Saturday, December 6, 2014

Stillman and Birn sketchbooks - build your own!!!

I've tried many different sketchbooks, and could never find quite the mix of paper type, color and size that I really want for various media. Now I've stumbled onto Stillman and Birn, which addresses this issue directly. They let you select what kind of paper you want by thickness, surface texture and color and then you can choose the size of sketchbook and whether you want it hardbound or wirebound. Not exactly custom, but it's a really excellent ala-carte system allowing artists to get exactly what they're looking for in a sketchbook.

Choosing your desired features

To help understand exactly how to choose the sketchbook you want for each media look at their chart. I'll add it to the sidebar. It lists the various series of sketchbooks - you simply check for paper weight, surface (smooth, medium grain or cold press), color (white or ivory) and what types of media it supports. Their papers are all internally and externally sized (at least the ones made for wet media - not sure about the rest but I believe it said 'all'). This tells you what series you want - from Alpha to Zeta. Then you choose the size and whether you want hardbound or spiral bound. It's almost like special ordering a custom-made sketchbook to your own specs. It is more expensive than most sketchbooks, but if you really want specific features this is the way to get them. They also sell each of the papers as sheets.

Making it lie flat like a Moleskine

One complaint I've seen in the comments section on Amazon is that the sketchbooks don't lie flat like a Moleskine so you can work across 2-page spreads. They actually will do this - you just have to break them in a little first by opening it all the way in several places. Brenda Swenson talks about it at the end of this brief video about them:

I've now done this to the 8.5 x 5.5 Alpha I have (I didn't know they offered different series when I bought it or I would have probably got something different, but I'll be using it for black ink drawing with or without wash). I found I had to open it pretty hard to many different pages at random and now it will lay flat when I open to those pages, but I think you'll need to relax it at each page when you prepare to work on it. 

Personally I love the ivory paper sketchbooks with a light smooth paper that will take light washes for my fountain pen sketches, but I want a white heavier smooth paper for working with gouache. I think I'll get a Zeta 8.5 x 11 - she mentions the 8.5 x 5.5  will fit on a scanner, which is nice, but I want a bigger surface to paint on without  a big seam right down the middle. For my gouache paintings I want each on its own page.


Ok, apparently this chick is not doing it right. She only opened it halfway. Here's something I found in a customer comment on Amazon (which is how I discovered the rest of the info posted here b the way):

"One of the nice things about Stillman & Birn books is that they're triple bound. Mine go with me everywhere - boats, deserts, camping, in the lab, in the car, etc. I'm tough on my books - they get dropped and wetted and wedged places. I've never had an issue with the binding coming apart. It also means that you can get these puppies to lay completely flat. It's traumatic - be warned. You need to open the new, clean, pristine book to the middle, and gently press the pages and cover back until they touch each other. Then do that at each signature page (where you see stitching). Then, working from the middle to the front, then middle to back, do that with each page spread. Be firm but gentle; you will hear some creaks and cracks. You may have to repeat this once more if you're a little too tentative. Then the book will lie open and you can draw across the spread if you want."

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