What's the best sketchbook out there?

Published by Nela Dunato on at 12:43 in Sketchbook, Art

Q: What's the best sketchbook out there?

A: The one you use the most.

This post is a tribute to one of my favorite sketchbooks which I'm reunited again after two years of separation.

What's the best sketchbook out there?

I’ve written before how fancy sketchbooks intimidate me, and I’m more likely to do elaborate drawings on cheaper paper than using thick and beautiful paper that’s actually made for that sort of thing. While I did make some progress since that blog post from over 4 years ago, most of those sketchbooks in the photo are still barely used—no more than a couple of pages each. I don’t do the projects these sketchbooks were made for very often, and just doodling over them doesn’t seem right.

At the moment of writing this post, there are 13 partially used sketchbooks sitting on my shelf, and another 2 are missing because I seem to have lost them during my last vacation. (Whoever found them didn’t bother to return them, even though I’ve put my mailing address on all my sketchbooks after losing one for the first time.)

Nela Dunato's sketchbook shelf
On the right side are all my current and blank sketchbooks. To the left are my journals and notebooks.

Some of these sketchbooks I’ve had since 2009, and still haven’t completed them. Some of them I don’t use because I don’t like the paper (#6 red cover Moleskine sketchbook), some because the paper is too nice to waste on doodles (#2 Winsor & Newton spiral bound sketchbook), and others because the paper isn’t practical for daily use (#5 Lega-lega with red paper).

But there’s an exception to all of these unfinished sketchbooks that I wanted to talk about today.

My favorite “workhorse” sketchbook is the Canson Art Book Universal in A5 size (5.5x8.5 in). (It’s available on Amazon here (affiliate link).)

I’ve gone through 3 of these sketchbooks since I first discovered them in 2012. None of the other ones I’ve used so far have lived up to the versatility of the humble Canson. It housed my doodles, art ideas, finished sketches, elaborate illustrations, conference notes, art journal spreads, lettering practice, logo ideas, client meeting notes... anything that crosses my mind that I want to make a note of.

A stack of used Canson Art Book Universal sketchbooks
What my workhorse sketchbooks look like after I’m done with them

Sketchbook spreads of ink and watercolor illustrations
Check out this video for a journey through one of these sketchbooks.

Canson Art Book Universal old and new sketchbooks
Old sketchbooks compared to the new one

When I tried it out for the first time, I was over the moon with how great the paper was. It’s thin (96 gsm) so the book has many pages, but not so thin that the ink shows through. It handled light watercolor washes reasonably well with a little buckling, which was fine for quick sketches. The smoothness of the paper was perfect of my brush pen sketches, and it’s also very resistant to erasing.

When my last Canson sketchbook ran out and I went to the local store to buy a new one, they didn’t have it. When I went to check again months later, they still didn’t have it. And again. They had plenty of other Canson products, and plenty of hardbound sketchbooks from other brands, but not this one.

Nela Dunato's 2019 sketching kit
My current sketching kit

I lived without it for a while, rotating between a couple of Hahnemühles, but apart from the Kraft paper sketchbook, none of the others was that great with ink, which happens to be my favorite drawing technique.

I also bought a Clairefontaine Goldline sketchbook with 140 gsm pages, but it was too precious to use for note-taking and doodling, so I didn’t carry it with me. I find it important to be able to draw or write anything when I’m on the go, and carrying several sketchbooks to cover all my needs is burdensome. I prefer having one all-purpose sketchbook to take with me every day, and then switch it up with a good watercolor pad when I go to the beach. When I’m at home, I pick a sketchbook based on the tools I want to use so I may choose one of the fancy ones.

Canson Art Book Universal new sketchbook

Last week I finally got my hands on another Canson Art Book Universal at the local store, and breaking it in with the first sketch was like coming home. I know us stationery nerds sound weird when we praise a stack of paper, but if art is near and dear to your heart than you can surely understand.

I’m taking it wherever I go, and I don’t think too much before I put down a stroke or write down an idea for a project. Most of all I’m enjoying drawing with brush pens and fountain pens because this paper shows them in the best light.

Face caricature doodles sketched with a fountain pen and brush pen

Ink sketches of flowers and ravens made with a fountain pen and brush pens
If you want to see more of my sketchbook pages, follow me on Instagram.

(Speaking of fountain pens, I have a blog post brewing about that too that’s coming soon...)

Other sketchbooks may have thicker paper that's better for elaborate drawings, but they’re less useful for my chaotic approach. While I wouldn’t call this sketchbook cheap, I find it a good value because it has over a hundred pages so it lasts much longer than most sketchbooks of comparable price. I use both sides of the paper and even heavy strokes of ink barely show through.

Leafing through the pages of my old Canson sketchbooks, I can see what my mind was like at the time, and there’s a sense of continuity that most of my other sketchbooks are missing.

I enjoy experimenting with different kinds of paper and matching up different techniques with the paper that suits it the best, but at the end of day, I’ll always come back to my rugged Universal Art Book.

Do you have a favorite sketchbook?

What makes it especially convenient for your approach to sketching and note-taking?

If you want to read more of my thoughts on sketchbooks, here are a couple of other posts I recommend:

Nela

* Some links in this post point to products (for example, on Amazon). If you buy any of them, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). I only recommend products I have personally tested and loved.


Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


Your comments

  • Claudine

    Claudine
    2019-02-24 at 21:17

    What an interesting post, Nela! I've never put my mailing address in my sketchbooks, I should do that! Also, I've had a weird fascination with sketchbooks: I'm scared to make "messes" in a new sketchbook, yet I love seeing messy sketchbooks. Bizarre, right?

    I've had a problem having unfinished sketchbooks lying around in my place. I found it such a problem that last year I actually decided to start finishing them. Last year, I found two unfinished sketchbooks and actually attempted to finish them, which I succeeded! I'm still working on it because I really don't want to see them unfinished. I vowed that I wouldn't buy a new sketchbook until I finish the ones I had. That's what I've been doing lately and it makes me feel accomplished. I'm also trying to just be like "whatever" with my sketchbooks, trying not to be too precious about them. Because like I said, I like seeing messy sketchbooks XD

    I could go on and on about this topic but rather than take up the entire section, I'll finish my comment here. Thank you for the informative post Nela! :)

  • Nela

    Nela
    2019-02-25 at 10:50

    Thank you, Claudine! :)
    Ah, I promised myself I wouldn't buy a new sketchbook until I filled up all of those I already own, though I'm making an exception for the Canson Universal and for watercolor sketchbooks because I use up those faster than any others... It's a good motivator, for sure.

    Isn't it interesting that we allow others to be messy but not ourselves? I had that issue too. One way I got around it is to scribble on the first page with various tools to test them on new paper, and this way I let myself know it's OK to use some pages just for testing and experimenting... it doesn't have to be all "art". Writing short journal notes about where I was, what I was observing or feeling alongside my sketches also helps me reinforce that I'm doing this for *myself* first and foremost – not to score Instagram likes.

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