If you’ve ever tried to buy a sketchbook to use for a realistic watercolour method like mine, you’ll know it’s weirdly not that easy.

Though there are hundreds of sketchbooks out there, most really aren’t very suitable.

Either the paper is designed for watercolour and is really rough, or it’s smooth (so better for realism) but it buckles when you apply paint.  It’s annoying!

So here’s my guide for what to look for when choosing a sketchbook which works best with my watercolour method, and I’ll show you a few examples of books I’ve tested:

My blog post review of sketchbooks can be found here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this video! Do share your own recommendations for sketchbooks in the comments below.


Happy painting,

  1. Emylou 4 years ago

    My Stillman & Birn sketchbook has arrived! Cannot wait to start filling it with beautiful paintings 🙂

  2. Mark 4 years ago

    Why not make your own with the type of paper you want and like yo use?

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 years ago

      Great if you have the time/inclination Mark!

  3. Mark 4 years ago

    Why not make your own with the type of paper you like to use.

  4. Katia 4 years ago

    Thank you for the video, I’ve actually ended up making my own sketchbook using the new stonehenge acqua watercolour paper. The paper is not too pricy but it works well for my style of painting and I’m really happy with it!
    If I’m not using that, I do like the Stillman & Birn Z series, the paper is thick enough to use with watercolour but I can still use it for coloured pencils if I wish to do so 🙂

  5. Malu 4 years ago

    Thanks, Very usefull tips : = )

  6. James McCarthy 4 years ago

    thanx for the great classes… i always take notes…, jim mccarthy, chicago [stay out of the USA for a little while – things are quite nutzy these days! haha]

  7. David Groucutt 4 years ago

    Deegee,I do an awful lot of pencil sketches but occasionally Might use watercolour if appropriate so the pad I buy is, from wait for it! From Wilkinsons, they do a A4 and an A3 size ,the paper is excellent the paper does not cockle or buckle and you can tear it out as it is stitched,wonderful if you are on a budget! It’s 180 GSM so is plenty heavy enough.

  8. Mary McCauley 4 years ago

    Great review of what is important in a sketch book. I use 2, 3-ring binders. I use a 1″ binder with a variety of papers – thin and smooth for pencil sketches, and some quality watercolor paper of heavy weights. This means I get to control the costs, too. I have a 3-hole punch to prepare the papers for the binder. This is my “Field Book”, easy to transport, and I can take out pages that are too messy or pages I want to keep in the 2nd, binder. The “Reference Binder” is a 3″ size where I keep all the pages from the Field Book. With these two, I can choose a wide variety of papers and just punch the holes needed to put them in the binders in any order I want. I do like your tip to use clips to hold down the pages from buckling. BTW, I do primarily color pencil work and I find all your techniques for sketch, value planning, order of working from light to darks, details tips – all of it applies to the color pencil medium very well. Thanks so much!

    • Gillian 4 years ago

      I like this idea of a binder as I use all types and sizes for my paintings and sketches depending on where and what I am doing. Space and weight are also paramount as I can’t carry much weight.
      I am assuming when you are saying 1” & 3” binders you mean the outer card cover which to me can be anything from A5 to A2

    • Donna M Davis 4 years ago

      That is a great idea!!

  9. Jackie B 4 years ago

    really helpful thank you – I did not know to use this type of paper.

  10. Anne 4 years ago

    Anna, this is really useful info. I generally use Daler Rowney mixed media pad which I find good for watercolour. 250gsm and reasonably priced.

    Thanks for your tips and encouragement!

  11. Jean Mikulla 4 years ago

    Thank you for this video. It is confusing to find one that works well, you have been very helpful.

  12. Judy 4 years ago

    Thank you for all your wondertips, Anna!

  13. Patrice Fleming 4 years ago

    Your videos are excellent. I was recently given the Canson Mixed Media sketchbook, so your idea to use binder clips will come in very handy. Much appreciated. Looking forward to learning more from you. With gratitude and best wishes.

  14. Rose Farquhar 4 years ago

    I hate spiral bound sketchbooks, I find the binding completely distracting. I also don’t like the metric A series, preferring squarer shapes. Finally, being vegan, I won’t use a paper sized with gelatine. All of this makes finding suitable paper, let alone a sketchbook, very difficult!

  15. Denise 4 years ago

    I liked the fact that you gave plus and minus thoughts…
    With that in mind it is easier to go to the shop and choose what I need.
    Good to hear you can use not hot pressed paper too… I tried another mixed media block because it was cheaper… but the results were indeed bubly and not nice. Good to hear that there are alternatives….
    Great advice I dont have to invent the wheel myself! Right now I use arches but wauw they have the recommended blocks in The Netherlands too and they are not expensive…

  16. Judy kift 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, this note does not pertain to choosing scetchbooks . I wanted to ask about your classes. I,m very interested. I love your paintings and find them and yourself to be inspirational.
    When I sign up, do I know before hand what projects are offered? Do I get to keep the classes afterwards. Judy Kift, little Current, Ontario, canada. P0P 1K0

    • Hi Judy, I’ve sent you an email explaining more about the School and how to join. We hope to be welcoming you to the School soon! 🙂

  17. Lisa 4 years ago

    Most informative. I will be buying a wire bound one. Thank you!

  18. Yvette 4 years ago

    Thanks for the advice on paper , I can be difficult to find in Australia as well we have limited companies to chose from.

  19. Christine Wakefield 4 years ago

    Thanks for this great review Anna. I’m assuming that as you paint on both sides of the paper, you use the sketch book as your prep book before you do the final painting. Is that correct?

    • Author
      Anna Mason 4 years ago

      That’s one thing you can do – or you can opt to just paint on one side if you’re painting something you might want to keep!

  20. David 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, I know the problem well! I have loads of sketchbooks and always have one, but they can be tricky to buy. I love the Saunders Waterford Hot Press Casebound books, made by RK Burt and sold by Ken Bromleys, they are truly beautiful, but £33.00 each.
    I have some Stilman and Birn and Strathmore, Bluebell from the SAA are great at 220gsm as well. To be honest, I’m that fed up after years of searching that I have started to learn bookbinding, and design and make my own!!! It’s a lot more cost effective and great fun. The best site to learn is a young lady called Jennifer, and her YouTube channel is callef Sea Lemon. Loads of great tutorials and she’s fun too. Take care all, and happy painting. David.xxx

  21. Robby Cook 4 years ago

    Thank you for taking the time to put this video together, Anna. Your comprehensive and down-to-earth explanations make it easier to understand what we should be looking for and why. Your generosity in sharing this information is greatly appreciated. Best wishes from Down Under … Robby

  22. Sergio 4 years ago

    I’m going to try those sketchbooks from Stillman & Birn. Without a doubt, choosing a good sketchbook can result in a long march. Thanks for the info.

  23. oswald perera 4 years ago

    Beautiful paintings and tips from a beautiful lady..thanks so much.

  24. Simonetta Pettene 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, I didn’t think you could paint a sketch with your painting style. Can you show us some of your sketches?
    When I paint, I use a single sheet of paper taken from a block.

  25. Erika Pinczés 4 years ago

    Thanks for the video and the guide in it. It is a very useful advice, I try to choose the best sketchbook from it.
    Erika Pinczés

  26. Annie 4 years ago

    Hi Anna, this is very useful info thanks. I was wondering if you could offer similar advice on stock for finished pieces. I used rigid art board years ago but can’t seem to find it easily now. Cheers, Annie

    • Hi Annie. Anna just uses Arches glued blocks for her paintings. You can find out more about the paper and other equipment she recommends – including where to buy them on this page here. Hope this helps! 🙂

  27. Suzanne Linch 4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    You are so right.
    Why not try Vintage papers,
    I buy the paper I want then make my own, true it is stitched, but I rarely want to tear anything out as mistakes are there to be an example of what not to do.
    Or even better rectify.
    The History of the paper is fascinating too.
    Take a look here (They sell starter book making kits at a very reasonable price), I splash out on the covers as a treat tho.
    They have wonderful products.

  28. Deborah Wilson-Zweig 4 years ago

    I just found a nice Reflexions bound sketchbook. it’s 110 gram (70lb) light cream colored paper – very light…. says it takes dry media and light watercolor washes. Jerry’s Artarama at the store for $11.99 crossing fingers n toes!

  29. Deb 3 years ago

    I bought the sketchbook you recommended…. love it!

  30. sandra 3 years ago

    Canson Mixed Media with perforated pages have been the best with my inking and watercolor pieces.

  31. Joy Elizabeth Reardon 3 years ago

    Thank you Anna for your ‘making space and choosing a sketch book’. It is inspiring. I must find more time to sketch.

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