Sketchbook Supplies and Tools (and a few thoughts)

I've been thinking a lot about sketchbooks lately. (Thinking, not making, but I'll get back to that thought in a moment).

sketchbooks, art supplies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

My own history and feelings surrounding sketchbooks had me labeling myself as a sketchbook novice. Somehow that appellation lingered despite all the work in sketchbooks I've done these last few years.

When I mentioned the other day that I don't like my new sketchbook, I almost felt as if I wasn't entitled to that opinion. Who am I to say whether a sketchbook is good or not?

sketchbooks, art supplies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Well, after filling up six sketchbooks I should have some opinions about how sketchbooks perform, shouldn't I?

Filling a sketchbook brings such a sense of accomplishment, but once the book is finished and up on a shelf the accomplishment is forgotten. At least for me. A new, empty book is full of possibilities, but also a bit fraught with the stress of the blank page and devoid of any sort of rhythm. With the sketchbook I finished last month I'd gotten into a groove. Filling page after page with messy marker sketches. In the evenings when it came time to pick up my sketchbook, I didn't have to think about it.

Picking up my new sketchbook was jarring.

It was the wrong shape. The wrong size. And the markers didn't work well with the paper at all. More than one stroke in the same place saturated the page, making my marks too dark causing them to bleed through to the other side. No chance of blending colors, something that I've really learned to enjoy doing with these markers (I have to remind myself that I didn't always get along so well with markers).

But the thing is, the paper in this sketchbook isn't designed to be used with markers.

sketchbooks, Big Yellow Bee, Co-Mo Draw, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

(In truth, neither was the paper in my last sketchbook, but I'd gotten used to it).

My new sketchbook, a Big Yellow Bee Co-Mo Drawing book is best used with dry media. Just a couple weeks ago, wasn't I saying how important paper is to art-making?

Ok. I get it.

If you're looking for a sketchbook, choose one that's designed for the sort of art-making you want to be doing. It will help you avoid frustration. If you want to use a variety of media, choose a sketchbook with mixed media paper, or use multiple sketchbooks each designed for a different use.

I have a sketchbook for watercolor, a small one for (mostly) Micron pens, one for gouache and one that's for just about anything.

If I were smart the last one would contain mixed media paper.

The sketchbook that Dana Barbieri and I used for our 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration was designed for mixed media.

2x2 Sketchbook, sketchbooks, Dana Barbieri, Anne Butera, Watercolor, Block Print

It's a Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media Softcover Art Journal. We both used many different types of media and the pages held up very well (watercolor doesn't perform as well as it would on watercolor paper, but we both used it anyway). The binding held up wonderfully, too (just look in the photo of my finished sketchbooks... my 2x2 Sketchbook is the one that's fat with all sorts of additions).

I liked this sketchbook so much that I bought another one once 2x2 was finished and have been using it just to work with gouache.

gouache, sketchbook, Holbein Artists' Gouache, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

(I use both Holbein Artists' Gouache and Winsor and Newton Designers Gouache but prefer the former to the latter, at least so far).

gouache, Winsor and Newton, Holbein, art supplies, storage, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

If you're looking for a sketchbook with a lot of versatility, I'd highly recommend it. Another mixed media sketchbook that I'd recommend is the Strathmore Visual Journal. It was the first sketchbook I used seriously and it's nice and sturdy as well as having lovely paper.

Paper is only one consideration. Size. Shape. Binding. Number of pages. Each of those elements is important.

My absolute favorite way to sketch is in the garden. Barefoot among my plants and flowers.

sketchbooks, Micron pen, botanical sketches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The sketchbook I use for that is little, just 6 inches by 6 inches. (The one in the photo is a Bee Paper Super Deluxe sketchbook with heavyweight drawing paper -- they tout it as "The Only Sketchbook You'll Ever Need" and it is wonderful to work in).

Most of my sketchbooks are spiral bound which makes them lie nice and flat. Although the softcover mixed media sketchbook does lie fairly flat, it helps to use clips to hold the pages even flatter.

sketchbooks, gouache, floral sketches, roses, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

At one time the number of pages was a main determining factor when choosing a sketchbook. I wanted my sketchbooks to last as long as possible. If I were to sketch every day, a book with only 32 pages (64 sides) would fill up quickly and need to be replaced.

But back to my predicament right now.

What do you do if you don't like how your sketchbook is working?

You can stop working in it.

Or you can change how you work in it.

I said with my old book "I didn't have to think". Not thinking can be both good and bad. Good because I didn't have a barrier to creating. Bad because I was doing the same thing time after time.

After that first disappointing marker sketch, I turned the page and covered the bled-through markers with collage. Then I sketched with colored pencil. I used Microns. I sketched with pencil. I taped in other pieces of paper.

Remember, you can always turn the page. That is the beauty of sketchbooks.

Even so, I hadn't found a rhythm.

And that's ok. Creativity ebbs and flows. Wednesday's Sketchbook Conversation with Ashlie Blake talked about this. And it really made me think. When we see image after image from other artists on Instagram and on blogs, it's easy to forget that everyone needs to take a break once in a while (and that some people need more down time than others).

We can be so hard on ourselves for not measuring up to an imaginary ideal. I know I can.

Although I had every intention of working in my sketchbook on Monday after my post, it didn't happen. This was a very busy week and I had a few deadlines I couldn't ignore. It wasn't until yesterday that I cleared my schedule and took some time for play.

sketchbooks, collage, oxalis plants, shamrock, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

That's another beauty of sketchbooks. They can be for anything you want them to be. And they'll always be there. If you skip a day (or days or weeks or months), your sketchbook will still be waiting for you with its possibility-filled pages.

I know this just scratches the surface of sketchbooks and sketchbook keeping. It's a vast topic and that's another one of the beauties of sketchbooks. There's always something new to try, something new to learn.

I'll leave you with an inspiring video I recently stumbled upon. It's by Minnie Small and it's filled with her thoughts and ideas for keeping a sketchbook.

I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.

Have a lovely, creative weekend.


  1. Your oxalis paper collages are really fabulous, Anne!
    Happy weekend. xo

    1. Thanks so much, Karen. They were fun to do. A good way past a creative slump is to try something different. I have to remember to remind myself of that.


  2. I love to work in sketchbooks. I always have 3 or 4 sketchbooks on the go, each kept for different types of work. I have got one beautiful bound and wrapped book that has paper I just haven't been able to get along with. I love the book though so I'm determined to find the right media to use in it. It was interesting to hear your thoughts on books and paper.
    P.S I used your tutorial for crocheting a rose and have blogged about it with a link back to your site x

    1. Hi, Bekki, thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I'm delighted that you used, enjoyed and shared my tutorial!

      I think having multiple books is the way to go. And it gives us an excuse to shop for more art supplies! ;)

      I hope you'll find just the right medium to use in your beautiful book.

      Have a lovely week!

  3. Thanks for two sketchbook posts in one week Anne! I feel truly spoiled! Minnie Small's video is another like-minded user of sketchbooks. I like her idea for a 'cover up' if you really can't stand something you have done in the book. I haven't used my book in ages (again!) As I said before I have to do a draft in my 'rough' book before putting anything into my pristine sketchbook. I have now gotten into my head that the book is to be used for 17th century inspiration only and got stuck once more! I have no idea why I put these self imposed restrictions on what I do. I think I have to start another book in which I 'allow' myself to be more free! I hope you are having a lovely weekend working in your sketchbook or playing with paints. :)

    1. Having restrictions can be a good thing, Simone, as long as they're not too stifling. Maybe you need a couple other books for other purposes if 17th century designs aren't coming so easily. Rough books are less exciting and not something to show off, but they're so useful. Maybe you'll play more in yours?

      Hope you have a great week!

  4. Great information Anne! Love your paintings and advice about sketchbooks. I generally go for a mixed media book with heavier pages, spiral bound. I have several half finished books, but still am terrified to make a mess. That is where I found the video you shared helpful. I like the idea of having several sketchbooks for various purposes. AND the idea that not everything needs to be shared! Thanks for such wonderful inspiration!

    1. Thank you, Judy! The question of showing vs. not showing is such a big one. There's benefits to both and I think it's all about balance.

      It's interesting that you (and so many other people) fear "making a mess" in sketchbooks. Sketchbooks exist for making messes!

      Have a joy-filled and creative week!

  5. fantastic video. It is amazing how your passion to art and creativity expand Anne. lovely sketchbook series.

    1. Hi, Aga, I'm glad you enjoyed Minnie's video. When I saw it I knew I'd have to share it here with my readers. So inspiring!

      Thanks for your sweet words. I always find you to be inspiring, too, my sweet friend!


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