A sketchbook obsession, and finding the right one

Do I own a sketchbook? Of course, I am an artist, after all. I’m never the best “sketchbook” person, the artists who draw in them obsessively, fill up one to two a month. I’ll never be able to trade in a few and get a house in France.

Having said that, I’ve liked sketchbooks, at least in the physical object sense. I started off with the typical wire-bound jobs you found at Kmart, then to better wire-bound ones by Strathmore. The problem with wire-bound books is they easily catch in your bag and pages fall out. So sometime around 2005 I moved to hardbound sketchbooks. Nothing fancy, whatever cheapie I could pick up from Utrecht.

Then I got into fancy sketchbooks. I took a hard-bound 8 1/2″ by 11″ one with me on the Cross-Con Tour in 2011. One month in I realized I didn’t use it enough and it took up too much space in the bag. I still wanted a sketchbook, but something smaller. Our host in Spokane had an unused Moleskine A5 (5-7/8″ x 8-1/4″) sketchbook and traded it for my big one. Moleskine? I had heard about their cult-like following for years, but avoided them, mostly due to cost. It turned out I really liked this sketchbook! It was just the right size, had decent-quality paper, and the rounded edges and elastic strap meant that it stayed secure in my bag. When I got home from tour, I started drawing New Old Stock in this very sketchbook.

The A5 Moleskine sketchbook was my standard for much of the teens. I usually got around the high prices by coupons and sales. Towards the end of the decade, after noticing a degradation in Moleskine quality 1, I switched to A5 sketchbooks by Leuchtturm, a German maker. The paper quality was even better than Moleskine, so I liked that. They were also expensive, but I also managed to find them on sale.

Then two years ago I decided to participate in Inktober. I didn’t want to use my regular sketchbook, but I had an A6 (4-1/8″ x 5-7/8″) hardbound plain Rhodia notebook that was sitting around, so I put that to use. I loved the size: big enough to get the point across, yet small enough that I could draw quickly. I filled up that Rhodia book and looked for something to replace it. The Rhodia was nice, but not a true sketchbook as its paper was good but on the thin side. Thankfully Leuchtturm also made A6 size sketchbooks, so I started to use those. And A6 became my preferred size in sketchbooks and notebooks–nice and compact, can easily fit into a handlebar bag, small enough that you’ll always err on bringing them.

And now I learn that Leuchtturm has discontinued the A6 sketchbook. Ugh. What to do? Should I buy up a bunch, stockpile? Tempting, but the supply will eventually run out. And doing so isn’t cheap: they regularly go for about $18. I lucked out with picking up a bunch on clearance before. And while the paper in the Leuchtturm books is nice and thick (180 gsm) it’s probably a bit too thick for my needs. I primarily do pen and ink, not watercolor, where thick paper is a must. I liked that thick Leuchtturm paper because I could easily use both sides of a page, economizing my purchase. But what happens when I do that is ink often rubs off onto the other page, making things look “dirty”. So I’ve stopped that practice. Thinner paper will work fine.

For now, I’ve decided to test out a pocket sketchbook by Royal Talens. It’s hardbound and has a bookmark ribbon, two things I like. The paper is thinner, but not too thin, at 140 gsm. The paper is off-white/cream color, which is typical with a lot of these sketchbooks. I prefer the stark white that I got in Leuchtturm, but I can deal with cream, especially since it’s easily dealt with in Photoshop. My regular pen and ink work with my fountain pen and Pentel brush pen have held up, there’s no bleed-through, very little ghosting. The best part? The sketchbook was a little under six bucks, one-third the price of Leuchtturm. It’s made in China, which is why it can hit that price point. I’d definitely prefer it was made in France (like Rhodia) or Germany (Leuchtturm) but the former doesn’t make sketchbooks and the latter discontinued the A6 size. Alas. There’s a few other sketchbooks out there that I’d also like to try, but they’ll have to wait until I go through this one.

Now that I’ve figured out the paper part, let me get to the leather. Last year I had Treetop Goods make me a leather sketchbook cover for my A6 sized sketchbook. The idea was something to hold the actual sketchbook, four to five pens/pencils, and a pouch for some other stuff. I loved it, but in late July when running errands by bike downtown, I somehow left the sketchbook kit behind.2 I was really frustrated and angry, but after I got over that I got in touch with David at Treetop and asked him to make another. I received it last week, and it is beautiful. Sure, I could have found one online, but I like supporting small artisans and this one is designed to my needs. Now I have to make sure not to lose it again…

1 Basically the binding started to fall apart. This could partially be attributed to using the same sketchbook for over a year and a half, but my Leuchtturms never had that issue and some I used longer.

2 It was found, sort of. On the last day of the Coast Tour when Emee and I were waiting for Amtrak in Eugene, I got a voicemail from a sketchy-sounding dude who claimed to have found the book. (I had my contact info it.) But he also claimed that he didn’t have a phone and he’d call me back “later”. I have yet to receive another phone call from him. That’s okay, by the time of the phone call I had already moved on and there wasn’t exactly anything of value in there to anyone but me.

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