Watercolor with Sketchbooks


I always have good intentions to use my small collection of sketchbooks, however I think they're an aspirational purchase for me--I want to be the kind of person who will carry a little kit of supplies wherever they go and dash out a quickie painting whenever inspiration strikes. Unfortunately, I've never been much of a doodler or sketcher.

For a while I didn't really see the point of having a sketchbook. I'm not a "sketcher," after all. I finally decided to get my first sketchbook in order to keep track of notes--things like color combos I particularly liked, or what kind of marks a new brush could make. I made my first sketchbook by hand, because I had fairly recently discovered how important 100% cotton watercolor paper was, and most of the sketchbooks on Amazon didn't have good paper in them. 

It was a mixed success: yes the paper was much better, especially compared to the first commercially made sketchbook I got (a Pentalic 5" x 8" Aqua Journal). But I also used the simplest book binding technique I could find (stab binding) and with the 30 pages of paper in the book, it was awkward and unable to stay open once I got past the first few pages. 

I intended to make another, smaller handmade book to improve upon the mistakes of my first attempt, and even got so far as to prep all the paper needed and bind it with a clip...but it's sat in a supply drawer for more than a year now. 

So I've kept purchasing sketchbooks off and on. It's such a balancing act--between cost, and effort really. I could make exactly what I want myself, but time has shown that's probably not the most realistic plan. I can purchase reasonably priced, mass produced books but they have shitty paper that's hard for me to work with now. Or, as I did most recently, I can purchase a handmade-by-someone-else sketchbook with real watercolor paper. 

My latest sketchbook is a lovely thing made by a lady named Cathy in Oregon. It's disc bound so supposedly I can take the pages out to paint on, then put them back in the book once dry. She uses lovely ecoprints on her covers too, and packaged it beautifully. I spent a lot more on this sketchbook than anything I had before. Annnnnnd that comes with its own issue--now I'm almost afraid to use it! It's too beautiful and perfect as is, and I am (ridiculous as it is) putting a lot of pressure on myself to not go in and "ruin it." 

my collection of sketchbooks

Here's my current collection of watercolor sketchbooks. From top left and in a clockwise spiral: my handmade notebook with Bee 140# cold pressed cotton paper, my newest book from CabooksByCathy, a cotton paper book I picked up on a trip to Japan (thank you, supply obsession), my first commercially produced sketchbook, and lastly a square Field Artist commercially produced book.

I suppose despite this entire post of musing on sketchbooks, I still come away with the same conclusions as usual--supplies are only wasted when they're not used, paper really does make that much of a difference, and I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish (aka stop aspirational purchasing). In the end, of all these books, my hard-to-work-with handmade book is the one I've very nearly filled up. It may have been the best balance of all--the stakes were low enough I actually used it and it achieved its goal: I have a lot of notes exactly where I know to look.

homemade sketchbook page

So now it's your turn: how do you feel about watercolor sketchbooks? Love 'em, hate 'em, couldn't care less? Post a comment below or send me an email through my contact form and we can discuss!

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