Review: Custom Watercolor Sketchbook - Lake Michigan Book Press

As a paint-maker and artist, working in a solid watercolor sketchbook is absolutely crucial. This is where we practice, draft ideas, test new color palettes, and generally let our creative minds loose! If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hunting for that holy grail sketchbook ever since you first picked up a paintbrush. Moleskine, spiral-bound, and even my own handmade creations have all made the rotation through my art kit. All I wanted was a book that would lay flat! To me, nothing is more frustrating that holding a book open while I’m trying to work with wet media.

Enter Lake Michigan Book Press, and my custom watercolor sketchbook. This book has become a daily fixture in my art practice. So what makes this particular sketchbook so special? Let’s get into the gritty details!

The Binding

I’ll start with the most important aspect; the binding. Lake Michigan Book Press founder Crystal Shaulis uses her signature Ladder Binding on all their books. This is a binding style which she developed herself (you can read all about how she developed the Ladder Binding in our interview with Crystal, coming out next week). This binding is truly the reason I am ALL about this book! Not only is it visually appealing and bound tightly with expert care, but it also allows the book to lay perfectly flat. Open to any page, and you are ready to go! No clamps, paperweights, or elbows needed! 

The Paper

When you purchase a book on LMBP’s website, you have several “add on” options. These include watercolor paper, custom inscriptions, and back pockets. When choosing your paper, you have two options:

-96 pages of 90 lb. Canson Cold Press paper

-64 pages of 140 lb. Bienfang Cold Press paper

I chose the 90 lb. paper because I generally use my sketchbook for swatch tests, color charts, and drafts. I’m not too worried about paper buckling because these projects aren’t finished products or works of art. In fact, I’d rather have those few extra pages to scribble in! 

When working with the 90 lb. paper, some buckling did occur. This mostly happened when painting with very wet washes, and of course when working with a dry brush application this isn’t so much of an issue. I was able to blend and work within washes easily without the paper pilling up or deteriorating in any way. 

I also noticed that the crisp corners of the 90 lb. paper did crunch in a little bit when I carried the book around in a backpack for a week or so. However, neither of these things truly bother me considering the ways in which I use my sketchbook. The 140 lb. paper would no doubt be more sturdy and ready to take wet washes without buckling! 

Artwork by Kirsten Cooner, using  The Prussian Palette . I did not experience any warping in the paper while completing this painting. 

Artwork by Kirsten Cooner, using The Prussian Palette. I did not experience any warping in the paper while completing this painting. 

Custom sketchbook pictured here with  The Hushwing Collection  palette. 

Custom sketchbook pictured here with The Hushwing Collection palette. 

A few questions to ask yourself when choosing paper...

-Are you are working in your sketchbook day-to-day in your studio, drafting designs and colors before working your finished pieces on a separate surface? Do you work with more dry brush techniques than wet-in-wet washes? Go for the 90 lb. paper. It will serve your purposes well!

-Are you a plain air artist? Someone who likes to work wet-in-wet on the daily?  Does any sort of buckling in your paper drive you nuts? Do you plan on beating the snot out of this sketchbook? 140 lb. paper will be your friend. 

The Cover

This is where you can let your style shine through! LMBP offers an impressive array of cover materials to choose from, making your book truly your own. I chose the white and blue leaf cover paper, which is surprisingly durable. My grubby fingerprints have yet to visibly stain the paper, and the delicate leaves are still fully intact after several months of use. The cover boards it is wrapped around are stiff and durable, providing a sturdy sketchbook that will be able to withstand many artistic adventures. 

Custom sketchbook pictured here with  The Prussian Palette Sample Cards . 

Custom sketchbook pictured here with The Prussian Palette Sample Cards

In closing, this sketchbook has changed how I work in the studio and become a daily fixture in my work life. My previous frustration with watercolor sketchbooks led me to test paint formulas and draft designs on scraps of watercolor paper, which would float around my studio, never truly having a home. Now, everything is finally coming together in one place. This book was made exactly to my specifications, so it’s exactly what I need. Plus, if a material inspires you, you’ll work with it more often! 

You can head over to the Lake Michigan Book Press website today and order your dream watercolor sketchbook, custom made! Custom books start at just $15.

Happy Painting!

Kirsten Cooner