If you’re an illustrator or just have a passion for drawing, you’ve probably been there: you’re in an art supply shop filled with the most lucious sketchbooks. But what sketchbook should you get?
Depending on what you want to use it for, and what kind of materials you are using for your drawings and illustrations, the answer varies. I’ll walk you through the different kinds of my own personal favourites.
Sketchbooks are for experimenting
There’s no bigger waste of money than an unused sketchbook. Sketchbook should be filled with doodles, drawings, sketches and mistakes. You see a lot of sketchbook pages on Instagram these days which barely are ‘sketches’ anymore. They are almost works of art. That raises the bar quite high if you just started drawing and are finding your way on your creative path.
Don’t let these Instagram-posts fool you.
Sketchbooks are meant to have fun in, to draw wildely, experiment and yes, occasionally ruin a complete sketchbook. Process is only in making mistakes, so if you want to get better: make mistakes. Use that sketchbook to the fullest! I dare you to fail.
Define what you want to use a sketchbook for
So many wishes, so many options. The following list are my personal preferences, all non-sponsored. I buy most of my sketchbooks in art supply shops I go to, so it’s often that I buy what is available to me. It depends on the country you live in and shop you go to what you can buy. I’ve noticed that the range of sketchbooks vary immensely depending on where you live.
Picking the right sketchbook means you’ve got to decide first what kind of materials you’re going to use in it. If you go into an art supply shop you will notice that on most covers of sketchbooks it will say if it’s suitable for wet or dry materials. It often even says what kind of materials you can use in it. If you’re unsure, ask an employee. They usually know which is which. Rule of thumb is: grainy paper is usually not very suitable for wet materials, and the same goes for thinner paper.
Jotting down ideas and scribbles
For generating ideas, jotting down little idea sparks, sketch thumbnails for comics and other notes, I prefer using Moleskine, the one with the elastic band on the side with plain pages. I use the large edition, which fits into my handbag so I can take it along with me at all times. In the beginning I found it confusing which series of Moleskine I had to pick, but I go for the green-series now at all times. The paper is really thin and smooth, but perfect for my pencil sketches and notes.
I also use a little pocket notebook (lined) for ideas for books and projects, which fits in my coat pocket. You can buy these of different brands, the quality doesn’t really matter. You can buy pocket notebooks (like the one on the left) in department stores (like Hema in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium or France) for just €1 and you’re good to go.
Dry materials (pencil, crayon, pastels, charcoal, fineliners, ink pens)
If you want to use tools like pencils and pen in your sketchbook: I love using Seawhite of Brighton (on the left) paper. The paper is not too thin and very white. They come in a variety of sizes and bindings. I’ve used the eco-pocket books on my travels (with the brown cover) and I use the hardcover ring binders for my comics.
Another brand that is not too expensive but really good, is Daler Rowney graduate sketchbooks (black softcovers). The paper is a bit more grainy than Seawhite, but as I like it a bit more smooth, I switched to Seawhite a few years ago. The beauty of using dry materials is that most sketchbooks are suitable for that!
Wet materials (watercolors, gouache, acrylics, etc.)
Sketchbooks for wet materials are often quite pricey. That’s why I don’t often buy sketchbooks especially made for watercolours, gouache, etc. And, I’ll admit, I kind of like a little bleeding on papers. I know some people find it an absolute no-go, but I don’t mind. For watercolours and ink, I often use square Hahnemuhle D&S sketchbooks (on the left), and they do bleed on the paper. That’s because they’re not meant for wet materials.
If you want to use proper sketchbooks for wet materials, you might want to look into special watercolour sketchbooks. I own a few by Moleskine (below), which I’m pretty happy with. But also Hahnemuhle offers great watercolour sketchbooks. In general, sketchbooks with thicker papier and not that grainy are more suitable for wet materials.
Another brand you often see on Instagram is Mossery. I own a few of their mixed media sketchbooks and a watercolour sketchbook. They have good paper, and the notebooks are so pretty with pastel colours and beautiful design. Very Instagram-able, if that’s your thing. You pay the high price for their prettiness, but if you want better paper and don’t care much for how the sketchbook looks, I’d say Moleskine or Hahnemuhle are better and cheaper options.
Best sketchbook for markers
Sketchbook for markers is a whole other thing. Markers, especially Copic markers or Winsor & Newton markers, tend to bleed through paper. That’s why there’s special marker paper. It’s often a Bristol-kind of paper: thick enough to not bleed, smooth, really white and perfect for markers to blend. It will say on the cover if it’s suitable for markers.
Again, I’m stubborn. I don’t use sketchbooks especially for markers. I often use the cheapest sketchbooks for them (don’t tell the markers, they might feel offended 😉 ). One of my favourite sketchbooks for markers is those of Royal Talens (see on the left). I’ve heard it’s hard to get a hold of these in the UK but they’re widely available on mainland Europe. These hardcover sketchbooks with elastic band (gotta love an elastic band) are usually something like €6. The paper is cream-coloured and very smooth. They come in different sizes, but I really love square sketchbooks. The markers will bleed a little bit through the paper, but if you put a piece of paper behind the page you’re working on, it’s fine. Also, just use one side of each page.
Sketchbooks for traveling (travel journals)
Since a few years I got into the habit of keeping travel journals on my holidays. What I’ve learned is that you want an elastic band to keep the pages together in your bag. Trust me. Folded pages because a pen got in between, or banana-goo on it is no fun. The last few years I’ve been using Hand Book Artist journals. It’s not especially made for watercolours but I use them anyway. The paper is off-white and grainy and it doesn’t bleed as much as for example the Hahnemuhle-sketchbooks.
I’ve also taken Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks with me, the eco-editions with the brown softcover.
For my next holiday I’m taken a quite cheap sketchbook with me from Kunst&Papier, a German brand. Not so much for the paper but the size (15 x 12 cm) is something I really liked. The paper is off white and quite grainy. Taking into account I want to use markers in it, I’m curious how it will turn out…
Go to an art supply shop and start touching
Going to an actual art supply shop and feel the paper is the best way to go. I never buy a sketchbook for the first time online again. You need to touch the surface to see if it will suit your needs. Plus, you support a local shop too! My favourite art supply shops around Europe are:
Harolds, Rotterdam (NL)
Van Beek, Rotterdam (NL)
De Kwast, Den Bosch (NL)
De Wieuw, Antwerp (BE)
Fred Aldous, Manchester (UK)
Cass Art, Brighton (UK)
Modular, Berlin (DE)
Papelaria Modelo, Porto (PT)
Again, every brand and shop I mention in this article is all my personal opinion and hasn’t been paid for. All non-sponsored.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, please let me know in the comments below!
Want to receive more tips and creative ideas in your mail?
Sign up for my newsletter and receive my monthly newsletter with sneak peeks of what I’m working on, (illustration) tips and new paintings when they are for sale.
All text and images © Marloes De Vries