A new sketchbook

For years people have been telling me to make my own sketchbooks with good watercolour paper, but I always thought it was a time-consuming process involving a lot of stitching, glueing and binding. With school pretty much done for the semester I finally got around to doing a bit of research, and the process I found turned out to be a lot less complicated than I anticipated, although I am not entirely satisfied with the results just yet.

I used Brenda Swenson’s detailed instructions for a spiral bound book. That eliminated the glueing and stitching. She combines cut sheets of watercolour paper, as well as tinted pastel sheets and drawing paper into a 11″ x 10″ spiral bound book with a cover and backing board. I did much the same except I used only Fabriano cold pressed and rough watercolour paper. I also cut a front and back cover from mat board, and off I went with the whole pile to our local big box office supply place. The only problem is that they can’t spiral bind the thicker board, so I ended up with a paper cover that is thinner than the watercolour paper itself. No very convenient, nor very durable for summer travel. But after a bit of calling around I found a downtown printer than can spiral bind the thicker cover board. I’ll let you know how it goes.

This is my first test book because I hope to make a few other sizes to take with me to Provence and Porto this summer. I went out to MacDonald Farm to give it a whirl. So far so good. Easy to work with, a good format and of course the paper is top notch. I will be making more.


27 Comments on “A new sketchbook”

  1. Anne Percival says:

    Have tried my hand at making a few sketchbooks myself recently..but with the stitching….that bit is easy enough..it’s then managing to fit the signatures neatly into a cover….NOT so easy….and NOT so neatly achieved..but hey ho..it’s all a learning curve..and have quite enjoyed the process…..but will NOT be going into production, nor will I complain in future about the cost of a well made Watercolour sketchbook..but it IS useful to be able to choose the paper and dimensions of the pages


    • Exactly Anne! That is what I want to choose — paper and format. So this is the ideal setup for me. I realize that most people don’t want the spiral but if the format is big enough I won’t need to sketch across the spine. And I can always make a panoramic format if I do, I guess.


  2. Lisa Holt says:

    What weight of watercolor paper did you go with? I’ve thought about make a real “watercolor sketchbook”, but wasn’t sure if I’d like a spiral. I like your idea of going with a larger size.


  3. SiverBlack says:

    That’s great! I’ve been thinking about the same thing and a full sheet tears down to 6 11×10’s. Was the first shop’s issue not being able to punch holes in the thicker board?


  4. mjkelly790 says:

    Exciting idea. Hope it works out for you and all interested in such quality.

    Sent from my iPhone



  5. Donna says:

    Love the painting…..not sure what that farm equipment is.


  6. livingdifferentlynow@me.com says:

    It would be fun to see a picture of your new handmade sketchbook!

    Love your posts!

    Thank you, KathyAnne Remember to Look Up At The Stars and not down at your feet ~ Stephen Hawking



  7. Dee Ludwig says:

    There was no one locally who could do a heavier cover, so I purchased with a friend a cinch machine . I still have some problems with mashing the wires closed, but they get by, and that way I can also have hot pressed paper so I can sketch with ink as well as watercolor. I think you are wise to try making your own.. Brenda does really nice ones!


    • I looked at that because Richard Sheppard also makes his own books and uses that. But I will try with the new printer and see how it goes before investing in a new machine. It’s good that you have someone to share it with.


  8. Mayela Lameda-Lyver says:

    I have used Brenda’s method to make my own books and found it very easy. Not being able to use a mat board for the back and front of the book is inconvenient. The way I got around this was to glue 3 pieces of pattern paper together and then cover a piece of card stock in the same size as the paper. That made a thicker cover that can be bind at any copy store.


    • Mayela, I have questions. First of all, what is pattern paper? Is it like Kraft paper? And so all these papers glued together made something that the copy store was able to punch? Good idea.


  9. Gil Zarins says:

    I have done stiff covers by having Fed Ex Office spiral bind double vinyl covers front and back and then I would sandwich a piece of mat board with double sided sticky film sheets between them. Takes about 15-20 minutes when you get the hang of it. I was making the sketch books with 90lb. Arches which was easier to bind and I could get more sheets in a book. I think it should work with 149lb.


    • Thanks Gil. Seems like everyone has the same problem. The paper is not a problem but the cover is. I am going to investigate this. I would probably have to see your method to really understand what it is exactly, but it certainly sounds practical.


  10. -N- says:

    If you really get into it, you can also buy the binding machinery and spirals. That could save money – no idea what it would cost in a shop.


    • I did look at the binding machines. They are not that expensive so if I see that I am using a lot of books that I make on my own, it may be worth investing in. For now, I will just try to find a store that can punch thicker board. Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Judy Sopher says:

    This is so interesting as I have been making sketchbooks for several years. I worried I should have been painting but being retired I do have more time . As I enjoy sewing, I have learned several methods of binding but it is time consuming. And I have used chipboard for covers. There are so many ways shown on U-tube. I have never had one spiral bound tho. Good idea.

    That is one funny looking piece of equipment. Don’t think I have ever seen that before.


    • Judy, I don’t usually have time to do this but glad I tried it. I would never have patience for all the sewing though. And btw, apparently that machine is some sort of farm sprayer!


  12. Peggy Bjarno says:

    Wow, Shari! Having taken your recent workshop in Frederickburg, VA, I have a new appreciation for your roads and ground shadows. Amazing what a flick of the brush will do, as you’ve shown here! I’m practicing. . .
    And I know you’ll enjoy your “Brenda Swenson Style” sketchbooks. They’re very versatile, and easy to make.


  13. Christine Belanger says:

    Hello Shari,
    Really enjoy seeing your paintings. I just recently made my own sketchbook following Brenda Swenson’s instructions. Since I have a Cinch binding machine I was able to use mat board for the covers. My intention this summer is to experiment with different media so I included drawing papers, mixed media papers & toned charcoal paper as well as 140 lb CP watercolor paper. Since I plan to draw in various media I placed a piece of tracing paper between each sheet to prevent smudging. The tracing paper can be used to make notes as well and I noted the type of paper behind each sheet so I know what I am using. Hope you enjoy using your sketchbook and look forward to seeing the results!
    Thanks for sharing –


    • HI Christine. I am thinking of adding some other papers as well, and I had thought of the tracing paper idea too. Sounds good especially if you are using pastel or charcoal or anything messy. I think I will add some hot press paper to my books so that I can draw in ink as well. Thanks so much for writing! Shari


  14. redharparts says:

    I have a middle way of making sketchbooks. I choose my own paper. But I use a disc bound system. I bought the punch. I can move paper in and out of the book. The cover is stiff enough for a support for drawing. I can make a full spread by not making the last tear. I’ve used this system for 2 years now.


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