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Friday, October 14, 2011

Experiencing Stillman and Birn Alpha Series Sketchbook

I heard about new sketchbook maker and all comments were quite good. The name kept popping up  and eventually I did a google search, found Stillman and Birn web-site and then found them on facebook too. I wrote and e-mail to the manufacturer trying to see if any local shops carry these books  and made a note to order one sooner or later online - but then received an e-mail that a wonderful gift is coming my way! It was Alpha Series sketchbook, hardbound, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 - it became my sketchbook #59 and I spent about 6 weeks with it in my bag. Long story short - it's a great sketchbook to work with - my main adjustment would be the size - it seems that I enjoy larger books lately :)

Cover withstood some vigorous activities, was subjected to kids running over it (by accident), heavy and not so heavy rain, kitchen table and sandbox adventures, sticker attack, not to mention normal wear and tear and now that I am about to deposit it on the shelve - it looks great - not a scratch.

Paper worked very well with dry - and water media - I worked with watercolors, acrylics, multiple inks and gouache and in all cases buckling was well within expected amount for this weight of the paper (100 lb).  I used markers, all kinds of pens, some collage as well. Paper was reasonably responsive to lifting and multiple applications though in some cases uneven in the way pigment settled in: I would do a single brushstroke wash, try to lift something and see that part of the edge is still editable where another part is not. It adds some personality to the page and can be incorporated nicely - you just need to be ready sometimes.

My problems were surprising: waterproof inks (and permanent watercolors for that matter) were not exactly waterproof unless I waited for ink to settle for a long time. And during first 1-1.5 minutes even the most waterproof and smudge-proof ink was smudging badly. It happened with Uniball pens, Pentel Pocket Brush pen, dip pen with Noodlers ink, pitt pens and brush-pens - the only pen that was working without a glitch was the cheap ballpoint I love so much :) So - some smudging and some not-so-waterproof adjustment was needed - and for someone drawing quickly it took me some time - but I had a lot of fun in the process:

(these are obviously not all 124 pages I filled - lots of private notes and experiments took place there - but you still can see some results ;)


  1. OOoh, lovely, Nina! What an incredible test drive! Beautiful, as well. Thank you for sharing!

    I've found Stillman & Birn very generous too, and am looking forward to experimenting as well! Just found them yesterday at my favorite brick-and-mortar store, too, so they are out there!

  2. Wow, Nina, what a treat. There are so many wonderful pages there that it's almost too much to digest! So much great stuff - the bugs and spiders, food, terrific posture studies of the karate kids, textures of bark... Thanks for letting us peek!

  3. Stillman & Birn donated the gamma series w/vellum sketchbook to the USK Lisbon sketchers. It is very nice for watercolors.

  4. I had that same issue with the S&B books - pen lines and watercolor take a very long time to dry. I like the books, but I've really had to adjust my speed (and watch that my hand doesn't smear things!).

  5. thank you very much for reading my review and responding back!

    Kate - looking forward to your sketches in S&B book!

    Ruca - I scanned most of the pages using a wonderful feature of content-aware deletion in Photoshop for some private matters %)

    Tracey - USK was one of the recommendations :)

    Carol - I think this might have something to do with a coating of a paper - it just likes slower sketchers more :)

  6. I tried out some ink and watercolor tests in a Delta book yesterday with no problem, Nina.(Hooray!) I don't know if that's because of different paper from the Alpha series, which I haven't tested yet, or different conditions.

    As I've mentioned before, I don't like most of Noodler's "bulletproof" inks because they take literally DAYS to dry, if ever, for me. Vicky, who lives only a few hundred miles from me, has no problem with them, on the same paper, both with Lamy Safari pens. So go figure!

    Can't wait to test the Alpha, now!

  7. aha - I am going to try delta books next probably - when they are available here %)
    We've had rather humid October so fr - it might have contributed...

  8. I tried the Epsilon, too, which is a thinner, very smooth paper that's a delight to write on. No problems with wash and ink there either...but it is VERY dry here right now!

  9. I've really enjoyed the S&B books. You can see some of my zoo sketches in the Delta series here: http://hudsonvalleysketches.blogspot.com/search/label/Stillman%20and%20Birn%20Delta . I've thrown all sorts of stuff at that book --- acrylic, watercolor, inks, gouache, fountain pens and felt tips and rollerballs. It's handled everything so well.

    I also did several sketches and a review of the Beta book. The review is all the way at the bottom if you scroll through the posts. This book also has held up quite well for me. I've used it mostly for pen and ink wash work, but have done a few watercolors in it too (several not posted): http://hudsonvalleysketches.blogspot.com/search/label/Stillman%20and%20Birn%20Beta%207x10

    I was glad to hear such a great review of the Alpha, since that will likely be what I'll turn to once I finish the Fabriano Venezia journal that I'm currently working in. (I'm not a big fan of spiral books, and the Delta and Beta do not come in stitch-bound versions.)



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