Most bought sketchbooks are adequate only to the most undiscriminating sketchers. In almost all cases the paper just isn't good enough, too thin or too weak to take much water or rubbing out or handling. In a few cases where the paper is good quality cotton, the book is so tightly sewn it won't lie flat, or difficult to handle because it is ringbound on the short side (landscape format); always something unsatisfactory.
The solution is to make your own. I have several sketchbooks I've made myself in a variety of leather covers, in various sizes up to A5, roughly 8x6. Those are all intended to go outside with me and the smaller ones are routinely popped in my pockets in case I see something I want to sketch.
But for my desk I wanted something larger, say up to quarter imperial size, 15x11 inches. It would be useful if the same book handled 11x7.5in, octavo or one-eight imperial size, as I generally don't have a lot of time and like finishing a sketch in one or at most two goes at it. The large oxblood item is a custom-made Italian cover of embossed semi-soft leather, lined in silk for reasons that will soon become obvious. Open it measures 19in by 12.25in, edge to edge. The next task after obtaining a suitable cover is to rip the 100% cotton paper and these are the tools I used: a blunted heavyweight stainless steel scalloped carving knife, bought at the charity shop for pennies, to give my sheets that vintage deckle edge; and a good quality bone folder, lying on the cover.
Note that there's no ruler. The paper is used as its own measure. You simply fold the sheet lengthways in half, flatten the edge with two runs of the bone folder in opposite directions, then rip it along the fold with the knife. You can get a larger deckle by hold the paper down with the blade of the knife, one hand on the blade and using the other hand to tear the paper against the scallops on the knife, but this risks ruining the sheet if you don't do it right; 300gsm paper can be amazingly obstructive, especially if you're tearing it against the grain. Then fold one long strip to 2mm short of half, and the other to 4mm short of half, and rip again.
Once the paper is ripped to near enough quarter sheets of 15x11in, they are folded to 11x7.5in, and signatures of 4 folds, eight pages are made up, the shorter spreads going to the inside in decreasing order, so that the edge of the book can be relatively even. You can staple or sew the signatures into a book; search for instructions on the net. My method is different. I like sketchbooks where all pages lie flat, and where any page in a signature can be pulled out and put in the middle to use as a spread. That requires some innovative thinking.
My big sketchbook has no staples, no sewing, no glue, no pegs, no metal clasps, nothing. Instead all the signatures are hung on plastic strips from partwork covers (you could use twine strung on a piece of cardboard instead) and held together by the natural friction of cotton paper. It lies flat when open by the very slight slack in the plastic strips I used as retainers and by sliding against the silk lining of the casing.
Note that, unlike in traditional bookbinding, there is no connection whatsoever between the signatures, nor between the signatures and the cover. The red card in the second photo above that appears to be a cover is instead a mechanism for fixing the book vertically by running through the plastic strips and the inside retainers of the leather cover at full height. There are separate front and rear cover cards and they overlap in the plastic strips but are not glued to each other, to the plastic strips, or to the cover.
The whole affair slides with a little stiction, and that with the good design is enough to hold it together. Furthermore, it opens perfectly flat, at any page or spread, though this assembly method makes working across pages irrelevant because every sheet can be removed and used as a spread by simply putting it on top of the signature to which it belongs.
This particular version of my Sliding Quarter Imperial Multimedia Sketchbook was built with one sheet each of Fabriano Artistico NOT and Hot Press, and one sheet each of Saunders Waterford NOT and Hot Press, all of it 300gsm 100% cotton paper. I also had sheets of Arches NOT and HP standing by but the book was getting a bit thick already. Weight doesn't matter too much in a tabletop sketchbook, but all the same it needs to be at least briefcase portable for big adventures, and mustn't be so heavy that you contemplate moving it without enthusiasm.
It contains 16 spreads (counting one side only) of quarter imperial sheet size, or 32 sheets (counting one side only) of 11x7.5in. 32 sheets/64pp of 300gsm cotton paper makes a book that with covers is an inch thick at the opening end and thicker at the spine. Between the thick paper, the stiff card for vertical control, and the silk-lined leather cover, it still weighs less than the two pounds which was my target. That's not excessive for such a large, thick, versatile book of novel construction.
All the paper will handle wet media like watercolours, pen and ink, etc, and the Hot Press papers will take considerable rubbing out and other handling in charcoal or pencil work. There are thin protective sheets at the back to be slipped between pages that shouldn't rub, plus bond paper to soak up excess water should I decide to go wild with lavis.
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute