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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.