Tag Archives: art journal

Facing Fears


This week I haven’t had an illustration assignment to do so I’ve been taking some time to just draw. I haven’t used an actual sketchbook regularly in a long time and I realised that I was missing it. Most of the work I’ve done lately has been on loose sheets of paper, which has made it easier to scan. I went through the stack of sketchbooks that I’ve not yet filled and each one was for a different but very specific purpose.

So today I started a new everyday sketchbook. It’s a type that I haven’t used before – a Seawhite of Brighton watercolour travel journal. My plan is simply to fill a page every day – or most days at least – with whatever I feel like drawing or painting.



We’ve had a hint that our next MATS Bootcamp assignment will have something to do with ‘faces’. For some reason I tend to avoid drawing faces because they feel so difficult but I think it was Tommy Kane who I once heard say that it’s not about being able to draw a particular type of thing, because it’s all drawing – observing something and translating that through your pen or pencil to the page.

So as uncomfortable as it might feel, I’ve started practising drawing faces this week. The first I did on loose paper and the second one is on the first page of my new sketchbook. My ultimate goal would be to loosen up and draw faces in a more minimal or stylised way, but for the moment I’m enjoying learning by creating portraits with a bit more detail to them.

For reference I’m using my own photos – either old family photos or pictures I’ve taken myself. Is there a subject you tend to avoid in your creative work because you’ve told yourself that it’s too difficult? What might happen if you started practising that type of work more regularly?

Urban Sketching in Highgate


Earlier this month I went out for the day with Urban Sketchers, London and we sketched in Highgate, in north London. Almost everyone seemed to spend most of the day in Highgate Cemetery, which is where I sketched Karl Marx’s grave, probably one of the most famous there.


I also managed to get in another quick sketch from a spot that’s not on the main ‘trail’ in the cemetery and it was very peaceful. This was in my Hahnemuhle grey sketchbook using an HB pencil and a 0.3 Unipin pen.

There’s not much shelter from the elements in Highgate cemetery but we were really lucky with the weather. There was a thunder storm but that held off until the end of the day, by which time most of us were under the shelter outside a cafe back in Waterlow Park.


After lunch and before the rain started I made a start an a third sketch. I ran out of time, and although part of me would like to finish it off at home using a photo for reference, I quite like leaving some of my urban sketches unfinished because they tell the story of the day.

Our next outing’s planned for Spitalfields Market on 14 October so come and join us!

Review: Back Pocket Notebooks

Back Pocket Notebooks

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing out the Back Pocket Notebook. Although it’s not specifically a sketchbook, I’ve been using it for some lettering and drawings to see how it compares to sketch specific books.

To summarise, if you’re looking for a good quality, robust little notebook to carry around, I would definitely recommend the Back Pocket Notebooks.

Back Pocket Notebooks Back

I have a set of 3 Kraft Plain Notebooks, each of which contain 18 sheets or 36 pages of 120gsm paper and a stapled spine.

Back Pocket Notebooks Spine

At first glance they reminded me of the A6 Eco Starter Sketchbooks from Seawhite of Brighton. The Back Pocket Notebooks are slightly smaller, measuring 9 x 14 cm. The paper isn’t quite as thick as the Seawhite cartridge paper but there are more pages than the Eco Starter and the paper has a nice smooth surface, which I really appreciated when using fine liners and markers.

Back Pocket Notebook Inside

Although it’s described as a ‘plain’ notebook, I think that refers to the cover because it’s pointed out on the band holding the 3 notebooks together that the paper inside is actually cross grid. It’s similar to dotted paper but each ‘dot’ is a tiny cross. I’d never used that kind of paper before but it was kind of handy for keeping my hand lettering straight!

Back Pocket Notebook Felt Tip

The paper in the Back Pocket Notebook is perfect for either pen or pencil. I used a few different fine liners and felt tip pens, and the only pen that bled through to the other side of the page was the Copic marker. But Copic markers seem to bleed through almost all paper in my experience so this wasn’t a surprise or a big deal. I covered some large areas with Koi brush pens and even with the darker colours the dots on the paper do show but that may or may not be a problem for you. It didn’t bother me because I wasn’t trying to create a finished piece of artwork.

Back Pocket Notebook Gouache

I was able to apply a light wash of watercolour in the Back Pocket Notebook without any problems and the paper took gouache quite well too. The paper does buckle with both watercolour and gouache but even some dedicated watercolour paper does that so, again, this wasn’t a surprise or a problem for me.

I’ve carried the Back Pocket Notebook around in my bag and it’s stood up well to that without getting damaged so far. I wonder if rounded corners might make it a bit more robust in that respect if you were carrying it around in your bag or pocket every day.

The Back Pocket Notebooks are excellent quality, and the size means that they’re really easy to carry around without adding lots of extra weight or bulk. I wouldn’t use them to replace a dedicated sketchbook but as somewhere to keep notes and ideas, make simple line drawings and practise hand lettering, the Back Pocket Notebook is an excellent option and, as the name implies, highly portable too!

Thank you to Justin at Back Pocket Notebooks who gave me this set of Kraft Notebooks to test in exchange for an honest review.

Recent Urban Sketches in London

Charterhouse Sketch

Over the past week and a half I’ve been out sketching in a couple of different spots around London. The Saturday before last I went out with the London Urban Sketchers to Charterhouse and Clerkenwell. I hadn’t been well for about a week beforehand but I didn’t want to miss the whole day, so I arrived late but just in time for the lunchtime sketchbook ‘throwdown’.

St John Cloister Garden

It felt like a long time since I’d done any sketching on location so I felt a bit out of practise and wasn’t totally satisfied with my sketches. I think that’s just a sign that I need to do more urban sketching!

Order of St John Cloister Garden

I think I also needed to slow down a bit. Maybe it was because I’d arrived late, or maybe it was the hot weather but I felt like I was rushing my sketches and not really taking in what I was seeing properly.

Peter's Lane, Farringdon

At the end of the day a few of us stayed on to sketch a bit more and I felt like I was starting to get into the rhythm of sketching buildings again. What that day did encourage me to do was to re-visit some of the materials from the course I took with Liz Steel last year, and I’m also going to work through the rest of the course that I didn’t finish.

St Dunstan in the East

Then last Friday a few of us from the London Urban Sketchers group met up informally to sketch at St Dunstan in the East gardens, which I’d never visited before. It’s a really nice quiet spot and had lots of shade from the sun which was welcome too. I worked on one and a half sketches in my A4 Moleskine, which is currently my dedicated urban sketching sketchbook. I also did one sketch in my new Hahnemuhle grey book but I haven’t got around to scanning that one yet.

St Dunstan in the East

Sometimes when I don’t finish a sketch I think to myself that I’ll come back to the same spot another day and carry on with it but actually that never seems to happen. And the other thing is, that I quite like some of my sketches that are half ink, half pencil (or sometimes just pencil and no ink at all) and no paint.

This week my sketching plans are kind of different. I’ll share that work here quite soon!

New Sketchbooks!

9 Sketchbooks

A couple of weeks ago I went online to order a new sketchbook. I wanted to try something different from what I’d been using and before I knew it I’d ordered 9 different sketchbooks! It all started because I thought a spiral bound watcercolour sketchbook might be useful for urban sketching. I’m not usually a fan of spiral bound books but last time I went on a sketch crawl it was quite windy and I thought that I spiral bound book would be easier to handle in those conditions. They fold back on themselves and if I got one with a sturdy cover it would be easy to work on on my lap.

My first thought was Seawhite of Brighton. They make some really nice, affordable sketchbooks and their watercolour paper is good quality. Unfortunately they don’t make a watercolour sketchbook in the size I really wanted (A5, or 8 x 5 inches) so I went for the A4 one.

Seawhite Watercolour Sketchbook

They have 2 options in these books – a 35 page book with paper that weighs 225gsm and a 25 page book with thicker 350gsm paper. I went for the one with thicker paper and although I haven’t started sketching in it yet I think it’s going to be really nice to use. The only down side seems to be that it’s quite heavy but I can probably live with that if I’m only carrying it around for a few hours.

I have used one spiral bound watercolour sketchbook before that was closer to the size I really wanted. It was a Daler Rowney Cachet Travel Sketchbook but they don’t seem to make them any more from what I can tell. I did find another Daler Rowney watercolour sketchbook though, which is the same size and uses the same paper as the Travel Book

Daler Rowney Sketchbook

Like the Seawhite watercolour book the Daler Rowney has lovely thick paper (300gsm) and a sturdy hard cover. It’s 7×10 inches so not as bulky or heavy as the Seawhite sketchbook, and it came with a tin containing a pencil, a few watercolour pencils and a brush. I’m looking forward to trying this one out soon.

Seawhite Sketchbooks

Going back to Seawhites, I ordered quite a few of their other sketchbooks too. These aren’t specifically for watercolour but their cartridge paper is good quality for drawing in pencil and ink, and all of their sketchbooks are excellent value for money. The ones I chose are an A5 Creative Casebound sketchbook with a green spine, an A5 spiral bound sketchbook with a black paper cover, and an A5 Eco spiral bound sketchbook and with a sturdy hard cover.

I also thought I’d stock up on sketchbooks with toned paper. I ordered 2 Seawhite sketchbooks with black paper. One is from the range of Starter sketchbooks and is A4.

Seawhites Black wirebound sketchbook

The other is an A5 hard backed, wire bound sketchbook containing thick black card, which looks like it will hold up well to pen, pencil and gouache or acrylic paint.

Hahnemuhle Grey Book

I recently used a Hahnemuhle watercolour sketchbook, which was very nice so when I spotted that they now make a grey paper sketchbook I was keen to give it a try. Grey paper sketchbooks aren’t easy to find in the UK or Europe so this one stood out for me.

Hahnemuhle Grey Paper

The paper is 120gsm so probably won’t hold up well to paint but for drawing in pencil, pen or coloured pencil it should be good.

Winsor and Newton Sketchbook

Finally, I spotted this Winsor and Newton watercolour sketchbook and I love Winsor and Newton paints so I thought I’d try this sketchbook. It’s nice and compact but the cover’s not as sturdy as the other watercolour books I bought. That does have the advantage of making it lighter to carry around though.

Winsor and Newton watercolour paper

The paper is 300gsm which is the same as the Daler Rowney book I mentioned, but for some reason the Winsor and Newton paper feels a bit thinner so it’ll be interesting to compare the two. The pages are perforated which I’m not that keen on but I can live with it. What I do like is the size. It’s 7×5 inches so it’s really easy to fit into a small bag and carry around most days.

I bought the Seawhite sketchbooks from ArtESaver. They offer free delivery on all orders over £40, and I also got a big box of ‘seconds’ for £10, which are sketchbooks that have some some damage to the covers, are the end of a range or have foil blocking on the covers but the paper is still perfectly fine for sketching.

All the other sketchbooks I mentioned came from Granthams Art Discount, which have some really good prices on a while range of art supplies and their delivery is pretty quick too.

I hope you found this useful and/or interesting. What’s your favourite sketchbook? Do you use different sketchbooks for different situations or stick to one at a time?