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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks Overview



Stillman & Birn is a relatively new company that has burst onto the art journaling scene with some incredibly high quality sketchbooks, and bloggers are starting to rave about them for sketching, mixed media, and ink washing. I first found out about them from Jamie Grossman's blog with her glowing reviews, and after checking them out for myself, I knew these things were legit.

The brand is broken out into 5 series, Alpha (3:48), Beta (5:52), Gamma (7:15), Delta (8:33), and Epsilon (9:50) that are all blank paper. For easier reference in the video, just jump to the time marker next to the series name.

Here's a chart to explain what they're all about:

Overview of the Stillman and Birn series lineup

What I aim to do here is to explain the different series and how they all differ. It may seem complicated, but it's really not. There are a couple of different paper grades, two different bindings, and two paper colors. All of these series are just a combination of these factors. I'll go through each series and explain what's up.

Alpha Series


Alpha Series Key Points:
  • 100lb/150gsm natural white paper
  • Vellum surface (smooth, but with some resistance)
  • Hardbound (62 sheets) or wirebound (50 sheets)
  • Exact same as Gamma series (except Gamma has ivory paper)


Beta Series Key Points:
  • 180lb/270gsm natural white paper
  • Rough surface (that's what they call it, but it's not really that rough)
  • Wirebound only, 25 sheets
  • Exact same as Delta series (only Delta has ivory paper)


Gamma Series Key Points:
  • 100lb/150gsm ivory paper
  • Vellum surface (smooth, but with some resistance)
  • Hardbound (62 sheets) or wirebound (50 sheets)
  • Exact same as Alpha series (except Alpha has white paper)


Delta Series Key Points:
  • 180lb/270gsm ivory paper
  • Rough surface (that's what they call it, but it's not really that rough)
  • Wirebound only, 25 sheets
  • Exact same as Beta series (only Beta has white paper)


Epsilon Series Key Points:
  • 100lb/150gsm natural white paper
  • Plate surface, smoothest paper in the Stillman & Birn line
  • Hardbound (62 sheets) or wirebound (50 sheets)


The Paper

Stillman & Birn's focus is on the paper, point blank. They recognize that art journaling is now becoming its own art form, and the sketchbook is no longer just a transitional tool from the field to the art studio, it's becoming its own fine art. So they wanted to create the highest quality art journal possible, that can withstand the most demanding of art mediums, such as ink, acrylics, chalk, and watercolor. 

All of the paper washes exceptionally, with no bleeding or feathering on any of the inks I tried.

I don't know much about ink washing, but it sure is fun to try!

The Beta and Delta paper especially can withstand just about anything, watercolor or straight ink dumped on the page. That's straight Noodler's Apache Sunset, dumped on the paper and smeared with a q-tip, and you can't even see it on the other side!

Minimal show-through on the Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon, none at all on the Beta and Delta. 

I'm no artist, and I am definitely biased because I sell them, but even still I can safely say the paper in these sketchbooks is very tough to beat. Drew and I had fun just messing around with a lot of different pens and inks on all the Stillman & Birn paper, and I can safely say that it'll all take just about anything you can put down.

We're starting out with a limited offering of Stillman & Birn at GouletPens.com at first, and we'll expand as there is demand for it. These sketchbooks are a bit outside of the type of notebooks we typically carry, but I believe in supporting a good product and I think it's something that fountain pen users will enjoy. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!


20 comments:

  1. I think when you write "They recognize that art journaling is not becoming its own art form," you mean "They recognize that art journaling is now becoming its own art form,"

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  2. I love the Stillman and Birn notebooks - nice to know they are now available from one of my favorite pen and ink purveyors

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  3. Haha, whoops! Funny how one little letter in a typo can completely change the meaning! I fixed it....Stillman and Birn NOW recognizes art journaling... :) 

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  4. Thanks Julie! I was actually surprised to learn how young they are as a company, they've only been around about a year. I've heard a lot about them recently, and I can see what the hype is about now that I've used them for myself. I think they'll be around for a while, they have the right focus and attitude about the importance of the 'end user'.

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  5. I've had my eye on this brand of sketchbooks for a while. They look amazing! I mostly just write in my journals but I do like to sketch occasionally and am branching out into other media in a separate sketchbook, so one or two of these are probably coming home with me at some point.

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  6. I don't know if I can recommend these enough, especially if you're getting into other media. I think these sketchbooks will become very widely talked about soon enough.

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  7. I purchased one of the Delta 7x7 sketchbooks as soon as you had them available. I haven't tried it yet, but I can tell by the weight and the feel of the paper that I'm going to enjoy it lots. I like to use a lot of different mediums in my 'art journals' but I've found that some of the heavier papers aren't great for pen & ink because they induce feathering. From your demo, it looks like this paper is perfect for pen & ink but is also heavy enough to support thicker mediums such as collage and acrylic.

    Now I just need to stop sitting and admiring it and get to work on filling it up ;)

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  8. Brian, that was a fabulous review/overview of the S&B lineup, and I completely agree with everything you said. The other night, I pulled out the May Ink Drop samples and my dip pens, and had a blast playing across a two page spread in a large 8.5x11" Epsilon hardbound book. It's a great way to sample and keep track of the ink colors as they come out each month. The Epsilon paper lets me test washes with them with water, lay the inks on thick, check out the shading with different types of pens, and then keeps it together in a nice sturdy binding. As you said, there's very little image ghosting or buckling, and the sizing in the paper lets the ink sit up and show its best color. I'm really glad that you'll be carrying these books now.

    BTW, I simultaneously fell in love with most of the inks from the May Ink Drop! Thank you for the great choices. I probably would not have tried those particular ones on my own, but I'm so glad I did, and will likely pick up some bottles.....

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  9. Karen, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with this paper. The thickness of the paper doesn't always determine its compatibility with liquid inks. It has more to do with how the paper is made, and what kind of sizing (coating) it has. That's why I was so excited to use these for the first time, because they do work really well with fountain pen inks.

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  10. Thanks Jamie! I won't lie, your zest for these journals was a huge factor in my willingness to explore them in the first place. I don't think I could be more pleased with them. And I'm thrilled you like May's inks! We took a bit of a gamble using scented inks, I didn't really know how everyone would react to them, but we tried to pick ones that were really great colors on their own apart from the scents. De Atramentis has been a brand I've really enjoyed discovering, and they have such a vast offering! I'm sure they have a lot of different colors that are diamonds in the rough because they're still so unknown. Perfect for Ink Drop, that's what it's all about!

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  11. I loved the scented inks. The De Atramentis Rose smelled fabulous, and the color is beautiful. It has nice shading properties too. I used it in a folded ruling pen as well as a flex nib and an italic. I laid so much ink on that page that I ended up drying it with a hair dryer before closing the book for the night. When I opened up to that page the next day, I could smell the scents! That was a nice surprise.

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  12. I'm so glad! The scents were definitely a factor for the drop...we wanted to choose flowery names (of course), but also really nice colors, and also ones that smelled really good....that's a lot to have to decide! I'm glad you enjoyed it though, and that's so awesome that you could still smell it in the morning! That's not always the case with scented inks, but I think that De Atramentis if nothing else is known for their scents (they should, about 150 of their inks are scented!). 

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  13. Brian, on your site the S&B are listed as non-perforated yet, in your video, that is just the way the pages look.  Are there perforated versions or did you just tear pages out and then use a paper cutter to smooth the edges?

    By the way, another excellent review. :-)

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  14. A little off-topic, but what is the turquoise/teal ink (a couple broad strokes) in the first photo (the one with Noodler's Baystate Blue circled)? I see names for some of the other inks, but not that one.

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  15. I think I may have to try one of these as a new logbook for letterboxing (www.atlasquest.com). The one I currently use has a sad amount of bleedthrough.

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  16. Sara Light-WallerMay 17, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the fabulous review about the Stillman and Birn sketchbooks! If I may add my two cents...I first tried the Stillman and Birn sketchbooks a few months ago and have found them, hands down, the best sketchbooks I have ever used. I have used them (Epsilon, Gamma, and Delta) for pen & ink, pencil, watercolor pencil, watercolor crayon, and watercolor and they have never disappointed me. I am especially fond of the Epsilon book as it's a dream for pen & ink drawing. Nothing else on the market compares. I am delighted that you're carrying them so I can buy them from you guys when I run through my current ones. :-)

    On a different topic...I see you have the Noodler's regular Flex pens on sale right now. This doesn't mean that you're going to stop carrying them? Gosh, I sure hope not! If so, Where will I get any new ones in the future? *sad*

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  17. The pages are NOT perforated in any of the sketchbooks. What I used in the video were sample pages provided to me by S&B that I tested before we started carrying the brand. If you want to remove the pages, you'll have to cut or tear them out...which would be much easier to do in the wire bound versions than the hardbound. 

    Thanks for the compliment!

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  18. That ink is Noodler's Blue Nose Bear. I wanted to test that one in particular because it can have a tendency to spread on more papers than most, but it looks better on S&B paper than anything I've tried! 

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  19. I've actually never heard of letter boxing before, but reading the Atlas Quest site, it seems like these might work well for that, especially the Beta or Delta versions since they have super-thick paper. 

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