let's talk about : sketchbooks

I fill a number of watercolour sketchbooks each year!

If you've been following me for any time at all, you'll know I'm a big fan of sketchbooks. Besides the many watercolour sketches of mine that you see here and on social media, I also have idea-type drawing sketchbooks that I doodle in or jot down ideas. So what's the big deal? Why do I love sketchbooks so much? And which sketchbooks would I recommend? Read on ;-)

Why sketchbooks?

I have a ridiculously long list of reasons why I love sketchbooks. If you catch me in person and ask the question, you're in for a long afternoon. Haha! I'm passionate about them! But here's a short list of some of the main reasons why I keep sketchbooks...

  • They're a document of my life and travels. Unlike photos, the sketches in the books are not a quick snapshot. They're usually a careful decision about what I feel is important enough to spend an hour or more capturing.
  • Unlike a photo album, I can write little stories next to the sketch. A diary of sorts. I didn't do this much in the beginning, concentrating just on the painting. But now these stories have become almost important than the sketch. Even though I'm not a writer, just a few notes, read years later brings back so many wonderful memories.
  • A full sketchbook tells a wonderful story. So many folks who stop to watch me sketch or see a sketch later, say it's a pity it's in a book. Why? I think it's because they're only seeing each page as a separate thing and not as a whole story. A sketchbook becomes a sort of coffee table book - something that works when you page through it. Mistakes and all.
  • The sketchbooks are only for me! No, I don't regret that a 'perfect' sketch can not be sold. Why does everything need a monetary value to give it importance? When I open my sketchbook and start painting I'm not thinking about pleasing anyone else. Just me. It's very different when I pull out a beautiful fine art sheet or work on a commission.
  • They're documenting my artistic journey. I tell my students often to add a note and a date to their paintings. On a bad day, when you feel like every brush stroke is a struggle, there's nothing like grabbing an old sketchbook and seeing how far you've come.

What sketchbook?

I've painted in so many different sketchbooks over the years. My requirements have changed over the years, and I expect that may be true in the future - that what is perfect for me now may change. But here is what I'm currently looking for in a sketchbook...
  • Proper watercolour paper - not drawing paper, or mixed media paper or anything else. Something made specifically for watercolours.
  • 300gsm weight - I work very wet and thinner paper can buckle in bigger sketchbooks, which can be a pain when you're working outside.
  • 100% cotton paper - I know it's expensive, but I spend hours on every book. Days in fact. I think it's worth it.
  • Flat binding - spiral bound books are great (see below), but I'm really enjoying the story-telling / coffeetable-book feel I get from a bound book at the moment.
  • Vegan - as always

Here's what I'm using at the moment...

The Perfect Sketchbook from Etchr Lab

The Perfect Sketchbook from Etchr Lab - A4 & A5 sizes

Ticks all the boxes above. I did a lot of research, tried not to look too carefully at my credit card statement (they're not cheap!) and dove in. And now I'm hooked and there's no going back.

They are beautifully made. The binding is strong. I have never painted on paper this forgiving. It's hard to describe how it feels to paint on this paper. And, for me, so much of watercolour painting is about how the painting process feels - the tactile side I mean. I guess the closest descriptor is it feels soft. Not very informative I'm sorry.

I use A4 and A5 sketchbooks.

  • Ticks all the boxes above.
  • Very strong - my books need to take some abuse as they go everywhere and get shoved in hiking packs and such.
  • The thicker paper dries a little slower than the thinner paper in other sketchbooks, so more working time.
  • Very easy to get soft edges. If you like hard edges they're not easy to get.
  • The folks at Etchr are lovely and helpful. Yes, this is important too!
  • Expensive and not available locally. Can take a very long time for your order to arrive. Plan ahead.
  • Not that many pages in a book, so I go through them quickly. You can't really have more pages than it has, because the thick paper would mean a very bulky book if it had more pages. So this isn't really a fair con.
  • Paint doesn't lift out easily.
  • The first and last page don't open flat. A minor thing, but other bound books manage this.

Other sketchbooks I also like

Fabriano watercolour sketchbooks

Fabriano watercolour sketchbooks, A4 and A5 sizes

My go to for many, many years. I still love these books.They tick most of the boxes above, except they're not 100% cotton. Now that I'm a fussier painter, that is a little bit of an issue with me. 

They are spiral bound. This makes them super convenient for painting outside, because you can fold them back and they're not as uncomfortable as a big bound book on your lap. Especially the A4 size. I haven't taken my A4 Etchr book outside yet, because I think it would be a bit cumbersome. Time will tell.

The spiral binding has another advantage - you can work in either landscape or portrait format easily. Not really possible in a bound book. I miss this.

Available locally.

Hahnemuhle watercolour sketchbooks

Hahnemuhle watercolour sketchbooks, A5 and pocket size

These books are the reason I fell in love with bound books. I always have a little pocket sketchbook that goes on big hikes with me. I have a pile of these completed sketchbooks full of wonderful little snippets of stories. It took me years to realise that I could scale up and have these stories in all my sketchbooks. So my first step was a bigger Hahnemuhle sketchbook.

It ticks almost all the boxes above and the paper is a gorgeous bright white. The binding is strong and opens completely flat. The paper takes lots and lots of layering. But unfortunately the paper is too thin. It works well at pocket size, but for larger sizes I prefer the Etchr books.
Not 100% cotton.

Available locally.

I hope this answers most of your questions. If not, drop me a note in the comments.

A reminder that there are lot's of other 'let's talk about' topics in the Tips & Techniques section above.

Happy sketching!


  1. Totalmente de acuerdo con todo lo que dices, para mi el cuaderno tambien es muy especial. Gracias por tu explicación!


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