While I was traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia I filled an accordion sketchbook, and I had quite a bit of fun doing it. Accordion sketchbooks are relatively cheap to buy, or are easy to make; they are portable, and provide a wealth of options for how to fill them. First I am going to show you how to make your own, then I’ll write a bit about how I filled mine while traveling.
All you need to make your own accordion sketchbook is a long and narrow strip of paper. I have full sized watercolor paper from Arches (22 x 32”) in my studio, so I cut a 6” strip (6 x 32”) to use. I love using heavy weight (300 lb) paper, but for an accordion you want something you can actually fold, so I recommend 120 or 90 lb, as long as it is sturdy.
Since my paper is 32” long and I wanted to create 4 x 6” pages, I just folded it into eight panels: I folded it in half, then quarters, and then eighths, keeping an accordion fold. Just like that I had a small (4 x 6”) sketchbook to carry with me.
You may also want to add a cover to protect the inside and to create a durable surface. To make a cover, cut two pieces of cardboard slightly larger than your pages. Then simply fold, trim, and glue a larger piece of colorful paper onto the cardboard, wrapping it around the edges of the cardboard. Once those are dry, glue them to the outsides of the sketchbook. See my diagram below. In the photo above, I used some origami paper that wasn’t quite big enough to wrap around the edges, so I just added a bit of an extra sheet.
I also bought one of these Pentalic accordion books to bring with me, and it was actually made from larger paper so I had eight and ten panels on each side. There are quite a few ways to fill an accordion book. You can work vertically or horizontally and combine panels to make panoramic sketches. For the first side, I wanted to put together a collection of small sketches from Bai Tu Long/ Halong Bays. My family and I went on a three-day trip on a Junk Boat there and we had the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the landscape (a contrast from walking around the busy city streets of Hanoi!).
The first three sketches were made quickly, while the boat was moving. Since the landscape was changing I had to work more with gesture sketches and remember details to fill in later. For the second and third sketches I used a brush pen, which I enjoy using while making quick drawings. It was also much more foggy while I did those sketches. The fourth sketch is from where we anchored for the night and I was able to capture more detail since we stayed still. The fifth and sixth sketches were done at sunset, so even though the boat stayed still the light was changing. However it was fun to capture the luminous quality of the sky and the ocean. The last two sketches were from a fishing village we visited and were mostly done from memory, with some photo references.
You can click on the images in the gallery below to see them more up close.
I saved the second side of my sketchbook for our trip to Cambodia...
For that side I wanted to use a horizontal format and play with using panoramas, where my sketches could spread across multiple panels. I made one sketch in Sihanoukville while sitting under palm trees on the beach. I ended up filling the rest of the sketchbook at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
It was so much fun drawing those temples in the jungle. It was also quite overwhelming because the architecture is pretty complicated with multiple levels and facades. I decided I wouldn’t be able to capture every detail, so I went with a looser approach. First I made a pencil sketch of the mail geometric elements (not worrying about all of the details). Then I came in and did the same thing with watercolor. I’d gradually add more shadows to define the shapes. Finally I came in with pen and a last layer of watercolor to add some more definition. It was fun to sit in the shade and really look at the temples. Besides that it was 96 degrees (F) and very humid so it was a relief to slow down, I think I also figured out and noticed some things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Above: Baphoun Temple sketch before and after adding pen and watercolor detail
For the sketch of Angkor Wat, I originally only planned to use three panels of my sketchbook, but it was so nice to unfold the paper and make it a bit longer when I wanted more space. It was also fun to mix up the far away sketches of the whole temple with an up-close detail of crumbling sandstone blocks.
The balance of these ancient buildings being restored and also falling down in the jungle was truly extraordinary to witness. It is very touristy and there were tons of people there, but being able to take out my sketchbook and to slow down made for a better visit. I hope one day I get to go back and do some more sketching there.