When The Paper In Your Sketchbook...Sucks

11:58 AM

The small sketchbook I am currently working in is about 3.5 x 5.5 inches and was suppose to be a watercolor sketchbook. There are no identifying marks as to who the maker might be or what type of paper is in the sketchbook, but make no mistake...it's a PITA (Pain-In-The-Art!).

To say this sketchbook has been a challenge would be to a vast understatement. Years ago, I would have chunked it back on the shelf and forgotten ignored it. However, I'm attempting to finish up some of the PITA sketchbooks I have so I could move on. It dawned on me others may have made some questionable sketchbook purchases that are currently sitting, languishing on a shelf. I thought I'd share some of the ways I've managed to fill the pages without giving up on this journal.

The sketch above was done after wedding vows were exchanged on a dock on a small, private lake. I spotted the tree and knew I had to sketch it. The view below is of the area at the bottom of the page where the sizing(?) is uneven. When I washed over the area with water and pigment, the wash beaded up and was repelled away from the paper. This has happened in random places throughout this journal. And while I like the texture, I would have preferred not to have it.

Luckily, the page turned out okay and it looks intentional even though it was not. Had this lovely spot been somewhere higher up the page, it would have looked bad. Really bad. If you enlarge the image, you can see that the sizing issue goes higher up into the water and into the dead tree.
What do you do if you're a beginner and stuck with this type of paper? It can be frustrating and not a lot of fun to try and get a decent page created only to have something invisible fell your efforts. In the case above, I chose to ignore the "added texture" and just let it stand. Had it been further up the page? I'd have had to pull out the creative license.

Here are some of the ways and things I've done to help get the pages filled:
1) Add pieces of ephemera, receipts, business cards, cut-up brochures and stickers. I cut apart a brochure from my trip to Chocolate Kingdom in Kissimmee and glued it down over a good portion of the page. I also took notes (another idea to fill the page). I doubt if it will show even if you enlarge the page, but the ink bleeds like crazy on this paper and it looks fuzzy.

2) Gesso the paper and paint over it. Using clear gesso* over the paper has several advantages. (*You can use white as well.) Chief among them is being able to paint without fear of uneven sizing showing up midway through the painting process. You can go right over the page or you can use clear gesso as glue to add another piece of paper to the page and then paint over the added paper. I used a deli sheet from Logan's Roadhouse (I dig that quote!), and I let the diluted, white gesso brush strokes show. I then added a little watercolor over the top of that.

3) Paint on another piece of paper and glue it to the sketchbook page. I had some left over Stonehenge "kraft" paper and wanted to use it up. The pumpkin started out a little differently but I messed up the top of the paper with a smear of ink. Rather than tossing the artwork, I cut it out and glued it down. I thought about doing the lettering on the page behind it, but ultimately decided to do the lettering on another piece of the brown paper and glue that in as well. By hitting the edges with a stamp pad, it gives it a more finished look of a border.  You could do the same thing with another piece of white watercolor paper and glue it in the same as a colored paper.

4) Take a break from the challenging sketchbook and work in a different one once in a while. It can slow you down and seriously mess with your mojo if you are working to fill a PITA sketchbook and the pages don't turn out like you want. Rather than wait for that to happen or if you realize you're not sketching as much as you normally would and it's because your resistance to working in that PITA sketchbook, pick up a different sketchbook and "treat" yourself to a couple of nice pages. If you don't have another sketchbook lying around, cut up some paper and sketch on them with the intention of gluing it into the sketchbook later. Never let a hateful sketchbook kill your fun!

5) Try different mediums. Play, experiment and have fun! Maybe the paper is not so good for watercolor...try a different medium. Get out your markers, gouache, colored pencils, graphite and other fun supplies and see what happens. Practice lettering or improve your drawing skills. Play around to see what else might work. Make fun backgrounds and add quotes with markers. Use watercolor pencils and only a little water to see if you can get around a sizing issue.

6) Turn the sketchbook into a "Junk Journal." Every once in a while, the paper in a sketchbook is just...too lame to be saved. Rather than struggle with it, turn the sketchbook into a "Junk Journal." What is a junk journal, you ask? A junk journal is a journal where you draw, practice, try out new ideas, scribble, fail, try again, write notes, brain dump and all manner of crazy things you never intend to share with someone else. And make no mistake, just because it's called junk, it's NOT!

The reason it's called a junk journal is because the idea of a junk journal works best when the paper is cheap so that you don't have any monetary concerns about junking up the paper. And no matter how much you may have spent on that PITA sketchbook that has crummy paper in it, don't be afraid to turn it into a junk journal. You'll still be getting your money's worth, just not in the manner you expected to!

Life is really too short to sketch and paint on crappy, crummy pages on a regular basis, but once in a while, we get caught with a less than desirable paper. If you're just starting out, go ahead and splurge on the nicer sketchbook that's suitable for your preferred medium rather than fight your way through one that fights you every step of the way.

Once you've put in your time, try one of these less than desirable, PITA sketchbooks...it's amazing what you'll learn and what you just might create!

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7 Creative Thought(s)

  1. EXCELLENT suggestions, Laure! Even when I bind my own I sometimes experiment with paper that doesn't do what I want it to. Or expect. Or hardly even stand. :D I tore a page OUT of one of my hand bound books recently, but finally decided it wold be better to use the rest of the pages of that type as writing pages or collage...

    1. Thanks, Kate! I am soooo disgusted with this little sketchbook and I am counting the page until I'm done! It may just come down to using it for notes before it's over with! I can only imagine the aggravation of having done the work to bind a book with paper you don't like. I know that's how we learn, but dang, it's not much fun!

  2. I have a junk journal as well. I'm keeping thumbnail sketches for future water color projects, attempted and not so good portraits, and other messy collages that I don't want messing up my regular sketchbooks.

    1. My junk journals are treasures. I love looking back through them as they often spark an idea when I'm not feeling creative. Odd to call something so valuable "junk!"

  3. I have a junk journal as well. I'm keeping thumbnail sketches for future water color projects, attempted and not so good portraits, and other messy collages that I don't want messing up my regular sketchbooks.

  4. Rather than fighting PITA paper I have a pity party .... and then use the sketchbook for a medium it tolerates. Pencil sketches on most anything and pencil is a good thinking tool.

    1. As usual, Ms. Elva, you are the calm voice of reason...but you know us artist-types...we have to do things the hard way!


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