Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rounded Corners

My latest handbound sketchbooklets containing Strathmore 100 lb. watercolor paper. Dimensions are 4" x 5 1/2".
Shown in front is the corner rounder that made all the difference! 
Back in June, I alluded to working on a “catch-all sketchbook” solution that would be more durable than the handmade Greeting Card Sketchbook I had been using, which ended up becoming tattered after months in my daily bag. I’ve found my solution, and it’s similar to the initial one – but with key refinements.

What is a catch-all sketchbook, anyway? It’s something to sketch in at unexpected opportunities when I’m not carrying my preferred-size Stefano sketchbook or when the situation requires something more discreet and therefore smaller. I usually cant use watercolor in those circumstances, but I want to be able to use a pen-and-ink wash. I used to carry a pocket-size Moleskine watercolor sketchbook for this purpose. But as I’ve attempted to reduce the overall weight and bulk of my bag, even that slim sketchbook was too bulky. And my participation in the Sketchbook Project (involving a small, thin, downright flimsy sketchbook) made me realize that a softbound book could suffice if I carried it for only a few months.

Pen-and-ink wash sketch on a typical
notebook page so thin that it buckles. . .
. . . and the ink bleeds through to the back.
I usually carry a pocket-size paperback notebook for memos – I’ve used Moleskine Cahiers in the past, and lately it’s a Field Notes notebook. (I confess – I’m a closet notebook junkie. As a lifelong journal keeper, I’ve filled a lot of notebooks, and I have a stash that would easily last me a couple more lifetimes.) In fact, every time I try a new notebook, I make a quick pen-and-ink sketch with a light wash to see how the paper responds. Alas, notebooks are made for just that – written notes – and I’ve yet to find one that can withstand even a little water. (Not that I expect them to, but a girl has to have dreams.) Thinking about those notebooks led me to state the issue more emphatically:

What I want is a thin, lightweight, durable, pocket-size notebook similar to a Moleskine Cahier or Field Notes – but with paper that can take a wash.

I found it! Where did it come from? My own studio.

The prototype sketchbooklet -- a plain cover with ordinary,
right-angle corners.
It’s really just a refinement of the Greeting Card Sketchbook idea. I realized it had gotten tattered because it was too large to fit in one of the small pockets of my Rickshaw Bagworks bag, so it had rattled around in the large central compartment getting abraded. So I measured the pockets and cut 100-pound paper (the same Canson Biggie paper I use in my “Stefano”) to fit. The single signature has only eight folded sheets, keeping it thin and light. The finished size is 4” x 5 ½” (only a half-inch narrower than the Greeting Card Sketchbook and a half-inch wider than Moleskine/Field Notes).

Reusing a greeting card as a cover seemed like a thrifty and “green idea. But the way greeting cards are scored at the fold weakens the spine – not ideal for hand-stitched booklets. So instead I used some red cardstock I had on hand as the cover (completely unadorned with only a utilitarian ID label on the front). The sketchbooklet (shown at left) has been in a pocket of my bag for more than three months, and it’s only just beginning to show a little wear on the corners. The folded and stitched spine is showing no wear at all.

Since it was nearly full, it was time to make the next one. I put a couple of my used Moleskine Cahiers and Field Notes next to my handmade sketchbooklet and asked critically, What do they have that mine doesn’t have? The answer: Rounded corners!

Rounded corners are not just an esthetic choice. The corners of those purchased notebooks weren’t dog-eared and ragged because they were rounded! I went online and bought a corner rounder. (Ahh – if only all of life’s problems were so easily solved.)

The single, pamphlet-stitched signature has only six folded sheets this time, making it even thinner. And then, to be extra-fancy, I used some stamps I had hand-carved during a brief foray into block printing to decorate the cover. I was so pleased with the outcome that I made two more sketchbooklets (see top of post).

(Years ago when I wasn’t sketching yet but was spending a lot of time online admiring the blogs of sketchers and art journal keepers, I used to marvel at the number of people who handbound their own sketchbooks. I understood the artistic satisfaction of making something by hand, but most of them seemed to be making them to meet specific requirements, not just for artistic expression. With the gazillions of sketchbooks on the market, I used to wonder why they couldn’t find what they wanted. Now I know. Ultimately, to get exactly what I want, I have to make it myself.)  


  1. I've never heard of a corner rounder before. I am sure yours will get a lot of use. I think making your own sketchbooks is a great idea.

  2. Re-reading some of your ideas about binding your own sketchbooks. Not sure I saw this one! Good idea. I like the rounded corners. The pocket Moleskine has rounded corners, too.


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