Learn Sketching By Playing

I’ve been very lucky.  When I became interested in sketching last September I had the Internet.  I could surf from site to site; I got lots of great information and saw the work of lots of other sketchers.  I spent time looking at Monet’s sketchbooks too.

If you compare Monet’s sketchbooks to what you see modern sketchers posting on the Internet you see a big difference.  Monet’s not as good as those modern artists.

Well, that could be one interpretation.  Another is that modern sketchers use the Internet to post their good sketches and not posting the numerous sketches done in the act of learning, practicing, or investigating ideas.  I concluded this explanation was more likely, mostly because I’m a fan of Monet’s work.

After a year and a half of experience as a sketcher, I realize my own behavior validates that explanation.  I post sketches regularly, but only a small fraction of the sketches I actually do and none of the many scribbled pages where I learn and develop pretty much everything I can do with a pointy device.  It’s too bad the learning process isn’t more evident on the Internet and this post is an attempt to correct that biased view of at least one sketcher’s output.  Here’s your chance to see that ‘dark side’.  Clicking on the photos will let you see how I play to learn.

I confess that it’s hard to show my, shall we call them, lesser sketches.  The pages shown here belong to a pile of similar sketches that have one goal.  My urban sketches are typically done with constant-width lines and I’m trying to learn to vary the pressure on the pen to allow me to take advantage of variable line width.

2013-03-06FlexPenI begin with this one, mostly because of the right-hand page.  This is one of several that look like this.  As an aside, to those who don’t want to use good sketchbooks because you’re afraid to muck them up, this is one of my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks (4×6).  I don’t use cheap paper even when doodling.  All I was trying to do was to get used to how hard I needed to press on a Noodler’s Creaper flex pen to get lines of different shapes and densities.  The sketch on the left was done from an existing sketch drawn by my buddy Yvan.  He was kind enough to give me a series of sketches he’d done from sketches of the masters.  Mine are less masterful than his but I’m learning a lot by copying these sketches.

2013-03-07FlexPenHere’s another spread of sketches copied from sketches.  Nothing much more to say about the technique of copying other people’s work except to say that it allows me to concentrate on the lines and let’s me ‘feel’ what it’s like to make them.

2013-03-05FlexPen_PolarBrownBut there are other ways of learning/practicing techniques.  I’m a building sketcher.  Here’s a quick sketch of one of the towers in old Quebec.  I did this one by copying a quick sketch I did of the area.  Copying my own work, but with a new look/technique, helps me see the difference in a special way because I know the original so well.

2013-03-05FlexPenI’ve also been doing a lot of museum sketching, sketching Nigerian masks and statues.  While there on Tuesday, I also did this quick sketch of a praying mantis on top of a pole with some gizmos supporting it.  Not anything like my typical cartoon style but I actually like how this one turned out.

I wondered how this varied line width stuff would affect quick sketching and so while waiting at to see my rheumatologist I started scribbling.  The page on the right are just pieces of people who were either sitting or standing, doing the same thing I was.

2013-03-05FlexPenDoctorOfficeThe left page was when I started thinking I’d be called any second so I was looking for tiny things to sketch.  The first thing I sketched was a McDonald’s burger box.  Then I sketched the backpack and then scribbled that poor excuse for a building sketch.  As I still hadn’t been called, and the guy had finished his hamburger, I sketched him, his head becoming the burger box.  Is this how Picasso’s cubist period started?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my dirty laundry.  I have a lot of it.  Much more, in fact, than the cleaner stuff  I post regularly here and in Facebook groups.  It’s fun.  It’s how I learn..  How about you?  Do you have sketchbooks full of stuff like this?  Monet does.

 

Museum Sketching With Claudette

What’s going on?  Last week it was so cold that it was fashionable to run outside with a bucket of hot water, throw it up in the air and watch it turn instantly to snow.  Those -30C temps are tough so mostly we just stay indoors.  But this week, we’re 40-degrees warmer than that and it’s RAINING!   This doesn’t happen in Quebec, in February.  These temps, however, are much easier to take.

And so it was, yesterday, when I walked in the rain to the Musee de l’Amerique francais to meet up with a new sketching buddy, Claudette Gauvreau, a very talented sketcher.  I met her at our last sketchcrawl and we agreed meet at the museum for a sketching session.

2013_01-30ChapelOrgan700I got there about half an hour or so before our scheduled meet time and decided to sketch an organ that sits high above the floor of a chapel associated with the museum.  I always struggle with perspective when I have to look up this much and this case was no exception.  I started with pencil, drawing and redrawing the basic columns and the ceiling curves.  I even drew a big cube where the organ sits before turning to pen to do the actual sketch.

When Claudette arrived she needed to do some work in the chapel as well so I continued working and finished up the pen work.  I did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook using Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Shading was done with a Derwent Graphitone 8B pencil.  These pencils are great because once you hit them with a waterbrush they ‘set’ and you can put watercolor washes over it.

ClaudetteBalastradeClaudette finished up this great sketch of part of the railing around the main seating area, which holds a bunch of round banquet tables these days.  I can’t speak to materials used but isn’t it great?  The small bit at the bottom is an example of the flooring.

We headed into the museum where we sat in comfy sofas and sketched mannequins dressed in costumes used in movies and created by French costume designers.  She started sketching the cowboy character that Owen Wilson played in Night at the Museum, while I decided to do something I’d never done.  I sketched a Victorian dress using only a pen.  I’m fascinated by clothing folds and want to learn to draw them in ink.

2013_01-30VictorianDress700Anyways, in the time it took me to do this sketch, Claudette finished drawing her cowboy, then drew a security guard and an indian from the same movie.  Then she wandered off to look at the exhibits while I finished up my single figure.  Have I mentioned that I’m slow at sketching (grin)?  This sketch was done with a Pilot G-TEC-C3, hybrid ink pen on Strathmore Series 400 toned gray paper (5.5×8.5).  I wish I could show you Claudette’s sketches but I didn’t think to take a photo.

Next Wednesday, we’re meeting at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Want to join us?

10 Favorite Sketches of 2012

2012 represents most of my sketching experience to date.  I started trying to draw cubes back in September of 2011 but I didn’t start doing any location sketching until spring of 2012 as the Quebec snow melted.  It’s been a fantastic journey as I’ve climbed the early stages of the sketching learning curve. I thought it might be fun to do a ‘ 10 favorites’ post, where I present what I think are some of my best sketches of the year.  I’m often accused of being ‘down’ on my sketches.  Here’s my chance to show people that I’m actually happy with some of them (grin).

Because 90% or more of my sketches have been done on the street and most have been buildings, I thought I should vary my choices by selecting one sketch from ten different categories, just to increase the variety.   So, here they are.  I hope you like them.

Building

This is, by far, the hardest selection.  I’ve done a LOT of building sketches and none of them really stand out as extraordinary, though many are personal ‘favorites’.  I’ve chosen this one because it, in the extreme, is the brightest (grin).

2012_10-MokaPlus800

Vehicle

2012_09-CarI’ve drawn a number of cars, trucks and even heavy equipment.  I chose this one, however, because the subject was so darn cute when it found it lounging in the old port area of Quebec.

 

Fire hydrant

Pete Scully, by example, caused me to notice and sketch fire hydrants.  I don’t know what it is about them but once you start looking at them you realize they vary considerably and that fire hydrants have oodles of personality.  I chose this one because I like the composition.

2012_01-FireHydrant2_sm

 Samurai helmet

2012_12-Samouri3_700I’ve tried drawing from photos and it’s ‘ok’ but sketching, for me, is about going places and seeing things.  But winter in Quebec City is just too cold to be outdoors so we’re all driven indoors.  At first I found that depressing but once I saw the Samurai exhibit at our museum of civilization, I was hooked on indoor sketching.  I started sketching Samurai helmets, which are amazing, serving to protect heads as well as indicate status, identity, and even to serve in ceremonial roles.  It’s hard to choose a single helmet sketch as I love these amazing pieces of hardware.  I chose this one as it nearly drove me nuts drawing all those flame thingies.

Human

52This was hard as I haven’t drawn many people.  It’s on my ‘to do’ list for 2013.  But I chose this one, a very simple sketch, because I liked the way I was lucky enough to capture the movement of this guy’s coat as he walked along.

Ship

2012_07-CHJColor800Quebec City has an active port so I’ve sketched several ships.  I chose this one because I remember struggling with all the decks and railings.  I also have memories of how much fun I had that day as I sketched with my buddy Pierre.

Steeple/Dome

Quebec City is heavily populated by domes and steeples projecting upward from their supporting structures.  I love sketching them and have done a bunch of them.  I chose this particular sketch because it features both domes and steeples in a single sketch.

2012_11-Domes800_site

Telephone pole

Maybe you have to be an urban sketcher to appreciate them, but I like telephone poles and all the wires, transformers and connectors that hang from them.  I did this sketch on blue paper and liked the way it turned out.

2012_04-3Transformer800

Tree

I’ve drawn a bunch of trees but mostly they’ve been ‘studies’ where it was just the tree and nothing for supporting material.  This one, however, was done one day when Pierre and I headed out one Sunday morning looking for things to sketch.  It was a crisp autumn day and the maples had started to change colors.  I decided to make the tree the main attraction, putting the building in the background.

2012_09-StAnneTree800

Vignette

To fulfill my promise of ten sketches, I’ve added this vignette to complete the set.  I was sketching with my friend Nicolas and we were sitting in a church yard, a church that has become a library.  I looked over my shoulder and could see part of this restaurant, liked the red umbrellas and so I drew it.  Again, it brings back memories of a good day.

2012_08-VeauD'OrC800

I’m looking forward to 2013 sketching.  For a while I’m going to have to work indoors but sometime around April we’ll start having a day or three where it’s tolerable to sketch outside and you’ll find me on the streets all summer.  Happy New Year, everyone.

 

Quick Sketching: Trying Out The Platinum Carbon Pen

I just bought a Platinum Carbon Pen from Jet Pens.  I’m a fan of Platinum Carbon Black ink and this pen is supposed to have a feed sized specifically for this pigmented ink.  Most people say that it has a very fine nib.  Giving away the punch line, I think both of these things are true.

The pen comes from Jet Pens looking like this.  I carry my pens everywhere and this one is just way too long.  It’s designed to look and feel like a dip pen.PCarbonPenAnd so I “fixed” mine.  I cut it off long enough to allow the ink cartridge but short enough that I could post the cap while it was in use.  For anyone wanting to follow this approach, that’s 6cm from the gold ring around the pen body.

Once cut, I mixed up some epoxy and dabbed the pen up and down in the puddle of epoxy, filling the hole in the end of the pen.  Once dry I simply sanded everything smooth and the result looks like this:

PCPclosedPCPopen

 

 

 

 

Cut down like this, it makes a very comfortable sketching pen.  When capped it’s nearly as short as a Kaweco Classic Sport and when posted it’s nearly the length of my Pilot Prera.  The balance works out well also.

The pen really shines, though, because of its fine line, which is actually finer than my Pilot Prera (F), which is already finer than a Lamy (XF).  The Platinum Carbon lays down a line nearly as fine as a Gillot 303, if you’re familiar with dip pen nibs.  Hatching is a dream with this pen.2012_12-quick_sketch0

The Platinum Carbon Black ink cartridge that comes with it is nothing short of spectacular.  This ink is the definition of a true black and it’s absolutely waterproof.  You can buy this ink in cartridges or in a bottle.  I’ve always been a fan of Platinum cartridges because they have a small metal ball that keeps the ink mixed and so I just fill them from a bottle using a pen syringe.

2012_12-quick_sketch2

 

So I sat down and took the pen for a test drive.  I did some tonal hatching practice and several small sketches, just to get used to the feel of it.  I’ve included a few of those sketches here, all done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6).

2012_12-quick_sketch4

 

 

I like this pen a lot.  It’s a great compliment to my Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens and may become my ‘go to’ pen for quick sketching due to its super-fine nib.2012_12-quick_sketch5

 

 

 

Samurai – The Continuing Saga Of The Urban Sketcher

The last few days have been stormy here.  High winds, snow, and general ugliness.  No big deal except that I haven’t been able to follow my normal walking regime.  With mild desperation to right that wrong, I trudged off today, or rather I was slipping and sliding down the sidewalks.  I was jumping mounds of snow, walking on water…well, really just in it.  After an hour of this joyous adventure I found myself at the Musee de la Civilisations, my winter haunt.

I sketched only one Samurai helmet today, though.  This one was a bit more challenging, with all its fire ornamentation and besides, I had another hour of slipping and sliding to get home.  It was fun anyways and while I’m beat from the walk, it was a very satisfying day.  I think, though, that I’m going to sit and sketch for a while.

2012_12-Samouri3_700

The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), which is becoming my museum sketchbook.  I used a Pilot Prera and Lex Gray.  The color comes from Faber-Castell “Albrecht Durer” watercolor pencils, mushed around with a waterbrush.  This is an approach that fits the museum world and works for me, though I’m still learning how and what to do with them.

Sketching on 12/12/12

Yesterday I had a lunch appointment and as I walked home from it I passed a bright yellow pizza place.  Have you ever done anything goofy for a goofy reason?  Maybe I’m alone in that combination.  It occurred to me that it was 12/12/12, a rather unique date and that I should sketch something.  But, this was one of the odd times when I didn’t have my sketching stuff with me.  Besides it was cold.  Still, as I continued walking I couldn’t get the pizza parlor out of my mind.

By the time I got home, all sense of rationality had left me.  “It’s only 10 minutes back to that place,” I said to myself.  “I’ll work fast and it’s not really that cold.”  I grabbed my sketching bag, threw half a dozen Tombow markers that I thought would I’d need into the bag along with a waterbrush.  Off I went.

It was nuts and I’ve never sketched a building so fast.  It’s certainly not my best sketch and somewhat wonky.  I used the Tombow pens to color it at lightning speed.  and then got out the waterbrush to add some sky color by wicking color from a Tombow pen onto the waterbrush.  I made a mistake and swiped some red from the sign into my sky.  I liked this little “happy mistake” so I did it some more.  This adds to the wonkiness of my 12/12/12 sketch but I liked it.

I liked it better, though, when I got home and got a cup of hot tea in my hands.  It’s definitely too cold for me to sketch outdoors anymore this year.  Have you done anything this crazy in the name of sketching?

The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbooks, using a Kaweco Classic Sport (fine) and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  As mentioned, Tombow pens were used for color.

 2012_12-Salvatore700

Where The Dogs Run In Quebec City

The keepers of Quebec City have a sense of humor, or so it seems.  On every tourist map there is a pointer to Passage du Chiens, or Dog Passage and people flock to see it.  Well, maybe not flock as it’s down the street from lots of other stuff and they simply see it as they pass by.

But there it is, complete with official street sign – Passage du Chiens.  It is a passageway to a road/parking area for residents who live in the area and whose house fronts on a ‘street’ that is no longer a street but rather a walkway for pedestrians.  And the Passage du Cheins does sit between two art galleries that are quite photogenic and so many photos are taken of the spot.  I suspect dog lovers get a kick out of showing it to their friends.

Towards the end of our outdoor sketching season I was wandering around, trying to get in some last minute plein air sketching, and I decided to sketch this famous landmark.  The sun was bright, which was great because the temps were just above freezing.  Before I finished, though, the sun had moved behind the buildings, shading the entire area.  This, and the fact that I’d been sitting for an hour caused me to be quite cold so I quickly snapped this photo and moved on to find more sunny ground.

And then I completely forgot about the sketch, until today.  I decided it was time to add some color and this was the result.  Hope you like it.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7) and a Pilot Prera pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.

 

 

Brightest Building in Quebec

The leaves are falling from the trees and temperatures are heading in the same direction.  It won’t be long before I won’t be able to stalk the streets of Québec, looking for buildings to sketch.  I guess I’ll have to go inside and stalk Quebecers to sketch.

But I was out today and walking a street I’d walked many times.  Either I’m going blind or this small ‘casse-croute’ (in some places it would be called a chips stand) has just gotten a very bright facelift.  In any case today gave me opportunity to capture its essense, which I did.

Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray, Winsor & Newton watercolors

I did the basic sketch on site but decided to come home to do all the signage as I wanted to try out some different tools.  To that end, the large sign and the plates of food were done with colored pencils, a medium I have yet to conquer.  The ‘Frites maison’ sign was done with some Stabilo felt pens I just bought…and like very much for doing such things.   The building’s kinda cute, don’tcha think?

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com

Sketching A Car

A couple weeks ago I was down at the Quebec City port and parked near the Louis Jolliet excursion boat dock sat a great little car, painted up as a race car.  I don’t know if it was really a race car or why it was parked there.  But I plucked my camera from my sketching bag and took a photo of it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Yesterday I couldn’t go out sketching and I remembered that car.  I brought the photo of it up on my computer and I sketched it.  Though I’m not an accomplished sketcher, I have to say that I like the sketch better than the photo.  Just a bit more personal I suppose, and now I know this car better than my own.  Ain’t she cute?  Are cars the ultimate ‘urban sketch’?

larry@larrydmarshall.com

Why Do I Use Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks?

I’m reluctant to endorse products as I feel that sketching is a personal thing with as many ways of doing it as there are people.  But I sketch and I post my sketches in several places.  I always list the materials used as I remember when I was getting started, and the frustration I felt when I was searching for information on the materials other people used.

Now that I’ve been sketching for ten months, I have people asking me about the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks and why I use them.  I’m not alone, of course, as many sketchers are singing the praises of these sketchbooks but when I’m asked I try to provide a response.  I’ve found myself doing that enough times that it was time for a blog post to show you, and tell you, why I love these sketchbooks so much.

My Perspective

Don’tcha hate it when someone says “use this – it’s great” only to find that they have no experience with any other product?  And how can you evaluate someone else’s comments about a product without knowing how they work, what they expect of a product, etc.  So I thought I’d start this by answering those questions.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve only been sketching for ten months.  I’m a newbie.  It’s said the Renoir, on his deathbed said, “It’s a pity; I was just figuring it out.”  I understand those words as any creative form takes a long time to learn and I’m still in the beginning stages of learning to sketch.  That said, I may have more experience than some with the various products on the market as I’ve always felt that beginners, more than experts need to use the best materials (for them) that money can buy.  Experts can evaluate a material and adjust to it.  We beginners have no idea whether our successes or failures are due to our lack of ability or the materials themselves.  I’ve always felt that eliminating poor materials as a factor, I gain confidence that my efforts can lead somewhere.

And so, when I started sketching I tried dozens of pens, bought artist-grade watercolors, and stocked up on erasers (grin).  And I bought sketchbooks.  Oh, did I buy sketchbooks.  I found that finding a sketchbook that fit my needs was, by far, the most difficult task.  Not only are they the most expensive component, once you’ve bought them you feel you should use them, even though they aren’t what you’re looking for.  You could spend a lifetime using up purchased sketchbooks with the hope of eventually you’d buy one that would work the way you wanted.  Not me…I just kept buying and trying.  I have a LOT of sketchbooks with only a few sketches in them before I concluded that it wasn’t up to the task.  Until I got my hands on a Stillman & Birn sketchbook.  My search ended; my dream came true.

My requirements start with my passion for pen & ink.  Specifically, I use fountain pens and I needed a paper that was relatively smooth (many cold-press papers are too lumpy for pen & ink) and a paper with enough sizing that the inks wouldn’t feather (fuzzy edges).  I also like the idea of using watercolors in my sketches so I needed a paper that was heavy enough to let me wet out a sky area and then start dropping in a wash.  And I wanted a paper that wouldn’t buckle under such a treatment.  I wanted a paper that wouldn’t bleed through to the back side.  And I wanted that paper in an easy-to-carry sketchbook; a sketchbook that could sit on a shelf once I’d filled it.

These are my current sketchbooks and the ones upon which my comments are based.  They aren’t an exhaustive representation of the Stillman & Birn line of sketchbooks but, aside from their ivory paper equivalents, they are a pretty good cross-section as it turns out.

A) is a 10×7 spiral-bound Alpha series book.  I love it when I want something a bit larger than my 5.5×8.5, which is my carry-everywhere sketchbook.

B) is a 9×12 hardbound Epsilon series book.  This sits, open, on my desk and I use it to try new techniques, when I have a few minutes to doodle, or whatever.  Mostly it’s a compendium of failures on my part but I love to flip through it as it’s also full of memories, even after 10 months.

C) is a 5.5×8.5 hardbound Alpha series book and it’s my carry-everywhere sketchbook.  This one is nearly full and will be replaced by another just like it, or maybe a Beta in this size.

D) is a 6×8 Beta series book.  Stillman & Birn says this is “rough” paper and I completely ignored this series for that reason until one day someone said, “It’s not rough at all; I love the Beta paper.”  So I asked S&B if they’d send me a sample of their Beta paper.  To my surprise, they sent me an entire sketchbook and the paper is truly amazing, though I’ve only done a few sketches on it.

So there you have it…my perspective and a bit about my experience.  I’m no expert, nor do I claim to be.  But I have used a sketchbook or three…or dozen.

Stillman & Birn paper

I quickly learned that if you want to use wet media, you need heavy paper.  You’ll hear people saying all the time, “use at least 140lb watercolor paper” and that’s not bad advice and that advice certainly fits most of my experience with sketchbooks.

BUT…great big ‘but’ here, my experience with Stillman & Birn suggests that’s not the whole story.  I’m not a paper expert so I’m treading out onto a thin limb here but it seems that how the papers are sized (chemicals added to it) is just as important as paper thickness.  What I ‘know’ is that Stillman & Birn papers are double-sized, meaning that sizing is added to the paper mixture and also added to the surface of the paper as it’s made.

I’ll leave the technical details to others and they’re not really that important except to say that Stillman & Birn’s 100lb papers (in the Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon series) hold up to watercolor washes at least as well as most 140lb watercolor papers and far better than other 100lb papers/sketchbooks I’ve used.  Let’s just call it ‘magic’ but what’s important is that it’s true.

Alpha Series paper

Many sketchers have reported being surprised by how the 100 lb paper responds.  I know I was.  I use the Alpha series 100 lb paper.  There is simply NO buckling of the paper when applying a wash.  I find that if I really wet the paper it will sort of ‘curl’ a bit along its long axis but not a hint of buckling.  Once dry, however, even the curl goes away.  There is no bleed-through at all, regardless of what you apply.  I’m one who sketches on only one side of the page but I often make notes about the sketch on the backside of the preceding sketch.  This is not a problem when viewing sketches.  S&B’s Gamma series is the same as the Alpha only with ivory-colored paper.

Beta Series paper

I actually have the least amount of experience with this paper but I REALLY like it.  This is thick stuff – 180 lb stock.  There is slightly more tooth to the Beta paper than the Alpha but it’s still plenty smooth enough for my fountain pens and while I’ve compared ink lines using a magnifier, I can’t see any differences in feathering.

What I do see is that this ultra-thick paper is fantastic for someone wanting to slop water all over a sketch.  While the Alpha series papers hold up well, the Beta-series papers remain dead flat no matter what you do to them.  It’s likely that I’ll switch to this paper as I fill my Alphas.  The one downside, of course, is that thick paper means fewer sheets per sketchbook.  My Alpha has 124 pages; the Beta equivalent only 52 so it’s hard to decide which is the better way to go.  The Delta series is the same 180 lb paper as the Beta only it’s ivory-colored.

*** And guess what?  The postman just arrived and I’m now the proud owner of the NEW HARDBOUND version (5.5×8.5) version of this series.  It’s rare to find paper this thick bound into a hardcover and, until now, even S&B only had it available in spiral-bound form.  Not any more as you can get it in this size as well as large size hardbound form.

Epsilon Series paper

The Epsilon series is unique in that it comes in white only.  Its finish is called a ‘plate finish’ and smoother – you might say very smooth surface.  Certainly this is the one to choose if you’re doing pencil work.  But, like the Alpha series, its 100 lb, double-sized paper, handles watercolor washes well.  What the smoother plate surface does, however, is cause the watercolors to skate around on the surface longer, which can be good if you do a lot of wet-in-wet mixing or bad if, like me, you’re a newbie and not well-versed in chasing watercolor washes.  Personally I prefer the Alpha and Beta series to this one but some swear by the Epsilon for their watercolor sketching.

Stillman & Birn Bindings

When I show people my 5.5×8.5 sketchbook they often say “I have one like this.”  But they don’t.  They typically have one of the less expensive, and less good, generic black sketchbooks.  The black binding is a tradition, it seems but I wish my S&Bs weren’t black – weren’t like those lesser sketchbooks.  It would simply be easier for people to understand the differences.

Whether spiral-bound or hardbound, S&B sketchbooks have very hard, thick covers.  I like this as I’m unkind to my sketchbooks.  They get banged around, find themselves laying on the ground, and I’ve even sat on them, though that was by accident.

The spiral-bound books have double-ring bindings that I haven’t managed to squish (a technical term) like I have some of the lesser products.  It’s the hardbound sketchbooks, though, that are the true marvel.  These sketchbooks are double-stitched and just like ‘double-sized’ I don’t know what that is but I know what it means.  It means they won’t come apart and you can get them to lie flat, two virtues that most sketchers appreciate.

You must ‘break in’ an S&B sketchbook to get it to lie flat and if you’re used to lesser products, you’ll find it scary.  As with any book, the road to getting it to lie flat is to open it, a few pages at a time, and bend it open, generally such that the covers are lying flat on a surface.  With S&B sketchbooks, though, you can fold them well beyond fully opened without cracking the binding or breaking the stitching.  It’s a marvel to see it done for the first time.  But notice, in the photo above, how I’ve bent back my Alpha series sketchbook to take the photo.  This is pretty extreme but the sketchbook is no worse the wear for it.

Sketchbook Costs

[climbing onto soapbox…gosh that’s hard on my knees]  I know…I know…you’re just a beginner and don’t feel you should use good paper or good sketchbooks.  I hope you’ll reconsider.  Do the arithmetic.  Buying first class sketchbooks rather than lesser versions costs what, maybe $5-8 more?  Divide that by the 124 pages of an Alpha series sketchbook and what’dya get?  At $8 that’s 6.5 CENTS more per page.  And $8 is less than the price of a single movie ticket (2 1/2h of entertainment?) – less than three lattes.  Yet those 124 pages will provide hours of enjoyment and the confidence that comes from using first-class materials.

My first hardbound sketchbook cost me $10.  The street price of an S&B Alpha series of the same size is $15 or roughly $5 more.  I made a few attempts at pen/ink/watercolor sketches in that first sketchbook, the paper was horrible.  I gave up.  I’ve nearly filled the S&B sketchbook this summer…100 hours or more of fun.  Which one was cheaper?  You decide.

I hope this answers those who ask why I like the S&B sketchbooks.  I’m not affiliated with S&B except that I’m a devoted customer.  If you try their sketchbooks, I suspect you will become one as well.  You can find more information Stillman & Birn sketchbooks from their website at: http://www.stillmanandbirn.com/

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com