Mini organizer notebooks
This is an idea I experimented with a few years ago, and recently I decided to try it again. These notebooks are called mini 6 ring binders, system notebooks or organizers, or some combination of these names. These are very popular in Japan, and the paper is a standard 3X5 inch size.
I used cheap sketch paper which I trimmed down from one of my spiral bound pocket sketchbooks. The holes happen to fit perfectly, but if I ever start with sheets of watercolor paper, I also have a 6-hole punch.
This system helps me to be a true sketch hunter, traveling light and ready to capture my subjects. I even have that quote by Robert Henri on the last page on my sketchbook.
I can keep this notebook in my back pocket and whip it out when I see a subject. If the subject vanishes before I've made but a few squiggly lines, I can just throw away the page with no regrets and have a new page ready for my next subject.
When I get back to my desk, I can move the finished sketches to another notebook for storage. There are very inexpensive cardboard binders out there which are perfect for storing sketches on the book shelf.
I can even bind the sketch pages with cord and some dark paper for a cover like an old-fashion Japanese bound book, as I did photo below.
By the way, I made the round corners with a round corner punch. It's very handy!
After I move out the finished sketches I can restock this notebook with blank pages, and keep a few of my very best sketches in the back of this notebook to show off to my friends.
Small ring binders this size have been around for many years, even in America. The trick was to find one slim enough for the back pocket so it doesn't make a big uncomfortable bulge.
Rounded corners also help a lot and will protect your jeans pockets more.
The smallest rings I had found were 8mm diameter, which make for a nice small notebook that fits the back pocket nicely, even jeans, and I found two companies that have 8mm rings: Pilot
(the wine colored notebook on the left, the above photo) and Ray May / Davinci
(the green notebook on the right).
The Pilot is made of vinyl while the Davinci is real leather. I have both, having acquired the Pilot recently, but I prefer the feel of the leather Davinci notebook which is now several years old and well worn.
And I love the Davinci name with the feather quill on the back inside cover. Very appropriate for a sketchbook, considering Leonardo's extensive use of sketchbooks as well.
Both notebooks are fairly inexpensive although there is an incredibly expensive version
out there as well. I'd love to get it someday, but I can't justify the cost...
But after using the green one for several years, I could easily justify buying new replacement notebook of the same model, this time in black, and it resembles a Moleskine at first glance. (I'm using the green one for a calendar and notes now).
After I had this notebook for a few days I decided to "vacuum form" a custom palette with six holes to fit in the notebook, so I would be ready to paint every time I opened it. The trickiest part was coming up with a way to protect the pages from wet paint, and I stumbled upon a very simple idea: A sheet of thin plastic folded in half with holes punched along the sides so it would cover the palette. The holes on the bottom half anchor the sheet to the notebook, and holes on the top half have small slits so I can open it easily without unclasping the rings. It actually works well!
Here are some sketches done on the subway with the 6-ring binder set up.
The past several pages in this section of my online sketchbook reveal a shift in my focus. I used to walk around or even go on trips looking for interesting things to sketch, but recently I have been sketching subway passengers exclusively.
That's because I'm more likely to sketch when I'm standing still with nothing else to do. For me, that means the daily train commute.
And what is there to draw on the train other than people? I have come to appreciate humans as the highest subject matter for art; God's highest creation, made in God's image.
And I do love the thrill of the "hunt," not knowing if I will be able to finish the sketch before the subject moves away or is blocked from view by someone else.
These past few years, most of my days are spent at work, but I don't mind going to work because when I don't ride the train, I don't sketch.
Now that I have my watercolors right there in the notebook, I try to color every sketch on the spot before I leave the train. But if there is not enough time, I just scribble a few notes so I can add color later, as I did in the sketch above on the right.
You can also see all my spiral bound "butterfly net" sketches on one page in one big collection.
This ring binder sketch system seems to be working out very well. I've been at it for a few months now, and have been able to make at least one new sketch practically every time I take the evening train.
Drawing crowds with a dip pen and real brush
Now I have a huge collection of people sketches in ring binders so I can add new figures to my ongoing ink project. If I have a moment to add a new figure, but don't have any new pencil sketches in my pocket sketch notebook, I'll just take one from my collection. In the new drawings below, you may recognize some poses from previous drawings.
I had tried the large Moleskine watercolor sketchbook for this project but once again settled on the smaller version because I can carry it with me everywhere.
Back when I was sketching in pen and ink on-the-spot while standing, I hated the awkward horizontal format of this watercolor Moleskine, but not that I'm using it only when I'm at a desk, I love it. It's fun to fill a horizontal space with lots of people.
I also realized that since I'm working at a desk for this phase of my art project, I don't need to use portable tools which have their own limitations. Since they carry their own ink supply, they are not as slim as they could otherwise be, and can be difficult to hold and control. And the ink which is thin for flowing through the narrow channels can feather out on some papers. I love to use a fountain pen and brush pen with Carbon ink when I'm out sketching, but when I'm sitting at a desk, a real brush or dip pen with thicker drawing ink is easier to control, and can get finer, more expressive lines.
My personal favorite brush is a handmade brush found in a small shop in Tokyo, which has no web site. I also use a Winsor & Newton number 2 Sable Brush, the preferred brush of many professional comic book inkers. My dip pen nib is a a vintage Soennecken 1355EF nib which is similar to the G pen nib
commonly used by manga artists in Japan. The only reason I use the Soennecken is that I bought a few boxes of these nibs at a great price several years ago. When they run out, I'll go back to the G-pen.
watercolor paper is pretty good for ink drawing. The Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook paper is much better for ink since it was produced with ink in mind. It has a nice, smooth surface. Unfortunately as of this writing the Stillman & Birn sketchbook does not come in this small horizontal format (a few weeks after I wrote this, the situation changed, however).
I have found one pocket sketchbook which was designed for pen and ink and comes in a horizontal format. It's called the Pen & Ink Notebook. Like the Stillman and Birn Epsilon, it has a smooth surface, only more cream colored.
I already had the vertical (portrait) format, and found that it was no good with carbon ink in a fountain pen because carbon ink feathered out slightly, which had me so dissapointed that I gave a negative review of it in my article about Moleskine sketchbooks. But later I discovered that it's pretty good with heavier drawing ink
in a dip pen or brush, so I modified my review and made it positive. It's not quite as good as Epsilon paper, but it's still pretty good. Since I already have the vertical sketchbook, I ordered the horizontal (landscape) format so I could continue to draw large crowds.
Then I felt great pressure to hurry and finish my Moleskine before the Pen and Ink sketchbook arrived or risk throwing yet another unfinished sketchbook into storage! I've done that too many times, so I was determined to somehow plow through the Moleskine and complete as many pages as possible -- I was only on page 15 when this occurred to me. Knowing very well my slow pace of adding new sketches, I resorted to the old trick of adding lots of text with only a few sketches. I basically saw it as a quick and sneaky way to fill space.
I've mentioned before that I had decided a while ago to stop adding text to the sketches. But this was an emergency -- I'm trying to save the life of a sketchbook! So I decided to eat my own words and add a few notes about the drawing process, such as what tools I used and what I was trying to acheive. Then I showed my sketchbook to some people who were very impressed by the addition of text. I was surprised. What can I say? It did make the page more interesting to look at, more than pure images. It reminded me of chocolate bars; 100 percent chocolate is OK, but I prefer a combination of chocolate and nuts or or puffed rice some cookie-type stuff. Maybe sketches with text are more exciting than just images after all.
So the pages suddenly got more interesting to look at, but the text isn't anything special to read. So I'll just extract the images and share them with you. Well, the first image was too difficult to extract, so I included the surrounding text.
These tired or distracted commuters have no idea they have been immortalized in ink this way. I wonder if any have seen my web site? The lady in the traditional kimono was a rare find. I've mentioned before that I tend to draw women because I'm attracted to beautiful subjects. After all, I have to observe the model for a few minutes, and pleasant subjects make for a pleasant experience, and the women in Japan seem to make more of an effort to look attractive, while a lot of men apparently don't even think about their appearance.
Like the other ink drawings, these were based on the loose pencil and watercolor I did on the evening subway in my ring binder sketch notebook. Well, the one of the sleeping girl was taken from an earlier sketch (which you may have recognized from page 8 on this web site). Here are some of those sketches. Most of them made it into my ink sketchbook.
Since I am adding a new sketch to my ring notebook practically every time I take the evening train, and have been at it for several months, it goes without saying that these are only a small part of that growing collection.
It's so gratifying to be able to sketch subjects in both of these styles, loose and rapid pencil and watercolor as well as meticulous pen, brush and ink.
Anyway, that Pen and Ink sketchbook finally arrived, and I put away the Moleskine. The first thing I did with the Pen and Ink sketchbook was to bend the covers back, to get the pages to lie flat. Unfortunately, this broke the binding, and there suddenly appeared large gaps between the covers and the pages, and between the signatures, rendering the sketchbook worthless, in my opinion. I confess I threw the Pen and Ink sketchbook in the trash, unused. What a waste.
This rash action left me with no pocket size sketchbook for my ink drawings! However, it was around this time that I heard that Stillman and Birn was going to produce a line of softcover sketchbooks in several different formats including pocket size and horizontal. This was fantastic news since I know their paper and binding is high quality.
But what would I do in the weeks or months before I could get my hands on one of these new sketchbooks? I did have one sketchbook on my shelf waiting to be used. It was the Stillman and Birn Episilon 5.5 X 8.5 inch hardbound sketchbook. The paper is perfect for ink drawings, but it is way too big for the pocket. I decided to give it a try until a smaller sketchbook was available.