Stillman & Birn sketchbooks are highly rated by other sketchers so I wanted to try one but couldn’t figure out which paper to choose. I emailed the company and they sent me a packet of paper samples. On a sunny afternoon I tested them using potted strawberries and flowers on the deck for my subjects. (Then I ate the strawberry. Yum!)
The two most likely options were the Multi-Media Surface papers: either the Delta 180 pound ivory (at top) or the Beta 180 pound white paper (above). I liked the way the ink went on smoothly. The watercolor worked well if applied directly in one layer without much water. Otherwise it backwashed like crazy (see splotches above).
I liked the Epsilon paper (above) but worried that the 100 pound weight wasn’t going to be thick enough. The very smooth finish was nice for both ink and watercolor, similar to hot-pressed watercolor paper.
The 100 pound Gamma (above) and Alpha (below) vellum surface paper was probably my least favorite, although I ended up judging my impressions by how well I liked the way the sketch turned out instead of technical reasons since they all took ink and watercolor somewhat similarly.
I chose the ivory Delta paper (at top of the post) in an 8×6″ wire-bound journal because I liked that paper the best, even though it only comes wirebound. I’ve used that journal for the past month. It works well if I draw in ink and then apply a stroke of paint and leave it alone. I’ve been less successful if I add another layer of paint or try to get a smooth wash over a larger area. The paper pills, previous layers of paint lift off, or it backwashes.
I also keep getting nasty, dirty, thumbprints on the previously painted page when painting on the next page (which has ruined a couple nice sketches). But maybe that’s just me being clumsy. Or maybe I should only paint on one side of the paper even though it’s thick enough to paint on both.
I’m halfway through the journal and have found workarounds to my problems. It’s been good practice for me to be more direct and get it right on the first stroke or else. But I’d still like the option to add more washes when I need to. It’s a beautifully made journal but I don’t think I’ll buy another. I’m going back to binding my own with the watercolor paper I prefer.
If you’ve used a Stillman & Birn journal, which version did you use and why do you love it (or not)?