For graphic artists, a sketch board is an essential tool. It looks like a giant clipboard, with a strong, rigid backing for drawing paper and clips to keep the paper in place. Many art students use sketch boards to transport their work in addition to using them in class and out in the field. Other artists who value mobility use these boards as well, sometimes in conjunction with portable easels.
Masonite, a type of fiberboard made from waste products from the timber industry, is commonly used to make sketch boards. Fiberboard is compressed heavily to make it dense and strong, allowing it to withstand breakage. Because a very thin sheet of fiberboard can be used, a sketch board is relatively light. Masonite was widely used to manufacture products such as clipboards and sketch boards because wood of the same thickness as a Masonite sketch board would be far too flexible and a solid wood sketch board would be far too heavy. To avoid injury, the fiberboard used to make sketch boards is usually sanded down with rounded corners.
A rectangular sketch board is the most common shape. A sketch pad is held in place heavy duty clips mounted on the short end of the rectangle. A carry handle is placed about halfway down the sketch board to allow the artist to easily carry and maneuver it. Most boards also include an extra-large rubber band to keep the sketch pad closed during transportation. To deal with eventual breakage, replacement clips and rubber bands are available.
Most art supply companies make sketch boards in a variety of sizes to accommodate different sized drawing pads. To allow for movement and shifting while the artist is working, the sketch board is usually slightly larger than the drawing pad that is mounted on it. If an artist is unsure what size to buy, bringing a sketch pad along for comparison is usually a good idea.
Sketch boards are usually required in art classes. These boards can be mounted on easels or stands, which are almost always available in art classrooms. In addition, the sketch board serves as a portable drawing surface that can be used with or without an easel at any time. To protect the sketch pad from damage in inclement weather, a sketch board is usually covered in a layer of plastic. Artists should check the tightness of the fastenings holding the clips to the sketch board, as well as the rubber band’s integrity, on a regular basis. It can be extremely inconvenient if these components fail in an unexpected location, such as on a bus.