I’ll be the first to admit: I have a problem… with sketchbooks. I have recently found myself accruing a collection of sketchbooks from various places. To collect sketchbooks casually is one thing, but I go out of my way to find quirky sketchbooks. Enter an art store or book store, the first scan is to locate where the sketchbooks are kept.
Now does one need sketchbooks? To some extent yes. I’m a designer starting out my career; sketchbooks are an important tool. But one must buy these with caution and intent.
There are a multitude of factors to consider:
- Kind: do you want a square grid, dot grid, or blank sketchbook?
- Size (real estate of paper): how big do you want the sketchbook to be? While one might think bigger is better, you also have to think about portability. Is having a huge sketchbook going to be the best thing if you have to lug it around to and from work everyday? What kind of work are you doing (example: sketching for mobile screens doesn’t require a large real estate for paper)?
- Size (girth): how many pages do you want the sketchbook to have? There is a huge range here although about 50 is standard practice. With smaller sketchbooks, the page count might decrease to maintain the compactness of the sketchbook.
- Binding: would you like a spiral or cloth finish to the sketchbook? A well-bound cloth book is beautiful, but keep in mind it has to be well-bound. Many of these kinds of sketchbooks fall apart with stress because the glue cannot hold up. Spiral sketchbooks are great because they are sturdy, but again there is a hazard that the spirals might get messed up. I will say that an added benefit of a spiral notebook is that it is much easier to draw on the backs of pages as well since you can fold them back. If you know you are occasionally going to be ripping out pages, make sure that the integrity of the binding is not compromised.
- Hard vs. soft cover: Is this sketchbook going to get continuously squished in your backpack? Maybe it’s best to get a hard bound one in case things get folded and smudged. Durability of the sketchbook plays a large factor here. I recently purchased one with chipboard as the cover which seemed like it was a happy medium between a hard bound leather cover and a flimsy plastic one.
- Paper quality: Now this is where most artists and designers become picky. Depending on the kind of work you are going to do (what medium you are using: graphite, pencil, pen) the paper must be able to accommodate the tool (I’ve always chosen sketchbooks that can withstand the following: prismacolor markers, colic makers, sharpies, micron pens, staedler pens). Many people prefer to use a mixed media sketchbook (it has a thicker paper weight) so they never have to worry about what tool they can use with certain sketchbooks. Others have preferences towards having environmentally-friendly recycled paper.
- Paper color: toned paper or not? Are you drawing with dark colors? If so, then toned paper might not be a bad idea. However, if you know you’re going to be scanning in multiple pages, it’s best to get an ultra white sketchbook so you’re not continuously editing in photoshop after scanning.
- Price: Most sketchbooks range between $5 and $20 depending on the quality and use of the sketchbook. I usually go for something in the $15 range, and am able to be quite satisfied with my purchase. You don’t want to buy something that is super expensive either because then you’ll be hesitant towards using it and “messing it up”.
- Other factors: Securing your sketchbook shut, the overall look (some sketchbook are just gosh darn beautiful; they might fit some or none of these criteria and might still draw you towards them), water resistance, and so on and so forth.
There are also many brands of sketchbooks to consider:
- Field Notes
- Handbook Artist Journals, supplied by Blick
- Kunst & Papier
- Stillman & Birn
- Bienfang, supplied by Blick
- Fabriano * Personal favorite
- Arches, part of Canson’s series
- Daler-Rowney, Subset: Cachet
- Michael Roger
- Rendr, offered by Crescent, supplied by Blick
- Winsor and Newton
- Action Method, supplied by Behance
And then there’s specialty sketchbooks too:
- Fashion sketchbooks
- UI Stencils
- Web Design Sketchbook
- App Sketchbook (includes for UX, iPhone, iPad)
- Paper Browser
- UX Pin Kit
Other resources to take a look at:
And after all this, if you decide you want to just make your own sketchbook, there’s also printable paper to help you on your way. Another super helpful resource for creating sketchbook’s is Mark Baskinger’s Drawing Ideas which contains an entire chapter in choosing sketchbooks as well as creating your own.
At the end of the day, the best sketchbooks are the ones that are most meaningful to you. Whether it is finding them in a hole-in-the-wall art store, or a gift from a dear supportive friend, you make the most with what you are given.
Edit 11.25.2014: Found this amazing resource for pens: http://www.penaddict.com/