DIY Sustainable Sketchbook | Sustainable Art on the Road

Feb 13, 2019

The Basis – A Sustainable Sketchbook

I love to bring my art supplies on the road, when I travel, or just to sit down in a cafe somewhere in town and sketch. You never know when you’ll find a spark of inspiration. It’s nice to be able to grab your supplies and just draw or paint, no matter where you are. One of the basic supplies for me is having a beautiful (sustainable) sketchbook. The look of such an art journal and the feel of the pages beneath my fingertips really get my creative juices flowing.

Since I love working with watercolours, a watercolour journal is an obvious choice for an ‘on the road’ kind of sketchbook. It only takes throwing travel set of (eco-friendly) watercolours in my bag, and a small jar with water with a brush (or a travel brush with a water compartment), and I’m good to go.

Choice of paper

When it comes to choosing a sustainable watercolour sketchbook, I usually focus on a few aspects. First, I consider the paper inside. Normally, I like to work on heavy watercolour paper (a minimum of 300gsm or 140 lb). This prevents warping of the paper due to the soaking up of water. Also, I like my journals to be hardcover and bound (as opposed to glued spines). The first, to prevent any damage when carrying the journal in my bag; the latter, to have a journal that lies nice and flat, to facilitate ease of painting. When it comes to the watercolour paper on the inside, I also like it to be of a sustainable source. For example, from recycled cotton lumps, paper with an FSC® label of responsible forestry, or made from bamboo.

Coptic binding

With these criteria in mind, there are several beautiful and sustainable options out there for watercolour journals. Now, if you know me, you’ll know I like learning new crafts. Moveover, I also like to use whatever resources I already have lying around in my studio. This prevents me from having to buy new things all the time. So given the fact that I already had a beautiful roll of sustainable watercolour paper in my studio, I thought it would be a great idea to cut my own pages and try my hand at coptic stitch bookbinding.

Coptic stitch binding originates from the early Christians in Egypt, the Copts. It dates back even to the second century AD. It makes for a beautiful old bookbinding technique, that has multiple advantages. First, it doesn’t need any (PVA) glue for the spine, which makes it more eco-friendly. Secondly, it folds open completely flat, which makes it perfect for watercolours, and all sorts of liquid crafts, without them running off the page. This makes it an ideal choice for a sketchbook or a watercolour journal.


My first try at coptic stitch binding was a success (see photo’s), and I’ll definitely be doing this again. Do you also want to give this technique a try? For your convenience, and by courtesy of SeaLemon, below I have embedded two YouTube tutorials that helped me immensely. Scroll down for some extra eco-friendly tips on your choice of materials. 

Coptic Stitch Book Binding Tutorial

DIY Coptic Stitch Binding – Courtesy of  SeaLemon

More info on how to make the covers

DIY Hardcover Coptic Stitch Book – Courtesy of  SeaLemon

A couple of eco-friendly tips

If you choose to cover the covers of your journal with paper, you can consider using paper scraps. For my own watercolour journal, I used packing paper that came wrapped around a birthday present. I loved the paper so much that I decided to save it for this project.

For the thread, I used an old scrap of cotton embroidery thread that I had lying around. I pulled the thread through some beeswax, which helps prevent knots, but which is completely optional. If you don’t have any embroidery thread lying around, you could consider using scraps of old cotton thread (the kind you use for crochetting). Other options are bakers twine, or some jute or hemp twine that you use for gardening. If you don’t have any of these lying around at your house, thrift stores usually have plenty, in all sorts of lovely colours!

As you can see, using scraps goes a long way, and it makes the project extra original if you ask me!


Thanks for visiting my blog! My name is Elma Hogeboom and I am a sustainable artist. On my blog you can find several articles about my thoughts on sustainable art, tips & tricks etc. If you want to get an impression of my work, you can watch the youtube video below, or connect with me on social media!