The Search for the Perfect Sketchbook
Here’s Part Two (Sorry, no subtitles.)
In the video, Sfar is shown sketching with pencil, ink, and watercolor. I’m immediately impressed with the paper quality of his sketchbook to accept those mediums so freely. Any artist who uses sketchbooks (and are slightly particular about them) will tell you that finding a book that has great paper is a rare thing.
Let’s rewind many years ago when I was first starting to draw and the search for the perfect sketchbook began.
I fell like I’ve tried every brand on the market. I settled on a few over the years (mostly the 5.5″ x 8.5″ Watson-Guptill books recommended to me by Jeffrey Brown), but they still had room for improvement. Moleskine has a (fake) story which makes them a glamourous choice, but paper is the most important part of a sketchbook.
I watched the video again to get details about this book.
- It’s a hardcover that seems to be wrapped in a gray linen cloth.
- The corners are squared and it’s on the thinner side so it probably has about 60 sheets.
- There’s no bookmark or elastic band around the book.
- It comes in a large portrait format and a landscape size.
- It’s probably made in France because Sfar lives in Paris.
Drumroll… Let the internet search begin!
Over the next few days, I Google all of the U.S. online art stores only to come up empty handed. Then I get more sneaky and start searching in French and Italian. That returns different results, but still no matches.
I email Sfar through his website, but as of this writing haven’t heard back. The guy probably gets lots of mail. I discovered art supply review video blogs where they put pens and paper to the test on film and contacted them to see if they have come across these books, but still no luck. After 2 weeks of daily searches—I’m like a dog on a bone with this stuff—I’m forced to concede ask for help. I reached out to my friends and colleagues who I know would be familiar with Sfar and/or European art supplies.
Matt Madden let me know that cartoonist Sarah Glidden was in Angouleme, France in a residency as we speak and I should reach out to her. I had only met Sarah once, briefly, in 2008 when I introduced the “Promising New Talent” category at the Ignatz Awards at SPX. That night she won for her then mini comic “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less” which later turned into a book.
Here’s Sarah winning big:
I email Sarah. She’s 6 hours away in another country, but I get a quick reply—she’s willing to help! Serendipitously, she’s even heading to Paris the very next day and was planning on visiting an art store there anyway.
I’m hopeful, because for the first time in 3 weeks, I have my first lead.
To my surprise, the next day I get an email:
“So I think I found your sketchbook! A friend in Angouleme had recommended this super old and amazing art supply store so I went there to look around for inks and things and there in the sketchbook section were what I think are the sketchbooks Sfar uses.”
The book is made by the Sennelier art store in Paris. I ordered one to give it a try. (Insert foot tapping and anxious waiting until the package arrived.) I promptly tore it open to find, what I’m 99% sure is, the exact book I was looking for.
The sewn binding and cloth cover are really nice. The book has that wonderful broken in feel so the pages lay flat right away.
I don’t know how it escalated to this ridiculous thrill-of-the-hunt, globe-trekking level, but it did! Ironically, during this process I found a new U.S.-made sketchbook made by Global Art Materials called the Hand•Book Trav•e•logue. It’s a quality book whose pages have a slight tooth, but takes pen (Uni-ball and Micron), brush, and watercolors well so I would recommend trying it. After seeing the Sennelier book, the paper used in the Hand•Book is very close to it in color, tooth, and weight. I’m just waiting for them to make it in a larger size.
So what lessons were learned in all of this?
Surely, I have to be a more enriched human being as a result of this wild goose chase.
- Artists need to write and share more about their experiences with the tools they use.
- Sketchbook manufacturers are cheapening their materials using thinner papers and weaker construction.
- Online shopping in Europe is difficult.
- When in doubt, ask your friends for help.
- If I’m ever in a similar situation (á la Sarah’s place in this story), I want to be able to return the favor for someone else.