Friday, October 14, 2011
Stillman and Birn Beta Sketchbook
Stillman & Birn's Beta Series sketchbook comes in four sizes like the other four archival sketchbooks in the series. The paper is ultra heavy natural white 180lb Rough texture. Compared to Rough watercolor paper I've used before, the level of texture is more like a heavy-texture Cold Press variation. The texture bumps are small enough not to preclude painting on a small scale but deep enough to make beautiful broken color effects with a dry brush or Conte stick.
The Beta is available in both hard cover and spiral wire bindings. I prefer the spiral wire binding, the covers are just as heavy as the hard cover version but I can fold the cover and used pages around to the back for scanning purposes. It's also easier to lay it flat for a two page spread.
The texture is the same as the equally heavy weight Delta Series sketchbook. It's beautiful paper. While it's listed as Natural White, it's a very bright Natural White comparable to some other papers' Bright White color. This gives true color to any transparent medium used on the Beta sketchbook.
I fell in love with this sketchbook and gave it a serious workout as follows:
This is a quick painting using Lukas 1862 watercolors. It's on the back of my self portrait, among other things it tests whether a heavy soaking will carry color through to the other side. It didn't. This painting didn't damage my self portrait and no trace of it shows on that page. No matter how much water I used on the self portrait, it didn't flood through to this side either.
Because the paper is so heavy, I used wet in wet techniques on the fruit and charged in more layers of soft-edged color several times. I deliberately rippled my first strokes on the edges of some leaves but you can see they're hard edged shapes, within them I swept several layers of color before they dried. Last, I did some dry brush bark texture in a neutral mixture.
I liked the results. The white background gave me true color and all of my mixtures came out as planned, though of course they dried lighter than they looked when I painted them in. So far so good. This sketchbook would rock for botanicals in watercolor and any watercolor studies. It didn't cockle but I was using small wet in wet areas nowhere near the edge of the page.
My next challenge was to paint very close to the edge using Derwent Watercolour Pencils washed. I created a watercolor pencil drawing and washed it thoroughly, scrubbing the marks out in several areas. While it was still drying I added watercolor accents. The page cockled slightly and dried completely flat for my self portrait. On the right you can see an area where I let color drip down the side and spread the drip out right to the edge to see if it would dry flat.
So now you know more or less how I look and that I need a haircut. :D
For my last test of my Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook, I wanted to see whether the Rough surface would still allow clean pen lines for pen and watercolor work. So I used a watersoluble black fine point pen to sketch my ashtray in stages showing contour lines, shading and finally a wash done with waterbrush. I was happy with the line smoothness even on Rough paper. I can use pen accents to my water media on the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook and have fun with anything I want to draw or paint with on its super heavy, durable, archival paper.
So far I think the Beta Series is my favorite of these wonderful, archival sketchbooks. The white paper gives me the freedom of toning it or underpainting. The super heavy stock would respond well to gesso if I wanted to do oil studies or oil-style acrylic paintings or collage anything onto a page with gloss or matte acrylic medium. Colourfix sanded pastel primer would allow me to underpaint or tone a page and then turn it into a sanded page for pastel work.
I'm tempted to turn a Beta journal into a pastel journal by priming and taping sheets of glassine to the top of each page so it folds back or folds down over the finished art. If they bound in glassine pages over the super white paper, it could be used as a pastel journal without any more work or just with the priming. It's good for any multi-media use. Don't be afraid to get it soggy - it'll dry flat and gorgeous!