Review: Stillman & Birn Delta Series Softcover 8x10 inch @StillmanAndBirn #Sketchbook #DeltaSeries

I was thrilled to receive some of the new softcover editions from Stillman & Birn to try out.  I was sent two of the Delta Series softcovers, an 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) and an  5.5 x 8.5 (14.0 x 21.6 cm) as well as a 3.5 x 5.5 ( 8.9 x 14.0 cm) Gamma series softcover.

Today's review is on the 8 x 10 Delta, and I'm giving away the 8.5 x 5.5 version.  Giveaway has ended.

Cover: Cardstock. Green exterior, ivory interior
Paper Color: Ivory
Paper Weight: Extraheavyweight 270 gsm
Paper Surface: Cold Press
Size: 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm)
No Pages: 26 Sheets - 52 Pages
Rated for: Dry & Wet Media, Watercolor, Ink,
Withstands multiple erasures,
Sheffield roughness metric 360 SU
Caliper Min 420-Max 455 microns
Complies with international standards of responsible forestry
Alpha cellulose content 8%
pH Neutral, lignin & chloride free
Bound in the U.S.

Look & Feel
I will admit up front that the Delta paper in the Stillman & Birn line is one of my favorites.  The ivory color, the weight, the texture that is a little bit watercolor paper and a little bit cardstock just does it for me.  I love working on it, and the results that I get.  Now put that paper in a dark green softcover and it rings all the bells and whistles I'm looking for.

Of course, that doesn't mean it will ring yours as well, so let's take a look at what we've got.

Look and Feel
The Delta paper is the same in the differently bound versions of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, the differences are going to be in cover color, sturdiness, available sizes, weight, price, and binding.

The hardbound and wirebound covers of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, to date, have all been black.  The softcover editions are color-coded:  Alpha-Red, Beta-Blue, Delta-Green, Gamma-Brown, Epsilon-Grey, and Zeta-Black.  If one of your likes is a dark green cover, then that's a plus for you with the Delta softcover.  It isn't a deal maker or breaker in my case, but I definitely like it.


As you can see in the photo above, the hardbound (on top) is thicker.  It's a board, versus the cardstock of the softcover and there's no doubt about it.  The hardcover is sturdier.  The covers of the one's I've had for years still look pristine, whereas my softcover already has a few scuffs along the edge after only a few days.  I sort of like the Wabi-Sabi (the beauty of age and usage) look, so that isn't a problem for me. If you are someone who hates the slightest mar, then a softcover might not be for you.

The softcover has no overhang, which the hardbound versions do have.  It's only a slight overhang, but some people have a decided preference for covers that end exactly even with the paper.

For reference, though, I find the Stillman & Birn softcovers to be a little heavier than many on the market, and the Beta version I've been carrying around for several months has scuffed edges, but that's it.  You can expect any brand softcover to get beat up.  Stillman & Birn will hold up as well as any of them, and better than many.

The softcovers come in a different range of sizes.  For instance, the 8 x 10 I'm reviewing here isn't available as a hardbound.  You might go softcover, if it comes in a size you really like.  I particularly like the 8 x 10 size.  I find 9 x 12 a little too big, and the 5.5 x 8.5 a little too small.  So the 8 x 10 is juuusst right for me, lol.

There isn't as much difference as you might think.  Since the 8 x 10 isn't available in hardbound, I looked up the 5.5 x 8.5.  On Amazon, I found the hardbound at $16.19 USD,  and the softbound for $14.39 USD.  At approximately two dollars difference, I'd look at the other differences very closely.

Here's the big difference.  Using the 5.5 x 8.5 for comparison purposes, the softbound is 4.8 ounces, while the hardbound weights in at 12.8 ounces.

One of the common methods of bookbinding is to create signatures (sheets of paper are stacked, folded in half and then sewn or stapled in the fold).  Those darker lines in the photo below show the folds of the signatures in this sketchbook.  Those are still sewn together as they are in the hardbound and wirebound versions.  But where the signatures are sewn to the hardbound version, they are glued into the softcover version.

I did find a couple of pages where the glue had oozed a bit in the area between the signatures.  I didn't find any in the Beta softcover I already own, the Gamma or the other Delta softcover I received so it may be related to the size, or I just received one that had this.  It doesn't impact the book much except the pages affected won't lie quite as flat.

The paper is an ivory color, and so the colors aren't quite as bright on it as you'll find in the Beta.  It's always tricky to try and show you color on the screen, so I put a kleenex down as a comparison that might help a bit. If the kleenex shows as anything but bright white, you know you've got a tint.

I always think that the Beta series paper is my favorite until I see the Delta, and then I know the Delta is my mostest favorite.  Until I see the Beta...  Truthfully, it depends on what you want.  The Beta gives you really vibrant colors.  The Delta gives you slightly less vibrant colors.  I think the ivory paper adds a certain elegance, especially if you leave some of it showing.

Although the paper is labeled as cold press, it isn't quite the same as the cold press you get with watercolor paper (and this paper is more mixed media than watercolor).  I'll get into that more in the Performance section.

The book lies flat.  Because of the way the cover is glued down, you can't quite fold the book in half the way you can the hardcover.

Acrylic, Masking tape, Erasure

This example was a test of a couple of things besides the ability of the paper to take acrylic paint.  I drew and erased with pencil several times to see how the paper held up and I used masking tape around the edges to get a clean edge.

The pencil erased fairly well, though I wasn't able to get all of it clean. I didn't expect to because I applied quite a bit.  It was a test after all!  The pencil left some impressions, but not enough to affect the paint I applied afterward.

Many papers - even quality watercolor - will tear, pill or separate when masking tape is applied.  Especially if it is left on for a long time.  I left mine on for about 4 days, and I painted liberally over it, so the acrylic paint would seal it a bit.  It peeled off nicely, though I did get slight pilling if I didn't watch my technique.  That's good and what I would expect from a good quality paper.

I used acrylic paint pens, applying several layers.  The paper curled, just a little.  I didn't even have to weight it down to get rid of it.  I just curled the paper, gently, in the opposite direction and the curl was gone.

Ah, there are many things we can learn from our friend the cat, one of which is how to relax!

Watercolor, Masking tape, Erasure

I've painted several watercolors in previous Delta and Beta series sketchbooks so I can speak from experience, as well as from what I learned with the watercolor below.

If you put lots of water on the Delta paper, whether pure water or really watery paint, the paper will curl.  It is easily flattened by gently curling the opposite direction and/or weighting it down with a book or something for an hour or so.

That said, you can use light to moderate wetness with little to no curling.  I didn't have any problem with it while doing this painting and had no dimpling or pilling.  I used about five glazes of color.

The paint does dry quickly, especially in this winter weather, and you can get unwanted hard edges.  That can be controlled by carefully monitoring how wet the paint is on the page, versus how wet your brush is.  It takes a little practice but what doesn't?

The paint flows fairly well - that drying thing can make it an issue with large areas but again, knowing the paper helps.  Paint lifts nicely, not so easily that it messes up your glazes, but enough that you can lighten areas where needed.

Despite the ivory of the paper, the colors are bright but not brilliant.

I find watercolor painting on either the Beta or Delta paper encourages a lighter touch.  I wouldn't plan on using heavy wet-on-wet techniques or dense, deeply detailed paintings, but personally, I really enjoy watercoloring on this paper.

Pen and Ink

Sometimes I have to laugh at myself.  I had this vision in my head of a castle with trees growing from the turrets and towers.  And it was stippled, so I wanted to use my electric dotspen.  I set down with a reference photo of the Swallows Nest in the Crimea to give me at least a notion of how castles go.   Now the problem(s) here is that perspective is not one of my strengths, and to top it off the electric dotspen does not easily give you crisp straight lines.

So, if portions of my castle appear to be falling off or sagging, put it down to other-dimensional physics, not poor decision-making on my part.

The one thing I had going for me was the paper.  I do feel the ivory adds an elegance to a pen drawing.  The fibers are thick and textured enough to allow a wide range of values without being overly rough on your pen tip or distorting the lines.

Colored Pencil

Colored Pencil works well on this paper.  That thick texture allows many layers of color and you can burnish  several times without flattening the fibers completely.  I have 5-6 layers of color in this drawing, two of which are burnished, and could have added more

Burnish: Polishing an area - applying pressure with the pencil until all layers of color are blended and even and the fibers of the paper are saturated with pigment.

I know from past experience that Delta series paper is good for collage and other layered mixed media techniques.  Such technques expand the book though, and would soon stress the binding.  The occasional page of it would work just fine, but if collage is a big thing for you, the wirebound version would be a better choice.

The Stillman & Brin Delta Series softcover has the same ivory colored paper as the hardbound and wirebound versions.  It's a thick cold press paper that's smoother than paper meant strictly for watercolor.  This means it is good for pen and ink, colored pencil, acrylic and other mediums as well as watercolor.  It handles most mediums well, but may not work for some specific techniques. Versatility over specialization.

The main difference lies in the cover, and binding.  Overall, the weight is less in the softcover than in the hardbound versions, but the cardstock cover isn't as sturdy.  I have found it sturdier than some of the other softcover brands that I own.  The cover is dark green rather than black, and flush to the edges of the page (the hardbound versions have a slight overhang).  The price difference is only a couple of dollars on Amazon.

Personally, I like the look and feel of the softcover, and don't mind a Wabi-sabi (beauty in the appearance of age and wear) look of well-used sketchbook.  I have slight arthritis and appreciate the difference in weight.

What Is the Prize? 
One winner will receive a 5.5 x 8.5 (14.0 x 21.6 cm) Delta Series Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook. (Note that it is smaller, but otherwise the same as the one reviewed here).

How to Enter?
Cut and paste these words: 'I want to win a Delta Softcover sketchbook' into the subject line of an email, and send it to me at  LifeImitatesDoodles [at] gmail [dot] com. (replace the words enclosed in [ ] with an @ and a . and make sure there are no spaces)

When does the giveaway start and end? The giveaway starts on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 08:00 AM PST and ends Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 11:59 PST.  I'll notify the winner on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, by responding to the email they sent as entry.

Who can enter? This giveaway is open internationally.

I want to thank Stillman & Birn for the opportunity to try out their softcover products and share them with my readers.

Disclaimer:  I received both Delta Softcover sketchbooks (as well as a 3.5 x 5.5 Gamma softcover, which I will review later) from Stillman & Birn, but was not asked specifically to review or to hold a giveaway. I was allowed to choose items from the line of Stillman & Birn softcover products.  I'm excited about hosting this giveaway, but tried not to let it influence my opinion, and all opinions are my own.  I received no other compensation.