Stillman and Birn Sketchbook Review

9:24 AM

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks
Beta Series on the left;
Alpha Series on the right
Click to enlarge any and all photos
There has been a lot of discussion about the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks on several blogs and FB groups that I play with, so I decided to order a couple and see what they were like.

I purchased a 7 x 7 inch (17.8 x 17.8 cm) Beta Series with extra heavy weight paper and a rough surface as well as a 6 x 8 inch (15.2 x 20.3 cm) Alpha Series with heavy weight paper. Both papers are Natural White in color. When compared to Arches, Winsor and Newton, Fabriano and Strathmore, the paper was very close in color to these watercolor papers with some being a little lighter and one being a bit darker.

The paper in both books is alpha cellulose which is a wood pulp that has been processed to remove lignin and other impurities. It is consider to be a very strong paper that is acid and chloride free.

Beta Series
Beta Series
Daisies Test Page
My first test page in the Beta Sketchbook was a sketch of some daisies. The sketch was done with Copic marker and I had no trouble with the pen skipping. The paper surface is very much like you would expect from Arches cold press watercolor paper with slightly less tooth.

Things to note: while you can lift (see daisy shapes in the background) it is nearly impossible to go back to white. If you do, the paper surface is damaged and it becomes difficult to paint over the area without it being obvious.

I found priming the paper with water was necessary to get a good flow to the paint rather than painting a straight wash. The paper tends to grab the paint quickly making it difficult to get a smooth was without hard lines or edges.
Please forgive the crooked scan
Private journaling has been blocked
at the top of the page
The paper is 180 lb. weight so there was no bleed through to the daisy page. Even with the heavy application of paint and water, the paper still dried flat with minimum buckling. The food collection is the backside of the daisy page. I found no noticeable difference in the surface of the paper after the earlier saturation of the front page.

I also did an eraser test on another page to see how easily the paper erased and whether the paper surface changed. I noted no damage from the erasing and the pencil lifted easily.

Alpha Series
Alpha Series
Daisy Test Page
To keep my testing fair, I decided to use the daisies again. This paper has far less tooth and texture than the first. The weight of this paper is 100 lb. and the buckling was much more pronounced (as would be expected of a lighter weight) when I created the background wash. There is little room for correction and even less lifting ability on this paper. I used the same Copic marker to draw the daisies.
Backside of the daisies page
Note the buckling
When I started to draw on the backside of the daisies, I immediately noticed the paper surface had been altered by the heavy background wash. The ink feathered and the buckling was so pronounced that I finally dug out my binder clip to hold the page flat. 
Notice the binder clip on
the left of the book
The "Let Go and Grow" page is a mixed medium page of watercolor, marker, ink and a touch of colored pencil. There was bleed through to the front daisy page, however the scans do not show it well. It wasn't bad, but there was definitely bleed through. I also noticed that when I used pencil and then erased, it left an impression on the page, sometimes making it difficult to lift the graphite. The surface did not seem altered by the erasing.

Final Evaluation: If you use a lot of markers, heavy ink or moderate watercolor, your best bet is to opt for the heavier paper in the Beta Series. If you are looking to do very light washes, pencil work, colored or graphite, I think you'll be fine using the Alpha series. Writing on this paper (when not altered by heavy washes) was a dream no matter which pen I used. 

The paper in both books has a nice feel to it and performs well. I think I'll enjoy using both books, however, I don't see myself purchasing more when these are filled. 

Please note: The paper in each series is the same whether the book is hardbound or wire-bound. The Beta Series with the heavier paper is only available in the wire-bound form. To keep my unscientific tests as similar as possible, I opted for two wire-bound books. 

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