Different sizes and formats of sketchbook (and the paper inside) work best for different settings. A pocket-sized one is perfect for carrying about every day, while a large, hardback one is great for a dedicated outing to do some sketching for possible paintings. The most important thing, I believe, is that you need to like a particular sketchbook -- the way it feels in your hand, the quality of the paper, the cover -- or you won't feel like using it. This is a selection of sketchbooks I think are great for painting sketches or doing thumbnails to plan a painting.
If I'm going somewhere with the intention of sketching, my A3-size
version of Daler-Rowney's wire-bound, hardcover sketchbook is what I take, along with a permanent pen, watercolor sketching set, and waterbrush
Having a stiff cover eliminates the need to take a board to support the paper, and being wire-bound means it folds completely open at any page. I can work in it in various ways, such as holding it in one arm or propping it up on my knees or against a daypack. The paper is 65lb (100gsm) so does buckle if it gets very wet with paint, but will stand up to acrylic paint as well as watercolor. Buy Direct: Daler-Rowney Sketchbook
| Permanent Pen
| Artist's Travel Watercolor Set
| Students' Travel Watercolor Set
Spread from one of my Moleskines. Photo © 2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
There's something seriously tactile about a Moleskine
sketchbook (well, if you don't mind leather). They're beautifully made, feel lovely in your hand, and the piece of elastic enables you to either find where you are easily or keeps the sketchbook pages safely closed.
The small one with watercolor paper is my favorite for pen and watercolor sketching. The pages are perforated near the binding so you can easily remove a page. It's perfect for carrying around every day.
Photo ©2012 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Leather-bound notebooks available in various colors, with the option to have an image of yours laser-engraved on the cover. A lovely way to personalize an art journal before you've even started filling the pages!
Photo Courtesy of DickBlick.com
Hand Book's artist journals are very similar to Moleskines except they're covered in fabric not leather. They come in various colors (black, green, blue, or red) and formats include a wide, landscape sketchbook that would be perfect for landscapes or cityscapes.
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
If you find drawing outlines for thumbnails
tedious or get distracted by the shape of your outline not being perfect, then you should look at Moleskine's storyboard sketchbook which already has them printed. One drawback is that they're all of similar size or dimensions, but don't forget you can turn the sketchbook 90 degrees or crop the outline.
Photo Courtesy of DickBlick.com
If you miss the texture of canvas when painting in a sketchbook or think you may do some sketches or studies you will want to frame, then try a pad of canvas paper. I find the cardboard at the back of some pads isn't quite stiff enough and so clip a pad to a board.
See what Helen South, About.com's Guide to Drawing and Sketching, selects as her choice of sketchbooks.