I’m new to sketching, but I’ve been doing it nearly six months and I am a paper and pen freak. I just love them and in spite of hammering away on a computer all the time, I have at least a dozen pens inked up and various waterbrushes, brush pens, pencils, nib pens, and paint brushes in use regularly. It’s nuts, I know, as my abilities with these tools are limited but, for me, playing with the tools is just as important as doing art.
My approach to paper has been different. I’ve spent the last bunch of decades as a fountain pen user – almost exclusively. Fountain pens require high-quality papers if you’re going to enjoy them to their fullest. So while I’ve tried the ever-popular Moleskine journals, my requirement for a paper had been reduced to “Is it made by Clairefontaine/Rhodia?” If it was, I was happy.
This didn’t work for sketching, principally because I needed a more absorbant, and thicker, paper so I could play in the watercolor pond. So I started a quest for sketchbook/journals. I just counted and I have NINE of them (remember, I’ve only been doing this for six months). When the dust settled, I had fallen in love with the Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbooks. The binding is bulletproof and the paper far exceeds expectations when it comes to handling lots of water while doing watercolor washes. I reviewed the Alpha here, comparing it to my Fabiano Venezia sketchbook. Here are a couple of the sketches I’ve done in it to give you some idea of how the paper responds.
And so I was like a kid at Christmas when the postman arrived with my order of new Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. I wanted to a spiral-bound book for field sketching and while my pack can’t handle 9x12s, I bought the 7×10 Alpha for that purpose. I like the idea of sketching without having a double-page spread to contend with, mostly because I’ve watched other artists working with spiral-bound journals in videos.
I also picked up a twin of my current 5.5×8.5 Alpha hardcover journal, though it’s not an identical twin. Instead, this one is from the Stillman & Birn Epsilon series and while paper thickness (100lb) is the same, it has a smoother ‘plate’ finish. The Alphas are quite smooth but, being curious, I thought I’d give an Epsilon a try because a couple artists I admire are using them with good results. Of course, they could create great art on the bottom of a cafeteria table. They say that watercolor tends to puddle a bit (the effect on all smooth surfaced papers) but that they actually like the results. I’m excited to try the Epsilon. You can find more info about these journals on the Stillman & Birn website. Oh…and no, I don’t work for them. I just like their journals.
It’s said that the scariest thing for writers and artists is the blank page. In my experience, there’s some truth to that. Somehow, though, I’m really excited about having a couple hundred blank pages to fill. What are your favorite journal/sketchbooks?