Making a Watercolor Swatch Template

Re-swatching 100+ watercolors.

A couple of weeks ago, I took on what ended up being the monumental task of re-swatching all of my watercolors.

Probably the first question any normal person would have is “So, you already had them swatched out before… why would you re-swatch them?”

It all began with the purchase of a set of Roman Szmal watercolors. I’d watched a review by Denise Soden of In Liquid Color on these and thought I must get my hands on them because of their extremely active qualities. I love watercolors that move, like QoR Watercolors, so I knew I wanted to give these a try, too.

In no small fashion, I purchased a set of 24 colors. I don’t like getting smaller sets of colors because they often contain the same colors I have already from several other sets. Now, I suppose that’s true with larger sets, too – they also contain colors I already have, but they also usually include something different. In hindsight, I should have done myself and my wallet a favor and just purchased individual colors ala-carte. Or checked to see if there were dot cards available (so far, there aren’t any.) But oftentimes I honestly don’t know what I’m feeling like I’m missing until I have a color presented to me.

Case in point with this particular set, I’ve been introduced to a few glorious colors: Mineral Violet, Shadow Violet, Caput Mortuum, Aquarius Green, and Aquarius Black. You’ll probably see a pattern here that I’m a real sucker for multi-hued colors that granulate and separate.

So, of course this leads me back to color swatching. I try to make it a habit to swatch out all my new colors when I get them, so I set about doing so with my Roman Szmal colors. I don’t keep my swatches nicely organized in a binder with clear pockets or anything like that. I just have them stacked in color ranges and then held together with a couple rubber bands.

Because I’ve been slowly adding to my watercolor inventory over the course of several years (five to be exact), I’ve ended up with a bunch of swatches that were different sizes and shapes with various amounts of details to them. Some listed the brand and color name, some also included the pigment number. This inconsistency finally bothered me enough when I was swatching my Roman Szmal colors that I decided to take the plunge and create a consistent size and template for my swatches.

So here’s a little (or not-so-little) project for you if you find you’re continually acquiring new watercolors and swatching them and finding your swatches are inconsistent.

I created a template so when I get new watercolors I can paint on the template right away, and if I run out of pre-made template pages, I can easily re-create the template again without too much fuss.

Side note here: If a watercolor paper company would be so kind as to create a pad or block of paper with pre-printed, water-proof swatches on them, I’d be giving them my money in a heartbeat. Why has no company provided this yet?

Here’s the materials you’ll need:

  • Pad of watercolor paper
  • Pens of varying sizes with waterproof ink
  • Ruler
  • Lead pencil
  • Watercolors
  • Paint brush
  • Two containers of clean water
  • Scissors or a paper cutter

Getting into specifics, the pad I chose to use for this project was a 9×12-inch Canson Montval watercolor pad. I didn’t chose the paper for its quality (you know how much I hate cellulose paper for my art). I just don’t have the heart to use my really good watercolor paper, like Arches, for swatches. I selected this particular pad for its size, the spiral binding, and that the paper was 300gsm. Final deciding factor was price – I didn’t want to pay an astronomical amount of money for this.

For pens, I chose to use my Pigma Micron pens since they have waterproof* archival ink.

(*A word of caution here, I’ve found some of my Pigma Microns’ ink bleeds and isn’t waterproof. I don’t know if it’s because of a faulty batch during production, or a change in their formulation. That said, always, always do a bleed test of your inks before you do any kind of ink work that you plan to paint over. This goes for creating swatch cards or for creating your artwork. I do this by scribbling some ink down, letting it dry, then taking a brush with clean water over it. If it bleeds, then it’s no bueno and its not going near any projects where I plan to paint over it.)

For the brush, I’ll note here that I chose to use my Princeton Neptune 10 round. Now, that is how I prefer to work. I like using round brushes. That said, if you chose to make your swatches the exact same size, the larger the brush the better for nice smooth gradations on your swatches. It can be a flat brush or oval, too. Whatever you feel most comfortable using.

I won’t get into specifics with the rest of the materials, as pretty much any will work where rulers, lead pencils, etc. are concerned.

To create the chart, I first figured out how many swatches I wanted to have on a 9×12 sheet of paper. For me, I decided 25 swatches would be good, and they would be a decent size to work with. Not too large, nor too small. Dividing the 9×12 page into 25 sections made it so each swatch was 4.5cm x 6cm.

Using a pencil and a ruler I ticked out the line positions then drew my lines with a 08 Pigma Micron pen. I also wanted my swatches to include a thick line where you could see the opacity of a color so I drew those across near the top of each row of swatches with a Sakura Pigma 3mm graphic pen.

Once I had my grid laid out I tore it out of the pad and then labeled it as my “TEMPLATE”. The purpose of this is to have a quick and easy graph to use if I need to make more pages in the future. Using the template, I just line up the page at the edges and mark the locations of the lines in pencil at several points on a blank page then draw in the straight lines with my pen afterwards. This saves me the step of having to measure everything out again and again. I do not paint on this template. I just tuck it into the front of the watercolor paper pad when it’s not in use.

Next, I determined exactly how many swatches I was going to need to make. For me, that came to around 125. So I created this swatch grid on 5 sheets of paper in the pad. I included three more pages so that if I added additional swatches in the future, I wouldn’t have to create new grids for a while.

Pages of additional blank swatches ready for use.

The eventual intention is to have the entire pad filled with these swatch grids. And here’s praying that I have sense enough to not ever have to use every single blank swatch that I created. Haha! But it’s nice knowing they’re there and waiting for me whenever it is I get wooed by another new, fabulous color or brand.

On the inside cover of the pad, I created notes for future reference, as well. This includes the size of the swatch cards, what pen sizes I used, even down to the brush size I used for the swatching and how I put the paint down on the swatches.

How you swatch your colors from this point on is really up to you and your preference. Some people like to do a once-over approach and be done with it. I chose to try to make gradations as smooth as possible, then a single glaze line down the side.

The method I used to create my smooth gradations was to start at the top with a very juicy brush loaded with color. I painted wet on dry to start, painting from the top of the swatch to half-way down. I then cleaned my brush thoroughly and with a wet brush full of clean water, painted up from the bottom. I didn’t stop at the half way point where the clean water met the color. Doing this can often lead to blooms and I didn’t want those on my swatches. Instead, I kept painting all the way back to the top of the swatch. I cleaned my brush out again and this time went in with a slightly dryer brush loaded with color and again painted from the top down to the half-way point. This helped address any lifting that may have occurred when I brought in the clean water. Finally, to make sure I had a nice smooth gradient, I cleaned out my brush one more time, made it slightly dry so it would be thirsty and brushed up from the bottom of the swatch just until I reached the black opacity line. This way I would ensure I maintained the color’s mass tone at the top.

And that’s it. Just repeat with each of your colors (in my case 125 more times), until you have all your colors swatched out.

Depending on how many colors you have, I warn you this can be a long, time-consuming process. It took me several days to do all of mine. Yes, I probably could have taken care of it all in one sitting as an all-day project, but I don’t like working that way. I need to allow myself breaks, so I’d usually just swatch out a single family of one brand then tackle the next brand over the next day or two.

After finishing a single brand of colors. I took a break and started on the next palette the following day.

This also requires a lot of running back and forth to your sink to empty out your rinsing cups, as one will, of course, become really muddy, and the one that’s meant to be clean will eventually start to get contaminated, too. Needless to say, you want to be working with super clean water for your swatches so you’re getting a 100% accurate representation of what the color looks like. You don’t want your opinion of a color swayed because when you swatched out your lemon yellow your brush had a slight taint of cadmium red in it and it made your yellow look warmer than it really is.

It’s probably also worth recommending that you don’t paint swatches side-by-side. Alternate and leave a blank swatch between your colors so you don’t risk touching your new color into the one you just painted and having a sudden bleed happen that would ruin both swatches. Wait until all the alternating swatches have dried thoroughly (or help them along with a heat tool), then fill in the blanks after.

Finally, after the entire page dried, I went back with a fine Pigma Micron pen and wrote in the brand, the color name, and the pigment information. I definitely recommend you keep track of what colors you’ve painted where while making your swatch page. Have a notebook handy or whatever you feel will help you know that the paint swatch on the third row down, second column over was Sennelier’s Lemon Yellow, or if it was Daniel Smith’s Hansa Yellow. I partially avoided much confusion with this by using the paints I’d already squeezed out into my existing palettes and staying in order via how they were laid out in each palette. I always include a swatch chart with my palettes so I have a reliable reference on what paint is what while I was doing the swatching.

Sample swatch chart in my QoR watercolor palette.

I suggest only filling one page at a time with color and writing down the details on the swatches once you’ve filled a single page instead of painting all your pages then going back to the start and filling in the details.

Now, you have the option here to not tear out the swatches and just leave them in the book. You could get creative and dedicate a page or two to single colors, like yellows, greens, reds, etc.

I wanted my swatches to be moveable. If I’m ever figuring out what I want to put into a watercolor palette, I like to pull out individual swatches that I like then lay them out in the order I’d like them to appear inside the palette. I can’t do that if they’re part of a single sheet filled with other colors.

So, after I finished swatching and labeling everything, I removed each sheet of painted swatches from the pad, then trimmed them down. I used my handy Fiskars rotary trimmer to get quick, straight cuts, cutting out each column. After getting all the columns into single strips, I then just used my scissors and cut each swatch from the strip.

My final step was organizing the swatches by hue. There’s no rule to this. Just do what feels right to you. Just know the more watercolors you have, the more space you’ll need to lay out all your swatches while you’re organizing them.

After I had everything laid out in the order I felt made sense (and after I basked in all the beautiful colors and stood, astounded, looking at all the work I’d done), I then stacked the swatches up in order into two separate stacks and secured each with a rubber band. Just like how I had my old stacks. I might someday get some binder rings and punch holes in the corners of them and store the swatches that way. But for now I’m content with storing them as I always have. It seems to work fine. What’s most satisfying to me is that everything is now the same size so when I’m flipping through the stacks, I don’t have awkward tiny cards tucked in among larger ones.

My humble swatch stacks. Nothing fancy but they serve their purpose.

Have you ever taken on the task of re-swatching all your watercolors? Do you have a preferred swatching method? Share your thoughts below.

As a final bonus to you for reading (or at least scrolling) all the way to the end of this post, I am providing a printable PDF of the 9×12 chart for your use if you have a printer that can handle watercolor paper. Be sure the ink your printer is using is waterproof. This is designed to fit a 9×12-inch page.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve found something helpful in this post. Happy swatching if you’re going to go that route, otherwise, happy art-ing!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Canson Montval watercolor pad
Pigma Micron pens
Princeton Neptune 10 round
Roman Szmal watercolors
Sakura Pigma 3mm Graphic Pen
Heat Tool
Fiskars Procision Rotary Bypass Trimmer, 12 Inch
QoR Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
Mission Gold Watercolors
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolors
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors

Completed Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Journal and Flip-through

Doing the happy dance here today. I’m grateful to share another completed sketchbook with you. I can thank September’s World Sketchbook Month for helping me fill this sketchbook so fast. I tell you, when I stick to a monthly challenge and make it a point to try to not miss too many days, it has a significant impact on how quickly I fill a sketchbook.

All in all, I enjoyed working in this sketchbook. I feel like the prompts for the World Sketchbook Month challenge also helped me try different things and maybe stuff that wasn’t my norm. I think my absolute favorite painting in the book is the one I did of my sleeping cat.

Painting animals intimidates me, mostly it’s because of the fur, and when they have a lot of color variances, stripes, spots, etc, my head goes into overload. It becomes that familiar issue of figuring out what details to include and what to exclude. I think this is also why I find landscapes challenging, too. If you’re familiar with my work, I usually tend to do fairly detailed stuff (take my iPhone painting I did in this sketchbook – photo further down in the post.) Backing off and trying to allow the mind to fill in the blanks instead of actually mapping out every little detail is challenging for me. That said, I feel the painting of my cat successfully executed this. Plus, he’s just so darn cute.

I think another reason why I liked this sketchbook was because it didn’t have a lot of pages. I think if you ever feel frustrated with yourself because you can never seem to fill a sketchbook, try to get one that has very few pages – you can fill it quickly that way, and maybe that will give you a little “can-do” motivation for sketchbooks with more pages.

If you would like a more in-depth review of this sketchbook, click here.

I suppose the other thing to note here was that I chose to stick with a limited palette through the entire sketchbook. I enjoy the challenge of only using four colors. I used QoR Green Gold, Mission Gold Permanent Rose, Daniel Smith Cerulean Blue Chromium, and QoR Paynes Gray. I specifically chose the Green Gold because I wanted an “odd” color to work with instead of a more neutral or warm yellow. There were just a couple exceptions to this rule. The painting I did of a blue water bottle used Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue. There was just no way I’d get that intense blue with the colors of my limited palette. And the cover design was done using Dr. Ph. Martin’s India Inks. I wanted something that would feel permanent on the cover.

Swatch test page at the back of the sketchbook.

Also featured in all my photos is the Etchr Mini Palette (the 19 well version). I purchased one last year on a whim. This palette was the perfect size for the size of the paintings I was working on in this sketchbook. I might post a review of that at a later date.

What’s my next sketchbook? Well, I started working in my Koval sketchbook for the last few days of World Sketchbook Month, and I’ve been continuing to fill it to this day. It has Saunder’s Waterford 300gsm 100% cotton paper in it, and I have to say, I’m currently loving it. It’s a pricey one and I feel like it was a splurge. Especially considering it had to come all the way from Poland on top of it. But it’s a manageable size, I feel, and therefore that will hopefully mean I’ll be filling it up quickly, too, and will have another sketchbook review and flip-through in the near future.

That’s enough from me. Grab yourself a nice warm drink this autumn day and enjoy the flip through. Some highlight paintings follow the video below.

And remember, if you see any paintings you like, check my Redbubble shop as I’ve been uploading prints from this sketchbook there for sale.

Some of my favorite paintings from this sketchbook:

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Journal
Etchr Mini Palette
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Binder Clips
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors

Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Journal Review

A great, inexpensive 100% cotton sketchbook for first-time watercolorists

I’m excited to bring you another watercolor sketchbook review. I’m equally happy I could get to it so fast, thanks to filling it out during 2020’s World Sketchbook Month (which was a fun event all in itself!)

When I came across this sketchbook, I was pretty intrigued. I feel like I’ve had nothing but mediocre experience with Strathmore’s watercolor paper. Certainly their 400 series isn’t anything I care to put to regular use. I didn’t know they made a 100% cotton variation. Maybe this is a new thing for them – maybe not?

I found this sketchbook while doing a random search on Amazon for 100% cotton watercolor sketchbooks. Some of the usual brands came up, like the Etchr Sketchbooks, and the previously-reviewed Winsor & Newton Sketchbook. When I saw Strathmore I had to do a double-take. I’m used to them only having cellulose-blend papers. Of course I had to buy this new sketchbook and give it a try.

It comes in two sizes. The 5.5″ x 8″ variation, which I chose to purchase, and a larger 7″ x 10″. It has 20 pages with one signature.

When the sketchbook arrived, I’ll admit I felt a little disappointed – the cover wasn’t hardcover. I couldn’t tell what the cover was like from the photos on Amazon. I just prefer hardcover sketchbooks. They feel more sturdy and protective for my art.

The sketchbook does have a thick rubber strap that wraps around the book, however, to help keep it closed, which is a nice touch.

I think this sketchbook is designed to be slipped into travel journal covers similar to this one. In any case, as a standalone sketchbook, I’m not fond of its cover. Perhaps the bright side of the cover was that I felt completely okay with painting over it and decorating it. I haven’t decorated a sketchbook cover in quite a while, so it was a fun little project. I first gessoed the surface, then put around four layers of watercolor ground on it before painting it with India Ink then sealing it with Mod Podge. This also explains why all my photos of this sketchbook have a decorated cover.

If you’re looking for other typical features you find in popular sketchbooks, like a back pocket and ribbon bookmark, you’re out of luck there. I’m not personally bothered by these missing features, as I don’t really use either in any of my sketchbooks that have these things. They’re nice, but their absence isn’t a deal-breaker for me.

The stitch binding on this sketchbook is nice and tight, too, so in that respect, the pages felt sturdy. I regrettably didn’t do any full-page spreads where there would have been color going into the creases, so I cannot say how water-tight the binding is and if you’ll experience bleed-through at the bound edge.

So – on to the paper. How was it to work on?

I really liked the paper. It is kind of soft and reminds me in ways of the paper found in the white canvas-covered Etchr Sketchbooks.

It handled all my typical abuse very well, heavy washes, lifting, etc. I didn’t have any unexpected lifting / re-activation issues between dried layers. This paper handled negative painting well, also. There was one curious incident where some of my paint seeped through to following pages. I don’t know why that happened – maybe a sizing issue? I took a photo of the occurrence, but my subsequent paintings over it masked it out pretty well so you can hardly tell that weird bleed-through had even happened. But it is a little nerve-wracking, not knowing if it might happen again and next time bleed through over a painting that was on the previous facing page.

Paint bleedthrough from previous page.

Is it the same experience painting on both sides of the paper? I’ll say yes. The texture is a little different from what I assume is the front versus the back, but both sides handle paint exactly the same, which is something I appreciate.

Left: a comparison of a signature with the back side of the paper on the left and the front on the right. Top right: back side of a page. Bottom right: front side of a page.

My only other issue, aside from the aforementioned strange bleed-through was that I had the same experience with washi tape peeling up some of the paper fibers, similar to what happened in the white canvas-covered Etchr Sketchbooks. This almost, almost makes me think they’re from the same paper manufacturer. I cannot confirm that, and I’m not going to go on a deep-dive sleuthing project to further back my hypothesis.

Close-up of paper fibers tearing up with tape.

I enjoyed the thickness of the paper, too. While it warped a little, it wasn’t near as pronounced as in the original Bynd Artisan’s Perfect Sketchbook. I did still clip down the edges of my pages with binder clips, just in case, so I’m not sure how much the paper bends and warps with the edges not secured.

As usual, I also enjoyed the size of the paper since I like to work small.

Would I recommend this sketchbook? I’d say yes. In fact, I think this would be an excellent sketchbook for a first-time watercolorist to experiment in because it is relatively inexpensive. While I absolutely adore the Etchr sketchbooks, they’ve still got a steep price-point, especially if your only option is to buy them in packs of three. You can luck-out sometimes, and find an individual Etchr sketchbook for purchase, which makes them far more comparable in price, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm at my time of writing this.

In any case, this is a perfect product for a first-time watercolorist because they get to experience what watercolor painting is supposed to be like on 100% cotton paper.

Strathmore also offers this 500 series paper in watercolor blocks and pads, so if you want the paper without the sketchbook experience, you have that option, as well.

ProsCons
100% cotton paper
Heavy 300gsm
Budget-friendly
Lay flat binding
Rubber closure
Flimsy cover
Fibers tear with removal of tape

Have you used the Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Journal? What are your thoughts on this little book?

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Journal
Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Travel Pad
Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Block
Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Journal
Etchr Sketchbooks
Dr. Ph. Martin’s India Ink
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Binder Clips
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors

Completed Bynd Artisan’s The Perfect Sketchbook B5 Watercolor Sketchbook Flip

At long, long last, I have finally finished filling this sketchbook. I have worked in it off and on for three years. I can’t believe that, actually. Three years? Well, I have some other art journals I’ve been working in for longer than that, so maybe three years isn’t such a bad thing.

I’m glad to have another completed sketchbook to add to my collection, however. There’s always a blissful sense of accomplishment when I finish filling in one of these, no matter how long it takes.

This sketchbook took me a long time to fill for a couple of reasons. First, its size. I’m used to working in smaller sketchbooks, so all the extra paper space to fill sometimes intimidated me. I think I can chalk up my second reason just to having a sort of short attention-span. I’d find another sketchbook, typically in a size I’m more comfortable with, and then dedicate my time to filling the new one instead of this one.

I think probably part of what slowed down my process in filling this sketchbook was that I didn’t really utilize it for many month-long challenges. I did finally do that once for Parkablog’s A-Z challenge. This is where you’ll see a lot of flowers later in the flip-through. Again, I would have filled the sketchbook faster if I’d used entire pages for the flowers, however, once again, the size got to me and I wanted to do quick smaller paintings instead of larger, slower ones.

If you already follow my blog, you’ll know I posted a separate review of what working in this sketchbook was like here: Original Bynd Artisan The Perfect Sketchbook B5 Watercolor Sketchbook Review. Hop on over there if you’re curious at all about my thoughts on the quality and paper.

This sketchbook will definitely take you on a little journey where you can see how my art changes and evolves over the years. There’s some improvements, I think, and probably also some back-sliding, too. It’s all a part of this delicious journey called “art”.

You’re definitely going to be presented with a lot of different styles and subject matters. it’s not quite as cohesive as my earlier Etchr Lab Perfect Sketchbook flip through.

There’s also some un-finished work, and a few spots where I taped in other works, scraps, etc. because I just don’t want to share what are either some ideas I’m still formulating, or even something that I just was NOT happy with – at all. It’s pretty rare for me to actually hide something, but there you go. Even I get self-conscious about some of my art sometimes!

What will be my next sketchbook? I’m going to be working in the Strathmore Watercolor Travel Journal with 100% cotton paper for the upcoming World Sketchbook Month. I’m excited. I enjoy trying new sketchbooks. It only has 20 pages in it so I suspect I’ll spill out into another new sketchbook part-way through September. I have another new brand I’m eager to try after the Strathmore. So many sketchbooks, so little time!

That’s enough from me. Grab yourself a nice cozy drink or light snack and enjoy the flip through. Some highlight paintings follow the video below.

And remember, if you see any paintings you like, check my Redbubble shop as I’ve been uploading prints from this sketchbook there for sale.

Some of my favorite paintings from this sketchbook:

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Etchr The Perfect Sketchbook – Size A5
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Binder Clips
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors

Original Bynd Artisan The Perfect Sketchbook B5 Watercolor Sketchbook Review

Some things are a long time coming. In the case of this sketchbook, that’s more like three years… to the date… in coming. It was not intentional, but when I went back to fill in the date ranges of my art in the front of the sketchbook, I was a bit blown away to see that my first painting in this sketchbook was August 18, 2017, and my last was August 18, 2020. Not sure why that happened, but it did. Regardless, I’m more about celebrating having finally pushed through this sketchbook.

I’m a little hesitant to give this much of a review because, honestly, this sketchbook isn’t even available any longer. Yes, Etchr Lab took over and has produced their own variation of this sketchbook, but it has a different faux leather cover, and the paper is 300gsm instead of 200gsm so it’s not exactly the same. (Although when I feel and compare between the two sketchbooks, the paper feels like the same weight. I suppose more will be revealed when I paint in the Etchr version.) Although it does, however, contain the same Fabriano Artistico paper, just a lighter weight. I suppose you can use this review as a semi-comparable review of the Etchr Lab Signature Series version, should they decide to produce it again.

Nothing has changed around my being a picky watercolor Sketchbook Artist. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know I’ve lambasted the cheaper ones that use cellulose-blend paper. I despise trying to do watercolor on paper that is not 100% cotton.

So, you’re pretty sure I’m going to be singing high praises for this sketchbook then, right? I mean, Fabriano Artistico paper! I actually did really enjoy it when I first got it, considering there were few other options for 100% cotton watercolor sketchbooks just a few years ago.

However. After having completely worked through this sketchbook, I’m going to give it, or at least its paper for sketchbook purposes, a moderate score. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1=“I HATE this thing!” to 10=“I’m spasming on the floor in sheer joy over how wonderful this thing is!”, I’d give this sketchbook a 6.

Queue the bland “wahh waaaahhhh” horn tune.

I really honestly wanted to drink the Fabriano Artistico Kool-Aid and skip around for joy about how wonderful this sketchbook is. But it’s just not gelling with me.

Why?

I have one major issue with the paper in this sketchbook: the weight. Now, if this were 300gsm I’m sure I’d love it (and I’m crossing my fingers I’ll have that reaction when I use the Etchr Signature Series variation). But I have felt continually dissatisfied with the amount of warping this paper has done as I worked through the sketchbook. 200gsm just is not heavy enough for back-to-back work in a sketchbook.

There were even a couple occasions where some of my work actually bled through to a previous page. This is no bueno.

Paint bleed-through. This marred what was supposed to be a nice, clean, white background.

Now, I feel the warping might be less troublesome if I stayed to only one side of the paper, or used a facing page for minimal swatch testing and notes. I did that a few times and it worked fine. But on any pages where I’d already painted something on the opposite side, it felt like the warping got pretty bad. On some pages I could even see a ghost image of the painting that was on the opposite side as I wet the paper. That ghosting scared me because I was sure it was going to mean excess moisture might seep through and cause damage to the previous painting.

Because of that, I feel if I want to play it safe, I can only paint on one side of a page, not back-to-back. This approach makes this sketchbook extremely expensive considering you basically lose half of the pages in it – not that it wasn’t already expensive to begin with.

I really prefer to have a sketchbook where I can paint on both sides. So this is a lesson I’ve learned now several different sketchbooks in. Not only do I want the paper to be 100% cotton, but I also want it to be at a minimum 220gsm (which is the weight found in Etchr’s white canvas-covered budget sketchbook.) 300gsm is preferred.

That said, you can paint on both sides and not experience weird differences in paper texture and sizing, so that’s a plus.

The paper texture is pretty subtle on this one, too. I can live with or without that feature. I’m not someone who has to have extremely textured cold press paper. But again, if you want something with a fairly heavy texture, the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Journal is a better candidate.

As far as holding up to all my other usual techniques, this paper did very nicely. It handled heavy washes just fine, (aside from the warping and occasional bleeding). It layered and glazed beautifully. It handled masking fluid and tape without tearing. It also handled ink pretty well. Colored pencil tended to skip a bit over the subtle paper texture.

The sketchbook features are nice. As with most of your typical sketchbooks, this features an elastic closure, ribbon bookmark, and a back pocket to tuck your business cards, notes, etc. into. The binding allows the pages to lay relatively flat which is important for most artists.

If I had one other complaint its that the Fabriano Artistico watermark would sometimes get in the way and interfere with what would be an otherwise clean background.

Watermark subtly affecting a background wash.

Would I buy this sketchbook again? No. But then I’m stuck with a couple more of them because I ended up with two from the original launch, then purchased a bundle when Etchr promoted the Signature Series. I gave one of the Etchr ones away as part of the prize for last year’s World Sketchbook Month. I’ll be thinking on it and may end up giving away another in the future. If I do work in the original Bynd Artisan 200gsm version again, I’ll stick to just one side of a page and do nothing back-to-back. But as far as spending my money on another one at this paper weight, if they make it again, I’ll pass.

My personal preference aside, would I recommend this sketchbook?

Yes and no. If you have no other choice for a 100% cotton paper sketchbook, then you’ll want to get this over any sketchbook with cellulose-blend paper. If you don’t typically do heavy washes or if you prefer to only work on one side of a page, then this sketchbook is great and the paper handles these scenarios well. If you like to work on both sides of a page in your sketchbook and you tend to do a lot of layering and heavy washes, then I’d suggest you consider opting instead for the Etchr Perfect Sketchbook – the ones with the gray cover. I posted a review on that sketchbook earlier this year and it handled my heavy wash-abuse wonderfully.

ProsCons
100% cotton paper
Lays flat
Expensive
200gsm paper warps
Limited availability
Watermark

Have you used Bynd Artisan’s The Perfect Sketchbook or Etchr Lab’s Signature Series variation? What are your thoughts?

Stay tuned. I’ll be posting a flip-through of this sketchbook soon!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook A5
Etchr Sketchbooks
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors
Etchr 19-Well Mini Palette
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors
Meeden Tin 48 Half-Pan Watercolor Palette

Announcement! World Sketchbook Month 2020 and Upcoming Giveaway!

It’s hard to believe it has already been a year since the announcement of the fist annual World Sketchbook Month. I’ve been trying to figure out some things I can do to help streamline the process on my end, as well as offer a giveaway that might be more appealing to a wider variety of artists since my last giveaway was pretty heavily geared towards watercolor artists.

How has your year been creatively? I’ve found it’s been a bit of an up and down year for me. Given the current climate with a worldwide pandemic and a lot (did I say a lot? I mean A LOT) of political strife here in America, I’ve found my creative urges have been pretty unpredictable. Some days I’m definitely in the mood. Others I’m not. I’ve found recently I’ve been starting a piece and then taking a week or two to come back to it to finish it.

It’s all good. I’m not going to stress over it. I will trust the process. But in the meantime, I have another giveaway with a month-long creative event coming up, so I’m feeling a little more urgency now to get back into the creative stream.

I did finish filling at least one sketchbook this year. I have another that I’m close to having filled, too. So that’s exciting for me. My tower of completed sketchbooks is continuing to grow and that’s always fun.

Here’s a little history on why I like sketchbooks so much and why I decided to host an annual event centered around sketchbooks.

I am a sketchbook junkie, in case you couldn’t tell. I have friends tell me that I need to do bigger pieces of work that I can sell on separate canvases, etc. And I agree with them—to a point. If people want to buy my original, then having that piece on a canvas or a sheet of paper makes it super easy to sell.

However, it’s just as easy for me to scan my art from my sketchbook and have it digitally reproduced for prints and placed on a myriad of products all available at my Redbubble shop.

While I nod my head and agree with the people who tell me to do large separate pieces of work, and I occasionally oblige, I ultimately keep going back to doing most of my art in my sketchbooks. Like I’m some sort of addict who just can’t stop. (In the grand scheme of things, a sketchbook addiction isn’t so bad.)

I have piles of sketchbooks, too. I’ve got several that are completed, a few that I’m actively working in, and then many more empty ones just waiting for me to get my eager hands on them to start filling them with art.

I love sketchbooks. I love filling them. I love their portability and simple storage solution to my art. Each time I fill one it’s like making a specialized album or a one-of-a-kind story book full of beautiful images. When I flip through them I find I’m flooded with memories around each piece of art. I did this one while on a little stay-cation. I did that one while visiting friends in Montana. I was listening to a great audiobook while working on another piece. So many fond memories and so many fun images to browse.

I have no-name sketchbooks, handmade sketchbooks, all the way up to premium sketchbooks. I have sketchbooks that are great for ink and pencil work and sketchbooks specifically made for watercolor.

So here’s the question. What should World Sketchbook Month look like? What does it mean to me? What can it mean for others?

Sketchbooks have such a long and loved history to them. They are often the starting points of many ingenious ideas. From Leonardo’s musings to Hollywood films, sketchbooks are a beloved tool used by millions of creatives.

There’s even a library in Brooklyn dedicated to sketchbooks. Check them out at thesketchbookproject.com.

I’ve dedicated September to the worldwide love of sketchbooks.

Are you a sketchbook enthusiast? Let’s share our sketchbooks and love for them again this September. I’ve created a list of prompts for you to use to share on your social media accounts to get the word out about World Sketchbook Month (hashtag with #worldsketchbookmonth). Visit the official World Sketchbook Month web site for the list of prompts, and be sure to subscribe to the web site to get updates when I post more details about September’s event.

Where would I like World Sketchbook Month to go? I’d love to eventually see a charity that gets sketchbooks into the hands of children and aspiring struggling artists all over the world. Art and art supplies should not be available only for the privileged. Art and creativity are the catalysts for so many of this world’s great inventions and innovations. Let’s ensure future lines of innovators are equipped with tools for their amazing ideas.

Finally, I’m doing another giveaway this year. Because it’s just me right now and I’m starting small, this will be for United States residents only. (I will open this giveaway to participants around with world when this grows some strong roots and I get some sponsorships going.) The giveaway will be centered around Instagram, so if you don’t already have an account, now is the time to make one!

Want to help? Get the word out, please! Share this post with your creative family and friends and hop over to Instagram and tag your family and friends there, too. Let’s make this something big. It deserves to be!

In the meantime, be sure to follow my blog here, follow the World Sketchbook Month web site, follow me on Instagram @kellyro77 and follow @WorldSketchbookMonth on Instagram, too.

What’s going to be in the giveaway? Take a look! Rules and details will be announced on the worldsketchbookmonth.com web site August 31.

  • 1 (one) Arteza 3.5 x 5.5 in. Sketchbook
  • 1 (one) Etchr Sketchbook A6 100% Cotton Hot Press
  • 1 (one) Koval 5 x 7.8 in. 50% Cotton Hot Press Sketchbook
  • 1 (one) Strathmore Toned Tan 8.5 x 5.5 in. Sketchbook
  • 1 (one) Ohuhu 8.3 x 8.3 in. Alcohol Marker Sketchbook

Get excited, get your sketchbooks out, and get ready to show them some love. World Sketchbook Month starts this September 2020!

Completed Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook Watercolor Sketchbook Flip

Happy Spring, everyone. 2020 has been a surreal year thus far, as I’m sure you know. I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been sweeping the world. As of right now, I’ve been voluntarily quarantined since mid-March, and it’s almost mid-May now.

I’m blessed in that I have a job that allows me to work remotely, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I also feel blessed that I have a great stay-at-home hobby to fill my down-time: ART!

I actually managed to finish this sketchbook around the end of March but just didn’t get around to finalize editing the flip-through I filmed at that time until now.

If you already follow my blog, you’ll know I posted a separate review of what working in this sketchbook was like here: Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook Watercolor Sketchbook Review. Hop on over there if you’re curious at all about my thoughts on the quality and paper.

In this sketchbook I took a bit of a different turn. When I first started working in it, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by anything. I didn’t have any subjects in mind – I just wanted to play with color and shapes. So that’s what you see through the first few spreads. It’s definitely a step away from my usual stuff. Later I decided to stick with a series of paintings that are monochromatic leaves done in negative painting style. I really enjoyed how they turned out. It’s my first time really choosing a theme and sticking with it through several consecutive paintings.

Finally, I also decided to do only spreads through the sketchbook, with, I think, just one exception.

What will be my next sketchbook? Right now I’m trying to finish filling my original Perfect Sketchbook from 2017 (before Etchr took over the brand.) It’s a bit of a bear to work in only because it’s a larger format sketchbook than what I typically work in. But I would really like to finish filling it before I move on to another sketchbook. After that, I picked up a Strathmore Watercolor Travel Journal that uses 100% cotton paper. I was excited to find another brand offering 100% cotton paper, so I’ll probably try working in that.

That’s enough from me. Grab yourself a nice cozy drink and enjoy the flip through. Some highlight paintings follow the video below.

And if you see any paintings you like, check my Redbubble shop as I’ve been uploading prints from this sketchbook there for sale.

Some of my favorite paintings from this sketchbook:

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Etchr The Perfect Sketchbook – Size A5
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Binder Clips
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors

Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook Watercolor Sketchbook Review

I’m happy to say at long last I’ve finally finished filling out my Etchr “The Perfect Sketchbook” and I’m feeling ready to post an honest review.

Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook A5

If you’re a fan of The Perfect Sketchbook, you’ll know that in the summer of 2019 Etchr Lab took over production and the name. This “The Perfect Sketchbook” is not to be confused with the original that came out at least a couple years previously under the care of Bynd Artisans and Erwin Lian. The original Perfect Sketchbook was developed using Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton watercolor paper. They began first as a Kickstarter campaign with a smaller 9x14cm sketchbook. After the success of that campaign, they ran a second one, this time with Indiegogo, for a larger B5 sketchbook.

Ultimately, while extremely popular, the return on investment was minimal. I would be surprised if they managed to break even after producing and shipping that second batch of sketchbooks.

Fortunately, Etchr and Eriwn managed to get in touch with one another. Etchr being a larger business was able to take over The Perfect Sketchbook and they eventually came out with their own line. In 2019, they ran another limited launch of the familiar “Perfect Sketchbook” tagging “Signature Series” onto the name. Same high-quality Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton paper, but a faux leather cover.

In addition to the Signature Series sketchbook, they developed two of their own more budget-friendly sketchbooks. The Perfect Sketchbook, and the Etchr Sketchbook.

I have all four versions, and I am admittedly still filling in my original 2017 Perfect Sketchbook (via Erwin Lian), so I have yet to post a full review of that sketchbook. If you’re used to following my work, you’ll know I usually tend to work small and a B5 sketchbook is larger than I’m used to using, therefore it’s taking me more time to fill in.

So, now that I’ve hopefully cleared up the confusion on what the difference is between The Perfect Sketchbook, The Prefect Sketchbook Signature Series, Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook, and the Etchr Sketchbook (do you have a headache yet?), on to my review of the Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook.

I remain to be a pretty picky watercolor Sketchbook Artist. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know I’ve lambasted the cheaper ones that use cellulose-blend paper. I hate, hate, hate trying to do watercolor on paper that is not 100% cotton.

My advice to those who are new to watercolor, if you are to splurge on anything, splurge on the paper. I know that seems boring. Should’t you splurge on the paint, instead? No. Because no matter how awesome your paints are – even if you spent hundreds of dollars on a brand like Sennelier, your painting experience is going to get severely hampered if you’re trying to paint on cheap watercolor paper.

I am convinced that student grade cellulose-blend watercolor papers are the reason why so many people think painting with watercolor is hard. They try to achieve smooth blends and beautiful glazes like they see professionals doing, and then the paper prevents successful attempts at those techniques, and then new artists think to themselves “Why can’t I do what that person demoed?? I must suck!! Watercolor is too hard!”

There are those among us, of course, who power through. We’re bound and determined to paint with watercolor regardless the surface its on. I’ve painted over gessoed paper, on student-grade paper, even on standard sketchbook paper. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and if you just enjoy experimenting, then no harm, no foul. But now that I’ve had lots of experience using 100% cotton paper, I don’t ever intend to go back. 100% cotton paper is just so much easier to work on.

Given that Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook is made with 100% cotton watercolor paper, you’ll probably see where this review is going to go.

I really enjoyed working in this sketchbook. Even though the paper origins are unknown (the paper in this is NOT the Fabriano Artistico found in the Signature Series), the paper is still very good.

It is 300gsm 100% cotton paper. I particularly like this paper because of its weight. Warping is minimal, and I know this for sure as I decided to use this sketchbook for a series of negative paintings where I flooded the pages with a decent amount of water for each layer of my painting. I even took the paint edge-to-edge (not something I usually do.) I really appreciate the minimal warping, and this is something Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook has in advantage over even the the original Perfect Sketchbook’s paper. The paper in that sketchbook is only 200gsm, so unfortunately it warps.

Minimal warping! Yay!

Can I paint on both sides of the paper? Yes! And unlike the Winsor & Newton sketchbook I last reviewed, there is minimal difference between the front and back side of the paper, which means it’s the same experience on both sides.

If you’re a fan of heavily textured paper, I’m afraid to say you’ll be disappointed in this sketchbook. The Winsor & Newton sketchbook has the upper hand there. While the paper in The Perfect Sketchbook is cold press, it has pretty minimal tooth to it. Fear not, your granulating colors will still shine, however.

Close up of beautiful granulation.

I honestly admit that I didn’t do my usual testing of other materials and techniques in this sketchbook until I began writing this review. I got super-focused on doing a couple different series of paintings which didn’t utilize all my other occasional techniques and materials. Fortunately I had a couple blank pages left at the back of the book where I was able to test them so I can say how the paper performed with those, as well.

I’m happy to report that pretty much all my usual materials and techniques performed just fine on this paper. My micron pens still skipped on this paper because there is still some minimal tooth to it, but I didn’t feel like I was risking chewing up the nib with them like it was like in the Winsor & Newton sketchbook.

Testing materials and techniques.

I was mostly happy to see that the paper fibers didn’t rip up with tape like they did in the more budget-friendly Etchr Sketchbook which uses a cheaper grade of 100% cotton paper. Masking fluid did just fine, too.

Salt and alcohol also performed as expected.

This review sounds kind of dull in ways “everything performed as expected…” but that’s the point of all this. That your materials and techniques perform as expected so you’re not hit with a nasty surprise half way through your newest masterpiece.

So overall, this sketchbook gets a passing grade from me, with just a couple negatives that I wish to share.

First, I encountered some odd vertical lines on some of the pages I was painting on. I think this had something to do with the manufacturing process. But it was a bit disappointing to see a dark line emerge in a couple of my paintings. This wasn’t on every single page, but I don’t see how you can preempt this occurrence because the paper looked just fine before applying pigment to it. So it feels like a bit of a gamble painting in here when you don’t know if the page you’re going to be working on is going to end up with those vertical lines.

If you look closely, you can spot some vertical lines running through the painting.

Now, I got these sketchbooks at the very beginning when they first launched this line. Hopefully Etchr has addressed this problem with future runs of the sketchbook. If you have a newer sketchbook, I’d love to know if you’re experiencing the same problem or if all is well.

My second issue with these sketchbooks is that I experienced bleeding through the seams and punctured areas where the book was bound. I really don’t think this is actually a fault of Etchr. This is just normal physics. These pages aren’t glued together at the bound edge so there’s naturally going to be a slight gap and there’s naturally going to be a small opening where the stitches puncture the paper. Being that water is so darn… fluid… it finds these openings, small as they may be, and will seep through, and if there’s pigment riding on the water, it’s going to come, too.

So, be aware of this and unlike me (who only figured this out when I was just about finished filling all the pages), take necessary precautions to preserve your work that’s on the opposite sides of signatures, etc. by putting down some washi tape to block the bleeding that’s going to happen if you’re painting from edge-to edge and doing full-page spreads.

Finally, the other hurdles I have with these sketchbooks, the same as the Etchr Sketchbooks, is that they only sell them in bundles of three which makes for a higher out-of-pocket cost up front. Also their obscene amount of packaging (a package within a package within a package), and that they ship from China – which means they can take quite a while to get to you. Shipping is free, however, so that’s a bonus.

So, would I recommend this sketchbook?

Absolutely. This is a wonderful mid-range 100% cotton watercolor sketchbook. In addition to the great paper, this sketchbook features the other perks usually found in good sketchbooks. It has a hard cover using faux leather that feels nice and supple. The darker cover is probably a relief to those of you who cringed at the white canvas covers featured in the Etchr Sketchbook. The Perfect Sketchbook has an elastic closure, a back pocket in which to stuff your business cards or notes, etc., and a ribbon bookmark.

While somewhat expensive, this sketchbook isn’t as pricy as the original Perfect Sketchbook but the paper is a step up from Etchr’s budget white canvas-covered sketchbook.

The Perfect Sketchbook comes in two sizes, as well. The smaller A5 size, and if you like to work larger, it also has an A4 size.

I have another one of these waiting to fill as I write this, and I look forward to working in it again. This was definitely a lovely sketchbook.

ProsCons
100% cotton paper
Heavy 300gsm
Reasonable mid-range price
Lays flat
Free shipping
Mystery vertical lines on some pages
Can only be purchased in bundles
Excessive packaging
Ships from China

Have you used Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook? What are your thoughts on this little book?

Stay tuned. I’ll be posting a flip-through of this sketchbook soon!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Etchr’s The Perfect Sketchbook A5
Etchr Sketchbooks
Pigma Micron pens
Pebeo Drawing Gum masking fluid
Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes
QoR Watercolors
Etchr 19-Well Mini Palette
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors
Meeden Tin 48 Half-Pan Watercolor Palette