Color Spree

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stillman and Birn Epsilon Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn's Epsilon Sketchbook is another elegant hardcover artist's journal with fine white 100lb heavy archival paper. It's designed primarily for pen drawing with a smooth plate surface that gives a clean line.

Light washes aren't recommended. For light washes I'd recommend the Alpha or Gamma sketchbooks. For heavy washes and other wet mediums including acrylics and gouache the super heavy 180lb Beta or Delta sketchbook papers. Epsilon is a specialty book designed for fine pen drawing.

So naturally I tried it with a different dry medium to see how well it accepts hard pastels. I love using hard pastels or Conte crayons for sketching. My concern was that the plate surface wouldn't be able to handle pencil or sketching crayons because it's so smooth.

Not a problem. It may be a smooth plate surface but it has loads of tooth to accept dry smudging mediums. I used Derwent pastels on the Epsilon paper with great results sketching my cat from life. Given how well the pastels performed, graphite or colored pencils should go well on this paper. Use a light hand with colored pencils so that you don't fill the tooth too early if you're going to build up multiple layers of color.

Of course a sketchbook designed for pen drawing needs to perform well with a technical pen. I got out my favorite Pigma Micron size 05 and did some quick sketches of my cat, one more detailed and one fast gesture. Using loose lines and deliberately sketching with a lift, I got a bit of broken line. That was my technique though, rather than a quality of the paper. When I slowed down I got smooth clean lines.

The paper surface is perfect for technical pens. Fast or slow, pen lines lay down with smooth edges and don't bleed through. The natural white color is great for lines showing up and would respond just as well to color pen drawing.

Then I tortured the paper with Tombow Dual Tip Brush Pens. These are more like markers than pens. They're water based and very juicy. I layered color. I used the colorless blender pen to pull out soft edges in some areas.

When I put a third or fourth layer of color and blended with a heavy stroke, the paper surface came up a little and pilled. I was able to carefully pull those "pills" off with the colorless blender pen though and save this drawing of a wood duck. It was a slight effect easily repaired rather than a major problem.

Best of all, the very wet Tombow Brush pen marks did not soak through to the back of the page. This wood duck was on the other side of the Pigma Micron cat sketches before I drew or scanned them. There isn't a trace of color or darkening on the cat side of the page even though I rubbed the surface off in a couple of deep color areas.

The manufacturer doesn't recommend using markers on this paper, but if you're careful you may be able to make them perform on it. Just don't do much blending or layering as the moisture may start to weaken the paper surface. Other sorts of pens are fine, like the Pitt Artist Pens with their smaller brush tips.

The surface erases easily, so if you prefer to pencil sketch under your pen drawings there's no problem removing light or medium pencil lines. It's possible to make pencil lines so dark they won't come up, but on this paper I had no problem removing the pencil lines I tested - they didn't groove the surface. Colored pencil may or may not be erasable, it depends on how lightly you colored and how much patience you have with a kneaded eraser. If you'd like to erase color, use Col-Erase pencils.

Thumbs up on a beautiful, archival pen drawing sketchbook. I'm going to have a lot of fun with this one exploring different styles of pen work and may even color some of my pen drawings with my Tombow brush tips.

What I like best about all of these Stillman & Birn sketchbooks is that they're archival. I love looking at sketches by great artists of the past and have an idea that my grandkids and their kids may be interested in Grandpa's sketchbooks too. More than that, when I go back to old sketchbooks I find good ideas that I may not have had the skill to render at the time. They're well protected in sturdy hard covers whether wirebound or hard cover so they survive being knocked around in messenger bags, kicked off the table by my cat or tripped on in the dark. The quality is excellent and prices are comparable to other high quality archival sketchbooks.

I've got two more to test and describe. With how well these three performed, I'm looking forward to the others with delight!

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