Review: Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Sketchbook (150gsm)



After filling 97 out of the 124 pages in the Stillman & Birn's Alpha series sketchbook during a sketching trip in Hong Kong, I feel like I've finally used it enough to form an opinion.

The Alpha series is one of the six types of sketchbooks offered by Stillman and Birn. The main features of the Alpha would be its 150gsm natural white paper.


The sketchbook can come in either wirebound or hardbound, and in different sizes. The 9 by 6 inch landscape format was released quite recently. I have waited for a long time for the landscape format to come out. Not all series come with landscape format so that's a great addition. I hope Stillman & Birn can release the landscape format for all their series because it's difficult to find quality sketchbooks in landscape format, especially for heavyweight paper. Currently, the landscape hardbound are only available for the Alpha and Gamma series only.

The 9 by 6 inch landscape is a nice size. Anything size larger probably would not make sense as the paper warps. More on that later.

The hardcover is thick and the binding is excellent. There are 124 pages for the hardbound and 100 pages for the wirebound. The pages can be open relatively flat, and if you can't you can always fold the covers back towards each other -- don't worry, the binding will hold.


I actually have two Alpha sketchbooks. There's the portrait format that I've been using for years to create colour swatches and mixtures for watercolour and coloured pencils. Then there's the landscape format one that I bought specifically for a sketching trip.


These are several black inks that I tested.


Ink bleed through is generally not a problem unless you intentionally layer thick wet washes. However, because the paper is only 150gsm, not really that thick, there will still be slight impressions of drawings made on the opposite page. They can appear when scanning the pages.


The paper is sort of like fine grain cartridge paper. There's some tooth but it's not as rough as coldpress watercolour paper. When used with coloured pencils, the white of the paper will be visible, so you really need to layer pigments heavily to cover up.


The paper accepts dry and wet medium well. Colours appear vibrant and accurate. That's why I like to use it to create colour swatches and mixtures. And because the sketchbook is thick, you can do a lot of colour studies and compare different brands.


For watercolour usage, one important thing to note is the paper does warp when you apply water.


When the paper warps, the pigments may concentrate at lower regions of the paper. When the paper dries, you may see areas with concentrated pigments. So it's important to control the amount of water you use carefully. It affects wet on wet techniques as well, if you want to achieve a nice flat wash or gradated wash, you may find the warping paper working against you.

It's best to just use light washes, not so much water, instead of the much heavier washes that I've used. Anyway, if you're those don't like to feel restricted, go for the Beta sketchbook with thicker paper.


The paper absorbs water well enough and is capable of producing nice granulation, depending, of course, on the granulating pigments you use.

I use this sketchbook primarily for pen, ink and watercolour sketching. Below are selected pages I've filled, or you can check out larger scans from my other post.

Conclusion

Alpha sketchbooks are quality sketchbooks for artists. If you need medium weight paper for ink and watercolour work, it's a good sketchbook to get. The only issue is the paper warps, but that's to be expected with the 150gsm paper. My recommendation is to use light washes, and not too many layers for glazing.

I like that it has a 124 pages. That's a lot to draw on. The bright white paper brings out the vibrancy of colours very well.

If you need more heavyweight paper, check out the Beta series with 270gsm paper.

Overall, the Alpha sketchbook is a quality sketchbook and a good buy.

Video review

Availability

You can find Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbooks on Amazon and Jackson's Art Supplies (UK) and Utrecht Art Supplies (USA).

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