Concertina or accordion sketchbooks hold a continuous length of folded paper to create on. This opens up possibilities for artists to go beyond the limits of a single page. Using a concertina sketchbook gives me space to work on a theme and works well for landscapes. This is how I use a concertina sketchbook for abstract landscapes.
Choosing a concertina sketchbook
I discovered concertina sketchbooks a couple of years ago and now have a gorgeous stack full of colour. I’ve even sold a couple. You can buy these books or make your own.
The concertina sketchbooks I use are from Seawhite of Brighton. I have 2 sizes that I use a lot, the pocket size and the A5. The A4 size feels too large to carry around and I haven’t tried the new A7 size yet. I sometimes take my sketchbooks to the beach to make notes or drawings so the pocket size has become my favourite. Choose a size that feels comfortable to work in and carry around if needed.
These sketchbooks are 140gsm heavy cartridge paper but they are double sided. A lot of water will cause some warping so keep that in mind. I find the paper holds up well to collage, ink and acrylics.
If you need a thicker paper you could make your own book. There are lots of tutorials online for making your own sketchbooks. Artist Lydia Rink has some great videos that I’ve used in the past.
Art supplies for your sketchbook
I often use my sketchbooks to play with new materials, colours and techniques. They can be a private place to test supplies, make messy, happy accidents and discover techniques I love.
Some supplies I use very often:
- Acrylic paint
- Acrylic ink
- Neocolor II water soluble crayons
- Charcoal and graphite pencils
Other supplies and materials I have tried:
- Paint pens
- Rubber stamps and archival ink
- Wax crayons
- Drawing ink
- Water soluble pencils
- Coloured pencils
Do I need a theme for my sketchbook?
Choosing a theme for the sketchbook is not necessary before you start or at all. The beach theme comes up a lot in my sketchbooks because I spend time by the sea in Brighton. I have other concertina books that are just full of colour and marks. You can see an example of this here.
It’s your sketchbook, you can use it however you are comfortable. Some of the most beautiful sketchbooks I’ve seen appear slightly chaotic but they are bursting with energy and personality.
My process begins with pencil and paint
I try to see the blank page as a new start where anything is possible. My first step is to “break” the pages with large scribbles in pencil. I always start doing this in the middle of the book.
Then I choose two or three colours of acrylic paint or ink and loosely mix and scribble paint over the pages. I reassure myself that it doesn’t have to be good, I just have to show up to get better.
I can fill one side of a sketchbook in one session or it might take several weeks. However, if I have an idea, I might choose colours that fit my theme or decide on dark and light areas throughout the book.
Sketches and drawings
Once the acrylic layer has dried I can get some sketches and features into the pages. I usually have a landscape theme but it could be anything. Some are completely abstract.
I tend to use charcoal pencils or crayons for this because they are familiar and comfortable. Using what I love means I feel less resistance. If I try something new, I try to be gentle with my expectations.
Sometimes I will take the sketchbook to the beach. I also use my photos or just make shapes on the page from memory. This sometimes works better than trying to “copy” a photo. I prefer to focus on the feeling of the landscape (calm or stormy for example) instead of trying to get accurate proportions or angles.
Keep the lines free and loose and playful. If I get too tight, too quick I can flatten all the energy in the pages and the sketchbook can become lifeless.
It can take many weeks to fill both sides of the sketchbook with fragments of walks on the beach. I do like to try and keep them to one season though. There’s something magical about catching a summer of beach memories in a sketchbook.
The details of the sketchbook really bring it to life These things can be anything from contrasting highlights to light splashes or scribbles. There’s a bit more slow, conscious thought at this stage. Look at the sketchbook as a whole as well as in 2 page spreads. Do I have large dark and light areas? Does it remind me of a specific memory? Does it reflect the weather or a time of day? These questions help me to clarify the details that need adding.
I tend to use Neocolor crayons at this stage to intensify colour or add scribbles and lines. These create the energy of the page. I also bring in text, numbers or dates if they feel appropriate.
My struggle here is not to get too tight again. I sometimes find myself hunched over the sketchbook with a tiny brush or pencil, my nose inches away from the paper focused on a tiny area. This is not comfortable and usually happens when I’m trying to control the outcome too much. Then it’s time to take a breath, stretch and make a cup of tea.
Concertina sketchbook tips
I’ve said before on my Instagram account that my sketchbooks are never really finished. Because they don’t have to be sold or even seen, they can left how ever you like. It can be exciting to go back and play in an old sketchbook. Although I love to go back and see them as a record of progress.
If I had tips for enjoying concertina sketchbooks I’d say this:
- Remember sketchbooks can be a place to learn what you like to do when you make art so trials, tests and mistakes are welcome here.
- Explore using the length of the paper to create a story or capture a panorama.
- Let your marks and ideas roll into each other through the book, it can lead to beautiful unexpected results.
- If you can, take it with you when you go out with a pencil or crayon and make some quick marks inspired by your surroundings. The spontaneity will liven up your book.
- Date your books. I have a handful without dates and as time passes it frustrates me that I don’t know when they were created.
While I don’t share all my sketchbooks I post glimpses, pages and flip throughs on my Instagram account. Other people’s sketchbooks are so fascinating and beautiful. I hope you’ll enjoy creating your own.
Sketchbooks are part of my creative cycle. If you’d like to know more, you can read the blog here.