More subway sketches
My love/hate relationship with the Moleskine Watercolour Notebook drove me straight into the arms of Stillman & Birn. They listen to artists and produced a 4X6 inch vertical sketchbook with good watercolor paper. Unfortunately it is too thick for the back pocket, which occasionally drove me back to the Moleskine. So I myself became a pendulum, swinging back and forth between these two companies.
I am always experimenting with materials, and my tinkering tendency sometimes ruins perfectly good sketchbooks. My first Stillman & Birn sketchbook was 8.5x11 inches and too large for my sketching situations, so I took it apart, trimmed it down to 3X5 inch size, and separated the signatures into slim pocket size units. This actually worked but they had no cover, which made them look ugly.
Here's a sketch in my 3X5 inch slim pocket "Frankenstein" Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook done in about one minute on the train home after a long day. I used a 0.9mm 2B pencil and colored it later.
Here's a close-up of a sketch on a similar "Frankenstein" Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook done in brush and ink (Kuretake brush pen with Platinum Carbon ink is my standard inking tool).
Good old spiral bound
Then I went back to my humble 4X5 inch pocket spiral bound sketchbooks which can be found a small shop in Tokyo which is run by The Muse paper company.
The shop is in the Jimbocho area surrounded by old book stores and several art supply and stationery shops. Great atmosphere, and one of my favorite parts of Town!
They make their own original sketchbooks with plain color covers and no name, and always display a pile of them in a rack in front of the store -- and they are so irresistible.
I usually buy a stack of them when I visit and then stash them in my closet, and have gone through many dozens of these through the years.
I think this is the only place in the whole world where you can buy these sketchbooks.
After 20 years, the shop owners know me well and always ask to see my latest sketches when I pop in. The last time I walked in, the lady who runs the shop was surprised and said she was just talking about me with someone else who was in the store at the time.
These sketchbooks in the pocket and are easy to hold. And they are so cheap (around a dollar and a half each) that I don't mind experimenting and messing up a sketch.
The downside is that they are so fun and carefree, I'm tempted to doodle on these all day and can end up with only a few serious sketches per sketchbook.
My present stash of no-name pocket sketchbooks.
These sketchbooks work great with pencil, and I find pencil sketching so gratifying and relaxing. So this was also a time of experimenting with different pencils to find my favorite size.
On this sketch of the same person in two different poses, I used a 0.7mm lead from Pilot called "Easy Lead" which the lady at the Pilot headquarters told me is actually 6B. I used it in my Faber-Castell Grip Plus pencil which is so fun to use with its trangle body and huge twist-out eraser. I did the hatching with a 0.5mm pencil with 2B lead.
The fat 2mm pencil leads have become very popular thanks to the OTONA NO ENPITSU (Adult's pencil). It was an instant hit and won the "stationery item of the year" award in Japan. Pencil company OHTO also makes a fun 2mm mechanical pencil that looks just like a traditional wooden pencil but much fatter.
Fat pencil leads are fun, but the line is a bit too broad for my style of sketching with fine hatch lines in a small sketchbook.
These cheap spiral bound sketchbooks have unpredictable paper which is why I usually stick to pencil when I use them. Sometimes ink will go on just fine and sometimes it will bleed and feather like crazy. It worked just fine on this sketch which I finished with brush and ink plus watercolors. Of course, I never know what will happen until I make a few strokes.
After trying all the available mechanical pencil lead sizes, I found the 0.3mm to be the best for my sketching style. This next sketch was done with the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Drafting Pencil for 0.3mm lead.
I added a figure to the right using the Pilot FURE FURE SPRINTER 0.3mm pencil.
This next sketch was done with the Pilot FURE FURE 0.3mm pencil and surprisingly the lead did not break even once!
This guy was huge and was holding on to the overhead bar rather than the straps which hang from the bar. I didn't draw the bar because the sketch is more interesting without it.
As you can probably tell, this was a fun sketch although the model kept moving and changing his pose. I had to go into "zoo sketching" mode and wait for him to return to his original pose as if he were a restless tiger, which he did quite often.
You can also see all my pocket spiral bound sketches on one page in one big collection.