In this post I’m putting some sketchbooks through their paces to see how they perform with my watercolour method.
My method aims for crisp detailed brush strokes – so I need SMOOTH paper to do that. And I create multiple layers of fairly watery paint on dry paper, to achieve really realistic tones and hues. So I also need the paper to be ROBUST, which usually means it’s as THICK as possible.
These things combined means the best sort of sketchbooks for this style of work are those marketed as for ‘MIXED MEDIA’.
They also work well for any type of botanical painting or realistic watercolours of any sort, as well as for, of course, mixed media work!
Here are a few I tested out. These are just my opinions, I am not affiliated with any of these brands.
This one is a dream to paint on with gorgeous 100% cotton paper (this is really unusual in a sketchbook) and comes beautifully bound, but it’s expensive – at 50p/65c per side – and, as it’s not wire-bound, you can’t tear a sheet out easily if you make a real mess. Paper is creamy white, like the standard paper I paint on and is treated so it held up pretty well to buckling.
Strathmore’s lower priced option is also 100% cotton (amazing!) so it’s nice and absorbent, through the paper seems more likely to buckle than the more expensive Strathmore sketchbook. If you clip the pages, you could probably get away with being able to paint on both sides of the paper and that makes the price around 20p/ 26c per side. Paper is creamy white. This is the best lower priced sketchbook I tried.
This one is a lot cheaper, especially in the US, at more like 11c per sheet (in the UK more like 20p per sheet)- and it’s big with 60 sheets. But again the paper is only 160gsm, and this paper feels even more prone to buckling, meaning you won’t really want to paint on both sides. It doesn’t seem to be designed for painting on both sides anyway as sheets are perforated for easy removal. The paper is bright white and isn’t as absorbent as I’d like meaning drying times were longer.
Similarly priced in the UK to the Canson one above, this one from Daler Rowney is also 160 gsm and the paper, though creamier in colour, behaves in a similar way with a tendency to buckle and longer drying times.
Canson also make a couple of heavy weight versions of their Mixed Media paper,. This larger pad (8 .3 x 11.7 inches or A4) is 300 gsm and is really robust. The sheets of paper themselves are rougher on one side – but not as rough as cold pressed paper. And as the paper is so thick it you can certainly paint on both sides. It’s a decent price at around 18p/ 23c per side and the paper is nice and absorbent. Again the sheets are perforated though so it doesn’t feel like a sketchbook you want to keep flicking through like a book.
The third one here from Canson is not AS thick, at 224 gsm, but it still performed well, without buckling very much and it’s rougher side wasn’t AS rough as on the pad above. It’s a similar price to the pad above and is a good option.
The one I’ve decided to use myself, and which I’d recommend, is a whopping 270gsm and is at a mid price point at 29p/38c per side. It’s not cotton, it’s wood pulp and yet it’s been internally and externally sized which means it gives it exceptional strength, balanced absorbency – also aided by how thick the paper is. For more buying links for the US and UK click here and select the correct tab for your country.
I hope this review of sketchbooks was helpful! Let me know in the comments – and please do leave your own recommendations for sketchbooks that perform well with this technique.