprisingly watercolour friendly but it does have limitations in terms of any more advanced watercolour techniques. The other thing to be aware of is that they take the “chunky” part of the name seriously. At 190pp (95 sheets) they are VERY thick and can be quite heavy and unwieldy (at least that was my experience with the 25x25cm one; the 14×14 and 19.5×19.5 versions might be better).

  • Martine says:

    First of all, I always love reading your blog posts. And I would really love to see more of your new studio (no envy at all, ahem;-)) . About sketchbooks, I keep 2 at the moment. My ‘normal’sketchbook is a stillman and birn alpha on A5. It takes me about 4 or 5 months to fill as I don’t sketch daily. And I have a seperate sketchbook for the trips I am doing this year. We are not going on a long holiday, but on a few short trips. And as I do not have much sketching time on the trips I bough a smaller 15×15 cm paint-on sketchbook by Claire Fontaine. It’s mixed media paper, but pretty good for watercolor as well. Paper is a bit thicker than the alpha book, but I find it quite similar behaving to alpha. But that small book fills up quicker (and might have less pages, but will have to do some research. Oh, and I actually have a third sketchbook, a tiny A6 S&B that I am filling with small whippet portraits:-) for practice.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Martine. I don’t know the CF range so thanks for sharing. My studio is a long way from being fully sorted. So for now it’s just a few sneak peeks 🙂

  • Au says:

    I used to get thick wirebound sketchbooks (usually Seawhite) that lasted me for months or a year. But now I bind my own thin ones which are smaller, easier to carry around, easier to store when they are done, etc; A6 or A5 and they last me a month or two. I like that each one ends up being full of mostly a certain medium and/or topic.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Au – happy to hear that you make your own books. I’m a bit jealous … I go through sketchbooks so quickly that I would spend all my time making books!

  • Julia says:

    Hi Liz, I know how weird it can feel to write into a void. I always love reading what you’re up to and I’m glad you still write blog posts so regularly!

    I currently use a 19x24cm sketchbook. I’m not a fast sketcher, so it takes a while to go through it.
    But – I’d love to go even larger, my pages often feel a bit too cramped and I love to have lots of space. Since I’m not sketching a lot on location right now, I might just get away with A4 (or even larger). 😉

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Julia!!!
      I’m happy that I still writing blogposts but it does indeed feel like a posting into a void normally.
      And yes! go for the A4 – I LOVE that size but it is heavy!

  • Gillian Shakespeare says:

    Hi Liz, I’ve been following your blog for several years and always read your posts. I love seeing your way of working with different sizes of sketchbook and media and I find your posts inspirational to carry on and improve.

  • I love your blogs, Liz, and read every word. I save some for future reference and send some to friends. I use many sketchbooks at home but I am currently using a chunky little square sketchbook, 4.7×4.7 inches for out and about . It fits easily in my bag and should last me most of the summer. When I travel I assign so many pages a day to fit one trip into one sketchbook.

  • Marie says:

    Hey Liz, Thank you for your steadfast diligence in delivering us such useful information on such a regular basis. Like others have said, I never comment, but love your blog (via email). I get lots of help from you, and appreciate your time and information.
    I’m a bit of a sketchbookaholic :0). I started with the sketch everyday book. It taught me discipline but the daily sections are cut into half pages and it wasn’t great for watercolor. I have every size/brand but I prefer 5×8 or smaller to carry around easier. I actually like the visual journal, 5.5×8 spiral. Because it’s cheap, I’m more free to using it and not afraid to mess it up. With some of the expensive ones, like Etsy handmades, etc.. they tend to sit on my shelf because I feel I’m not good enough to waste them. I’m working on that! Take Care!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Marie – so great to read that you find my blogposts helpful. And yes I agree that more expensive sketchbooks are harder to use!

  • Marie says:

    Oops, forgot, your specific questions … I aim for a page a day, when I’m doing good, so depending on how many pages it has is how long it takes. Currently have a variety of books started with one subject for each. Depending on my mood for subject is the book I’ll pick for that day. :0)

  • Christien van Driel says:

    Hi Liz, I love your blogs and read your posts always. For our last travel I used a new square watercolor sketchbook 24×21 cm, about 64 pages. This size takes a long time to fill up all the pages. But when we are on the road I took a A6 book, for the “quickies” and for this moment I prefer this size. Maybe I go to A5 landscape.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Christine, I find A6 very small but agree it’s perfect for a quickie – glad it worked for you!

  • Elaine mcGann says:

    You are so graceful to share your life, your art, your teaching, your faith. Yes I read all the scriptures you record in your drawing books. I also have purchased all your classes. Today, I am hoping to get faster, better internet so that I can enjoy your teaching. You are a witness to our faithful, creative God. I am certsin God is pleased that you use your gifts for good. Blessings! (PS hopefully it is all right to thank you for your faith)

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Elaine – yes totally okay!!! And thank you so much for your lovely words – means a lot to me. Blessings to you!

  • Rosamond Jourdan says:

    Hi Liz,
    I use a variety of journals and my square S and B watercolour sketchbook is one of them. I don’t use it as often as you do so mine will last awhile. I love reading your blogs. I also have a portrait size S and B watercolour sketchbook that I use for ideas and trying out different paints and “playing”. I am still keen to do your Sketchbook Design course. I haven’t decided which is my favourite size yet.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Rosamond! I keep changing my favourite – I think that is part of the fun of it!

  • Jennifer Bergstresser says:

    I love small A5 sketchbooks for portability. I dislike the landscape ones. I have Hahnemuhle 6″ tall by 8″ wide. It is hard to get a teacup to fit with this aspect ratio and the shadow has to hang off the page. I like the paper and they do make a portrait A5 but they seem to be hard to find in the US. I have the new square cotton Hahnemuhle and this seems to be perfect but they are pricey. My solution, for now, is to keep an S&B alpha 8×10 going at the same time. That way I can put ink only and larger sketches in it and not feel wasteful. I have recently found the alpha paper to be good for watercolor. I used to be frustrated with the thin paper but I have gotten better control of how much water is in my brush and the paper is actually fine. I also like the covers and binding. They are rugged and I can add stickers which is fun!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Jennifer. I’m not a fan of A5 landscape – I just miss the height! And yes, once you get used to it Alpha is great for watercolour

  • Suzanne Ward-Close says:

    I’m from England and just starting out on my sketching journey. I have found your web site, blog and videos so very helpful, so thank you for getting me started on this fabulous pastime (obsession!).
    I am using Seawhite watercolour sketchbooks, these are made in the UK. They are good value for money and available in a variety of sizes and bindings. Lovely NOT paper that takes the watercolour well.
    As a beginner I find the smaller sizes less intimidating so I’ve got A5 landscape for everyday use and A6 landscape for my travelling sketching set.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Suzanne, So glad to read that you find my blog helpful. Yes Seawhite are a great option – I really should revisit their range of sketchbooks!

  • Pam Upton says:

    I use Hahnemuhle cotton landscape 4” x 6” watercolor journals when I travel. Small enough to carry wherever I go and the perfect amount of pages to fill in a 2-week trip. At home I use journals I’ve bought in the past but don’t want to use on my trips, a 6 x 8” at the moment. I wouldn’t go bigger.
    Watercolor journal choices are very personal….what’s right for one may not be right for another.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Pam – thanks for sharing and yes! the decision is very personal and that’s why I’m loving reading all your comments!

  • London Yazgan says:

    Hi there Liz,

    Please don’t feel lonely! 🙂 All of us appreciate your posts so much. I’ve been reading your blog for years. Whenever I’m overwhelmed at work, I check to see if you have any new posts available. It always cheers me up to see a new one. In fact, I wish that more artists would keep blogs like yours. There can never be too much art content! 🙂

    My husband and I are still getting established, so I’m in a very busy season with little extra funds for sketchbooks. Thus I’ve ended up with a variety of sketchbooks — whatever is on clearance or gifted to me by a friend. Currently, I’m working in a little A6 softcover by Master’s Touch, a budget brand here in the U.S. The paper tends to feather and bleed, but it doesn’t warp much and can handle several washes before it starts pilling. I keep that sketchbook in a little kit inside my purse. My lunch break is my main sketching time, so keeping a tiny sketchbook that I can take everywhere works well for me. 🙂

    I’m also currently challenging myself with an A5 Strathmore in toned gray! The size is a little intimidating for me and the paper is way too thin to handle any washes. I love toned paper, though, so it has been fun to experiment with dry media there.

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your art and little glimpses of your life. 🙂 I’m sure this blog takes a lot of work to maintain. Thank you for being so generous with your time! <3

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks so much London for your lovely words! Well done for challenging yourself with the toned gray book. I’ve done some work on that paper but never filled an entire sketchbook of it.

  • Deanna Glendenning says:

    Hi Liz! Like many others, I read and enjoy your emails, but rarely comment. I never realized the importance of letting you know we are out here! I have a couple of your classes.
    I collect supplies and books, many of which I select the paper and bind myself. I like small books mostly, 3 x 3 inches. Ideas swirl around in my head, lists are made, but I don’t sketch daily. Fear of the blank page?
    Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge.
    Thank you

    • Liz Steel says:

      Deanna – thanks so much for your comment and glad that you enjoy the blog and course. 3×3 is a cool size – not sure I could work that small but glad it works for you!

  • Starr Mifsud says:

    Hey Liz, I, too throughly enjoy and read your blogs, regularly. Your blogs have motivated me to do a sketch a day. ?
    I am using A5 Stillman & Birn, Beta Series sketchbooks., for travel sketching – one sketch per day ( on a 45 day road trip through National Parks in USA. ).
    When home, I also use hardback A4s, for working through your courses.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Starr! thanks for your comment and great to read that you are sketching regularly. One sketch per day is a great goal.

  • Sonja EZ says:

    Hi Liz, I religiously follow your blog, but also felt too shy to comment :-).

    I have a 19x19cm square book from Hahnemühle, which I finish in a couple o weeks. For me, it would be terrifying to work longer on a sketchbook, like you mentioned some people do. What if I lose it?!

    Interestingly, though, I am thinking of switching to a smaller book because I want to “force” myself to work smaller. I would like to combine various sketches on a double page, like I have learned in your sketchbook design course. But with the square book, my sketches get too big. Maybe a smaller book might help me? Also to become faster because I can´t incorporate so many details?

    Looking forward to your future blog post!

    Greetings from Munich, Germany!

    Sonja

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sonja – thanks for overcoming the shyness to leave a comment – I really appreciate it. It’s not so much that I’m recommending using a sketchbook for longer as I love see books with a longer narrative in them. I’ve lost pens and palette but never lost a sketchbook so it’s not something I personally worry about.
      And yes, using a smaller sketchbook is a great way to work smaller and simplify. Enjoy!

  • Barbara Ross says:

    Hi Liz … Canada reads your blogposts every week – both current and archived – at least my corner does. And I am grateful for your perennial spirit of exploration: it has helped me re-establish a steady sketchbook practice, and changed both the way I approach said practice AND how I talk about it (all for the better, naturally). Your ongoing experiments encourage me – often – to act on that small voice inside that asks a question or has a faint itch to try something new. What blessings!

    I’m just now finishing up two books and opening two new ones. After four years of trying all manner of books and combos, it’s working for me right now to keep two going at the same time. One MUST be the kind that gives me zero pause – regardless of my general state of mind – and it MUST fit it my small shoulder bag (S&B square, max.). I filled an A5 Hahnemuhle Academie (200 gsm, not all cotton, 30 spreads) and an A4 Moleskine in the last five months. For the winter (just passed), the smaller was only for outings, and the larger for all other explorations done in-studio. (I like the A4 landscape, but haven’t gotten comfortable with it, out on location.) For the summer to come, I’m opening an A5 S&B Alpha (as my grab-it-and-just-do-a-sketch-of-whatever) and a square Hahnemuhle with true watercolour paper (for when I’m warmed up, and/or needing serious play with paint). On a road trip, I’ll carry both. When the Alpha is full, I’ll switch the Hahnemuhle Academie back in – fewer pages, but a little heavier, and consistent surface quality. I expect the combos will vary as time goes on, and I like the idea of not getting too “locked in”. S&B Beta will come back, too, at some point … btw, I love-love-love the square format – last summer filled an Alpha in three months and then a Beta in the following two months – two all-time record highs for my rate of production. And those teacups looked awfully pretty one-per-square page…
    Now, have I thanked you lately for all you do? (… have done, will yet do …)
    Abundant thank you, dear teacher …/BR

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Barbara! thanks so much for your lovely comment!
      I’m glad that my experiments encourage you to ask questions – I think that constantly trying new things makes the creative journey very exciting.
      Great to read about your two sketchbook strategy.

  • Elaine Magliacane says:

    I guess I’m the exact opposite I have tiny.. 3?x 5 “sketch book that took me 5 years to fill… I hated that little book. I got it by not paying attention when I ordered it from Amazon… but since it was my own fault I kept it and would from time to time pick it up and doodle in it and even did a few colored pencil drawings… the paper was too thin for much else. I usually use Global arts watercolor books, square 8? x 8? or their large 10 1/2? x 8” watercolor book. I buy them on sale when possible… takes me around 3 or 4 months to fill one, depending on how many breaks I take from sketching.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Elaine -thanks for sharing. 5 years to complete a sketchbook- wow! I can’t imagine that but well done to sticking with it!

  • Laverna says:

    Hi Liz
    I too am guilty of reading your posts and never commenting. I use different sketchbooks all the time. Usually a small S and B in my handbag. I carry very few supplies as I’m nervous about painting in public and usually only do so from the comfort of my car or if I’m somewhere private. I have taken several of your classes and have loved them all. Sketchbook design has really helped with the way I think about each page and has made me feel so much happier with my sketching results. I do journal everyday and sketch in it. I’m always surprised how the “Dingbat” journals hold up to a light wash but are also wonderful for fountain pen.
    Please keep blogging. We are definitely out here enjoying your posts and being inspired. Thank you for everything you do for the sketching community.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Laverne – thanks so much for leaving a comment – I really appreciate it. So great to read that Sketchbook Design helped you and made you feel happier with your results – that makes me very happy!

  • I too am one of your “silent” admirers, having taken many of your courses over the years without group participation or making myself known. Also, I read your blogs every week and watch most of the videos. The reason? Work and projects both here in Ecuador and in the U.S. – I live in each country six months every year for the past 20 years. But always, always, I have a daily practice of drawing in my sketchbooks. For the past few years I use…Strahtmore 500 series, mixed media paper. 7.5 x 10.5 inches. Perfect for my purposes, as I also insert photos. It takes me about 6 months to fill a sketchbook, unless we travel. I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for about 20 years now.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Judy – thanks for sharing and so lovely to ‘meet’ you! Great to read that you have a regular sketching practice even though you have two homes!

  • Page White says:

    I’m currently using an A5 Moleskine. I go through one in about two months. I love your blogs, thank you for writing them.

  • Judith Sopher says:

    I have been using the soft cover Alpha series sketchbook that is 6 1/2 by 5 1/2 ever since I took a course from you. I also try other sketchbooks but always come back to the alpha series. I am now trying the hard cover spiral bound Alpha series 8X6.

    It takes me a lot longer than you wrote to fill a book. I am 84 and don’t get around as much as I’d like. So I enjoyed your teacup class which has encouraged me to paint at home.

    Thanks.

  • Sandy Zern says:

    Hello! Don’t want you to be feeling lonely, Liz! I usually work in 2 different sketchbooks at the same time, both Stillman and Birns softcover – an A5 as well as a 3.5 inch by 5.5 inch. Unfortunately, I don’t sketch every day although I try. I take care of my toddler grandchildren who keep me busy while their parents are at work – and I love it! Many if my sketches are of them playing or swinging or of toys we’ve played with. My A5 usually stays at home while my smaller book travels with me and I use it while “waiting” – for kids to wake up, for various appointments or meetings. It generally takes me 4-6 months to fill my A5 and up to a year to fill my smaller one. If I cared more about page layout it would probably take me a month or two less than that.
    I so enjoy reading your posts! Thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sandy – thanks so much for your comment and great to read about your two sketchbook strategy!

  • Siobhan says:

    I only started regularly sketching earlier last year and I’m still deciding what size and paper qualities I prefer. So I keep buying different sketchbooks. And I move between books depending on media and subject and where I am, which I think suits me better than sticking to one book and then finishing it. I do like spiral bound books and Like Judy above I also like the Strathmore mixed media book because you can use every type of medium in them and they don’t feel too precious to experiment or just play with marks in.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Siobhan, thanks for sharing and yes, it is often good to continue trying out different options until you find the one that suits you best. I like spiral books too!

  • Tyra Gilb says:

    I go around and around on sizes, and have multiples on the go at all times. I love the soft cover 8×10 Stillman&Birn ones, but find them a tad heavy/large when I’m walking a lot. So I downsized to the soft cover 8×8, but I’m not sure if I really love that dimension. And it STILL can feel too large when I’m trying to be truly lightweight. So I have a couple hardcover Moleskine 3×5 ones, and they feel lightweight, and like tiny gems, but they restrict me more than I’d prefer, and I don’t like how that paper has changed since what it was years ago. I love the 8×5 sketchbooks by various suppliers, but they all tend to be hardcover (at least the ones with good paper), so that makes them way too heavy for me to comfortably carry when hiking all day. The sketchbook struggle is REAL!!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Tyra – thanks for sharing and yes the sketchbook struggle is real! There is certainly no perfect book for every situation!

  • Lois Courtright says:

    Your sketches, scripture notes, and posts are a blessing and inspiration!
    A joyous and favorite part of my day!
    So grateful for all you do!

    Most of my building sketches are on loose sheets of paper, approximately 8 x 10”:
    Stillman & Birn Alpha,
    or
    Canson Classic Cream Drawing.

    My teacup and miniature landscape sketches, used for greeting cards, are usually on 4 x 5” hand torn pieces of Arches Rives BFK.

    Sketching more because I see how you do it!
    Thank you, Liz!

    • Liz Steel says:

      My pleasure Lois – thanks for your lovely words. Hmm, I don’t know the Canson Classic Cream Drawing paper – will have to look it up.

  • Carol Hole says:

    Thank you for all your blog posts, I look forward to them and also learn a lot and get lots of ideas, but haven’t been responding because I feel a bit shy doing so when so many more knowledgeable people comment, but please know that you never have to feel lonely because there must be lots of people like me who hang out for your next post!
    I tend to use an A5 book with paper that will take watercolour for sketching around home, but take an A4 watercolour book if I’m on holiday.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Carol – thanks so much for replying. It means so much to me 🙂 Agree with your preference of A5 for everyday and A4 for travel. That is what I used for many years!

  • Suzie Sherwin says:

    Hi Liz!
    Relish all of your posts… your on-going curiosity… willingness to try new materials and techniques… and desire to share with others! Thank you for your generous spirit and then some!

    I have enjoyed hard using cover Hahnemühle Watercolor Books A5 landscape 5.8”x8.3”. The landscape allows me to mock up interesting arrangements connecting these elongated pages. The thicker paper often holds pigment parties readily. The black-cloth hardcover is a portable size and offers a beautiful finished “container” for my treasures memories.

    Currently, I have 3 sketchbooks on different subjects: France ??, Encinitas, CA, and MotorHome Travels.
    I tend to work slowly thru the books, as is my style.

    I have learned so much from your classes Liz! You are an outstanding teacher…always giving more! With heart! Thank you for inspirations…

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Susie – thanks for your lovely comments! Hahnemühle Watercolor Books are a popular option with many sketchers with good reason. They are great. Glad they work so well for you!

  • Mayela says:

    Hi Liz: I am not very disciplined so I don’t sketch everyday. But now I am going on two trips, one will be 3 weeks long and the other will be 2 months long. So I have told myself that I will do at least one sketch a day. Hopefully I will be able to fill out my sketchbook, which is the Stillman and Birn, Alpha soft cover, 10×8 inches. I use both sides of the page.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Mayela – no need to sketch every single day! Hope you get lots of sketching done on your trips!

  • Yvonne Frindle says:

    I’m wondering if it’s not so much the problem with small sketchbooks so much as the problem with small _square_ sketchbooks. Unlike rectangular formats, square books do tend to encourage one subject per page. So you might find an A5 not quite so bad.

    That said, it might be worth revisiting the Kunst & Papier watercolour sketchbooks, sold with Jackson’s branding in black covers. The 160gsm paper is actual watercolour paper and the books have lots of pages. Also, a big plus in my book, you’re not stuck with the “office paper” dimensions of A5 etc. (great for letters and documents, not so lovely for compositions, or Instagram). In the smaller sizes, I particularly love the 17×15.6cm (~7×6″) landscape sketchbook. It has more height for its width than an A5 landscape and is a joy to work in.