Testing Stillman & Birn Sketchbook Paper with Strawberries: A Review

Stillman & Birn Delta 180 lb Ivory paper, ink & watercolor, 6x4"

Stillman & Birn Delta 180 lb Ivory Multi-Media, ink & watercolor, 6×4″

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!)

Stillman & Birn Beta 180 lb white multimedia paper, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Beta 180 lb white Multi-Media Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

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).

Stillman & Birn Epsilon 100 lb white Plate Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Epsilon 100 lb white Plate Surface, ink & wc, 6×4″

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.

Stillman & Birn Gamma 100 lb white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Gamma 100 lb ivory Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

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.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 100 pound white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Alpha 100 pound white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

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)?

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About Jana Bouc

I am an artist who loves (and lives) to sketch and paint in watercolor and oils. I teach watercolor classes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This entry was posted in Art supplies, Drawing, Ink and watercolor wash, Painting, Product Review, Sketchbook Pages and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Testing Stillman & Birn Sketchbook Paper with Strawberries: A Review

  1. Sue Pownall says:

    Lovely sketches.

    Thanks for testing them all and sharing your results. It seems everywhere sketchers are talking about these sketchbooks. As an inker, who occassionally adds watercolour I found this very interesting.

    The epsilon looks nice. I don’t use both sides and usually buy 150gm which I’ve just converted and is 100lb, so maybe I’ll try it :) Thanks.

  2. Thanks for passing on what you’ve learned. I’m enjoying seeing your sketches. They’re so lovely and fresh and inspiring!

  3. cacollie says:

    These are wonderful sketches! And I appreciate your review of the paper. I have a journal but I am strangely having a journaling/sketching block after my trip to France!! I hope I work through this, probably need to just jump in and DO IT!!

    • Jana Bouc says:

      Yep, sounds like you’ve figured out the solution. Maybe focus on how important drawing practice is, and don’t worry about the subject. I can see how after journaling in France other stuff would seem mundane, but it’s all good. Just drawing what’s on the kitchen counter or in your purse could be a way to get started again. Jana

  4. Suzanne says:

    The 180 lb papers now come in hardbound journals…recently released….and I love this paper for mixed media….stands up to anything. So hard to find heavy paper in a hardbound book form, but these are great! Love all your sketches, by the way.

    • Jana Bouc says:

      Thanks Suzie, That’s good to know it’s in hardbound now since I’ve made such a mess with the spiral bound format. I agree: it is great paper for mixed media! But I’ve found it a bit tricky to use for standard watercolor techniques. It has been a good learning experience though. Jana

  5. Tracey says:

    Love the sketches! Strathmore also has hardbound watercolor sketchbooks out.

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