Sketchbooks are way up there, close to the coolest items on the planet. It’s really hard for me to walk into an art or hobby store and NOT pick up a new sketchbook. I see them there along the aisle, stacked on the shelf, reams of empty 65 lb. pages waiting to be filled with hundreds of brain dumps.

Paris street from Joe's sketchbook

Unfortunately, the idea of drawing is frequently a short-lived infatuation that fades with a few days of typical rat race. I often find a pristine sketchbook stashed on a shelf or buried in a drawer, never touched.

But lately, I’ve become adicted to sketching again, thanks in part to Google Maps Street View (more about that later…)

Sketchbook Papers

Bicycle Rider, Joe's sketchbookThere’s a ton of cool sketchbooks; just see Top 8 Sketchbooks from

My favorites are the hard cover, spiral bound sketchbooks.

The spiral bound books stay open without having to hold the pages open, and the wire spiral is great for clipping a couple of pens to. The hard cover prevents the pages from getting bent and beat up. And the cover doubles as a portable table — gives your sketch pad backbone for drawing on.

A 7 x 10 Canson Field Sketchbook is perfect. Now, what to draw with?

Sketchbook Pens

I used to use mechanical pencils, but by the time I reached the end of a sketchbook, all my initial drawings were smudged to death.

Pedestrian, Joe's sketchbookTo combat the smudges, and also to loosen up a bit (I have a tendency to overwork a drawing until the life is gone from it), I switched to ink pens. Ink pens made me buy into the idea that in sketching, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. Ink destroys the urge to erase and correct. And it doesn’t smudge.

You can buy very expensive pens, but my favorite is the Pilot G2 Gel Rollerball — you can get a four pack at Wal-Mart for under eight bucks. There’s something liberating about having a lot of spare pens…as in, use all the ink you want, and fill the pages to the edge.

But that’s just my own sketching personality. Everybody, it seems, has a preference, which is why it’s fun to look at other people’s sketchbooks. And a lot of people have put their sketchbooks online. For instance, this page has links to a ton of them: Sketchbook Links.

Sketching from Street View

Anybody who has been through an art museum with me knows I like a wide variety of paintings, but I love cityscapes. But there are problems with drawing and painting cityscapes…

For one, if you live in Alabama (like moi) the cityscape scenery is pretty limited.

Twenty dollars, Joe's sketchbookSecond, if you want to sketch something with the feel of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, well — you might have to stroll some fairly dangerous neighborhoods to see the often most picturesque rough side of town. And when you pull out a pad and start drawing people — all bets are off. They’re likely to request money for their modeling abilities, or demand you stop infringing their privacy, or worst of all: they want to strike up a conversation about art and give you advice while you’re just scrambling to catch the scene before the awesome shadows fade into evening shade.

Luckily, there’s now Google Map Street View. No, it’s not like sketching the scenery in real life, but it can be even better. Where else can you amble the back streets of the Bronx or explore narrow Parisian alleys all in the same day without going through airline security hell? Not only does the weather and the sun cooperate in Google land, but the pedestrians are frozen in all sorts of interesting poses.

Google Street View people from Joe's sketchbook

So, while the economy crashes, grab a sketchbook and a pen, all for under $12, and open up Street Views. Being an armchair artist has never been so much addictive fun.

[tags]sketchbooks, Google Maps Street View[/tags]

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