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What is a high school art sketchbook?

A sketchbook is a creative document that contains both written and visual material. It may include teacher-guided sketchbook assignments or self-directed investigation. A sketchbook provides a place to think through the making process: researching, brainstorming, experimenting, testing, analyzing and refining compositions. It offers a place to document the journey towards a final solution, providing a depth and backstory to the accompanying work. The sketchbook is an important part of many visual art courses.

Sketchbook format

For convenience, most students select a sketchbook that is A4 (210 x 297 millimeters / 8.27 × 11.7 inches) or A3 (297 x 420 millimeters / 11.7 x 16.5 inches) in size. An A4 sketchbook fits within schoolbags and is less likely to be lost or damaged during transit. An A3 sketchbook fits more work per page and provides space for larger individual artworks. If a sketchbook is to contain all of the preparatory material submitted (without larger accompanying sheets of developmental work), an A2 sketchbook may be appropriate. Often this decision is set by a qualification, teacher or school. Non-conventional sizes and electronic submissions may also be possible.

Regardless of the format, work primarily in portrait or landscape orientation, rather than alternating from page-to-page (consistent orientation makes it easier for an examiner to flip through the pages and view the work). If electronic submission is required, horizontal pages are preferable, as these display better upon a computer screen.

Four possible sketchbook formats are summarized below. These are just a few of the options available (these may not be appropriate for all examination boards).

Pre-bound sketchbooks

It is essential that pre-bound sketchbooks used by art students contain quality artist paper, suitable for both wet and dry mediums (ideally 110gsm or greater). Different paper types may be glued to pages as required. A minimal appearance is optimal: choose a sketchbook with a plain cover, absent of distracting logos and ornamentation. Consider whether a spiral spine is desired, allowing removal of pages without difficulty. The primary disadvantage of a pre-bound sketchbook is that it is difficult to use wet mediums upon several pages in one session (working concurrently across pages saves time, aids the development of ideas and facilitates connections between pieces). Nonetheless, pre-bound sketchbooks are the most common format of sketchbook used.

Two examples of pre-bound sketchbooks are illustrated below. These brands have been thoroughly tested in a classroom situation, by experienced teachers.

The left-hand mage is a NAS Workbook available from National Art Supplies in Auckland, New Zealand. This sketchbook has 50 pages of 140gsm wet-strength cartridge, suitable for both wet and dry media. The NAS Workbook is white, plain and minimalist in appearance, with no distracting logos. The heavy, cardboard cover is durable and resilient – able to withstand being dragged around by students – and can be drawn or painted upon if desired. It is spiral bound, allowing pages to be removed easily. The NAS Workbook is available in A4 portrait, A3 landscape and A2 landscape sizes. This product is used year after year by many high schools in New Zealand. The low cost means that this sketchbook is suitable for use with stationery kits and class sets. The example illustrated is an A3 art sketchbook (landscape in format) and was part of an International GCSE Art and Design coursework project. A photograph of the final artwork has been laminated and glued to the sketchbook cover to create a simple title page. This project was completed by Manisha Mistry, ACG Strathallan College. Manisha’s A* IGCSE Art project is featured upon the Student Art Guide. The right-hand image shows an A4 Moleskine sketchbook. Moleskine folio sketchbooks are top-of-the-line artist sketchbooks, with 160gsm acid free pages, suitable for painting or drawing. The thickness of the paper means that wet mediums rarely bleed. Moleskine sketchbooks are well-made and beautiful, with a plain black cover. They are a durable, premium line of sketchbooks and can be purchased from art suppliers such as Dick Blick or Amazon – available as both an A4 sketchbook and A3 sketchbook. If you are a senior high school students who is considering pursuing Art and Design at university or college level, you may feel able to justify the expense. There are many other inexpensive options available.

Loose sheets of paper presented within a plastic clear-file

This method can be less daunting than using a pre-bound sketchbook, as there is no fear of ‘ruining’ a page. Creating a sketchbook from loose sheets allows easy integration of different paper types, encouraging a broad range of media. You can easily work on different pages at once, without waiting for work to dry. On the other hand, loose sheets may become damaged and misplaced. Displaying work within transparent sleeves also hinders the viewability of surface quality and texture. Finally, if work is posted away for assessment, the clear-file adds unnecessary bulk and shipping weight. If choosing this method of presentation, you may wish to use an inexpensive clear-file for the duration of the course, shifting to a clean, non-reflective presentation display book (or manually binding pages as described below) immediately before assessment.

Loose sheets of paper bound into booklet before submission

Minimalist cover ideas: the student name, school, ID number and other information is printed on white paper, along with a photograph of the accompanying final piece. The cover is protected using a clear plastic sheet and bound to the A4 sketchbook. This is part of an A Level Coursework project by Nikau Hindin, ACG Parnell College. A4 is a common A Level Art sketchbook size.

Many schools own a manual binding machine, which punches a series of holes along one side of a document, inserting a spiral to secure pages together. Other binding methods are also possible if these allow the sketchbook to lie open flat at the spine. Adding a clear plastic sheet protects the cover (this may contain typed candidate details or identification labels).

Individual pages may be stored in a plastic clear-file for the duration of the course or individual drawers within the classroom, keeping the pages in good condition, before binding. As with the previous presentation method, you can integrate different paper types and work upon multiple pages at once.

This method is more time consuming than others and is prone to user error (such as holes punched along the wrong side of the pages). Nonetheless, it is an inexpensive way to create a high quality, personalized document.

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