Monday, September 5, 2016

UK Sketchbook Bound; Back to Rolling My Own

My UK sketchbook is covered with a collage of maps and ephemera from
places we visited. 
It’s been a month since I got back from the UK, and I finally finished binding my sketchbook from the trip. Since I put all my symposium sketches in a separate Stillman & Birn sketchbook, my handbound book has fewer signatures than books from other trips of the same duration. With the space to spare, I filled some pages with postcards and ephemera. As I did with sketchbooks from previous symposiums, I bound the symposium program right into the book. In addition, my correspondent colleagues and I used two heavily annotated maps and a color-coded spreadsheet throughout the event. They were such an important part of my activities in Manchester that I wanted to keep them, so I bound those right into the book, too. I love the flexibility and versatility of bookbinding that enables me to incorporate such ephemera so easily.
The symposium program is bound right into the book. . . 

Which brings me back to the Stillman & Birn question I raised in early July. After I saw that the softcovers had been fully redesigned (you can read all about the prior problems and their resolution), I decided to give a softcover Beta book a full trial. I started it on July 10, left it at home while I was traveling in the UK for three weeks, and then picked up the Beta again when I returned. I filled its last page Aug. 24.

After carrying it around in my bag during the time I was using it, I was mostly pleased with its
. . . and so are workshop maps and other guides I used as a correspondent.
weight and bulk (certainly much lighter and thinner than its hardcover counterpart), and yet I was constantly aware of two things: One is that it’s still twice as heavy and twice as thick as one of my single signatures of hand-stitched paper. And more significantly, when I’m not using a full page spread, I can’t easily bend the cover and the opposite half of the book backward as I habitually do with my signatures. I didn’t realize how much I’d come to rely on folding the unused part back, making the book so much more compact for holding in one hand while sketching on my feet.

So I gave it a fair shake, and while there’s much to be loved about the Stillman & Birn softcover editions, I’ve decided to go back to rolling my own. Despite the convenience of buying off the shelf (at the cost of nearly four times that of binding myself), my handbound system still meets my needs better – and gives me bonuses like being able to incorporate oddball pieces like programs and maps.

However – all of the above is related only to sketchbooks I carry with me. Seated comfortably at home, I have none of the issues of weight, bulk and portability that I do in the field. I’ve been using hardcover S&Bs all along at home for still lifes, self-portraits and other desk-bound subjects. Beta has been a long-time favorite with watercolor, and I’ve lately grown fond of Epsilon and Zeta for use with colored pencils. One thing about hardcover S&Bs that has always bothered me, though, is that despite the company’s claims that its hardcover editions open flat, it’s still impossible to scan a page spread without a telltale gutter shadow. (That’s true of any hardbound sketchbook I’ve used.)

Thanks to Daniel Smith, I have a nice stash of Stillman & Birn
On the other hand, the S&B softcover binding opens absolutely flat without effort. A full-page spread scans beautifully without showing any shadow at the gutter – a huge benefit. I’ve decided to switch completely to the softcover editions for home use going forward. And to lock in that intention, I took advantage of the very generous discount coupon I received from Daniel Smith in my goodie bag at the West Coast Sketchcrawl to stock up! I’m still a tried-and-true S&B girl – at least when I’m sketching at home.

It’s also reassuring to know that if I ever decide I don’t want to roll my own anymore, or if I have some other reason not to make books, I can simply reach for a softcover S&B without having to hem and haw about what kind of book to use. Although I may appear to enjoy testing lots of products (and truth be told, I do enjoy that process), I enjoy even more knowing where my next book is coming from.


  1. Your idea of binding other things together with your sketches is a great idea. I haven't found the soft cover S &B sketchbooks anywhere here...not that we have many art stores any longer in NYC. They keep closing.

    1. It took a while, but it seems like S&B sketchbooks are available at more stores lately, so they might still be coming to your stores. But the stores here have had the same fate you've seen -- they all keep closing, and now we only have a couple good ones in Seattle.

    2. Found them on line - AND 20% off list - at Jerry's:

    3. Good prices, but I only see the hardbound versions. Blick carries only the Deltas in softcover. I asked them if they were going to carry the rest, and the answer seemed to be no. Perhaps Jerry's will eventually carry the softcovers, too.

  2. Great minds think alike. I also used my discount to buy a couple of soft cover S& B books. I happen to like the Alpha series, but they're all good. I haven't actually started drawing in my softcover yet because I have several other sketchbooks going and I want to finish at least one before starting in another! :)

  3. A question about sketchbooks. I've recently started sketching (having first caught the bug from the sketches you posted in Field Nuts, Tina), and not all of my early efforts are things I'm totally proud of. That's OK, I know that I Have to practice to improve, but I do worry about sketching directly into a big(-ish) sketchbook because maybe I'll be embarrassed by those early efforts (or of occasional efforts when I'm more experienced). Do you ever experience that? How do you overcome it?

    1. First of all, it makes me really happy to know that the sketches I've been posting in Field Nuts inspire you! :-) I love sharing my work, but to know that I've inspired someone really makes the sharing worthwhile.

      As to your question: I'm very process-oriented, so having and KEEPING a complete record of all my sketches -- good, bad and ugly -- is really important to me. When I look back at my sketchbooks from 4 or 5 years ago when I first started, those sketches are definitely nothing to be proud of, but if I hadn't kept them, I'd never see the progress I've made since then. Now when I'm feeling bummed about a crappy sketch, the easiest way to make myself feel better is to look at those old sketches! So all I can say is please keep your sketches (in whatever sketchbook they are in). Remember that you don't have to share anything you don't want to. If you are embarrassed, that's OK -- just close the book. If you want to share some sketches but no others, just paperclip the pages you don't want to share.

      There's also no reason why you have to use a large sketchbook if it intimidates you in any way. Go ahead and fill those dinky Field Notes! Although I typically use an A5 size, I sometimes feel like I don't have time for a sketch that size. But a Field Notes page is so small that it's very liberating and easy to pull that out.

      The important thing is to use whatever format encourages you to keep on sketching! Have fun! :-)

  4. If you like the Beta paper but want to make your own books, I've occasionally seen 22x30 sheets of Beta at the main UW bookstore. Plus they will special order nearly anything. I think we've talked about that before.

    1. I snagged a couple loose sheets of Beta and Zeta at the U Bookstore a while back and made them into signatures ( I do love those papers, but at those prices, it costs about $21 to make a 72-page book (about 5 times the cost of Canson XL), not counting the waste from the part I have to cut off to fit my format. It's just not cost-effective. I think the softcover edition is a much better compromise when I want to use that paper.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...