Sketchbooks keep everything together in a book form, but I found them to be generally too thick and heavy. For a firm surface, I wanted a stiff backing sheet and cover (more weight). When the pages shifted, the graphite rubbed off. To save weight and preserve the artwork, I tore out completed drawings as soon as I got home. Then I had to trim off the ragged bits before scanning. If I was going to be on the road awhile, I might start a new sketchbook because the one I’m not-quite-finished-with may not have enough pages for the trip. I sometimes reused the covers of an empty sketchbook, but more often I just recycled them.
After using up dozens of sketchbooks, I decided to try something a bit more “green”: a covered clipboard. This one is A5 size (half a sheet of letter-size paper), so it’s easily portable. I fold the cover all the way around to the back, so it’s no bigger than a normal sketchbook, and it’s plenty stiff. To keep the pencil digging into the paper below, I clip a thin, firm sheet of plastic under the current work-in-progress.
I’ve been using this setup for about a year now. The clipboard turned out to be even easier to hold than the old sketchbook, in either landscape or portrait orientation. It’s light, comfortable and unobtrusive. My 2mm/6B drafting pencil and .5mm/2B mechanical pencil work for everything from rough textures and dark shading to fine details. I use a small kneaded eraser to clean up smudges and pull out highlights. Sometimes I’ll use white charcoal for duotones. I’m considering ditching my retractable eraser, since I rarely use it. Maybe I can find a smaller pencil case.
Finished drawings are now put away inside a folded sheet of copy paper clipped in behind the paper stash. When I get home, I take them out, ready to scan. The clip holds everything firmly, so there is less shifting during transport. Very little graphite or white charcoal rubs off. These days, I carry a mix of loose sheets in a variety of colors and textures–just enough to give me options, and only as much as I need for the day. If I’m heading out on a longer trip, I keep an extra assortment in the suitcase. Finished work is removed from the clipboard and stored with the extra stash, and new sheets are added to the clipboard to replace the used ones.
This setup allows for more flexibility and it’s turned out to be less expensive (since I can buy loose sheets), thinner, lighter, and easier to use than a sketchbook. What about longevity? Well, back in 1995, I bought a covered clipboard for my legal pad at work. The “hinge” has split a few inches, but I still use it for writing. That’s a pretty good track record, I think.