Shoelace Sketchbook – a mockup

November 15, 2013

It’s quite difficult to buy 300gsm watercolor paper bound as a hardbound book. It’s impossible to buy a hardbound or spiral-bound sketchbook comprising different styles of paper – a combination of pencil drawing cartridge paper, paper with a tinted ground, watercolor paper.

I like outdoor sketching in a book because its covers provide a ready-made support. Books keep my sketches flat and relatively undamaged. However, I tend to work in different sketchbooks depending on the content: landscape, figure drawing, portraits. This keeps the sketches ordered by genre or theme, but it’s hard to see overall personal development over time.

Working on individual sheets means the sheets tend to get more easily damaged and I find it tedious to leaf through sheets trying to find one particular sketch. Work on tinted paper stays in spiral-bound tinted paper sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are easy to open and close out in the open air; individual sheets require a masonite backing board. Both require bulldog clips on windy days.

So I’ve come up with my own handmade sketchbook which keeps everything together, regardless of subject matter and paper type.

The advantages for me are:

* I can work on individual sheets, independent of issues such as working across the gutter of a double-spread;

* I can insert or remove sketches at will, while keeping my work in chronological order, or by order of theme (e.g. figures, still life, architecture, landscapes, etc.);

* I can insert at will different styles of paper – cartridge for drawing, paper with tinted grounds, watercolor paper of different thicknesses;

* I  can remove individual sheets for digital scanning and upload to the Internet, keeping the surface perfectly flat;

* The front and back covers work as an effective support while plein air sketching;

* The shoelaces can operate as an effective way of securing the sketch, without the need of bulldog clips;

* using two ordinary shoelaces means I can undo the clasp quickly while plein air sketching and do it up quickly when I’m finished.

Materials for my mockup comprised:

* two A4 sheets of 2mm boxboard (3mm is also possible but 2mm is really the minimum thickness, because anything thinner will bend too easily);

* a textblock of kraft paper, cut down from A4 sheets;

* two ordinary-length shoelaces.

I’ve not used cover papers on the cover boards yet, but I did cut the boards down to suit covering with commercially-available A4 printed papers.

The book format is inspired by the Balinese lontar and is also close to the traditional Western flat presentation portfolio made of cardboard.  The traditional lontar is very thin and long and secured by wrapping the string around a Chinese coin; its closest equivalent in the West is the panorama sketchbook. I’ve widened the textblock to accommodate my small-format sketching outdoors; the butterfly knot can be replaced with a button fastener, imitating the “button book” style.


Shoelace sketchbook: the front, with shoelaces wrapped around the covers.


Shoelace sketchbook: the exploded view of the book.


Shoelace sketchbook: a side view, showing the textblock securely tied to the two cover boards acting as a solid sketching support.


Shoelace sketchbook: the back view, showing an overhand knot at the end of the shoelace.


Shoelace sketchbook: the 20x16cm sketching workarea.

I acknowledge my sketching colleague at whose mention, in passing recently,  of the potential link between the lontar book format and outdoor sketching motivated me to think how I could come up with something to suit to my own personal needs.

My next step is to give this mockup sketchbook a proper workout in the field, noting in particular how the thin kraft paper responds to the two holes at either end.

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