Sketchbooks comparison, what are the best sketchbooks?

What are your favourite sketchbooks?  Obviously this will vary enormously depending on what you want from your sketchbooks and the media used.

For me the quality of the paper is crucial.   I really dislike working on flimsy paper or paper that buckles with water media. 

Sketchbooks are an important part of my work, for research, plein air work, thinking around ideas and keeping notes, jotting down interesting information and simply observing and practising.  They need to cope with anything from simple pencil to watercolours, oils, charcoal, pen, pastel, collage, eyeshadow .... anything!  Some sketchbooks are 'general' and can contain a mix of subjects.  Others are themed, like books I take on trips or that work around an idea.  On the whole I prefer larger sketchbooks. A4+, but do also find smaller ones handy for keeping in the car, taking to hospital appointments etc

So these are ones that I have chosen to comment on - favourites - and a one big moleskine let down!

Stillman and Birn:

 Clear blue morning at Sennen Cove, S&B Beta sketchbook, watercolour

On a recent trip to Cornwall I used a Stillman and Birn A4 180 lb. Beta sketchbook, with wonderful heavy paper, one of the best sketchbooks I've ever had.  I almost filled it, using pencil, charcoal, watercolour, oil, ink, coloured pencil and oil pastel through its pages.  It coped with everything, never bleeding through or buckling.  Also it  opens completely flat, unlike some books.

The paper in all their books is excellent but the Beta and Delta are superb.  Binding feels really strong and secure.  I plan to use an A4 Delta  (warmer cream paper) on an upcoming trip, knowing how robust it is.  Not to Cornwall this time .... watch this space :>)  The Epsilon and Zeta sketchbooks have smooth paper, very suitable for pen but capable of taking washes.  Alpha and Gamma series are slightly lighter versions of the Beta and Delta, but still good heavy paper.

Because they are internally and externally sized, colours glow. Some cheaper sketchbooks make colour sink and dull.


The moleskine folio watercolour book in comparison was a terrible disappointment.  The paper buckles when wet washes are used.  Badly.   Simply not good enough quality for an expensive book.  One definitely off my shopping list in the future.  This one will have to be used for drawing only.

Jaffa, detail,  coloured pencil in moleskine (with the waxy cream paper)

Moleskine sketchbook:  I like the 'normal' moleskine sketchbook with its waxy cream pages but only for pencils and inks as it isn't suitable for water based media - and ink can leak through pages.  This one, for me, is for occasional use and not one I'd take on trips.  Very nice as a different paper though.  Great for detailed studies.


Another favourite is a Vang watercolour, hardback book with a red fabric cover, with black spine and corners.   It/s 10x12 inches, landscape format.   This has lovely paper that took washes well without buckling and behaved well with charcoal and oil paint and collage and all sorts of other things I used in it.  It, like the S&B opens flat.  I'm sure when I bought it, it was Canson - but is listed now as Vang.  It's well made - and looks nice too.   I used this on previous trips and this is another Cornwall themed book.  Only a few pages left so time to buy another.  The customer support team at Great Art were brilliant in helping me track this one down,


I have a couple of A3 Canson sketchbooks with heavy paper, thick covers and the large spiral binding - lovely paper and nice to use but oh that binding!  what a pain, it constantly unbends and the pages have to be rethreaded and the wire bent tighter.   Because of the this I wouldn't buy another.

So ... until S&B agree to make A3 sketchbooks I need to find another one for when I want to work larger,  with heavy adaptable paper, that won't fall apart in use .... any ideas?

Derwent and Daler Rowney make some good sketchbooks if you don't want the heavier paper.  A lot of the sketchbook work on my degree was done in Daler Rowney Ebony 11 inch square sketchbooks.

So for me, my top favourites are the S&B range and the Vang.  How about you? and why?


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