Part 10: Paper and sketchbooks

If you want to sketch or paint on a hike, you need paper. Now this could be anything to hand- such as the backs of tickets or receipts, card or paper torn from food wrapping or hotel stationery. There are some who like to paint directly on to wood and rocks found on the trail, leaving them to be discovered by others following along. However that is not what I am after. What I want is to catch the odd memory to accompany my record of a trail or walk. Looking back in my trail journals I remember the circumstance of every sketch, no matter how poor. The weather, the wind, the sun, where I was sat or stood and why I decided to take time out to do a sketch right there and then, or catch a few lines, to be completed later.

There are any number of sketchbooks that can be purchased, some are cheap, some are very expensive. There are many different qualities of paper available and individual preferences as to perfect bound, sewn sheets, spiral bound, hot or cold pressed, cotton content, soft or hard cover. But I am looking specifically what is most suited to me when taking it on a hike, and specifically for a longer, multi-day trip.

My favoured notebook for longer trails is the Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook, shown on the left here. This A6 (5 7/8" x 3 1/2") volume has 121 numbered pages. The paper is only an 80g weight so is in no way intended for painting and will only take the lightest of washes. The Moleskine Art Plus Watercolour album has a heavier weight paper- 200g and measures 5 1/2" x 3 1/2" in landscape format. This is far more suited to using with watercolour than the paper in the Moleskine Sketchbooks

My favoured notebook for longer trails has been for some years either the 160g  Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Notebook, shown on the left here, or the 95g softback version This A6 (5 7/8″ x 3 1/2″) volume has 185 numbered portrait pages (121 in the softback). The paper is only an 80gsm weight so is in no way intended for painting and will only take the lightest of washes. Despite being a German company, and designed in that country, the sketchbooks themselves are made in Taiwan. The 114g Moleskine Art Plus Watercolour album on the right has 60 heavier weight pages- 200gsm weight, and measures 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ in landscape format. This is far more suited for using with watercolour than the paper in the Moleskine Sketchbooks. These two similar sized books demonstrate the choice and compromise to be made- most suitable for what: writing, drawing or painting

To this end, I can either journal in my artist quality sketchbook, or draw and paint in my lighter weight journal. Each had its advantages and disadvantages. If painting, paper has to have enough weight to resist cockling, beside any other advantages such as resistance to bleeding etc. Inks will show through lighter paper, possibly even staining adjacent pages. If using lighter weight paper, considerable care has to be taken in only using light watercolour washes. If possible I want my pages to lie flat when the book is open and it is often here that true quality shows through and good stitching rather than tightly bound or perfect bound will prove itself more useful in the field. I do not like ring bound sketchbooks but they have their aficionados. Despite the increase in weight, a good stiff cover to a sketchbook, or support for paper, will aid considerably when sketching.

These two sketchbooks from Khadi Papers provide some of the finest paper available for painting. The largest would almost certainly be too large and heavy for taking on a hike, though that would depend on how important quality and size of paper is to the individual. These hardback books are made in India from handmade paper from 100% long fibred cotton rag. It really is a lovely paper that is fantastic for drawing, ink and watercolour. The large one has 40 210gsm 9 3/4" x 7 7/8" (210mm x 250mm) Smooth pages and weighs 729g. The smaller one has 40 210gsm 130mm x 160mm (4 3/4" x 6") Smooth pages. It weighs 253g

These two sketchbooks from Khadi Papers provide some of the finest paper available for sketching. The largest would almost certainly be too large and heavy for taking on a hike, though that would depend on how important quality and size of paper is to the individual. These hardback books are made in India from handmade paper from 100% long fibred cotton rag. It really is a lovely paper that is fantastic for drawing, ink and watercolour. The large one has 40 210gsm 9 3/4″ x 7 7/8″ (210mm x 250mm) Smooth pages and weighs 729g. The smaller one has 40 210gsm 130mm x 160mm (4 3/4″ x 6″) Smooth pages. It weighs 253g

Also, heavier weight paper is exactly that- heavy. This flies in the face of a lightweight backpacking ethos. Whereas a watercolourist may look almost exclusively at the properties of a paper for that medium, I am after more. I want a maximum of pages, the ability to both write and draw with pen and pencil, without it showing through the page, fairly stiff covers to support sketching and writing with little support, to make the occasional watercolour or add a splash of light colour to a sketch combined with light overall weight. It is immediately obvious that I am not going to be able to attain all of these, so pretty stiff compromise has to be made.

The Hand Book sketchbooks manufactured by USA based Global Art Materials. The two shown are from the travelogue series and feature hard bound durable covers. Each has 128 pages of 130gsm paper. The elastic closure is useful as is the small pocket in the rear of each. The Pocket Portrait book measures 138mm x 89mm (5 1/2" x 3 1/2") and weighs 143g, the Square volume (which I especially like) measures 137mm x 137mm (5 1/2" x 5 1/2") and weighs 231g The books come in a wide ranges of cover colours. These are the lighter weight artists journals that will take a light wash. There are also heavier weight 200gsm watercolour journals in the same series

The Hand Book sketchbooks manufactured by USA based Global Art Materials. The two shown are from the travelogue series and feature hard bound durable covers. Each has 128 pages of 130gsm paper. The elastic closure is useful as is the small gusseted pocket in the rear of each. The Pocket Portrait book measures 138mm x 89mm (5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) and weighs 143g, the Square volume (which I especially like) measures 137mm x 137mm (5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″) and weighs 231g. The books come in a wide ranges of cover colours. These are the lighter weight artists journals that will take a light wash. There are also heavier weight 200gsm watercolour journals in the same series

Another thing to be considered is the orientation of the pages. A landscape format obviously lends itself to a landscape, however large, tall and impressive buildings such as churches will fit the page of a portrait page far better. It makes good artistic sense to choose the part of a vista or urban scene in front of you that you wish to sketch, so you may choose a tall part of an elongated landscape to sketch, such as cliff face, tree or people. I also like to write around my sketches on the page, so while format is less important to me, I am giving some thought as to what I am attempting to capture on a page, a couple of minutes looking at what I am hoping to draw or paint is time well spent. It is possible to turn a book on its side, through ninety degrees and change its aspect, but I don’t like to do that too often. I feel constantly turning a journal interrupts the flow when looking through a volume afterward. But- needs must!

A good compromise would be a square, or near square,  format sketchbook. Also, while I will occasionally draw a landscape, I am fondest of sketches of buildings and structures of interest. For this reason, the wide landscape format of the Moleskine Art Plus Watercolour sketchbook shown above is not to my liking.

Single sheets of paper can be pre-prepared in any desired size or format. A rigid holder could be devised, or slot them into a gusseted pocket in a notebook, or, if small enough, even a lightweight business card holder

Single sheets of paper can be pre-prepared in any desired size or format. A rigid holder could be devised, or slot them into a gusseted pocket in a notebook, or, if small enough, even a lightweight business card holder

As I mentioned earlier, there is no actual need to take a sketch book either. If not sketching into an existing notebook, it is perfectly possible to locate scraps or ‘cut to size’ sheets of paper and use these. Possible, but not my ethos. Another way is to take single sheets of paper, perhaps in a variety of weights, colours and hues. These can be simply stored in a ziplock or even protected in a lightweight business card holder such as the one I advocate for use as a watercolour palette, linked to above.

One method I have used on a couple of long distance trails is to take postcards with me and peridically send them home to family, complete with sketches, trail notes and progress. There is no need to have these specifically printed up as postcards, but can be if wished. This watercolour book from Italian supplier Fabriano, has 300gm2 cold press paper, each sheet measures 105mm x 148mm, the reverse of each printed as a postcard. It has a thin front cover and a thick and heavy card base. While individual sheets cold be taken, the whole weighs a meaty 134g for just 20 pages

One method I have used on a couple of long distance trails is to take postcards with me and periodically send them home to family, complete with sketches, trail notes and progress. There is no need to have these specifically printed up as postcards, but can be if wished. This watercolour book from Italian supplier Fabriano, has 300gm2 cold press paper. Each sheet measures 105mm x 148mm, the reverse of each printed as a postcard. It has a thin front cover and a thick and heavy card base. While individual sheets cold be taken, the whole book of cards weighs a meaty 134g for just 20 pages, though it will get lighter as postcards are sent off

Another choice is to make, or have made, your own journal comprising mixed papers. Signatures of different weights of differing qualities of paper can be combined within a stiff card cover. Invariably there is the risk of having too much or too little of paper for writing, or the same problem for sketching.

The sketching technique I am using in the field will also affect my choice of paper. If I were to try and forego a pen, instead relying on pencil and wash, too lightweight a paper will not only buckle under anything more than a light wash, but there is also a risk of lifting the graphite off the paper and contaminating my lovely paint. A cold pressed watercolour paper with a bit of ‘tooth’ will help prevent this, as will the lightest of washes if possible. Something I strive for but struggle to always achieve.

Two options of softback books with slightly wider pages. The two on the left are Sketch & Note booklets from Hahneumhle. They measure 105mm x 148mm, have stitched binding and 40 125gsm white pages. The booklet on the right is a rare breed and fairly difficult to find. The UK made Traveller's Notebook from Darkstar has 40 100gsm pages. The stapled pages in these well priced notebooks are less to my liking. The creamy pages measure 98-100mm x 148mm. Feathering or bleed through is seldom a problem with either of these booklets

Two options of softback books with slightly wider pages. The two on the left are Sketch & Note booklets from German company Hahnemühle. They measure 105mm x 148mm, have stitched binding and 40 125gsm white pages. The booklet on the right is a rare breed and fairly difficult to find. The UK made Traveller’s Notebook from Darkstar has 40 100gsm pages. The stapled pages in these well priced notebooks are less to my liking. The creamy plain pages measure 98-100mm x 148mm. Feathering or bleed through is seldom a problem with either of these booklets

Even with this very small sample of papers and sketchbooks amongst those I have used, it is obvious not only how much choice there is, but also how much heavier these offerings are compared to a simple little journal used just for recording thoughts, notes and jottings. For my day hikes, where I am less concerned about pack weight, just about any of those shown here suffice though I do prefer the hard back covers options. For a multi-day hike, I have to take into account the number of pages, weight and bulk too. Whereas the Leuchtturm 1917 Pocket Notebook or backpocket journal from Curnow Bookbinding are my favourites as simple journals, the papers in these cockle too easily when wet so something like the Rhodia Webbie Rhodiarama (below) with its fountain pen friendly, heavier weight paper is more suited. There are many other choices on the market, those shown here are simply the ones I have most personal experience of.

The French made Rhodia Webbie Rhodiarama sketchbook has 96 (192 faces) 140mm x 87mm 90gsm Clairefontaine ivory plain pages. The hardback covers are slightly larger. There is a rear, gusset pocket inside the back cover, ribbon and elastic closure

The French made Rhodia Webbie Rhodiarama sketchbook has 96 (192 faces) 140mm x 87mm 90gsm Clairefontaine plain ivory pages. In common with most other sketchbooks the hardback covers are slightly larger than the pages. There is a gusset pocket inside the back cover, ribbon and elastic closure