Review: Stillman & Birn Gamma Series Softcover 3.5 x 5.5 inch @StillmanAndBirn #Sketchbook #GammaSeries

IF you are here for the Stillman & Birn Delta Softcover giveaway, go here.

Just before the end of the year, I received a 3.5 x 5.5 ( 8.9 x 14.0 cm) Gamma series softcover from Stillman & Birn as well as a couple of Delta series softcovers.

Cover: Cardstock. Brown exterior, ivory interior
Paper Color: Ivory
Paper Weight: Heavyweight 150 gsm
Paper Surface: Medium Grain Cold Press
Size:  3.5 x 5.5 ( 8.9 x 14.0 cm)
No Pages: 26 Sheets - 92 Pages
Rated for: Dry Media, Light Wash, Ink,
Withstands multiple erasures,
Sheffield roughness metric 350 SU
Complies with international standards of responsible forestry
Alpha cellulose content 8%
pH Neutral, lignin & chloride free
Bound in the U.S.

Look & Feel
Much of what I wrote in my Delta Series review last Sunday holds true for the Gamma series softcover sketchbook:

  • The cover color is brown instead of black.
  • The 3.5 x 5.5 size is only available in the softcover version. There are other sizes that are only available in softcover.
  • The cover is heavy cardstock, sturdy but more susceptible to scuffs and dings than the hardbound versions.  I do find these softcovers to be heavier than other softcover brands that I have.
  • The edges of the cover are flush with the edges of the paper, where the hardbounds have a slight overhang.
  • The softcover versions are approximately $2 USD less than the hardbound.
  • The softcovers weight approximately 10 ounces less than the hardcovers.
  • The binding has sewn signatures glued to the cardstock cover.

The sketchbook lies flat, but can't be folded back completely.

The Gamma paper is very similar to that in the Delta, being the same ivory color and texture, but it is lighter - 150 gsm versus 270 gsm.  This means that the Gamma will handle most dry media well, but will curl if the media is too wet.  And too wet will come sooner with the Gamma.  That doesn't mean you can't use watercolor or wet media - just with caution. More about that in the Performance section.

I placed a white Kleenex on the paper to help you get an idea of the actual color.

Once upon a time, I did ATCs, 2.5 x 3.5 inch drawing of surprising complexity, but these days I prefer to work larger.  That means this 3.5 x 5.5 inch size is a little small for me.  But it's a good size to carry in a purse or pocket and to have handy for drawing while waiting in doctor's offices or Post Office lines or when you decide to stop and have a coffee some day.

Pen and pencil

No doubt about it.  To my eye anyway, the ivory paper gives an elegance to pen and ink.  The paper is a nice texture, though some may prefer a smoother texture, especially if they do lots of black areas.  Completely blacking out an area takes a little longer on textured paper (any textured paper) because you have to mat down the fibers.  On the other hand, you can get a wider range of grays on textured paper using the same pen.  I like having the wider range.

I also used pencil for shading.  I've never made a secret of the fact that pencil is my least favorite of mediums, but it works well on this paper.  The texture allows you to build up layers and burnish easily.

Watercolor, India Ink Pen, and Pencil
Wet-into-wet - dropping wet paint into an area already wet with water or another layer of paint - will cause the Gamma paper to curl.  The paper holds up well though and the curl can be weighted out after.  But using watercolor that is a creamier texture or using watercolor pencil or marker works with little to no curling.  And it makes a nice background for line and wash (pen over watercolor).

I used an india ink pen for the linework, pencil for shading and a white Sharpie paint pen for the highlights.

Colored Pencil
I really like using colored pencil on the Gamma paper.  The texture allows you to build up layers, but the fibers mat down easily so that burnishing (thoroughly saturating the fibers with color so that none of the paper color shows through) is easily accomplished without undue strain to the wrist.

It doesn't show too well in the scan, but I ran a toothpick over the 'gold' in this drawing to get a brushed sort of look.  The paper allows you to build up enough color and the fibers still have enough spring to allow you to do that.

Personally I find the look and feel of these softcovers very appealing.  I like the range of colors (they are color-coded by series:  Alpha-Red, Beta-Blue, Delta-Green, Gamma-Brown, Epsilon-Grey, and Zeta-Black), the fact that the covers exactly fit the size of the pages, and the lighter weight.  The likelihood of scuffs and dings down the road doesn't bother me.

Since the price (currently anyway) isn't much different, you should consider the issues of weight, sturdiness and appearance, decide which is the most important to you, and then decide whether to go softcover or hardbound.  Or wirebound, if you prefer that kind of binding.

I suspect I'll always have one or two of both going at any given time, lol!  I like them all for different reasons.