What's your favourite sketchbook?

December 8, 2017 | 26 Comments

Today I want to ask you to share your favourite sketchbook.

I have two favourite books:

  • Stillman & Birn Alpha as my everyday sketchbook (currently I like the softcover 8×10)
  • Moleskine A4 Watercolour Folio Sketchbook as my travel and ‘special’ sketchbooks

l Iove the alpha sketchbooks because there are lots of pages, the paper is great to use with ink and pencil (great tooth) and although not designed for watercolour, it is incredibly robust. I throw a LOT of water and pigment at it, draw into the watercolour with ink and nothing goes through to the other side – well, heavy scrubbing with an inktense pencil into a wet wash might! The paper buckles a little but I like that ‘lived-in’ feel from my daily book.

As for the Moleskine sketchbooks… The paper changed a few years ago and it is not as nice as it used to be – there is a definite front and back and the front side has a strong mechanical grain to it . However it is still the best sketchbook paper that I have found which suits my rapid wet in wet style of sketching. (I explain more during my upcoming course SketchingNow Watercolour)

If you have missed my previous questions…
What’s your favourite paint colour?
What’s your go-to brush?


  • Kate Powell says:

    I like the paper of the S&B books, but the size and format and softcover all don’t work for me. I like landscapes, hardback (or I have to take more “stuff” with me and I want to keep it simple.
    I’m okay with Moleskins, but as I finish with them I will move to Hahnemuhle Watercolor as my “special” books, and their Nostalgie for everyday. Like the S&B, their lighter paper can take most of what I throw at it, and I love the A5 (just a bit bigger than most A5’s) landscape and hardcover. Totally my go-to.

  • Dena Limpede says:

    I get my best result with the Hahnemuhle watercolor. I like Stillman & Birn Beta for everyday but Hahnemuhle is my fav.

  • Carmela Sunnyvale says:

    Hi Liz,
    What a good question! I’ve tried a variety of sketchbooks over the years. My all-time favorite is Bee Paper’s Aquabee Super Deluxe. It is a heavy weight drawing paper for wet and dry media. It takes all the media that I use and holds up to watercolor lifting, erasures, etc. There is no buckling even when wet. I primarily use it for travel (9 in x 6 in.) Its stiff cover works well for me. However, lately I’ve been using the Stillman & Birn’s sketchbooks (Beta series) and really like them–the paper weight, tooth etc. seem to be working well for me. I find that there is some buckling when wet, but the paper dries flat.

    For lightweight paper (60 lb./85 gsm) I currently am in love with Fabriano’s EcoQua. The size is just right for purse travel, 8 in x 5.75 in. The paper is similar to Moleskine’s, but holds ink, watercolor, watercolor pencil, better. There is almost no bleed-through because of better sizing. The paper is not meant for wet media–although I do use watercolor and Inktense pencil. The paper will buckle, but I’m OK with it for my quick sketches. It scans well.

  • Stephanie Reitmajer says:

    Hi Liz….and others who read the comments. I have tried so many. They all have some limitation. I like the Pentallic for its ability to take watercolor. I also like the Stillman and Birn Beta. For me, it’s a mix of size and paper. I like them to fit in my fanny pack or it doesn’t seem to get taken on the journey. Some recent shoulder tendinitis has limited the shoulder bags I can carry. Recently, I’ve start d to make my own from my favorite watercolor paper, Fabriano Artistico. I’m pretty happy with this arrangement. Although a little bit of work, I get the paper I want and the size I want. It’s a little rough for pen work so I may also try making a hot press book. Sometimes I miss a bigger book. So, I’m thinking about making one in a larger size, but would need to carry it separate. Oh the search, it’s almost like the search for the perfect handbag. Is it attainable?

  • Flory Nye-Clement says:

    I have two favorite kinds of sketchbook. One is the Canson Mix Media (NB, not “mixed” media) spiral-bound book, in various sizes. The folded-back book is comfy to hold with one hand, and has a stiff but lightweight cardboard cover for support. The paper takes fountain and brush pens well, especially for fast sketching, and handles watercolor well. There are two drawbacks, though: some buckling does occur, and the paper scans with a grayish tone on a flatbed scanner. It isn’t a bright white paper and it has some texture. My other fave is the S&B Beta softcover, 8.5 x 5.5” portrait. Excellent paper, which does release most buckling when dry and scans nicely, even though it is actually less bright white than the Canson. The softcover is light and portable, but I have to use a rigid support or work at a table, so that’s a drawback. My always-in-the-daypack book is a pocket-size Beta softcover. This is small enough that I can support it with one hand. I also have a Moleskine album with the *old paper,* which I use for special paintings and drawings rather than sketches.
    A few thoughts about buckling and water control: in the course, I hope to learn to optimize the juiciness of my washes, and to use fewer layers in any given area. Then I can zero in on the exact characteristics of each paper that I use, to minimize buckling.
    Relevant to papers: I’d also really appreciate some tips about scanning for best color accuracy and clarity. TurboScan and iOS device cameras are great for clarity, but reds and oranges come out dulled. The flatbed scanner is very accurate with both clarity and colors, but also captures every bit of unevenness in the paper, especially from buckling, and those areas have a gray cast.

  • Elsie Hickey-Wilson says:

    I do like the Stillman and Birn Alpha and various sizes of Moleskine watercolor. I love a Moleskine Watercolor in a landscape shape I use for panaramic scenes or very tall scenes.
    But, my day to day go-to fav is Fabriano Venezia Drawing Book. It has a nice binding, lays flat, and takes pencil, ink and watercolor. It may buckle a bit with wet-in-wet, but flattens out as it gets pressed with other pages. I used a soft cover S.&B. Alpha in Chicago and really like it. The paper feels good and accepted ink and watercolor.

    • Carmela Sunnyvale says:

      Elsie– I too work in multiple media. Your comments about Fabriano’s Venezia were helpful. I bought several on sale and am looking forward to trying them. Love their artistic cover!

  • Barbara says:

    I prefer Stillman and Birn Zeta and I like the spiral bound ones because they lie flat. It takes a lot of water and doesn’t buckle a bit.

  • Samantha Taylor says:

    It’s the Moleskine watercolour sketchbook for me, followed by the Handbook Journal sketchbook and then the Stillman & Birn Delta for an occasional tiny pocket sketchbook. My absolute favourite for special use though is Khadi paper, but I can’t bring myself to use it on practise sketches! Which sadly means I only use it a tiny percentage of the time while thinking of it lots… ????

  • Dee Robotham says:

    I don’t know if they are available worldwide, but I really like Pink Pig watercolour books. They are spiral bound only and come with 25 sheets ( 50 sides) smooth “Posh Ameleie” 270gsm paper which is great for line and wash or pencils in all their forms or with 300gsm Bockingford if you prefer a more textured NOT surface. They also sell a variety of sketch books with different cartridge papers even cheaper These are more equivalent to S&B Alpha or Daler Rowner Ivory sketchbooks.. The covers are strong board covered with banana paper. They are available in international “A” sizes and in the UK they can be found really very cheap. I would like a variety of binding, but I guess it’s spiral binding and a few standard sizes that keep the price down. Extremely good quality for the price. I used them for the Sketching Now Buildings course and found I could do quite wet watercolours on both sides of the paper with less buckling than some more expensive ones, especially in the Bockinford one. Great every day books, though I would still go for Moleskine watercolor books for something a bit more special
    Here is a link. Hope it works:

    p.s. I don’t have anything to do with them. It’s just that my local art shops sell them at half the price of Daler-Rowney and S&B and I love them.

    • Connie Smith says:

      I was curious about these, went to website, but Amazon UK does not ship these to USA. Too bad for me. Connie

    • Gill Phillips says:

      Hi, thank you for the link, it still works! I will definitely try these out as I live in the UK and some of the other options are quite expensive. A limited range is also available from Jackson’s. I have also tried Seawhite, another British make and use Bockingford paper as well. Happy painting!

  • Jeanette Gillings says:

    I like the Stillman &Birn Beta and Zeta series. I also like the Pentalic Aqua Journal….the 5 x 8 is great for travel. I know it can be costly but I find it a waste of time sketching/watercolouring on cheap paper. Fortunately my local art store has regular sales and I stock up on my Stillman & Birns then ????

  • I have tried a lot of sketchbooks. Presently I am using the Stillman & Bern Beta softcover Mixed Media a lot. It takes ink nicely, handles watercolor well, and isn’t too heavy to carry around in my backpack. I also use the Bee Paper Super Deluxe Mixed Media. I like using their square format and again it takes ink and watercolor well. Usually I keep a Fabriano EcoQua 5.8 x 8.25 in my purse for quick sketches in ink. It is thin and flat so it doesn’t take much room. That works for me!

  • Jessica Vivien says:

    Softcover large portrait Stilman & Birn Alpha is my new go-to, loving it. Also have same in Beta.

    I have for many years kept a detailed written journal day to day, and fell in love with Paperblanks Grande Unlined, which have the most exquisite covers, eg Lindau Gospel had a stunning 3D representation of the bejeweled cover of this mediaeval illuminated Bible. The problem was that the paper was very thin, and buckled when wet. But I always carried one with me, and used them for long studies eg of the beach where we spread Mum’s ashes, views from Tasmania’s 3 Capes Walk, as well as quick daily sketches in cafes etc.

    So I have long been looking for an A4 portrait book with lots of pages, not too precious to paint in, but much better for watercolour than the paperblanks. Tried about a dozen different watercolour books, but they lacked an A4-ish portrait format, or were too precious to use half for writing in or had too few pages or were really too light for watercolour, or had really heavy but boring covers. Or something..

    These S&B softcover bks are just what I need. (apart from the covers)

    I am now planning to create a beautiful lightweight Ready to Go travel pack that holds my Stilman &Birn A and B bks and dry items on one side and my paints and other wet stuff on the other side.

  • Ruby says:

    Very occasionally I’ve been able to find a Fabriano watercolour sketchbook, not the Venezia line of theirs, which looks lovely, but I find the paper a little thin for W/C. But one with heavier paper. Their cotton paper really is lovely. More commonly I use the Pentalic watercolour book in 6″x10″ size when I can find it. I’ve decided that my favourite size is the B4 portrait size, which seems very rare. So I’ve also made my own sketchbooks, spiral bound in a copy shop, using All cotton paper of 300gsm, preferably Fabriano.

  • Yara-Colette Lemke says:

    Hi Liz, sorry, this is probably not the right spot to post this comment, but I don’t know whereelse I could let you know, that I am not able to watch your Intro Videos to,the upcoming watercolour class on my ipad. What I see is the video in an almost square fomat, which means, since you are drwaing or painting on the right side of your sketchbook, I can’t see what you are doing. I wonder if I am the only one with this problem or if maybe my ipad is too old to recognize a fancy new videoformat. All I can say is that your three into videos are the only ones where this happens. I am very much looking forward to the beginning of the class!!

  • Cole says:

    Dear Liz, thank you for contacting me. Now everything is alright 🙂 Turning the iPad didn’t help. But now I can see the video in a landscape format and see all the excercises that you demonstrate. Thank you very much. Can’t wait for the class to start.
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

  • Darlene Williams says:

    I liked the Stillman and Birn Beta watercolor books to work more finished pieces, but for quick sketches and taking with me I use the Stillman and Birn Epsilon pocket size. It takes pen and ink real good and doesn’t buckle for a quick splash of watercolor. I got the Hanamule watercolor for Christmas and haven’t tried it. For this class I’ll be using my Trav.e. Logue Handbook in the square format. I like the paper in this one. It doesn’t buckle and handles the pen ok.

  • I love the Hahnemeule watercolor journals. Great paper and beautifully bound.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks everyone for replying – this is a great read and resource for others.

  • Douglas Thayer says:

    I really like the Hand Book Journal sketchbooks by Global Art. The paper has a great tooth and it will take a fairly wet wash of watercolor. Wrinkles the pages but that is part of sketchbooking.

  • Thanks for such a fine & useful website, Liz!
    Since I work most of my sketches into larger pieces I prefer my sketchbooks to be of the same paper, brand & weight, that my larger paintings are made on. Currently I’m using spiral bound Arches field books bought via Ebay from the seller ran2424 in 7×10″ and 5×7″ sizes. I’ve made these myself in the past, but this seller is reasonably priced and highly reliable.

  • Julie Noyes says:

    Hi liz, and all reading the comment section:
    I have used just about everything out there over the last 35 years of drawing. My go to right now is Moleskine watercolor landscape in A4 and A5. But I also purchase out of date Moleskine datebooks on the cheap and then take the guts out and put in my own coptic bound watercolor pages. This is my favorite right now and I’m using 140# arches watercolor hot press.

  • John Mize says:

    My walking around, almost always with me Sketchbook is an S&B Alpha. I have a strap on the cover that carries a combination of Fountain and brush pens loaded with waterproof and water soluble inks. In my bag I have a kit with me most of the time with water soluble pencils, water brush and a mini watercolor palette. Colored pencils or splashes of watercolor tinting ( dry on wet) on ink drawings is most of what I have done so far. When I’m going out to do field watercolor painting ( new territory for me ) I have a larger palette of colors, a support board and Handbook Watercolor Journal or Hahnuemuhle books, At my skill level these books are functionally identical. Experienced painters may execute techniques with enough skill to tell the difference but I can’t. I wanted the S&B Beta to work for me and stay in that family but the sizing formula is different than the Alpha. The paper is harder and less forgiving at my level of skill. A painter with more control might have better luck. ( I also tried the moleskin, similar to the other two but I don’t like Landscape books. Handbook has an 8.25×8.25 I love. Also the Hahnuemuhle zig zag books are great. Very light and versatile.)

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