Friday, August 17, 2012

Searching for the ideal Sketchbook - Part 1

12 years ago I started carry around a sketchbook to sketch daily.
Ever since then I've gone through countless amounts of different sketching materials and what's always been the difficult part of the journey was in finding the right sketchbook.
The past 9 years, I've pretty much settled on the Daler-Rowney Cachet Studio sketchbook.
Daler-Rowney Cachet Studio sketchbook
9 years of Daler-Rowney Cachet Studio sketchbook

Many things about this sketchbook suited me and my style of sketching:
Size: 10" x 8" Landscape format. For me the landscape format is the most natural and easiest size to hold and to capture. I tried the square format for a while and while it was nice to carry around, I always wanted to sketch longer to the sides. It's also a border line size to be able to sketch standing up without killing my arms from the weight.

Wire bound book: I love that I can turn the pages and only view the page I'm working on. The wire is also big enough to hold my fountain pen for ease of carrying around.

Colorful cover & elastic band: It's nice to be able to switch to different colored covers sketchbooks and also the elastic band that's attached to the back cover is great for keeping the pages open on windy days.
Page/ Price: It's pretty decent. The book has 80 sheets/ 160 pages and doing a rough calculation, it came out to be about 10.5 Cents a page - cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Paper quality: This is the tricky part. The paper quality is not good - it's thin and you can see through to the other side, the paper buckles/ warps when applying light water color washes to the page, and the paper surface starts to peel off if more than 1 layer of wash is applied to the page. The funny thing is I've gotten used to this and treated this as a positive aspect. Because the paper quality is low:
  1. I don't feel the pressure to do really well. I can easily plop down lines and not finish a sketch and move on to the next page if I feel a need to. This is actually great for sketching, which ultimately for me is to keep loose, train my eye/ hand coordination and to be able to really see. Producing a nice looking sketch to show other people to look at is secondary for me - although it's nice to be able to do this.
  2.  I cannot lay down layers of watercolor washes (since the paper cannot handle it) and this as a result helps me sketch faster. I must finish a sketch with minimal water usage.
But since the paper quality's low, I've come to notice way too many buckling/ waving pages on my sketches when I scan them in - and it's gotten to the point where it was really starting to bother me.
So this was when I started to really think about searching again for a new sketchbook and started to notice lots of people in my online sketching community talking about a sketchbook made by a company called Stillman & Birn. I had never heard of this company but there was a lot of passion on people talking on how much they loved it, and many of the reasons were on exactly what I was looking for - a sketchbook with really nice quality paper and that's what their company motto's all about - paper matters.
I had a small packet of paper samples sent over and tested the pages. It was all good but hard to tell since the samples sizes were small. Eventually I settled on and ordered a sketchbook called the Alpha series due to many reasons.
Size/ format: This series offered in landscape format (10" x 7") and came in wire bound. The size was 1" smaller in height from what I was used to but I decided to give it a try.
Paper quality: The paper quality seemed nice as well as not being an overkill. This is important for me as mentioned earlier since if the quality's way too nice, I feel too much of a pressure to do a nice job which results in not being able to sketch casually.
Pages/ Price:  This book has 50 sheets/ 100 pages and from a rough calculation it came out to be 19 cents/ page. This is double that of Cachet but thinking about the joy 1 page of a sketchbook provides for at least 30 min, this is still well worth it. Still cheaper than a cup of coffee too!
Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Just as I was finishing up my old Cachet sketchbook and debating on switching to the  Stillman & Birn sketchbook, I received a note from one of the founders of the company through my Flickr account. Michael saw my posting of the Cachet sketchbook and commented on the fact that he used to work there and he was the one that developed the Cachet Studio sketchbook! He had then left the company to work at Stillman & Birn.

I was fascinated with the conversation I had with him since what are the chances of switching from one sketchbook to another made by the same person? I thought I could trust testing out the Stillman & Birn due to this and decided to give it a swirl.

So far I'm 2 weeks into testing the book but must say I'm loving every moment of it!
I'll be posting part 2 soon to talk about the details of what I learned from the book.

Go to Part 2