In this 3-part series, I want to show you how to get started with your nature journal on a practical level. You don’t need a lot of materials, if you’ve made any kind of art before, you probably have already all of the supplies.
Part 1: Choosing a Sketchbook
Choosing a sketchbook can seem difficult, because there are so many different models available. It can take a while to test them all. Here are a few thoughts about choosing a sketchbook for nature journaling:
- Choose a sketchbook that’s portable enough so that you will take it with you. It’s no use if you have a big, fancy sketchbook that’s so heavy you don’t want to carry it around. Since the point of sketching outside is to have your materials with you, this is a crucial aspect.
- Don’t choose a tiny one either. It can be difficult to draw and make text notes in a sketchbook that’s very small. So what’s the right size? I like a A5 size (about 5.5×8.2 inch). At this size the sketchbook is small enough to carry around with me and I still have a lot of place to draw when the sketchbook is open. You can experiment if portrait or landscape mode suits you better. Note that you can always expand your drawing to both pages in a portrait format, but it’s difficult to add height to a landscape sketchbook.
- If possible, get a sketchbook with acid-free paper. Do you know these old paperback books? They’re made with cheap paper that contains acid, which will make the pages brittle after a while.
- Spiralbound-notebooks: I don’t really like these because the spiral gets in my way, but some people like the fact that you can flip your page around and hold it more steadily. Try it out for yourself and see if if works for you. Note that you can’t create a full-page spread if you have that spiral in the middle.
- A hardcover sketchbook has the advantage of coming with an inbuilt support board for drawing, this can be crucial if you are outside. Softcover sketchbooks can feel a bit wobbly. Some people like to take a light plastic board with them as a kind of portable table. There are also different ways to use your arm as a support for wobbly sketchbooks. Make sure the book has a thread binding, not a glued binding, that way the sketchbook’s spine won’t break.
- If you use watercolors, make sure the paper in you sketchbook can take them. Some sketchbooks come with very thin paper which will only work well for dry media. This is fine if you use colored pencils or pens only, but if you want to include watercolor, make sure your sketchbook has the right kind of paper. Watercolor is a great way to get color information down when you’re outside, so I highly recommend trying it out.
- You won’t make better observations or drawings by choosing an expensive or fancy sketchbook, in fact it might be intimidating. There are ways to get over this and make the first mark (remember that your nature journal is for noticing and trying out things, not for perfect drawings). A good sketchbook won’t cost more than 15 €.
- You can also make your own sketchbook, it’s not that difficult if you have a little bit of time and it means you can choose your own paper. I sometimes make sketchbooks of watercolor pads that I bought but found out I don’t like to use, at least in a sketchbook they’ll get used up and I can leave that unloved paper behind at some point.
Here are some of the sketchbooks that I have tried and liked:
Kunst & Papier Sketchbooks: these are affordable hardbound sketchbooks that you can fold back without damaging them. They come in different sizes. The paper is a bit thin so won’t take endless amounts of water.
Hahnemühle Watercolor Book: A very versatile, good quality sketchbook that comes in different sizes and has a rubber band (useful to protect the pages if you tend to throw it in you bag). The paper can take quite a bit of water.
Stillman and Birn: This company has a wonderful choice of sketchbooks with different papers, however they are a bit more expensive. I like the Alpha series (thin, white paper that can be used for watercolor), the Zeta Series has very thick paper, which can be heavier but favorable if you work with a lot of water or layers.
Selfmade sketchbooks: If you like to make things, try this. One definite advantage for me is that by the time I’ve finished to assemble the sketchbook it already looks worn, so it feels less precious. A plus is obviously that you can use any paper you want and you can adjust the binding so it’s a bit more flexible and can be folded over when you’re in the field.
See the selfmade sketchbook (above) I currently use in comparison to other sketchbooks I had in the past. It has a nice size and it is wonderfully light.
I hope this post was helpful to you. What sketchbooks do you like to use? Let me know in the comments!
Next time we’ll take a look at pens and paints.