Color Spree

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stillman and Birn Zeta Journal

Stillman and Birn have done it again! I love their journals. All of them have great paper, good bindings, archival quality and spectacular performance. The newest S&B journal is no exception. It's a dream come true for anyone who wants to paint and draw in the style of Claudia Nice. This journal is perfect for pen and watercolor.

Stillman & Birn Zeta paper is as heavy as the Beta and Delta. It's pure natural white 180lb smooth paper. A little less absorbent than the Rough paper, its smooth hot press surface gives absolute control of pen textures. The above illustration is a page of life drawings in pen and watercolor from my 7" square wire bound Zeta journal. Zeta comes in both wire bound and hardbound versions, the hardbound Zeta has the fold-flat binding that allows perfect two-page spreads if you're fonder of a hard binding. But I still like the simplicity of a wire binding and the 7" square journal is a convenient size for me to carry with a pan set of watercolors for life drawing excursions.

I first tried out my Zeta with a pure pen page, lots of text and some pen drawings. I was thrilled with the level of control it gave me. The paper is gorgeous and takes pen textures perfectly. I penciled first and it does have enough tooth to allow delicate graphite values, it also erased clean without destroying the texture at all using a kneaded eraser and a white vinyl eraser. I've taken to penciling every page in it because this heavy, elegant paper gives precision to my pen drawing and allows the best of fine details to come through exactly as intended.

On color pages, the effects are a little different. Some artists find them disappointing, because the paper is naturally a bit less absorbent than cold press or rough paper. The smooth plate texture will let your paint float and puddle on the surface longer than it would on a rougher paper. That's something to get used to, but it's nowhere near as difficult as painting on Yupo. Watercolor on the Zeta paper takes a little more thought and planning to get your best effects with it. The apple in my first illustration was painted with a nearly dry brush effect. Strokes will be distinct and mingling takes carefully controlling water quantity and tilt of the journal. So it takes a bit of skill to get exactly the effects you want on the Zeta, but it's well worth it.

The more often I paint in my Zeta journal, the easier it is to get used to the paper's texture and control wet in wet applications. The petals of the top flowers were painted wet in wet within the paper area. I started with a medium-light wash of Rose per petal, kept the edges to the pen lines and then charged in more Rose where the shaded areas were on my photo reference (my own photo) and where I'd accented with pen shading. In the leaves I washed the entire area and then charged in some stronger green, waited for a dry area to get some darker details, played with the values. It may take a little practice to gain control of your watercolor on Zeta paper but the color and values will come up strong and bright on it.

A little goes a long way. Notice that in both pen watercolor pages, the darks come out really dark, the brights come out really bright. The same smooth texture that makes it difficult to control wet in wet applications also keeps more of the pigment on the surface, so a little watercolor goes a long way in a Zeta.

I would recommend if you've never used hot press watercolor before, to start with the last page of your Zeta journal and make a color chart of your watercolors. Mark off shapes or squares with a waterproof ink pen like a Pigma Micron (my favorite waterproof technical pen) and then draw out a shaded patch ranging from very light to its deepest tone for each color. This will also give a sense of how much water to have on the brush while painting.

I used a Niji waterbrush for most of these paintings but have also done some with a squirrel mop along with artist grade watercolors.

This page, painted with the squirrel mop, gave me much more control of the amount of water in each application. I did some objects and portions of objects wet in wet, the first layers on the marble and shell were wet in wet, also some areas of the rock and feather. Later I overlaid color with a damp brush into damp areas, finally some last details were with a nearly dry brush effect on thoroughly dry paper. I got a variety of soft and hard edges on this page with the squirrel mop and a finer point to the mop for getting into details than with the Niji water brush. So I would seriously recommend trying different brushes with your Zeta journal to discover what techniques best suit your work.

The 180lb paper is so heavy that even the wettest areas did not distort the paper or create problems on the other side. On the first demo page, the apple dried with a slight dip in the page on the previous side which was entirely pen work, but none of the ink lines ran because I was using a brush tip Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen for the sketches on that side. If you put a very loose, heavy application of water there will be a little cockling, this is true for any paper. But it was very minimal and didn't bring any color through at all, as happened in other journals where I had heavy watercolor applications on one side that carried color through to the other.

I don't do many marker paintings but I'm pretty sure this paper will perform well with markers, the Pitt Artist Pens deliver about as much liquid as most alcohol based markers and I had no trouble with dark heavy applications going through or distorting after they went on. There was no distortion on the watercolor side of this page when I went back and did the apple, more that the water seeped through to slightly distort the surface under the can of spray fixative sketch.

Stamping, collage, glitter, special effects and Pan Pastels would all work fine on a Zeta journal, though with its hot press surface you probably won't be able to layer much with Pan Pastels. Use Pan Pastels on this more as an accent and definitely put some fixative over it if you want to layer the Pans. You might have some trouble getting opaque layering with Pans because of its smoothness. For pastels and Pan Pastels my favorite journal is the Beta, right now I've turned my current Stillman & Birn Beta journal into a Pastel Journal with Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) primer on some of its pages - and not on others, the rough surface of the Beta paper holds pastels and Pan Pastels better than most unsanded pastel papers.

However, a few accents over watercolor such as a dab of Pearlescent Pan Pastel or Metallic Pan Pastel could definitely work, I'd still try multimedia paintings in a Zeta. I might specifically use a sanded primer like AS Multimedia or Golden Pumice Gel if I wanted a pastel passage in a Zeta journal especially. Texture can be created where the paper doesn't have it. Acrylics and inks should work fine in this journal with the same way that watercolor adheres. The paper is very good at holding paint once it's dried!

I wholeheartedly recommend the Stillman & Birn Zeta journal, especially for pen drawing and pen/watercolor painting. Other multimedia and different mediums may work well or poorly depending on how well those mediums behave on a smooth surface. Zeta paper is smooth but absorbent, a thousand times better than Yupo and still has the Yupo Effect of brightening watercolor applications!

When you're feeling detail fussy and a super-fine pen point is calling to you, whether that's a crowquill, a .005 Pigma Micron or even a 6x0 Rapidograph technical pen, reach for a Zeta journal. You won't regret it! Watercolors will float on the surface, giving extra strength and brightness to your wet washes. With watersoluble colored pencils and other colored pencils, treat it as smooth paper. Think detail and careful applications. That's what the Zeta is all about.

I recommend Zeta for all water media with that caveat - it's smooth and it won't act like anything else without a primer or some other way to rough up a section. Its greatest strength is the clean, perfect pen line and minute detail, fantastic control of small details and strokes. Definitely the pen perfectionist's journal!

1 comment:

  1. I was not thrilled with the Zeta at first, the paper felt too smooth for my liking....but it has a surprising amount of tooth!