Review of Stillman & Birn's Alpha Series Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Multi-media Art Journal

Stillman & Birn produces multi-media art journals in five different series--the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta & Epsilon series.  Each comes in a plethora of sizes.  Used for this review is an Alpha Series Heavy Weight Sketchbook Hardbound 8.5 x 11 inches (21.6 x 27.9 cm).
The Specs 
Paper weight: 100 lb (150 gsm)
Paper color: Natural White
Surface: Vellum
62 sheets, 124 pages
Bound in the United States

Look and Feel
The cover is the signature textured black binder board cover with the Stillman & Birn logo and the series name embossed on the lower back cover.  To begin with the binding is stiff (both sewn and glued), but if you slowly bend the sketchbook back as far as it will go, the binding loosens and the pages will lie flat.  You'll need to do this in several places.

Although the paper is thick (though only about half as thick as the Beta and Delta series paper0, it is very flexible.  The wrapper states that it is 'suitable for all dry media and will accept light washes.'  It has a smooth surface, but there is some grain to it.

The book isn't light, but neither is it overly heavy for its size.  I wouldn't carry it as an everyday book (though I would for the smaller sizes), but I'd take it for special trips despite the weight.  Partly because it is sturdy enough for jostling it would take, and partly because the results I could get would be worth the extra weight.

Fabric tipped Art pens
I used both Micron Pigmas and American Craft Precision Pens, point sizes .01 and .05.  The linework from both pens is exquisite--sharp, clear and crisp with no feathering or bleedthrough whatsoever.

It takes very little pressure to work up dark areas, but it's also possible to get lovely texture and wispy lines .  Fantastic for building up layers of tonal values.

Alcohol Marker/Water-Soluble Marker/Stamp Pad Ink
This is the front of a bleedthrumanade (Got Lemons, make lemonade.  Got Marker Bleedthru, make bleedthrumanade).  I laid down the color with Spectrum Noir alcohol markers, then stamped the rooster with Tsukineko Brilliance stamp pad ink (Tiramisu 3-color ink).  The linework was done with a Tim Holtz Distress Marker (Weathered Wood).  The Rooster Stamp is item 18891 from Viva Las Vegastamps!

Color Bleedthrough from the alcohol markers is about 10-20%.  I have a project in mind for the back of the page and didn't have all the ingredients, so you'll it finished at another time.

Walnut Ink Wash/Embossing Powder

I started this by stamping an image (Tree Writing Collage Item 18914 from Viva Las Vegastamps!) with a Versamark clear inkpad, and heat embossing it with Ranger Snow white embossing powder.  I was going for texture, not the image and didn't worry if the image was clear or not.

The paper took the heat with no buckling or dimpling.  I then took a solution of Walnut Ink (water + Walnut ink crystals) and saturated the page.  The embossed section resisted the ink and remained white.  The paper dimpled somewhat but there was no buckling or curving.

Then I stamped the same image with Ranger Archival Blank ink, partially overlapping the embossed image.

I used an American Craft Precision pen and a Pentel White gel pen for the pattern linework.

No matter how you slice it--Stillman & Birn make a quality sketchbook.  The book I used for this review is one of the larger sizes, so weight is a definite factor in deciding how you'll use the book.  The smaller sizes would be more portable.  That said--it's sure nice having all that space.  I hadn't realized how much I'd grown used to keeping my work tight so I could fit everything, or doing two page spreads just so I'd have more space.

The paper in the Alpha is good weight.  While not as thick as the paper in the Beta and Delta series, it is more flexible and you get a great number of pages.  And even though it is thinner, the paper holds up to cutting, gluing and added embellishment as I'll show in my review of the Gamma Series sketchbook on Friday.  It has the same paper as the Alpha (except that it is ivory), and I'll show you how color pencil, watercolor and iris folding do.

You can find my other Stillman & Birn reviews at:

Beta Series-Comparison of Hardbound vs Wirebound
Gamma Series Reivew
Delta Series Review
Epsilon Series Review
Comparison of the different series

Find out more at the Stillman &Birn website.


  1. I feel like I've had a good meal after reading your reviews - not only is the artwork delectation for my palate but the info feeds me with just enough roughage not to be indigestible. I hope you'll pardon my analogy but I never realised how hungry I was for this kind of info.
    Thanks again for all you do.
    Paula (PEP)

  2. It took me awhile to get used to my Alpha book, but when I learned to keep my watercolor to light washes, it became a favorite. I now have a Beta as well, but seem to be more selfish with the heavier paper and reserve it for special things I never get around to painting. I devour your art work, but seldom comment on it, because I have run out of words to describe its beauty. Miz Dee


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