Custer Concertina

I decided to try something new on a recent 5-day trip to Custer State Park, South Dakota. I have seen concertina sketchbooks (accordian-style), but have never tried one. Of course, I waited until the day before to decide I wanted to try it, so I looked up some blogs and made my own. I took a 22×30 piece of watercolor paper, cut it into 3 lengthwise strips (to make panels approx. 5×7 each), used 2-sided tape to keep tabs together from one strip to the next, and folded, cut, and Voila! I had a rough concertina book! It wasn’t perfect, the edges were a little off, but it worked for my first one.

Using this book was a new adventure, which I will share below. The beauty of this type of sketchbook is that the pages ebb and flow into one another. I tried to keep that flow going throughout the book. I filled this book (22 illustration panels, 5×7 size) in 5 days. Here is a video of the first half of the finished book, sorry about the bumpy feed, I’m new to this video thing…

Some close-up photos of the sketches are below…

I learned a lot doing this sketch “project”.

  1. Expect to do more sketching than usual–I sketched more than ever in a short amount of time. By the end of day 3 of the trip I had filled 11 panels (front half of the book). I was feeling a bit burned-out with sketching by then. I was trying to decide whether I should flip the book over and fill the other half, or just leave it empty. My perfectionist side won out, I reasoned– “I can’t just full up HALF the book, it will look weird.” So I put the book away until the next morning, and didn’t sketch until I had been kayaking on Sylvan lake and felt more refreshed. Then, I found myself filling the other 11 pages in 2 days, which included sketches at Sylvan lake, a gas station, restaurants, reflection page, on the road, and my hubby got a whole 2 panels for himself on the car ride home.

2. If doing a concertina sketchbook on a trip, think carefully about how much you want to sketch. My family is fairly patient when I want to stop and sketch, they’ll often go look at something else or put up with me sketching in the restaurant after orders are taken.

3. If you feel tired, STOP. If you are in a uncomfortable situation, STOP. I was happily sketching the front of State Game Lodge at a picnic table in the front yard. I was in my zone, not paying attention, and suddenly I turned and discovered that 4 bison had walked up the road behind me. Though many feet away, I was startled to see them there. I jumped up, spooking them a little, and they bustled quickly up the road and I just as quickly gathered my pens and watercolors and made a dash for the front area of the lodge. I’m sure people on the porch were snickering at my movements!

4. Use tickets, cut-outs, stickers, and other mementos of your locations to help supplement sketches. I took a paper breakfast placemat with photos of bison out of the lodge restaurant after my meal was finished and later in the week I cut it up to put covers on the front panels.

5. If you make a book, vary the length to fit how much you want to sketch. I wanted the book to be a memory from this vacation, in hindsight I should have made the book a little shorter. Now I know for next time.

6. Be a story-teller. Share interesting tid-bits that help tie the sketches together. I shared about the hot weather, the bat I saw on the balcony floor, the scruffy bison fur, the trail ride reservation that we did not get in time, a quote about kayaks, and observations about many other things. It adds interest and character to your book.

OK, enough of all this, you are probably tired of reading! Bottom line, if you want a fun project that will help improve sketch skills and keep a visual journal of a special location, try a concertina sketch book. I have lovely memories of my trip, I had fun doing it, and I can’t wait until my next vacation to try another one. Give it a try and Enjoy!

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