You can buy nice large sketching boards for relatively little money, like the 23.5″ x 26″ portable sketch board offered for $10.99 here. I have a slightly larger Alvin board in white, complete with handle and two clasps for holding the paper in place. If you’re looking for something light and portable or simply need a flat surface to draw on, I’d recommend forgetting about making your own drawing board and simply buy one of these. You can spend more money on fancier versions of these that are less portable, more durable, made of thicker wood, come in larger dimensions, and can sit up at angles for drawing at a table. I recently bought this translucent drawing board in stead of a light box (as I can place a bulb behind it and have the same functionality as a light box). Although I like the board well enough, I am a little disappointed in how much it cost for such a small board. If I had it to do over again, I would look into attempting to build my own.
So, when I started thinking about a nice wooden board to use with my easel—both as a sketch board, as a possible place to pin up un-stretched canvas for painting (as my apartment is small it makes sense to keep painted works rolled up carefully in a tube, rather than stacked in the closet or hallway), and a table-top for whenever I lay my convertible easel flat for workbench duties—I decided to make my own. This was my weekend project during the snow storm.
I wanted a 24″ x 36″ board, so I went to Home Depot and spent $15 on a precut 2’x4’x3/4″ (I’m guessing at the thickness here) piece of birch plywood. Spend some time picking out the flattest and most evenly surfaced piece available, as lots of the boards in this area have little dings and scrapes on them from other people’s browsing. There were other wood and thickness options available in the precut aisle for less money, but the birch was the closest in tone to the easel (natural oil finish on beech-wood) and I wanted a thicker board that could double as a table top for any sculpting projects I might work on. I then went to the cutting area and cut a foot off the top of the board to make it a yard long. If down the road, I want to have a slightly larger table-top, I can stick that 1 foot piece of extra wood in as an extension leaf. I also picked up some boiled linseed oil for finishing the wood for about $3 more.
At this point you are practically done. Simply lightly sand around the edges of your board to do away with risk of splintering, wipe down the entirety of the board with a damp cloth to remove any excess dust, wait for the board to dry fully, and then gently rub the linseed oil in all over. You could also use tung oil, which would probably provide a nicer finish, but it is also stronger smelling in a confined space. I followed my nose and went with linseed oil. After you’ve finished coating it in the oil of your choice, rub off any excess with a towel / rag and let it dry for at least 24 hours. Remember, oil can kill your archival quality paper.
Now I had a nice looking board that fit nicely in my easel, but I wanted some nice way of holding my paper in place while drawing. Originally I thought I’d just tape the corners in place, which is a viable option, but decided against it. Instead, I went to Staples and bought several very large rubber-bands, a set of 6 banker clips, and two of the largest bulldog clips I could find. You’ll find all these items in the same aisle as the paperclips. Total cost of all these items was about $8.
I then took 4 of the large rubber-bands and stretched them across the top of the board about an eighth of an inch from the top. I took the two bulldog clips and about five inches from either side of the board, I clipped them on over the board and over the rubber-bands (to hold the bands in place / keep them from sagging). I then took the 6 banker clips and hooked them over and under the rubber-bands, distributing them along the top for holding the paper in place. I then clipped the paper into the banker clips and then brought another single rubber-band over everything and placed it at the very end tip of the banker clips to hold them tightly on the paper and another rubber-band over the bottom bit of the paper. Here’s a pic:
If I ever get the time, I’d like to do away with the rubber-bands and make slits in the top of the drawing board where I could permanently slide in and affix the banker clips. In the meantime, it is a very functional solution and I am pleased with this $26 drawing board. I even have a board cover from one of my old damaged boards that I can affix to the board if need be.