Sketching and playing

Playing with the Stillman and Birn paper samples

Playing with the Stillman and Birn paper samples.  Pens and pencils I used in my test are to the left.

First up:  my apologies–this post got REALLY LONG.  But I have a feeling I may be referring people to it so wanted ALL the info in one blogpost.  So here goes:   many moons ago, the generous folks at Stillman and Birn sent me a sample pack of their six papers because I didn’t know what to order in a sketchbook, and the sketchbooks aren’t exactly inexpensive so I didn’t want to buy six.   I decided to do a controlled test on the samples using various pens, pencils, inks and watercolors.  The paper comes in two weights:  100 lb and 180 lb, two colors: white and ivory, and three finishes:  vellum, cold press, and smooth.  Vellum is a velvety finish (not like drafting vellum which is like a heavy duty tracing paper); smooth is comparable to hot press.  Here’s the S&B information:

Stillman and Birn chart with the differences in the papers (alpha through Zeta).

Stillman and Birn chart with the differences in the papers (alpha through Zeta). Paper specs are on the S&B site here.

And some useful links:

  • Stillman & Birn website
  • Dick Blick offers S&B sketchbooks here and here.
  • Binders Art Supply in Atlanta carries the sketchbooks AND the paper!!!!  Awesome customer service (see below)
  • Goulet Pens has great fountain pens, a massive selection of inks, a billion instructional / informational videos and (DRUM ROLL of epic proportions please) they sell SAMPLES of the inks.  You can get about two cartridges worth out of each sample…so I have ordered and used about TWENTY samples.  But that is a separate blogpost for later.
  • Online classes with Val Webb, probably the best art teacher I’ve ever had; she helps all of her students achieve more than we could ever dream!
  • Online classes at Sketchbook Skool with Danny Gregory, Koosje Koene and various guest teachers

Here’s a photo of the six pieces of paper in my Stillman & Birn sample pack:

The six papers from Stillman and Birn

The six papers from Stillman and Birn.  I’ve put on the back the name of the paper, weight, finish, and the ink used (Noodler’s Lexington Grey).  Top row is 100-lb, bottom row is heavier 180-lb.

Here I've got the paper criss crossed with the 100 weight on top so you can see the effect of very wet watercolor on it and the show-through (or lack thereof)

Here I’ve got the paper criss crossed with the 100 weight on top so you can see the effect of very wet watercolor on it and the show-through (or lack thereof).  For lighter weight paper, the lack of ghosting and bleed through is good.

Another

Another view of just the 100-lb papers while still damp (the ones on the right) from watercolor

Here are close-ups of each of the six papers showing how my favorite pens and pencils behave on each offering:

Still wet!

Still wet! Alpha series 100-lb. Vellum surface.  You can see that I did the “evil” test with LOTS of soupy watercolor to see how far you can push this paper.  The answer:  a long way!  I did find that for me the Vellum surface papers were a bit “skittery” with the extra fine Pitt Artists pens, which I didn’t enjoy.  Personally I preferred the Epsilon (below), but that is totally a matter of what each person likes.

Alpah

Close-ups of the various papers.  This is the white Beta series, a cold-press finish sized for multi-media

Gamma Paper, 100-lb Ivory, Vellum finish

Gamma Paper, 100-lb Ivory, Vellum finish

Delta?

Delta Series, Ivory, heavier weight 180-lb paper.  Suitable for very wet media.

Delta?

Epsilon:  this ended up being my favorite because of both the surface and the fact that you get more pages per sketchbook.  If I were endlessly wealthy, I might (or might not) choose the Zeta.  But since many of my pages do not use heavy water, I chose Epsilon knowing full well I could end up with some buckling.

 

Delta?

Zeta paper.  White, smooth finished.  Suitable for wet media and more.

I’m just finishing up my first S&B sketchbook, an Epsilon 7 x 10 wirebound.   I LOVE IT!  So much that I ordered some individual sheets to customize my sketchbook for my trip to England.   Before that though, here are some sample pages from my Epsilon sketchbook so you can see how it handled various media.

Epsilon 7 x 10 sketchbook, pencil on left page.  Charcoal and water on right page with white charcoal pencil.  Exercises from an online class with Val Webb.

Epsilon 7 x 10 sketchbook, pencil on left page. Charcoal pencil and water on right page with white charcoal pencil. Exercises from a **fantastic** online class with Val Webb.

My rudimentary watercolor, form the first two lessons at Danny Gregory's Sketchbook Skool. Pen and ink with watercolor.  The heavier usage on the left ripples a bit, but I'm ok with that.  And I could, quite honestly, iron it flatter if I wanted to!

My rudimentary watercolor, from the first two lessons at Danny Gregory’s Sketchbook Skool. Pen and ink with watercolor. The heavier usage on the left ripples a bit, but I’m ok with that. And I could, quite honestly, iron it flatter if I wanted to!

More lessons from Val Webb (cats in pencil) and a portrait of Tommy Kane from one of the videos in the Sketchbook Skool class. Done in Pitt Artists pens S and XS.  I roughed in the general shapes with pencil, inked, erased with kneaded eraser, then filled in and stippled and cross-hatched.   Excellent paper!

More lessons from Val Webb (cats in pencil) and a portrait of artist and Sketchbook Skool teacher Tommy Kane from a screen capture image from one of the videos in the Sketchbook Skool class. Done in Pitt Artists pens S and XS. I roughed in the general shapes with pencil, inked, erased with kneaded eraser, then filled in and stippled and cross-hatched. Excellent paper! 

I also got lucky:  I emailed Stillman and Birn  (they are SO responsive!) to ask if they had ever considered making a “sampler sketchbook” as the samples were small, but I didn’t want to buy six sketchbooks!   Turns out they had, but they didn’t sell well so won’t be making more of these samplers.  The guy told me that Binders in Atlanta might still have some, so I called them up a couple months ago since none of the sampler sketchbooks were listed on the website.  The nice lady at Binders (which also has OUTSTANDING customer service) went to look in the shop as the computer showed they had four left.  I bought three of them, two as gifts, one to use myself.

Contact info on the inside cover of my Stillman & Birn sampler sketchbook--alas these are no longer made!

Contact info on the inside cover of my Stillman & Birn sampler sketchbook–alas these are no longer made!

The sampler sketchbooks are the small size (6 x 8 ish, with 5 1/2 inches of usable width on the page) with four sheets/eight pages of each of the six papers.  Sometimes I like wide–enjoyed the format of a Moleskine accordion fold, but not that paper.  .  So I bought some of the Epsilon and Zeta paper sheets and make myself some 2-page and some  accordion fold “extensions” to tape into this journal in the sections I’ve reserved for art.  I’m not as fond of ivory paper, so I used the vellum ivory Gamma pages to write down essential information for my upcoming trip:  lodgings, emergency contact numbers for insurance, lost credit cards etc.  I’ll do some watercolor washes on the Delta cold press and may use that for both watercolor and collaging in trip ephemera.  The Alpha pages will be for my trip “calendar.” The Beta, Zeta and Epsilon pages will be for artwork.

I made a few "page extensions" (the size of 2 sheets) and a few "accordion or Z-fold" extensions to add to my book should I feel the urge to do a really wide landscape or a funky train-journey thing

I made a few “page extensions” (the size of 2 sheets) and a few “accordion or Z-fold” extensions to add to my book should I feel the urge to do a really wide landscape or a funky train-journey thing.  I purchased individual sheets of both the Epsilon and Zeta paper, then cut and folded these extensions.  I’ll take some glue or tape to affix them if I decide to use them on my trip.  This is my work-around to not wanting to make a complete journal on my own and them not having the exact thing I want–just modify!

And using more of the single sheets of paper I’m going to draw a map and then illustrate it as the journey progresses.  I’ve cut it to about 11 x 14 inches so I can glue one corner to the inside cover for opening out easily.  On the last page, I’m taping in a printed-out map, also that can be folded up nicely.

Taped in printed-out map of about half of England, folded, glued to last page in sketchbook.

Taped in printed-out map of about half of England, folded, glued to last page in sketchbook.

Opened up printed map.

Opened up printed map.

Then my hand-drawn illustrated map will be taped/glued to the inside of the back cover.  With the wire-bound, there is enough room to add these extra pages without having the rigid covers “splay out” much if at all.

So thank you if you’ve manged to read through this massive tome!   Really loving my Stillman and Birn, as well as great classes from Val Webb and in the Sketchbook Skool, and the fabulous customer service and responsiveness from S&B, Goulet Pens and Binders.

2 Responses to “Sketching and playing”

  1. Carole Jurack Says:

    Hi Sarah … amazing amt of info in this blog. Thanks for posting. Very helpful. I got a sample pack from S&B some time ago and muddled around with it. I did not take copious notes so don’t even recall which one I liked best but will have to look into it again. I hear their name a lot so they must be the premier sketchbook makers. Thanks again. On way back to OH in a few days. Have a grand time in England and will see you in late September, I hope!

    Carole

  2. Dana Says:

    Great post Sarah! I’m quite fond of the Alpha but I have an Epsilon all set to go as soon as I finish my handmade sketchbook filled with Strathmore 500 Mixed Media paper. I love the hardbound version but it looks like you’re a wirebound girl! Either way, the nice thing about both the Alpha and the Epsilon is that there are twice as many pages as the Beta and Zeta equivalents… Great as a travel journal!

    Love your journal hacks too… nice enhancements!