The best sketchbooks for artists are well made, with thick paper and quality binding. Aside from that, sketchbooks come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes. Some will be appropriate for wet media, whilst others will be more suitable for pencil drawing.
Find the best sketchbook for your art practice in this guide, with a review of the best brands of sketchbooks for artists, suitable for all budgets. Discover the properties of each type of sketchbook and how the paper will affect your art process.
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Moleskine Watercolour Album
Properties: Cold pressed texture, 200gsm, lies flat, 25% cotton fibres
Moleskines are some of the most well known and loved sketchbooks. The brand makes a pretty extensive range of books, in different paper weights. Their watercolour albums are 200gsm in weight and come in a landscape variety. So you can take them plein air to sketch and paint with watercolour when inspiration strikes.
The watercolour paper sketchbook is made with 25% cotton fibres, and processed to a cold pressed finish. The cotton in the paper gives the paper stability. Cold pressed paper has a slight surface texture to it. This type of paper also absorbs washes of colour better than hot pressed (smooth) paper.
The cover is plain black, the book is hard back, thread bound and folds out completely flat, allowing you to create double page spreads.
Stillman & Birn Gamma Archival Sketchbook
Properties: 150gsm, archival quality, portrait and landscape formats available, smooth vellum surface
Mediums: Suitable for use with dry media, ink, mixed media, will accept multiple light washes of watercolour
Artists can get the Stillman & Birn Gamma Archival series sketchbooks in a number of formats and sizes. This gives artists the flexibility to choose the type of binding to suit their preferences. For example, if you want to do double page spreads, get the soft cover or hard cover stitched pad to create seamless drawings. The wire bound hardcover book would suit an artist that wants to flip the pages 360° to rest on, for example to paint or draw on location.
The Stillman & Birn Gamma series paper is ivory in shade and has a smooth vellum finish, with a unique surface texture. Paint with light washes of watercolour or goauche—the paper is sized which gives it added strength. However, due to the smooth surface texture, it works better with pencil sketching techniques. Even so, this is a brilliant multipurpose sketchbook.
Stillman & Birn manufacture other series of papers: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Zeta and Nova. In contrast to the Gamma series which is heavyweight and smooth, their Beta series is made with extra heavyweight paper to a cold pressed finish. Many watercolourists would prefer the Beta series, as the paper handles washes exceptionally well. If you’re specifically looking for a watercolour sketchbook, check out our guide: the best watercolour sketchbooks.
Strathmore Visual Journal: Watercolour
Properties: cold pressed, thick pages, acid-free, budget, 22 sheets, great for dry brushing
This is a spiral bound book that comes in two sizes, 9×12” and 5.5×8”. The book is also made in two paper weights, 90lb and 140lb (300gsm). Both work great with wet media, such as watercolour and gouache. Paper may buckle slightly under heavy washes, it’s preferable for use with light washes and gouache paint. However, if you clip the edges of the paper to pages beneath, you can prevent this problem.
I used the watercolour Visual Journal (140lbs) to create this gouache painting! The attractive, leather-look cover of the book is protected by a removable flysheet that has colourful typography on it.
Paper is processed to a cold pressed finish, so that surface has a texture to it. I use the journal for gouache and I find the texture perfect for use with the dry brush technique to create the impression of grass, rocks or clouds in landscape painting.
The journal is relatively cheap, compared to other artist grade papers and it performs to a high level considering the low price. This is a great sketchbook to draw with watercolour markers too!
Strathmore Visual Journal: Bristol
Properties: 260gsm, smooth, wire bound, acid-free
The Strathmore Visual Journal is also made with Bristol Smooth and Bristol Vellum finishes. They make these affordable journals in a range of paper types, so it’s worth checking them out.
The smooth variety has no surface texture, so pen and marker will glide and blend across the page, unobscured by paper fibres. This allows artists to create fine details. It’s also great for artists, illustrators and designers who want to photograph or scan their work, as the paper provides a smooth, white backdrop and enables artists to create perfectly clean lines.
Vellum finish has an almost eggshell texture to it, although it is made with cellulose fibres. Use the vellum paper with any dry media. Vellum isn’t as smooth as Bristol paper, so it will accept media like coloured pencils and even light ink washes more readily. However, if you do work with coloured pencil or pastel, it’s preferable to find a paper with ‘tooth’ that will allow oil or wax pencils to adhere to the paper better.
Hahnemühle the Grey book
Properties: 120gsm, toned paper, acid-free pages
Hahnemühle makes sketchbooks in two types of toned paper, their Cappuccino book is warm and brown in tone and their Grey book is a cool grey in tone.
Drawing on toned paper has many benefits. As the mid tone colour is already established, artists only have to render the lightest and darkest tones of a drawing. This makes drawing faster and more efficient. The lightest highlights pop out of the page, as the mid tone paper provides contrast.
Portrait drawings especially suit working on toned paper as many artists find it easier to perceive subtle value relationships from the reference.
Strathmore Toned Tan Sketchbook
Properties: 118gsm, toned paper, acid-free, recycled
This is another great toned paper sketchbook option. It’s perfect for portrait artists and use with charcoal, oil pencil, graphite and a range of media.
This is a softcover book, with a velvety smooth cover and durable binding that allows artists to work flat. The tan toned paper provides a wonderful warm tone to work on with light and dark media.
Canson Mi-Teintes Spiral Pad
Properties: 16 sheets, unique vellum texture, 160gsm
This thick, toothy paper is perfect for use with soft pastel, oil pastel, coloured pencil and even gouache. A toothy texture means that mediums like pastel and coloured pencil will adhere to the paper better. The sketchbook has glassine sheets between each of the 16 paper sheets to prevent smudging between pages. This means you can paint on both sides of the paper.
The paper has a vellum texture on one side and a flat texture on the reverse. Although it can be used with gouache and acrylic, it is best suited for coloured pencil, pastel and other dry media.
Bee Creative Marker Book
Properties: 180gsm, bleedproof, acid-free
This is a fantastic bleed-proof marker book, with sturdy plain black cover, that artists can rest on whilst drawing, for making art on the go. The paper has been approved for use with Copic Markers and the surface is ultra smooth, which is great for detail work, illustration and design applications. With a wire binding, artists can fold the sketchbook out totally flat, for ease of use. This paper is milled in the US and at the time of writing, is supplied by US art stores. Check for delivery options to your location if this sketchbook is of interest to you.
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