I have been using the Pith Sketchbooks since my friend Harriet first found them, back in 2021. We were drawing together a lot online, from found imagery and online life drawing sessions (as it was the only way to draw back then). One morning, she said “I’ve found these new sketchbooks online, and I think you might need them.” She was right. I have used all kinds of media in my sketchbooks over the years, but when Jackson’s asked me to write a review of a sketchbook I already enjoy, I decided now was the time to really put it to the test. In this article, I’ll talk about everything I love about this sketchbook, but also push the paper to its absolute limit – spoiler alert, it does have one.
Pith’s Origins and Environmental Outlook
One thing that has always attracted me to any brand is acknowledging its environmental impact. As a regular sketchbooker, I don’t like to think about the amount of paper, pen cases, bottles and unfriendly ingredients I go through whilst making my work, so Pith’s dedication to sourcing the most sustainable materials possible was important to me. The hand finished packaging, that states where each part of your sketchbook is sourced, also features the name of the person that bound it up in Northumberland. This attention to detail is evident in every bit of the design too.
Physical Characteristics of Pith Sketchbooks
The first thing that drew me to Pith Sketchbooks is the open binding, which allows them to lie completely flat. I often work across a double page spread – as an illustrator I think of the page design, and in my personal work I love a landscape. For anyone that draws, this doubles the amount of space to create an easily readable piece of art, and you don’t need to think about the gutter.
The hardback cover, which comes in a range of colours, provides a stable backing that, with the help of a large bulldog clip, provides a solid drawing board for larger pieces.
The Oroblanco, the largest of Pith’s Sketchbooks, comes in at 62 x 44 cm when flat, making it A3, plus portable.
The Kabosu is perfect for your pocket, with all the features of the Oroblanco.
The Tangelo is your middle man. I really enjoy the challenge of the landscape double page spread – filling the long thin shape with a scene really forces you to be selective and creative with your imagery.
Pith Sketchbooks Carry a Lot of Wet Media
The paper itself is 200 gsm off-white, with a light to medium tooth that takes most materials very well. I use a lot of different media in my work – ranging from water based paints to pastels, coloured pencils and oil or wax pastels. For faster drawings I tend to gravitate towards light washes of paint and pencil, which the Pith Sketchbooks handle very easily. However, I reach for Pith over other sketchbooks because they take the heavily layered combination of media I use very well too. There is occasionally a little bit of bleed through with my usual materials, but this rarely goes beyond the back of the page, and the buckling that you normally get with lighter weight papers is minimal. If you run water directly over the binding, it does pool a little around the thread, but because the sketchbook lies flat its effect is minimal.
Rigorous Testing With Different Materials on Pith Sketchbooks
I use my sketchbooks in a not very ‘sketchbooky’ way. I complete full artworks in them, take them outside in all weathers, and even do commissioned illustration work in them – so I expect them to stand up to a lot. However, a sketchbook will never be as durable as canvas or board, or even heavyweight watercolour papers, as that was never meant to be their purpose. A sketchbook was meant for light sketches, thoughts, ideas, and visual planning. So perhaps it was unfair of me to do this to any sketchbook, but I’ve wondered how much my beloved Pith can realistically cope with.
As a starting point, I thought I’d demonstrate how it works with watercolour, pencils and pastels. I started with swatches of Jackson’s Artist Watercolour Paint – 12 Half Pans, Jackson’s Handmade Soft Pastels – Set 7, and some of my favourite Holbein, Derwent and Caran D’Ache Pencils.
The slight tooth on the paper means that the watercolour, even when very wet, absorbs well. If you lay down a granulating layer, the individual pigments can be clearly seen, as the tooth helps them to pool.
Pencils apply smoothly, and easily. There is a slight indentation if you press hard, but in my experience this is to be expected with a heavier weight paper, and doesn’t change the quality of the drawing.
Inks work well too, in light layers and with a dip pen. I tried Jackson’s Indian Ink and Rohrer and Klinger Sketch Inks. There is no bleed through, unless you apply heavy layers with a lot of water!
Soft pastels work well, again due to the texture of the paper. They’re easy to blend and work with, and the sketchbook doesn’t seem to mind several layers, with fixative. The Pith Sketchbook doesn’t behave like a typical pastel paper, but if you’re a pastel artist looking for a sketchbook to work in, it could be a good option for you.
Testing With Less Conventional Sketchbook Materials
I don’t see my sketchbook as a separate entity to my final art, so I often use materials that wouldn’t typically be used in a sketchbook, with little regard for how it will hold up to them! The Pith Sketchbooks, for the most part, manage very well with this material’s abuse and heavy handedness. Generally, the paper doesn’t buckle or warp easily, despite what I use, and if it does, you can stick it under a heavy book for the night and it will be just fine.
Acrylic Paint – Liquitex Professional Acrylic Markers and Golden High Flow Acrylic Paint. Liquid acrylic is ‘the limit’ for Pith Sketchbooks, and I knew I’d be pushing it a bit! The Liquitex Markers did bleed through to the following page a little, but didn’t seem to really affect the next page. I used them quite heavily, putting down two wet layers one after the other, and there was a slight pill. If you allow it to dry, you can then gently rub off the pill.
Then I did something I knew wouldn’t work, which is perhaps unfair of me… I dropped the Golden High Flow Acrylic Paint straight onto the page from the bottle. I wanted to see quite how much fluid the sketchbook would take, and it did bleed through two double pages. However, the paper stayed intact as I swirled it around with my brush, and I had expected at least a little hole to appear! I also tried using the Golden High Flow Acrylic Paint over other materials, as a final layer to a drawing, and found that in a light layer it didn’t bleed through the paper.
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say that all acrylic is a no-go in the Pith Sketchbooks though. I’m a regular user of acrylic gouache, and both the Holbein Acrylic Gouache and Turners Acrylic Gouache work well, without bleed through. I managed to make the Turners Japanesque Acrylic Gouache bleed through into the next page, by layering it quickly with a lot of water.
Masking Fluid I used the Daniel Smith Masking Fluid in the Kabosu Sketchbook. I have used masking fluid before, and it’s a tricky little material to manage well – leave it on the paper for too long and it will stick too thoroughly and ruin the paper when you try to take it off – but if you try and take it off before it’s fully dry it will also ruin the paper. In fairness to the Pith sketchbook, there could have been some user error here.
However, the top layer of the paper did come away where I used the masking fluid for larger areas. Due to the weight of the paper, I was able to use wax and oil based pencils and pastels over the top, and by applying a lot of pressure it sort of compressed the paper back together. In some areas, where I’d put a very small amount of fluid, it came off easily without affecting the paper.
Water Soluble Markers I use Tombow Dual Tip Blendable Brush Pens, Talens Ecoline Brush Pens and Faber Castell Albrecht Durer and Faber Castell Goldfaber Markers in my Pith Sketchbooks happily, but I’ve often been asked on Patreon how much the paper can take. It is worth noting that last year, the folks at Pith changed their paper stock after some feedback about rubbing and pilling when using wet materials. I liked the old stock at the time as it suited the way I work, but other illustrators and artists struggled with using their markers.
Since they have changed the paper stock, there has been a marked improvement in the durability of the paper, and I conducted a quick test. I made four swatches, and with each consecutive swatch layered an extra layer of marker down, in quick succession without allowing the paper to dry. It wasn’t until the fourth swatch where the paper noticeably changed texture.
Are Pith Sketchbooks Still My Favourite Sketchbook?
In short, yes it is. It takes the majority of materials, I’ve not mentioned but have used liquid charcoal, oil pastels, wax pastels, hard pastels and pencils, gouache and watercolour gouache hybrids. It happily takes all of them. Its price point is reasonable, and the paper is comparable to many of their more expensive counterparts.
I’ve used a lot of different sketchbooks in the past – the Fabriano Venezia has similar properties but it’s prone to buckling, the Royal Talens are cheaper and will take a similar amount of materials, but don’t absorb paint as well due to the thinner paper. Seawhite looks similar but won’t endure as much layering, and the Etchr Portrait Sketchbooks, which I love, only go up to B5 and cost about half as much again. Most importantly though, none of these lie flat, which for me is the most satisfying thing.
Pith Sketchbooks take all the materials I would usually throw at them, the design is so well thought through, and they are sustainably made. I’m really impressed, and it would take a lot to push Pith off my sketchbook podium.
Preparing a Watercolour Gouache Palette for Painting on Location
Getting Started in Screenprinting Using Paper Stencils
Gold Gilding Process With Tuesday Riddell
Inside the Sketchbook of Frances Ives
Shop Pith Sketchbooks on jacksonsart.com
A thorough and satisfying review. You really
did test a lot of different media! So, what
paper do they use in these sketchbooks?
The sustainably sourced paper is 200 gsm, off-white, acid-free paper, with a light to medium tooth, suitable for dry media and light washes.
Thank you for an informative & detailed
I could be described as a ‘
sketchbookholic ” as I’m always
discovering new ones and find it hard to
However, the lay flat option of the Pith
sketchbook is a real pull. I’m not into
landscape as much as people but still
find the landscape format one to add toy
Thank you Frances