Review & Giveaway: Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks

There are so many different kinds of paper artists can use, and so many materials that demand different surfaces. When you’re in an art supply shop, there are multiple options for loose sheets and large spiral-bound sketchpads, but when it comes to smaller hardcover sketchbooks, each brand only seems to offer one option… why? You’d have to shop around and test different brands to find one that works for you… or at least that was the case until Stillman & Birn came on the scene.

Stillman & Birn’s slogan is “paper matters.” While one artist may want a smooth paper for fine pen & ink drawings, another will want a rough surface for charcoal, or a thick paper that will stand up to watercolors. Stillman & Birn’s sketchbooks offer a variety of options to suit all preferences:

Paper weight: heavy, or extra heavy

Paper color: natural white or ivory

Binding: hardcover or wirebound

Paper surface: rough, vellum, or plate

They have boiled down various combinations of these options into 5 series of sketchbooks–Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon– each of which is available in several sizes, from 4×6″ up to 11×14″.

Let’s take a look at the samples they sent me to test out:








First impressions: the covers are nice and sturdy, with squared corners. The material is a bit smoother than other similar sketchbooks. Each has a paper band outlining the characteristics of the paper within. Otherwise, the only branding is a stamped logo on the back cover. The wirebound sketchbooks are a nice option for when you want to completely fold back the cover. The hardcover sketchbooks don’t open as totally flat as some other brands I’ve tried, particularly in the smaller sizes, but this may be due to the thicker paper.




All the papers performed beautifully– the extra heavy paper did not buckle at all with the watercolors, and even the dreaded Super Sharpie was 99.9% undetectable in terms of show-through unless you’re holding the paper up to the light. Even the heavy weight paper was better for show-through than almost anything else I’ve tried. The regular heavy weight paper only buckled a little with watercolor. All the papers held up to erasing.  The rougher surfaces work nicely with charcoal, and yet still feel good to write on with a fine point pen. The surface didn’t deteriorate with multiple layers of watercolor or markers.







My only concern is that my pH test pen showed a couple of the sketchbooks not to be acid-free– if it turns purple, the paper is acid-free, if it stays yellowish, it’s not. I was surprised by this, as I’ve rarely had notebooks fail this test. The Beta sketchbook (extra heavy weight, natural white, rough surface) and Epsilon sketchbook (heavy weight, natural white, plate surface) were the ones that failed, and the only thing those papers have in common is the color. But Stillman & Birn say all their sketchbooks are “archival quality” and “pH neutral” so I hope they’ll address this with tighter quality control on their paper. [UPDATE 9/7: the owner of the company immediately contacted me upon seeing this review. They test their batches of paper when they arrive and are addressing the pH issue with the manufacturer in Europe to understand how this may have happened.]

I really enjoyed testing these, as I had to break out some art supplies I hadn’t used in a while, and the way they performed on these papers inspired me to want to use them more! I hope some of you will also feel similarly inspired by this giveaway: the folks at Stillman & Birn have generously offered to send an 8.5×11″ hardbound sketchbook from the Alpha series to 5 randomly selected winners who enter in any of the following ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing  “@StillmanandBirn” and “@NotebookStories.

On Facebook, “like” the  Notebook Stories page and the Stillman and Birn page, and post something containing the words “Stillman & Birn” on my wall.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Stillman & Birn” and “NotebookStories” and link back to this post.

And for those who don’t have these other options available to them, you can also enter by leaving a comment on this post.

Since we can have 5 winners, I will pick at least one winner from each entry method above.

The deadline for entry is Friday September 9 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!

And if you don’t win, here’s the list of retailers currently stocking Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. (You might want to snap some up fast, as the company is based in New Jersey and their warehouse and offices were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene. I hope this won’t interrupt their supply too much!)

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24 Responses to “Review & Giveaway: Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks”

  1. I’m in love! Entering the giveaway and keeping my fingers crossed!

  2. Thank you for the opportunity!

  3. I hope I win this. Seriously love this blog. Too bad there aren´t many shops in this country with the possibility to choose from nice notebooks etc.

  4. Cool giveaway! I’ve tweeted!!/molossus1/statuses/111118429997629440

  5. I posted on Facebook. I’ll keep everything crossed but my eyes;)

  6. Very cool products and a great review– posted to your FB wall, and tweeted as well as posting here:!/NyteTyger/status/111141148105519104

  7. It would be great to give this brand a try 🙂

  8. lovely notebooks
    I wish I would own one…

  9. Count me in–I’d love one of these notebooks

  10. Would love to try one

  11. Entering and hoping to win. This would make a great gift for my daughter the artist.

    Best, and keep on blogging

  12. Thank you so much for your blog!
    What a lovely gift these notebooks are! What a tempting idea filling these with drawings and doodles and ideas! Crossing my fingers to win!
    Thanks for the opportunity!

  13. These look superb! I’d love to try one.

  14. Nifty giveaway!

  15. Thanks for the chance and would love one!!!

  16. Thanks for the nice review. They look like a nice addition to my collection.

  17. My brother is a wonderful artist and would really love this sketch book! Thank you for the chance to win!

  18. I’m always on the lookout for a versatile sketchbook with excellent paper – this sounds like such a thing. Will cross fingers that I find out. Thanks for the great review and giveaway!

  19. These look NICE, I would love to take one for a spin.

  20. There is a real need for better quality hardbound sketchbooks. I hope the Stillman & Birn line is successful. Your blog is a “must read” for me every day. Thanks!

  21. awesome-ness!

    I’m in!!

    thx 🙂

  22. Great review! I know the giveaway is over, but really appreciate the review. 🙂

  23. […] Zeta is the latest addition to Stillman & Birns excellent line of sketchbooks. I’ve reviewed the others here, so I won’t go into too much detail about the basics of their construction. The key […]

  24. […] reviewed Stillman and Birn’s hardcovers in the past, see here and here. The softcovers are available in the same paper types– 6 varieties, covering different paper […]

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