Another Sketch From Egypt

This time of year is always tough for me on the sketching front.  Besides it being a busy time of year, I always get lethargic while getting used to living in the dark (we’ve only got about 9 hours of daylight these days).  To top it off, this year I’ve had the flu and now seem to be have some intestinal thing.  This has been very disappointing because our weather has been very atypical (ie low 40s F) and I should be out walking/sketching.

Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that while I continue to draw (scribble?) at home, I haven’t gotten out sketching much.  Here’s a sketch I did the last time I was at the museum.  The model for it is a leg from a ‘bier’, the low table upon which a sarcophagus was placed.

This guy is Bes, a dwarf god.  He must be popular as there are several versions of him in the museum’s Egyptian exhibit.  He was hard to draw because it’s so darn dark in the exhibit that it’s hard to see the shapes.  On several occasions I had to swing my booklight around and shine it on him so I could see the statue.

Bes, the dwarf Egyptian god

Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Review: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

When I got into sketching, about four years ago, I found it pretty easy to find quality pens, pencils, brushes and watercolors.  What was harder was to find a sketchbook that could accommodate pen, ink and watercolor.  It seemed that I was buying a new sketchbook every week in an attempt to ‘try another’ in my quest for the perfect sketchbook.

My first post about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks was in December of 2011.  A few other artists had discovered them and were really excited by them.  I’d just gotten one and was very new to sketching so it was hard for me to evaluate it except to say that I liked it.

My first real discussion of S&B came in March of 2013, after I’d had some time to fall in love with their products.  At that point I’d done a lot of sketching on their Alpha series paper and had just bought one of the Epsilon series sketchbooks.  If you read that post you’ll get the impression that I worked as a sales rep for S&B but I do not.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does this, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I've filled in the past 3 years.

In the future my daughter is going to be faced with the task of taking my sketchbooks to the landfill. When she does, I suspect my pile of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks will be even larger. These are the ones I’ve filled in the past 3 years.  Several others are ‘in progress’.

Since then I’ve been filling S&B sketchbooks at an alarming rate.  I’ve tried not only Alpha and Epsilon papers but also their Beta, Zeta and Gamma sketchbooks.  You can find reviews of these sketchbooks if you search for those words here.  I have a lot of experience with Stillman & Birn products, and I can’t imagine using anything else.

But there’s been one sketchbook format that S&B hadn’t provided me, until now.  I’ve whined to them about it enough that you’d think they would have made some just to shut me up.  It’s a small (3×5) portrait format book that has paper good enough (interpretation = Alpha paper) to accept my scribbles and watercolor smears.  Because this has not been forthcoming from S&B, I’ve been making do with crappy books from the dollar store, Field Notes, small (?) Visual Journals, Moleskines, etc.  At this point I’ve filled 27 of the darned things.  You’d think I’d know how to draw by now with all that scribbling.  Maybe in another 20 years.

S&Bsoftcovers

Anyways, Stillman & Birn has just released the solution to my small sketchbook needs, and then some.  The photo above shows just a few of the many format/paper combinations available in this new series.  All of the S&B’s paper types are available and each has its cover color-coded for that paper type (Alpha = burnt sienna (red?), Beta = blue, Epsilon = gray, Delta = green, Gamma = brown, Zeta = black).  They’re available as 3.5×5.5 and 5.5×8.5 portrait or landscape format and in 8×10 portrait format.

I like the cover material.  It feels almost like leather, though it is obviously not.  It’s stiffer than the Strathmore softcover books, a plus for a street sketcher like me.  The papers are the same great papers you can find in their hardcover books so I’m not going to talk about them.  You can find my opinions by searching for the reviews on this blog but so far I haven’t found any that I don’t like.  I use Alpha and Beta almost exclusively though.

Stillman and Birn have obviously tried to provide lighter and thinner sketchbooks compared to their hardcover books and in that they have succeeded in a big way.  Here are a few comparison numbers:

Hardcover        Softcover

Alpha 5×8       419gm              232gm
Beta 5×8          354gm             267gm

The thickness of a 5×8 Alpha hardcover is 18mm while the Alpha softcover is a svelte 10mm.  In short, these new books are much lighter and thinner than their hardcover counterparts.

3x5portrait

Here is my favorite.  I’m showing it before I took the shrinkwrap off because now that I’ve opened it there is some drool on the front cover.  It’s a small, Alpha-series portrait-format book.   Many who use the Moleskine watercolor books have complained that Moleskine doesn’t produce it in a portrait format.  I used to be one of them, but no more.  I now have my small sketchbook need satiated, or at least it will be when I place an order for a bunch more of these little guys.

Do you need/want the softcover versions of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks?  It depends.  It depends upon whether weight matters to you.  If you carry a single sketchbook and not very far, then giving up those nice hardcover bindings might not make sense.  I carry several sketchbooks and regularly carry them during two-hour walks so cutting the weight nearly in half is a big deal for me.

Are you ever bothered by the thickness of your sketchbook, say when you’re trying to draw along the edge where you have no support for your hand?  Do you wish the book were thinner when trying to draw across the gutter during early or late sections of the book, where one page is bent downward to reach the table due to the thickness of the book?  If these things bother you, maybe having a book that’s half as thick would make you happy.  Beware, though, this comes at a cost.  While the covers reduce the thickness, the softcovers are also made thinner by a reduction of page count (in Alpha the hardcovers have 62 sheets while the softcovers have 48).  I find this a small price to pay to get what I want in the small-size book.

There is one downside to these softcover books.  They use the same double-stitched, glued bindings of their hardcover counterparts and the glue sometimes wicks between the signatures (the small groups of sheets that are folded and sewn together) and they tend to stick the base of the two pages between two signatures together.   I don’t find this to be a problem with Alpha, and probably not with the other 150gsm paper books.  Their pages fold open just fine.  But with the Beta (270gsm) and probably Delta and Zeta books, the paper tends to separate slightly at the gutter when you fold open a section where two signatures come together (6 places in a Beta series book).  This separation is very tight in the gutter of the two-page spread and if you’re working on either side of the gutter, it’s not a problem at all.  But if you want to do a two-page spread, it can create an ugly gutter seam.

I’m thrilled with these new softcovers.  I’ve only drawn a couple things in them thus far but I know the papers well and have documented their use in pretty much all the drawings presented on this blog.  The softcovers, like Stillman & Birn’s hardcover and spiral-bound books, are great options for the urban sketcher or nature journalist.  I feel lucky to live in a time when we sketchers have so many great choices, and all from one company – Stillman & Birn.

Mt Herman Cemetery Entrance

It’s the end of November and things are cooling down, but because of Mr. Nino we’re still having the occasional day that gets into the mid-40s, enticing street sketchers to venture out.  But most days suggest the beginning of the long, and I do mean long, slog through winter has begun.

But it’s always nice to catch a break and so I did this sketch of the entrance to my favorite cemetery in Quebec City, the Mt. Herman Cemetery on Chemin St. Louis.  Not much to say about it except that it was fun.

Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

December Croquistes De Quebec Sketchcrawl

We’ve entered the short days of winter and it already seems like we’re living in the dark.  Though our temperatures have been surprisingly warm, it’s become too cold for outdoor sketching, at least for extended periods of tie.  This makes scheduling sketchcrawls more difficult, but Yvan has managed to line up several winter venues for us.

2015-11laurentienne

2014-01-19PavLaurentienneThe Croquistes de Quebec sketchcrawl will be held on Sunday, December 13 at Pavillion Laurentienne on the Université Laval campus.  The building contains a cluster of statues that are ideal sketching subjects and there’s a fair amount of comfortable seating as well.   So bring your sketching materials and a lunch and join us at 9:30AM for a fun day of sketching.

We’ll eat lunch at noon and share sketches.  Then, for those interested, we can continue sketching.  More details, including a map are available on the Croquistes de Quebec blog.

Sketching With the Montreal Urban Sketchers

I mentioned in my last blog post (written a week ago) that I was sick.  This flu just won’t go away.  But I was really looking forward to driving to Montreal to sketch at the Redpath Museum with the USK-Montreal group.  I’d never been to the RedPath and it is a museum in the old tradition of large wooden cabinets with glass rather than the more modern all-glass enclosures and it’s stacked to the rafters with everything imaginable, from dinosaurs to Samurais and everything in between.  It was also the case that we’d pre-arranged a family reunion that weekend as my daughter was going to hop a bus and meet us there.

So, while not completely over the flu we pointed the car west and headed for Montreal.  As luck would have it, I’d also screwed up my back such that I could stand or sit, but between those two conditions was excruciating.  It was going to be quite a day [sigh], but still I was excited.

If you just landed from another planet I should mention what most people know, which is that USK-Montreal urban sketchers is organized by Shari Blaukopf and Marc Taro Holmes and because of their great and giving personalities, the group is both large and dynamic.  It was amazing to wander the museum with at least half a dozen sketchers in sight, regardless of where you were or where you looked.  They were EVERYWHERE!

Because I was in less than optimal form I decided to draw stuffed birds that were conveniently housed at my eye-level.  In this way I could sketch while standing and not have to worry about bending over, at least until the cap on my waterbrush dropped out of my hand.  Funny how far away the floor becomes when the flexy bits of your anatomy stop working.

birds at RedPath Museum

Stillman & Bin Beta, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

After I finished drawing birds I went to find what my family was up to, and found them in the beautiful shell collection.  They were drawing up a storm but, like me, they were ready for a break.  I really needed to sit down as my back was screaming at me.  So, we went out and got a cup of coffee and  did some family kibbitzing. It had been a while since we’d seen our daughter so that was pretty special.

fossil at RedPath Museum

Canson Mi-Teintes, Namiki Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

When we returned to the museum I was pretty wiped out.  What I really wanted was a bed.  What I got was a kleenex, some tylenol and then it was back into the museum.  I was a bit sluggish but mustered a small sketch of a rock containing a plant fossil.  Then I just spent some time enjoying the museum.  I really do have to get back there as there is a lot to draw.

I had a nice chat with Marc.  He was doing watercolor sketches, skipping his normal pen work and we discussed the results, which were amazing.  I’ve learned a lot from his courses and it’s really nice to be able to actually talk with him about sketching.  I’m a lucky guy, all except for this darn cold, and my broken back.