Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stillman and Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn sent me five beautiful sketchbooks to review. I've been using the "Delta" as my current sketchbook because I love the heavy ivory color multimedia paper so much. It stands up well to everything I do in it and I'm still as happy with it as when I reviewed it before my move.

When I packed up my first batch of boxes to ship to San Francisco, I made sure to pack all my new review supplies! A lot of my old supplies are still in Arkansas but all these new goodies are in hand. My apologies that it took so long to get packed, travel, unpack and settle in before reviewing any of them.

Stillman & Birn's "Alpha" sketchbook is archival, neutral Ph and strong. It complies with international standards of responsible forestry and carries a Woodland Ecology and Conservation label. Rag content isn't listed, nor proportion of alpha cellulose. The color is a soft natural white, not the screaming blue-white of some white papers but white enough to give true color in any medium.

This sketchbook has splendid quality paper in a good hard cover binding. I think it'd make a great gift for anyone who likes to draw, sketch, scrapbook or otherwise keep an art journal. The only risk is temptation to pick one up for yourself when you're out buying presents. The cover has a nice faux leather texture with a paper strip showing what type of sketchbook it is. This one's got an example sketch by Michelangelo.

Stillman & Birn's Alpha sketchbook is suitable for all dry media and light washes. Naturally I decided to test it first with light washes and dip pens to see how well it stands up to water. I used my Daniel Smith Walnut Ink with a bamboo dip pen and then dipped into it with a Niji waterbrush for light values, let that dry and went back into it with a 1/4" Ebony Splendor brush.

I'll review the brush later on in its own post. Right now I'm happy to report this 100lb paper handled a soppy loose wash on the second batch of pears well. It cockled a little and dried nearly flat in both areas I swiped with the water brush.

The smooth vellum surface gives a clean line with Tombow dual tip brush pens or with the bamboo dip pen. Colored pencils would perform well on this paper, it's got plenty of tooth and I'm sure if I wanted to go nuts with Prismacolors that it might hold almost as many layers as Stonehenge. I can feel the tooth when I touch the page, yet it's fine enough that my pen lines don't get disrupted.

Overall, I'm delighted with this hardbound sketchbook. I usually choose spiral bindings but this hard cover Alpha sketchbook is one that I'll replace once it's filled. It's the sort of classy sketchbook to leave out in a formal living room along with a wood box set of colored pencils for guests to add their sketches. The size is convenient for my scanner, unlike 9" x 12" sketchbooks the entire page fits on the scanner bed.

My main recommendation is that if you use light washes, leave space between the painting and the edges of the paper. It does cockle but not nearly as much as lighter papers and it will dry solid. Laying something flat on the closed book can help flatten out the cockling too.


  1. Great advice about the light washes. I drived crazy the last time I tried to make a light wash on a moleskine type sketchbook, so this one is perfect, and love the ivory color of the pages.

  2. Thank you! Moleskines don't take washes well, they suffer for it. The paper in the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, both the Alpha and the Delta, is strong enough that you don't get the surface tearing up if it's too wet. It'll cockle a little and flatten out again especially if you weight it around the edges while it dries.

    The Alpha paper is natural white, it's just that the shadow picked up some warm color from something inside the scanner.

  3. Have you ever tried the Canson mixed media XL series, and if so, what were your thoughts on it, compared to these? I am close to filling up my Canson and am considering replacing it but am reluctant to spend a lot on Stillman if the paper is comparable.