|Square sketchbooks: Tumuarta (left) and Hahnemuhle
One of the first sketchbooks I used as a novice urban
sketcher was the square-format Hand Book Journal. Although the paper was
terrible with watercolor, which I was trying to use at the time, I didn’t know
any better. For a hardcover book, the binding was better than most – the page
spreads easily opened completely flat. Containing 128 pages for a low price, it
gave me a lot to burn through quickly in those early days.
The best part about the book, though, was its 5 ½-by-5 ½-inch square format. When I first started sketching in public, I still felt a bit self-conscious pulling out a sketchbook. The square was small enough that I felt discreet opening it at a coffee shop table, but it gave me a comfy page size to work with. It was also easy to hold while standing on a sidewalk. Bonus: The 5 ½-by-11-inch page spread made an excellent panorama. Although I probably didn’t realize it at the time, a square format also gave me an advantage as a beginning sketcher: I didn’t have to commit to an orientation before beginning the sketch. Before I learned about paper quality and my media needs, I happily filled several square Hand Books.
Eventually, though, I wanted better paper. I tried many brands and bound my own sketchbooks for several years. When I moved to Stillman & Birn, I loved the papers, and its 5 ½-by-8 ½-inch softcover became my favorite, both at home and on location. I really missed a small square format, though. S&B’s only softcover square option is the 7 ½-inch size, which I enjoy using at my desk, but it’s too large to carry or use on location. I tried binding my own square book once, but the paper dimension resulted in a lot of waste.
Although I’ve been happy with S&B and now the A5-size Hahnemühle, some part of me is always on the lookout for a square sketchbook with decent paper. A square is so versatile, and I often find my compositions taking on a squarish shape on a conventional rectangular page.
Shortly after I had discovered the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook and decided to make it my everyday-carry book, I learned that Hahnemühle’s new 100 percent cotton watercolor book series was making its way to the US. Since I don’t use watercolor paints or super-wet washes with watercolor pencils, I don’t really need the performance of 100 percent cotton. However, when I was looking at the 100 percent cotton line at Wet Paint Art, I was thrilled to see that a 5 ½-inch square option was available (the square does not seem to be available in the lower-grade watercolor paper that I am perfectly happy with). I grabbed one immediately.
Around the same time, I stumbled upon another 5 ½-inch square sketchbook by a brand I’d never heard of – Tumuarta. With 140-pound watercolor paper and at a reasonable price, the book was worth a shot. They are both similar in design: Fabric-covered hard covers with ribbon page markers and elastic bands. The Hahnemühle has 60 pages; the Tumuarta has 48. They both open fully flat and feel good in the hand.
It will probably be a while before I give either of these a solid workout in the field or a full review. But for now, as I always do with a new-to-me sketchbook, I did quick wet tests to get an idea of how the papers react.
|Tumuarta 140 lb. watercolor paper
|Hahnemuhle 100% cotton watercolor paper
I do hope one of these works out for me because I’ve discovered another benefit of this size and format: It fits perfectly in the mini-size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag that I use when fitness walking (also known as my pandemic sketch kit bag). I occasionally grab a 3 ½ -by-5 ½-inch S&B Beta when I have something in mind that I want to sketch during a neighborhood walk on better paper than a Field Notes. But a 5 ½-inch square would give me a much more comfortable real estate. I think I’ll take one of these out for a walk soon and try it on for size – and for paper.