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Non Sequitur Fridays

The Best Sketchbook Of All Time

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Joe Ringenberg is a product designer at Wistia. Last time, he wrote a love song for a font.

...in which our intrepid designer searches for a perfect sketchbook, realizes it doesn't exist, and tries to make his own.

If you're a serious sketchbook user, you know that it's basically a second brain. By that, I mean it's not just a place for recording your lists and notes and designs and schemes, it's part of the way those things take shape. In the words of Field Notes (one of the many great-but-not-quite-perfect sketchbook brands), "I'm not writing it down to remember it later, I'm writing it down to remember it now." Your sketchbook isn't just a place to document your process, it is the medium of your creative process itself.

Which is why having the perfect sketchbook is so important.

Your sketchbook should go everywhere with you. It should welcome every new idea with a fresh page, be a pleasure to hold, to write in, and to search through. I've been through literally dozens of sketchbooks - some were abandoned immediately, others were used until they were dogeared and disintegrating. As I moved from book to book, trying new brands, new formats, new habits, I developed a set of criteria for the Ultimate Sketchbook.

1. It must be able to lay open.

As much as I like Moleskines in their various sizes and formats, I need to be able to open to a page and have it lay flat so that I can glance at, hands-free.

2. It must be letter-sized.

I love the portability of a little Field Notes book tucked in my back pocket, but the truth is I need my space. Executing a sketch at the scale of a postage-stamp is not a useful constraint.

3. It must work without a flat surface.

I need to be able to write down an idea without finding a desk to sit at, which means that the sketchbook itself must be relatively rigid and (again) large enough to hold steadily in the crook of one arm, like a clipboard.

4. It must be rugged.

Most sketchbooks run out of life before they run out of blank pages. A recent experiment with a nice Rhodia pad was going well until the cover fell off and the pages started falling out. Granted, I put my sketchbooks through a real beating, but protecting my old notes is as important as helping me take new ones.

This final point was the battlefield on which even the strongest contenders continued to fall. And that got me thinking... why do I need to keep carry all these old sketches around, anyway? It's important to have your most recent pages for immediate reference, but did I really need to haul three months of work around with me? What if I separated the sketching from the storing?

At a bare minimum, I needed a rugged, flat, letter-sized surface that was always open and ready with a blank page. I needed some way for it to hold my most recent sketches, and I needed someplace to easily archive pages once they were no longer needed for reference. At a bare minimum, I needed a pad of paper, a folder, and a binder.

I attached the pad to the folder using heavy-duty mounting tape, figuring that both could be replaced every 50 pages. Now, I carry around only the sketches I need. As soon as one is no longer immediately relevant to my work, I archive it in the binder.

The beauty of this system is that all my old sketches stay crisp and well-organized, and are only saved if they're particularly good. Even though I don't carry the binder with me everywhere, I've found that I reference old sketches more than ever because they're tidy, well-organized, and curated.

Another beautiful thing about this system is that it you can pick the perfect folder (heavy-duty cloth-bound Pendaflex), binder (1/2" black Avery with clear pockets) and exactly what kind of paper you'd like to draw on. My preference is graph paper with 1/4" squares (not too dense), 50 sheets (not too thick), and gum-bound at the top, custom punched by a local print shop (since I couldn't find such a pad with 3-hole punches).

And that's the most beautiful thing of all: I can be as nerdy, anal, and finicky about every single detail as I want to be. For a designer, that's about the most indulgent pleasure there is.

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