Big Stillman & Birn Giveaway!

Oops, I forgot to do a giveaway with the review of the Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook.  The company has generously offered 5 prizes– a choice of either a 5.5 x 8.5 hardbound or 6 x 8 wirebound (spiral) sketchbook for each winner.

I will select the 5 lucky winners from entries received in the following ways:
On Twitter, tweet something containing “@stillmanandbirn” and “@NotebookStories, and follow “@stillmanandbirn” and “@NotebookStories.

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

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

On this post, comment about how much you want a Stillman & Birn sketchbook and what you’ll fill it with!

The deadline for entry is August  2 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner.


Review: Stillman & Birn Zeta Series (and Winsor & Newton Watercolors)

The Zeta is the latest addition to Stillman & Birn’s 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 difference with the new Zeta line is that it offers their heaviest paper in a smooth surface as opposed to the toothier cold press paper in the Beta and Delta series. The 270 gsm paper is said to be able to handle pretty much whatever you throw at it– watercolor, pencil, erasing, pens and other mixed media. So here’s what I came up with for my testing:

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I used all my usual pens– the surface is indeed much smoother than the Beta and Delta, making it a pleasure to write with the fine point rollerball pens I use most. Fountain pens and markers also worked fine. The paper held up well when I erased some of the pencil marks. The Accu-liner pen soaked in a bit and spread out when I held it in place for a few seconds.
And this is the ideal paper for anyone who hates show-through– even the invincible Super Sharpie left only the slightest hint of show-through– when I was taking the photographs, I couldn’t see it showing through at all, but in the photo itself, you can see it just a bit.  That dot where I held the Accu-Liner resulted in a slight grey dot on the reverse side, but nothing else showed through at all. I also used quite a lot of watercolor paint. I got the page quite wet in some locations, without the least bit of deterioration or buckling. The bright white paper shows off the watercolors beautifully.

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As a bit of a digression, I decided to take this opportunity to compare two watercolor paint sets I’ve owned for years. Both are made by Winsor and Newton. I was recently looking into buying another set and I realized I wasn’t sure if what I owned were Artist grade or Student grade. The difference is that Artist grade paints have more pigment, so you get better coverage and more intense color. They are more expensive, as you’d expect. The student grade paints, the Cotman line, are pretty reasonably priced.

Running up the left side of the page are tests of each color in my slightly larger watercolor set. When wetting the paints with a waterbrush, they feel a little creamy, almost sticky.  In the lower right corner of the page, I tested my very small watercolor set. I use this one more often and don’t clean out the paint pans as well as I should, so the colors could be a bit muddy from mixing, but I tried to get them pretty pure for these tests. In this set, the paint feels more watery when you mix it. On the page, the colors don’t seem to have quite the same intensity as the other set. Based on all this, I thought the small set must be the student grade, and the larger set was probably artist grade. However, I knew I would have paid anywhere near the $129 list price! The price may have been a bit lower years ago, and places like Blick and Amazon do discount these sets, but still, that’s very expensive. The other thing I noticed was that the brush that came with the larger set said “Cotman” on it– did that mean just the brush was student grade, or the paints too? I decided to check one more thing– the removable half pans have code numbers and the name of the pigment on them. When I searched some of these on the W&N website, it confirmed that these are indeed Cotman student grade paints. I do enjoy using my tiny little set (the equivalent of which lists for about $28.00) but I may start using the larger set (about $35 list, but discounted at Amazon) more now that I’ve realized the colors are nicer. I’m not sure why two student sets would seem so different in paint quality– perhaps because the smaller set has little blocks of loose paint not contained in pans, it’s more a difference in the binding material holding the pigments in solid form? Or just a difference in the particular colors in each set (the tiny set used to have a slip of paper identifying the pigments, but it’s long gone)? I’m stumped, but both of them are great for casual sketching–I don’t think you can go wrong with either. I have to admit, though, I’m now really curious as to how much better the artist grade paints might be! An inexpensive way to find out will be to buy a couple of individual half pans of the same pigments in artist grade (about $10 each) and test them side by side.

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So back to the sketchbook itself…  what more can I say? It’s fantastic paper, in a quality binding, and it’s a pleasure to use. I love it that Stillman and Birn offers so many options to suit any artist’s needs. Here’s a chart of their various papers. All of the paper types are available in assorted sizes in hardbound and wire-bound versions, from 4×6″ up to 11×14″ depending on the line. (I wish they made a 3.5 x 5.5″ size that would match all my other favorite notebooks and sketchbooks, as even 4×6″ is a bit larger than I like to use while traveling, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the larger sizes at home.)

Most of their prices are in the $15-$30 range, which I think is very reasonable for the quality of their paper. The 4×6″ Alpha series, with 124 pages (62 sheets) of 150 gsm paper, lists for only $12.99. Look for Stillman and Birn sketchbooks at your favorite art supply store, or online at Amazon.

Carnival of Pen, Pencil and Paper

I’ve gotten way behind on carnival administration and we missed doing July… but here it is, at last! Thanks for everyone who has submitted posts. Future months are open for carnival hosts, so if you have a blog about pens, pencils, paper or anything related, please contact me to learn more about hosting.

art supplies

Sandra Strait presents Review of the Clairefontaine Crok’ Book Sketchbook posted at Life Imitates Doodles.


**EDITOR’S PICK**  A very detailed review with lots of un-boxing shots: Jeffrey Higa presents Introducing the Hobonichi Techo! posted at The Write Obsessions.

ComfortableShoes presents Review: New Staples Sustainable Earth Composition Notebook posted at Comfortable Shoes Studio, saying, “The Staples Sustainable Earth Composition Notebook was always a safe bet for the budget minded fountain pen user. Recent changes in the Sustainable Earth line make the choice less safe.”

Sandra Strait presents Review of the Rhodiarama Pocket Web Notebook posted at Life Imitates Doodles.


Clement Dionglay presents Fountain Pen Review: 2013 Limited Edition Lamy Safari Neon posted at Rants of the Archer.

Bruno Taut presents a review of the Pilot Justus saying, “Excellent research work.”

Clement Dionglay presents Fountain Pen Review: Sheaffer Taranis posted at Rants of the Archer.

ComfortableShoes presents Review: Scribal Work Shop Siren Blue Ink posted at Comfortable Shoes Studio, saying, “Scribal Workshop is a new ink maker. Their Siren ink is a wonderful shade of blue.”

Sandra Strait presents Review of the J Herbin Rollerball Pen and Ink Cartridges posted at Life Imitates Doodles, saying, “Review of the J. Herbin Rollerball pen and five of their fountain pen cartridges-Vert Empire, Bleu Myosotis, Larmes de Cassis, Rouge Opera and Orange Indien.”

Sandra Strait presents Review of the Exacompta Basics Forum Journal and Swan Nostalgie Cover posted at Life Imitates Doodles.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of pen, pencil and paper using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Queen Victoria’s Sketchbook

Great Britain’s royal family has long been artistically inclined. Their work is now the subject of an exhibition called The Royal Paintbox, which runs from June 22, 2013 to January 26, 2014 at Windsor Castle. Here’s a wonderful example:

Exhibition curator Lauren Porter holds a book owned by Queen Victoria containing various sketches drawn in Scotland


Read more at Royal paintbox: From Victoria’s sketchbook to Elizabeth II’s circus horse, exhibition marks 350 years of artistic Royal Family | Mail Online.

Moleskine Monday: An Extra Page

This is one of the weirdest things I’ve found in a notebook. In a Moleskine pocket sketchbook I bought a couple of years ago and just started using, there is an extra sheet of paper glued in.

Usually, these notebook have 80 pages. It’s pretty straightforward– notebook page counts are always in multiples of 4, at least when they are constructed of sewn signatures– each piece of paper is sewn in the middle, and there are two sides, so that makes 4 pages, and then it’s just a question of how many sheets are sewn together in each signature, and how many signatures are in the book.

The 80-page sketchbooks usually have 6 signatures of 12 pages each, plus one signature of 8 pages. These are attached to the end papers of the notebook to help hold everything together, leading to that annoying first and last page that don’t open flat like the rest. But in my weird mutant notebook, there is an extra sheet glued in between the last signature and the endpapers, for no apparent reason. I discovered it when I was trying to open the book wider to break in the spine a bit and suddenly heard that nasty snapping sound of the binding breaking open– the glue between the rogue page and the last signature came loose.

So on the one hand I guess it’s nice to get 82 pages for the price of 80… but on the other hand, it throws off the strength of the binding. And the question remains: why???? Should I be checking for a “help me” message in invisible ink from some abused Chinese factory worker???

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Notebook Addict of the Week: Baron Schwartz

This week’s addict blogs at xaprb, where he’s done an in-depth comparison of various notebooks to find the brand that works best for him.

Here are the candidates:

And here are the criteria:

So what do I want?

  • The size. It needs to be large enough to write on easily, leaving readable margins, without wasting a high percentage of the paper. It needs to be small enough to slip into a bag or hold in a hand with several other things; it should be neither bulky nor so small that it gets lost and slides to the bottom and gets all crumpled by other things.
  • The proportions. Too tall and skinny is bad; too short and wide is bad. Something fairly standard is best, like the usual A* paper proportions.
  • The thickness and number of pages. Enough to last a while. Not so many that it’s heavy or bulky in a messenger bag; not so many that if I lose it, a giant chunk of my life and professional notes is gone. There’s always some risk, but it needs to be balanced.
  • The type of cover. Rigid, thick covers waste space and add weight, as well as being difficult to pack in a carry-on bag. Something springy and thin, but substantial enough to help with writing, is best.
  • The binding. I write on both sides of the paper, and it needs to fold open easily and flat, be very durable, and not force me to write awkwardly when I’m writing in the center margin of the left-hand page. It should also not curl awkwardly when I’m near the first or the last page.
  • The closure. I’m not a big fan of elastic closures; they get in the way more than they help.
  • The paper quality. As I said, I write on both sides. It needs to resist bleed-through and be smooth and strong.
  • The ruling. I like ruled notebooks, but can do all right with blank. If there’s ruling, it needs to be pretty narrow. Nothing wastes more paper and annoys me more than too-wide ruling. Any ruling also shouldn’t force or encourage me to leave too much of a margin.
  • The index, table of contents, helper charts, page numbers, and so on. Some of these things are wonderful in moderation; a table of contents and page numbers, for example, are a delight. I can quickly index a notebook after using it, and it becomes immensely more useful for reference. Do I need 12 pages of conversion tables and timezone maps? Not really.
  • The bookmarks or page markers. I prefer a silken ribbon for journals, but for notebooks I actually prefer none; my favorite is these magnetic owl page markers.
  • The design. This is the most subjective and intangible thing of all. The design needs to be professional, a little bit creative, and inspiring. It should make me feel like an artist as well as an engineer. If I may stereotype for a moment, the Germans perhaps err on the side of being too mechanical, the Swiss can sometimes feel as if everything is meant to be a coffee-table conversation piece, and the Americans can be deathly boring. I want something that makes me feel light and nimble, practical, yet … a craftsman, somehow.

Is that really so much to ask?

Read lots more and find out which notebook won at Ultimate notebook and journal face-off at Xaprb.

Daily Sketching Tips

Some good tips from the blog “Teach Kids Art” on how to establish a daily sketchbook routine, including suggestions for a lightweight, portable sketching kit. I can second the recommendation for most of these materials as I use them too:

To ensure you have a sketch­book at your side when oppor­tu­nity (or inspi­ra­tion) strikes, you’ll prob­a­bly need to have more than one. Keep a sketch­book in the car, and another one (even a very small one!) in your purse, back­pack, or bag. I like Mole­sk­ine Books.… they come in a vari­ety of sizes and paper types. I love their “squared” books (like graph paper) for sketch­ing, design­ing, jour­nal­ing, and mak­ing lists, and their water­color books, which are great for any wet media. Mole­sk­ines always include a handy pocket inside the back cover and an elas­tic band to hold your book closed.

A few sim­ple sketch­ing tools are all you need.  A mechan­i­cal pen­cil with a hefty eraser on the end is essen­tial! For ink, I like water­proof Pigma pens, which come in a vari­ety of widths (and col­ors.… but I mostly use black). When I want to add color, a small Win­sor & New­ton “Cot­man” water­color set is easy to bring along. A Niji “Water­brush” dis­penses water (stored in the han­dle) right through the bris­tles.… a ter­rific aid for trav­el­ing light with your sup­plies! (Click here for a help­ful tuto­r­ial on how to use a water­brush.) And if you want to travel even lighter, you can use water­color pen­cils to cre­ate a “palette of colors“on a sep­a­rate page of your sketch­book, then sim­ply wet them with a damp brush to lift the color for painting.

Read more at Feed Your Creative Soul – with a Sketchbook! | TeachKidsArt.


This is a great idea– why let your favorite notebook pages go unseen? You don’t have to rip them out if you use one of these frames. I hope this Kickstarter project is a success! They need $40,000 by August 15 and have only raised about $2,500 as of this writing, so spread the word.


Find out more at MOLEHOUSE frames for Moleskine sketchbooks. by colton corry — Kickstarter.

Notebook Addict of the Week: Peaches

Peaches emailed me lots of photos of her collection, and some musings on the various brands of notebooks she’s tried… but I think she’ll keep trying even more:


“I still haven’t found the 100% perfect notebook, which would have thick, off-white plain paper and be a hardback just under A5 size. The closest I have come to my ideal notebook is a Japanese lacquer journal from Paperblanks.
I have kept journals from the age of 8 when my dad gave me his mini planner notebook. After that I was hooked and kept notebooks for the next 8 years of my life. I must have had around 30 in total and they were a sight to behold as I was very neat as a child but also artistic so they looked like works of art. I stopped writing when I turned 16 and went to college as I just felt too busy to keep up with them. I was also happier in life by then and I noticed that I tended to use journals to vent my anger and frustrations so as I got older and went through fewer hardships I was less compelled to use journals for the cathartic experience. When I turned 20 and finished university I decided I needed to get rid of my old journals as there was so much in them that I wanted to forget. Re-reading the bad experiences of my teenage years just made me feel bad about them, and I also had a lot of secrets written in them – not just mine but my friends’ and familys’. The worry of someone finding these old diaries really stressed me out to the point that I got a shredder and spent a good few weeks of my summer destroying every single page.
At 24 I have started journalling again in a big way. I keep notebooks for a variety of purposes – I have a To-Do list book, a book journal, a dream diary, two daily Q+A diaries and a variety of books for random quotes I like, notebooks I write in during bus journeys to work and my usual journal.
I don’t regret destroying some of my old journals – there were words in them I’m glad have disappeared. But I wish I’d kept at least a few of them. Yes being a teen had its horrible moments but I also had some really great times and I wish I had kept a few of my old musings to read back on. Thankfully I’ve kept all my old letters (I used to write to a lot of my friends and cousins through the time I was aged 10-16) and still have a few journal-like entries and my old stories stored in A4 folders.
What I plan to do now is buy a safe to store all my curent used journals in. But even if someone read them now I wouldn’t be as stressed as I found myself as a teen. I was more social at that age and used to write down practically EVERYTHING I heard and the idea of whispered conversations and secrets coming back to haunt me really worried me. There’s less of that now. These days my notebooks are more personal reflections.”

Here’s some of the collection, as well as a few pages from within:

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A fantastic collection of notebooks, including Moleskine, Ciak, Leuchtturm, Peter Pauper Press, Paperblanks and Rhodia. Thanks for sharing your addiction, Peaches!