Sketchbooks to Go

small sketchbooksSnow aside, I’m starting to feel the urge to set out on adventures again, armed with a fresh travel sketchbook. As I’m always tempted when I see a different kind of sketchbook, I now have a drawer-full to choose from, ranging from one from Amsterdam which has handmade Thai paper to a waterproof notebook with its own graphite stick.

Industrial unit seen from Birstall Retail Park.
Industrial unit seen from Birstall Retail Park.

But my next travelling companion is going to have to be the Moleskine 8×5¼ inch sketchbook, which I bought from the 1893 Gallery shop in Salts Mill last summer and which I’ve been looking forward to getting started on ever since. I’ve never used a Moleskine sketchbook before and I’m guessing that it’s not going to be brilliant for watercolour but its advantage over my regular Pink Pig is that, lacking a spiral binding, it slots snugly into my A5 format art bag without getting snagged on the inner pockets or the zip fastening.

Only twelve pages to go in my Wainwright sketchbook, so it shouldn’t be too long before I can set off with my new ‘Legendary Notebook’.

Sketchbooks & Notebooks

Those sketchbooks and notebooks from the top to the bottom of the pile;

  • Sherlock Holmes Letterpress notebooks
  • waterproof notebook
  • two A6 landscape Pink Pigs
  • ECO Grey recycled leather Freewriters in A6 and A5
  • Moleskine Sketchbook
  • Yodels of Kendal watercolour spiral bound hardback
  • A5 Pink Pig
  • Olino ‘Karen Hill Tribe’ sketchbook with handmade paper from Thailand
  • Daler Rowney Lyndhurst High White 10 x 7 inch spiral bound pad.

Royal Baking Powder Pens

Royal Baking Powder tinpaper knifeIt was the tin that attracted me but we used the Royal Baking Powder years ago and it ended up, like the treacle and syrup tins that sit alongside it at the end of my bookshelves, as a pot for pens. I have an awful lot of pens. This little tin usually has a dowdy assortment of fibre tips in it but I’ve done the pen equivalent of flower arranging to make it more interesting for me to draw.


Some of the pens are in need of refills but I’ve listed each working pen – using each pen – on the right. For the drawing itself I used a uni-ball gel grip, which, unlike them, doesn’t bleed through the absorbent paper of my current about town sketchbook (yep, still the Wainwright one, when will get to the end of it?).

The smooth-haired fox terrier paper knife was what my parents used in the 1950s and early 60s until they went for something more practical in steel.

Royal Baking Powder is made in Spain by United Biscuits Iberia S.L., Montornés del Vallés, Barcelona. It contains the raising agents disodium diphosphate and sodium bicarbonate, plus some maize starch.

All this talk of Barcelona and Baking Powder, makes me want to make a cake. How about the Nutty Magdalenas recipe from Sophie Ruggles My Barcelona Kitchen?


David Lebovitz version of Sophie Ruggles’ Nutty Magdalenas recipe from his blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris

Sophie Ruggles tasting the good life in Barcelona

Ash Trees

ash treesToday’s snow showers have been punctuated by brighter intervals but it doesn’t seem worth going out and clearing the driveway as the thin slushy layer that has accumulated here is likely to melt away in rain showers and warmer temperatures tomorrow. I hope that the forecast is right and that it won’t freeze solid and need scraping off laboriously.
pheasantThe snow brings a cock pheasant to our bird feeders and I guess that, now he’s discovered us, he’ll become a regular. Other colourful visitors today have included bullfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch.
I enjoyed drawing with my dip pen with the Tower Pen nib so much yesterday evening that I wanted to try it on a landscape and, as it would have been an uncomfortable business to set myself up outdoors I goldfinchdrew the view from my studio window. I’d hoped to include the snow-covered meadow but the sun was soon masked by the next bank of cloud approaching from the northwest and it was getting late in the afternoon anyway so I confined myself to the silhouette of the ash trees against the eastern sky.


desktopAfter a busy day it’s relaxing to sit down, listen to a few episodes of Plants; from Roots to Riches, and draw just for fun. I have a habit of clearing my desk prior to starting any project. Sometimes it makes a change to enjoy the accumulated clutter.

Of all the vintage pen nibs that I tried recently I didn’t come across a bad one for drawing. This was drawn with the last one I tried, the Tower Pen, and it’s as good as any. It’s a lot easier to draw without a camera fixed above my sketchbook!


Pizza ExpressIt’s a tough life, delivering books all over the landscape and on the return trip from my book suppliers I’m starving so, with a voucher in my wallet, how can I resist calling at Pizza Express, Meadowhall Centre, Sheffield, for a Giadriniera (veggie) classic pizza and a Caffe Reale (cappuccino plus figs and marscapone).

It’s also an excuse to call at the Apple store and marvel at the Retina display iMac!

Tower Pen

I’m enjoying trying out these vintage nibs and this latest is as good as any I’ve tried so far – or am I getting more accustomed to drawing with a dip pen?

The Tower Pen No.11 was manufactured by F. Collins & Co Ltd, Prestwich, Manchester. I’m lucky to have box full each (144 nibs) of the gilt and bronze versions, in fact the bronze version is unopened. Enough nibs to last me a lifetime, provided I live to be 250 years old and draw every day!

I’d characterise this nib as being the most elegant I’ve tried so far, so I’d have to imagine Henry James writing with it rather than Bob Cratchit.

That bloomin’ booklouse makes another walk-on appearance! I blew him off the sketchbook but no doubt he or she will trundle across my sketchbook again the next time I’m filming.

Left Leg

left legWaiting around, I decided on a change from drawing my hand, or just my foot. Why not draw the leg that I’m resting my sketchbook on. For the second drawing I wanted to switch to my right leg crossed over but I discovered that I can’t cross my legs that way. I’m a left-handed leg-crosser.

The scale went awry in the second drawing when I reached my trainer and got involved in detail, enlarging my foot in relation to my leg in the process.

The Royalty Pen

Royalty nib boxShapely and bronzed, this steel nib manufactured by I.D.Belcher & Co. of Birmingham is the kind of nib that Bob Cratchit might have used if he’d still been working for Scrooge in the late Victorian era.

It’s scratchy enough to offer a hint of  feedback from the surface of the paper and to give a sharp etched-looking line but even with that sharp point it flows well. royalty nibsIt might help that I was using the smoother flowing Noodler’s Ink instead of the Winsor & Newton Indian Ink that I used in previous tests. It occurred to me that the vintage nibs that I’ve been using probably weren’t designed for use with viscous Indian ink.

Royalty nib
I’m happier drawing real objects than copying someone else’s design. There’s such a pleasure in just making marks with dip pen and ink. You can see that I get into a flow when it comes to the scattered nibs, they’re more random and organic, like a bunch of ash keys or sycamore seeds, the sort of thing that I’d normally draw.


Outside the Box

The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot a small creature – a booklouse I guess – trundling along and heading down into the spiral binding of my sketchbook when I’m drawing the fourth or fifth nib outside the box. I’d spotted this little creature crawling amongst the nibs in the bottom of the box when I emptied out the contents. There’s a small ecosystem in there!

Drawing Close

My thanks as always to the people who made the music track available on YouTube. If it wasn’t for CouldB Entertainment making the track Drawing Close available, you’d have to listen to my scratchy pen and, if you drew close enough, the patter of the tiny feet of the booklouse.

Proscoptera – the booklice and barklice – have been around since the Permian period when the early dinosaurs first appeared in the fossil record.

Link; CouldB Entertainment

Rostrum Camera Lite

rostrumA gorilla pod attached to an old photographic enlarger stand was the best thing that I could devise to make my two YouTube videos of me drawing with vintage pen nibs. I intend to improve on this set up but at least I discovered that it works in principle.

I’d like to make a portable version, with a light framework attached to a drawing board, so that I can film my regular sketches on location, for instance at Old Moor bird reserve or at the farm park.

The Telephone Pen

John Heath’s Telephone Pen, manufactured in Birmingham about a century ago, has a turned up point which gives it a smoother action than the Perry nib that I was using the other day.

telephone pen boxAs I had filmed myself adding watercolour, this YouTube video ran to a couple of minutes so, as a commentary would have been superfluous and the sounds of the pen scratching and my Winsor & Newton Bijou watercolour box rattling off camera weren’t very inspiring, I searched a music track on YouTube.

Telephone Pen box sketchThe search terms ‘Pen & Paper’ brought up the perfect track; Pen & Paper by Evelution. I like the way the music builds as sketch takes shape and introduces some colourful chords as I start on the watercolour. After the intro it kicks off with a scratchy sound just at the moment when I put pen to paper.

telephone pen box verso