Thursday, March 16, 2017

How to make your own light-weight sketchbook

A few years ago, I realised that I didn't need to carry a 124 page sketchbook around with me when I only use 1-3 pages during an outing. That's carrying the weight of around 100 extra blank pages for nothing. And I dislike carrying heavy bags. With a lightweight sketchbook, I could carry one in my bag everyday without any strain. And it would encourage me to sketch anytime, anywhere. So I studied some bookbinding books, bought some paper from my local paper supplier, and got the essential tools to make my own sketchbooks.

Here's what I use:

1) 1 sheet of thicker cover paper
2) 9 sheets of sketching paper
3) A long arm stapler
4) Metal ruler
5) Cutter
6) A cutting mat

Each paper supplier has their own selection of paper. Some papers are from Asia and some from Europe. I found that only a small selection of papers can take inks and watercolours well, most of the papers at paper suppliers are more suited for offset printing. 

In Singapore, there is Hiap Moh and RJ Paper. For Hiap Moh, you will need a car to collect your order from an industrial estate in Jurong. I personally prefer getting my sketchbook papers from RJ Paper because you can get their papers directly from their office and they carry more paper options that are suitable for fountain pen ink and watercolours. At RJ Paper, I settled on Tangerine White 160gsm (gsm is the measure of paper thickness). It can take light washes of watercolour and ink pretty well. It's not as good as proper watercolour paper. But good enough. If you mainly use ballpoints and pencils or other dry media, you'd have more options to choose from. It's best of go visit a paper supplier and try out different medium on their paper samples.

Make sure that the paper you choose isn't so thick that it can't fold into a book. I'd keep it to around 200gsm and below. For the cover, I chose something that's a little thicker- a brown craft paper.

Paper come in huge sizes eg. 1.2 meters by 1.2 meters. You might have to pay the paper supplier a small fee to cut the papers down to A4 sheets. Sometimes, they waive the fee for students.

If visiting a paper supplier sounds like a pain, just get drawing block paper from a neighbourhood store.

A long arm stapler costs about $15 or less at most stationary stores. They use larger staples than normal ones. This is a good investment. I've used this for years.

I recommend a big cutter because it helps with the grip.

OK, so this is how I put it all together:

1) I fold the cover paper in half. And make a sharp crease.

2) Align the inside paper under it and make sure the crease is centered.

3) Use the long arm stapler and staple along the crease. One higher up. One lower down.

4) Fold in half, making sure the edges are aligned and you are folding along the crease.

5) Press down using the back of the palm.

6) Now it's a book! But the edges are all sticking out. As you can see, my cover paper is slightly larger than my inside papers. My cover paper is A4 but my inside papers were cut to a slightly smaller size by the paper supplier. 

7) Hold the metal ruler tight. Then use the cutter and slice off the edges (About 2mm in). It will take maybe 10 - 20 slices to get through 10 sheets of paper. Be patient. Slice off the edges on the side.

Slice off the edges on the top.

Slice off the edges on the bottom side.

8) Then it is done!

As you can see, with all the edges cut, it looks like a proper sketchbook now!

The sketchbooks I make are a little smaller than A5 size. 36 pages + the cover.

The alternative cutting method

I used the hand-held cutter for a few months and then got tired of it. So I bought an industrial trimmer which allows me to cut through 20-25 sheets with one slice. If you are crazy about making your own booklets like me, you could consider purchasing one. I use the Ideal 1038. I bought it from the New York and lugged it back. It's been a good investment because I make a mew sketchbook every 2 weeks and I also like making my own home-made comic books. The blade is very sharp. So do keep it away from little kids.

Don't bother with trimmers that cut 1-2 sheets at a time.

Sketchbooks I've made

These are the sketchbooks I've made over the years.  (Just a portion of what I have).

If you buy in bulk from a paper supplier, it really cuts down the cost. Knowing that I have more paper than I have time to use relieves me of the pressure of doing only nice drawings in my sketchbooks. It frees me to try out new experimental styles or draw whatever I want, whether it turns out nice or not. 
I think I'm still using the bulk of paper I bought 4 years ago and I still have lots left over.

I've tried out different combinations of paper. Here, I used the craft paper on the inside.

And I also like customising the cover for each sketchbook so I can tell them apart.

If you are a comic artist, you can put together your own comic books in the same way.

The alternative binding method

You'll notice that my older sketchbooks are bound with a string. That's because, after I'm done with a sketchbook, I like to scan some of the pages (as you can see in this blog). But the spine prevents me from scanning them completely flat. So I use a sewing punch to poke holes in the spine where the staples are. Remove the staples. Scan the pages flat. Put the sketchbook together again. Then tie it back up through the holes.

Storing paper

Oh yes, lastly, if you are buying paper in bulk from a paper supplier, and you live in a humid country like Singapore. I recommend keeping unused paper in a dry cabinet (like, for cameras). Humidity will cause spots to appear on some papers. Keeping the papers dry and crisp is best. Or if you want to buy in bulk to take advantage of the lower cost, but have nowhere to store them, share the paper and cost with a few friends!

P.S. Sorry for the scary hands in this post. It was the lighting! My hands really look normal.