What’s the best sketchbook out there?

Published by Nela Dunato on in Art, Sketchbook

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 with 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. (EDIT: Yay, I found them a few weeks after publishing this post!)

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

Some of these sketchbooks I’ve had since 2009, and still haven’t completed them. Some of them I don’t use very much 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). I’ve written mini reviews of the many different sketchbooks I tried on my old sketchblog.

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 (5.5×8.5 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, practice studies, elaborate illustrations, conference notes, art journal pages, 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 for my brush pen sketches, and it’s also extremely easy to erase graphite from it.

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 essential 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 (which scored as the most versatile one in my sketchbooks comparison), but it felt too precious for note-taking and doodling, so I don’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

Animal brush pen sketches - tabby cat and rabbit

(Speaking of fountain pens, I have a blog post on sketching with fountain pens too.)

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 112 sheets (224 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.

(There is some slight shading visible when scanning the page, ie. the white areas of the drawing may be darkened a bit from the drawing on the opposite side of the paper. But there’s an easy fix I learned from Jessica Hische: put a black sheet of paper under the page you’re scanning.)

Leafing through the pages of my old Canson sketchbooks, I can see what was on my mind 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:


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon or Jackson's Art Supplies. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

6 responses to “What’s the best sketchbook out there?”

  1. 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! :)

  2. 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.

  3. Arteza art sketchbook is also a great choice. It’s an 8.25 x 8.25-inch sketchbook that’ll fit in your tote or pocket bag. It has a small size and will come in useful wherever you go.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Noah. I’m suspicious of Arteza, since it seems that every artist who uses any of their sketchbooks got it for free, and/or has an affiliate relationship with them.
    It’s so prevalent that I’ve been wondering if your comment is genuine, since my blog attracts lots of would-be link spammers. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for now ;)

  5. Hello, Nela! Happy that I found this very nice review! I am looking for new options since I picked up working in ink. I’ve been using the Hahnemuhle Nostalgie sketchbook, their D&S sketchbook and the Royal TALENS Art Creation. The first one is amazing but rather expensive for the number of pages you get, I would rather buy the pad of paper and use it for final illustration pieces. The D&S works very noce for just ink and graphite but not great with washes, the paper acts like an ink bloting paper and the wash just sips in quickly. The Art Creation is pretty a good sketchbook for everything but it has ivory paper and I would really love to use white paper with my dip pens, I don’t know why, but I feel it looks better. I think I might have found what I was looking for and will give this a go since it is available where I live. Thank you for the lovely review!

    • Thank you for your comment Inya! I’m glad it was helpful :)
      I haven’t tried Nostalgie, but I do have a D&S and Talens Art Creation. I have the same issues with them that you mentioned. I also find that brush pens and fountain pens feather quite a bit on the D&S paper so I now use it only for dry media.

      Canson Universal has much thinner paper than these two, though. I never had a problem with that, but if you’re bothered by “shading” (the drawing on the other side of the paper being slightly visible when scanning pages), you might want something thicker. But try it out and see how you get on with it!
      I enjoy the thinner paper because that means the sketchbook lasts me a long time, and I don’t have to save it for “special drawings”.

      I’m currently trying out a few others that have great potential (by Stillman & Birn, Clairefontaine, and Artway), but I have to order those brands from abroad, so it’s not as practical.

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