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Different sizes and formats of the sketchbook (and the paper inside) work best for different settings. A pocket-sized one is perfect for carrying about every day, while a large, hardback one is great for a dedicated outing to do some sketching for possible paintings. The most important thing is that you like your sketchbook—the way it feels in your hand, the quality of the paper, the cover—or you won't feel like using it. This is a selection of sketchbooks that are great for painting sketches or doing thumbnails to plan a painting.
Daler Rowney Wire-Bound, Hardcover Sketchbook
If you're going somewhere with the intention of sketching, the A3-size version of Daler-Rowney's wire-bound, hardcover sketchbook is ideal, along with a permanent pen, watercolor sketching set, and water brush.
Having a stiff cover eliminates the need to bring along a board to support the paper, and being wire-bound means it folds completely open at any page. You can work in it in various ways, such as holding it in one arm or propping it up on your knees or against a daypack. The paper is 65lb (100gsm) so it does buckle if it gets very wet with paint, but will stand up to acrylic paint as well as watercolor.
Moleskine Art Watercolor Album
There's something seriously tactile about a Moleskine sketchbook (well, if you don't mind leather). They're beautifully made, feel lovely in your hand, and the piece of elastic enables you to either easily find where you are or keep the sketchbook pages safely closed.
The small one with watercolor paper is a favorite for pen and watercolor sketching. The pages are perforated near the binding so you can easily remove a page. It's perfect for carrying around every day.
These leather-bound notebooks are available in various colors, with the option to have an image of yours laser-engraved on the cover. A lovely way to personalize an art journal before you've even started filling the pages.
Speedball Travelogue Drawing Book
Hand Book's artist journals are similar to Moleskines except they're covered in fabric, not leather. They come in various colors (black, green, blue, or red) and formats include a wide, landscape sketchbook that would be perfect for landscapes or cityscapes.
Strathmore (310-9) 300 Series Canvas Pad
If you miss the texture of canvas when painting in a sketchbook or think you may do some sketches or studies you will want to frame, then try a pad of canvas paper. The cardboard at the back of some pads isn't quite stiff enough and so you may need to clip your pad to a board.