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Make you own Accordion Fold Travel Journals for watercolor sketching

March 14, 2016

For a while now, I’ve been wanting try making my own accordion fold watercolor sketchbooks.

We are doing the last minute planning before our Portugal workshop – so this seemed like the perfect time to decide if I’ll be bringing these with me.

16Feb28_Nuit_Blanche_Accordion_Fold_Book (1)

So I quickly bashed one together, and took it to a local life drawing workshop. This was a terrific three model costume drawing event hosted by the CCGV for Montreal’s Nuit Blanche festival.

I didn’t go as far as making a fancy binding or rigid cover for this – that’s certainly an option if you’re a craftsy type – this booklet is literally just a single sheet of watercolor paper, cut and folded following a pattern. (See below). It only takes 5 minutes to make one, and that’s the kind of convenience I’m looking for.

16Feb28_Nuit_Blanche_Accordion_Fold_Book (3)

To me, the main advantage of this process is choosing your own paper. I  made this 5.5×7.5″ booklet out of  a 22×30″ full sheet of 80lb cold press Strathmore Aquarius II.

This paper uses a synthetic fiber, which has the amazing ability to stay flat when wet. It simply doesn’t ripple when you paint on it. (Here’s my first test painting done – wow! –  back in 2013).


I can say, it really does work. You can paint directly into this little sketchbook, and not worry about stretching or taping the paper. Exactly what I want for a field sketching notebook. You can see you get plenty of wet-in-wet wash effects. And even though the paper is only 80lbs, it stays perfectly flat.


As with any book, you still have to leave it face open to dry – so I did clip it to a drawing board while working. But overall, I think this will suit perfectly for the days we’ll be touring the Algarve.

I’ll still be bringing an easel for the ‘stand and deliver’ painting days. But when we’re walking about, I hope to take advantage of this flexible format. You have the option to sketch either single pages, double page facing spreads, or to fold out four consecutive pages to make a 7.5×22″ panorama.

After finishing the book, you have the option to flip it over and keep drawing on the backs of the pages – giving you 30 pages total. You can also unfold the spreads back to the full sheet size -so if you were painting panoramas, you can easily trim them out and be ready for framing.

Photo 2016-03-13, 1 38 10 PM


Here’s a PDF of the pattern for these booklets. Feel free to share it with anyone, or use it in your classes.  If you’re like me and prefer to buy your paper in full sheets, this fast and easy folding pattern means you’ll never have to buy a commercial sketchbook again!


Oh yes! and here’s a few other articles on sketching panoramas – in case you want to try out the four page spreads on a nice city skyline or 360 degree view!

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (4)
How to do a Post-and-Rail Panorama Drawing

Example of a walking panorama, and a 360 rotation

My video on Sketching Panoramas
(paid content).

47 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2016 10:45 AM

    That really is a great idea. Thanks. N.

  2. March 14, 2016 11:18 AM

    Love it! Heading to Spain in a few weeks & this may make the difference between traveling with watercolor supplies or not…

  3. March 14, 2016 11:32 AM

    Brilliant – I was just contemplating trying to make my own accordion sketchbook and now I will definitely use this method – thanks!

  4. March 14, 2016 11:57 AM

    Thanks for the how-to, idea and instructions….going to try it.

  5. March 14, 2016 12:11 PM

    Have made one-sheet accordion books before, and used translucent layout paper which doesn’t bleed or buckle, but isn’t very good for washes. Glad to know of the relatively lightweight Strathmore paper. Thank you!

  6. bixxynash permalink
    March 14, 2016 12:28 PM

    What a lovely post……this is Brilliant Marc. I make mine too although I dont always use them but thanks for letting us post and pass on. B

  7. Rick Monaghan permalink
    March 14, 2016 12:39 PM

    Thanks. Great idea.

  8. Rene Wojcik permalink
    March 14, 2016 1:21 PM

    Last summer I made one of these folding sketchbooks and with some glue I attached a book cover, front and back, from an old book I purchased at a thrift store. I put an elastic cord around it to hold it together.

    • March 15, 2016 1:44 PM

      That sounds like a great idea – the cover is alredy made!

  9. March 14, 2016 1:33 PM

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve filled some of these already, I love them! They are fun to make and I also enjoy to make book covers because they get carried around a lot with me. Small ones fit in every bag:-)

  10. March 14, 2016 2:38 PM

    Really nice images and great idea.

  11. Agata permalink
    March 14, 2016 3:18 PM

    I love these sketchbooks! I add covers too. I learned how to make them from Cathy Johnson’s YT tutorial.

    • March 14, 2016 3:32 PM

      Yes I saw her video for sure – that got me onto this. And Lynne Chapman’s recent work with ultra-long accordions. She bought paper on the roll I do believe.

    • benqwen permalink
      March 2, 2023 8:14 PM

      Do you have a link to Cathy Johnson’s sketchbook tutorial? Can’t find it on her site…

  12. Sue permalink
    March 14, 2016 5:53 PM

    Wow – yet another interesting and useful article – thank you!
    I’m so jealous of the Portugal workshop – my favourite country, and where I first learnt about Urban Sketching a couple of years ago. Maybe one day I’ll get to do a workshop there, although it’s a long way from Australia ☺️ Looking forward to seeing the posts from Portugal!

  13. March 15, 2016 3:08 PM

    Oh I am tempted! ;) I have already seen these sketchbooks before but didn’t really give it a try.
    However, I realize that it can be a real help not to have to wait for the previous page to dry before sketching on the following so it could be really great, indeed, for our walking days in Portugal, when you can’t put easily a sketchbook on the ground to draw on another…

    Do you have an opinion whether this kind of cutting or folding is better or not rather than a long simple accordion book? Except that there is no need to attach different parts for this one?… I hope it will be OK with some 300 gsm Arches cold press.

    Thank you for the tips and the explanatory sheet! :)

    • March 16, 2016 3:35 PM

      “Do you have an opinion whether this kind of cutting or folding is better or not rather than a long simple accordion book?”

      I think, a straight accordion is fine – except, unless you have extra large paper, you’ll have fewer pages. This way, you get 30 pages in a small format. So that’s the only reason for all the folding :)

  14. March 15, 2016 10:51 PM

    I am going to try it too. Just picked up some of the paper. Thanks for the tips!

  15. March 20, 2016 12:01 AM

    Reblogged this on Rachel Murphree Watercolors and commented:
    I think this idea is really inventive and i intend on giving it a try…

  16. March 20, 2016 5:00 PM

    Thanks for the tip! I had great fun making one out of an A2 sheet and then turning it in to a little “15 drawings in one day” challenge for myself (result is in the link in my name). I’ll definitely be doing that again.

    I really like your description of the Strathmore Aquarius paper. Unfortunately Strathmore paper is not available in Denmark and hard to find in the EU. Does anyone know of a similar paper – thin and staying flat when wet – from a european paper mill?

    • March 23, 2016 5:11 PM

      Love your little sketches – great idea! Keep up the good work!

  17. Tami Jacques permalink
    March 7, 2017 8:20 AM

    You showed this accordian style on the form of a book- how did you bind the book? Did you have this done ?

    Great work, as always. Taking two of your Craftsy courses, so so helpful.

  18. March 14, 2017 11:59 AM

    Nice idea. One year ago.

  19. May 9, 2022 2:01 PM

    Thank you soooooo much for sharing your great ideas! Being an artist myself it is my JOY to share with others. Many thanks, Carol – varyCarol


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