Review: Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series Sketchbook

I bought this Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook in December 2012, started drawing in it only one year later, and now after another year, I've almost finished the sketchbook.

Sketchbook reviews usually take a long time for me because I like to really use the book properly before I write anything.


The Epsilon series of sketchbook from Stillman & Birn features 124 pages of heavyweight 150gsm natural white paper. The surface texture is quite smooth, rather similar to copier paper.

The sketchbooks are available in hardcover and wire-bound at different sizes as follows:

Hardbound:

  • 5.5 by 8.5 in
  • 8.5 by 11 in.
  • A4 - 8.25 by 11.75 in.

Wire-bound:

  • 6 by 8 in.
  • 7 by 10 in.
  • 9 by 12 in.

Individual large sheets are also available at 22 by 30 inches.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
The Epsilon sketchbook has a faux leather texture for the hardcover.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
It uses stitch binding in a way that allows the sketchbook to open flat. This is good for drawing across pages and scanning.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
This is how good the binding is. To make your pages easier to open flat, you can open the book as you normally do, then pull the pages and cover all the way to the back until they touch each other. Don't worry, the sketchbook will not be damaged because the stitch binding is durable and is that good. I typically do this for the 124-page sketchbooks from Stillman & Birn. Their 52-page sketchbooks have thicker paper and and easier to open wide.

This sketchbook has been in and out of my bag for a year and there is very minimal wear and tear on the cover. The build quality is top notch.

Stillman & Birn claims that this paper is good for pen & Ink, coloured pencils & water-based-markers. I actually tried all that and also watercolour.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
The sketches above and pen and ink with watercolour. Epsilon paper is definitely not top of my list of paper to go to for watercolour. The paper does not absorb water that well, so the water tend to stay on the surface, wander around, then pools and dries with back runs. One way to prevent back runs is to use less water.

Sure you can use watercolour on it, but it will require a lot of extra care to make sure you don't get the unwanted effects like back runs, or water running over the surface bringing pigments to places where you don't want them too.

Interestingly, when I posted this review on Twitter, Stillman & Birn replied that some artists find the Epsilon to be suitable for watercolour. So I went to their facebook page and sourced out all the artworks they have featured that were created on the Epsilon paper. They are here, here, here, here and this one's with acrylic. You can make your own judgement after seeing them.

Paper texture is different on each side of the paper. One side is smoother and the other has more texture.


This is flat wash on the surface with more texture.


And this is the flat wash on the surface that is smoother. Notice that there are back runs? The thing is, if you're going to be using the sketchbook on the table, you have to be very conscious about how much water you use, a bit too much and you'll have the effect of back run.

When you're outdoor sketching, holding the sketchbook in hand, it's bound to move and so will the water.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
This is a pencil sketch at a cafe. The purple bits near the coffee cup which are the result of me spraying fixative on dye-based ink on the page that follows. Argh.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
The paper works well with pencil. The paper has enough texture to catch the graphite. Here's an example from Jeanne Powers-Forsyth of charcoal on Epsilon.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
Markers look good on the paper also. But 150gsm is unable to prevent the marker bleeding to the page behind. I usually leave two blank pages after every marker drawing. If you don't want markers to bleed through, check out the Zeta series sketchbooks.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
Pen and ink is the best medium to use on the Epsilon sketchbook. Pens just glides smoothly on the surface. Ink washes are also well handled. There's no back run for ink because of the higher viscosity.

I enjoy using this sketchbook for line drawings with pen. For markers, you might as well get the Zeta sketchbook instead of leaving blank pages with the Epsilon after each drawing.

Epsilon is not a sketchbook I will go to for watercolour sketches. At this number of pages, I will go with the Alpha series. Stillman & Birn currently has six series of sketchbook, each one's dedicated to certain type of medium and work. You can read more about them from my first impression article.

Video review

Availability

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

Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Amazon.es

Search Utrecht Art Supplies (USA) too.

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