Sunday, February 12, 2023

Trying it on for Size: A6 Hahnemühle


New walking-bag sketchbook: A6 Hahnemuhle

Way back in April, I started using a 5 ½-inch square Hahnemühle sketchbook. The way I work with watercolor pencils, I didn’t think I would benefit from its 100 percent cotton paper, but it grew on me over time. In fact, it was in its last few pages when I made some portraits with watercolor pencils that I really appreciated the quality of its paper – both the tooth and the sizing.

Although the page size is a 5 ½-inch square, the cover makes it a 6-inch square. I love the versatility of a square format, but its size was too large for my fitness-walking bag, which is what I had initially bought the book for. It didn’t fit well enough to become my daily-carry, so I was always taking it in and out, and I never had it with me when I wanted it. I finally filled it nine months later, and as much as I enjoyed using it, I thought carefully about what I would replace it with. The 100-percent cotton paper was worth repeating, but I thought I’d try a form factor I’ve never used before: A6. Like the square version, I got mine at St. Louis Art Supply.

No wonder the A6 size (about 4.1-by-5.8 inches) is comfortable and familiar to me: It’s almost exactly the same as 4-by-6-inch Uglybooks. Although its hardcovers still make it bulkier than I would prefer, at least I can easily fasten the Velcro flap on my bag again.

The A6 Hahnemuhle's cover makes it a bit
larger than an Uglybook... 
... but the page sizes are almost identical.
(Sticker from Ernest Theodore) 

The hardcover Hahnemuhle is bulkier than I would like,
but I'm hoping not too bulky to daily-carry.

3 1/2" x 5 1/2" Stillman & Birn atop A6 Hahnemuhle

Years ago, I tried using the 3 ½-by 5 ½ -inch version of the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook in my fitness-walking bag. I thought the lightweight softcovers and small format would be ideal, but it didn’t last long. Something about that narrowish aspect ratio felt more cramped than it should. Just like Field Notes, which have the same dimensions: They’re good for commuter portraits and such, but they always feel a bit tight for urban sketching. I feel the same way about S&B’s larger 5 ½-by-8 ½-inch format compared to the A5 Hahnemühle that has become my standard urban sketching book: Somehow that slightly less longish aspect ratio (A5 size is 5.82 by 8.26 inches) makes a big difference. (Picky and idiosyncratic, I know – but when it comes to art supplies, what isn’t?)

I already know I love the paper, and the comfortable A6 size has a better chance of becoming a daily-carry in my walking bag. Let’s see how it goes.

Sketch notes: This time of year, the sky often has a pale-orange tint that looks like it’s close to dawn or dusk, even at mid-day (below). I love that dry-brush effect in the sky, and I credit both the texture and the sizing of the 100 percent cotton Hahnemühle paper.

2/9/23 Maple Leaf neighborhood (Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils in A6 Hahnemuhle sketchbook)
2/10/23 Maple Leat Park (Museum Aquarelles in A6 Hahnemuhle)

I usually don’t bother using my “licking” method when I’m out on a fitness walk, but the sky over Maple Leaf Park recently was irresistible (at left). I also knew that the Hahnemühle’s paper could take it. 

Both of these sky effects were done with my usual Kuretake waterbrush. Some watercolor painters like to dis the lowly waterbrush, and I’m sure if one were trying to make big, juicy washes, these plastic bristles wouldn’t cut it. But if the page is small, I think the paper’s quality has a much bigger impact on the result than the brush. In fact, I think paper quality is more important than the brush under any circumstance. That’s a bold statement for a non-painter to make, but I’m standing by it.


  1. I haven't tried any of the Hahnemühle sketchbooks...only the samples they gave out at the symposiums. Glad you found a size that fits in your bag comfortably. I have been looking for a small sketchbook to fit in my purse, but if I find one with watercolor paper that I like it has a hard cover which adds weight and bulk.

    1. I do wish Hahnemühle had a softcover edition, but the A6 is small enough that it's not heavy. As a wc painter, you'd love this 100% cotton paper, Joan!

  2. I'm glad you voiced that feeling about the slightly off paper sizes; I am the same way and felt a little crazy because of it. I have hated perfectly good sketchbooks just because the aspect ratio felt stifling to me when I had them in my hands. I now try not to order sketchbooks online without knowing how I feel about the *exact* dimensions. A6 is great! I've also found 'square' stifling and uninspiring, but I WANT to like square because they're so cute. If you have any tips for getting comfortable sketching in cute square books, let me know!

    1. Others probably think we're overly picky, but I do think aspect ratio is important in feeling "right"! As for square, the main reason I like it is that it's so versatile -- it can be either vertical or horizontal, and I can change my mind in the middle of the sketch if I didn't plan the composition well. ;-) I don't really know how to get comfortable with it other than to try one. If it doesn't inspire, then stop using it! The most important thing is that a book has to make you want to fill it!


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