Tag Archives: art journal

Review and Giveaway: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

I was really excited when I heard that Stillman & Birn were expanding their product line to include softcover sketchbooks, especially when I saw that a pocket sized version was available. There are so many options out there for hardcover sketchbooks, and so many pocket notebooks, but these really fill a niche in terms of offering durability, flexibility, portability, and a wide array of quality paper options. I’m ashamed to say I received samples for review almost a year ago and am only getting caught up now, but better late than never!

I’ve 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 weights, textures, and colors, but different sizes.

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I tested the 3.5 x 5.5″ pocket size portrait versions, of course! They are slightly smaller than a pocket Moleskine. The covers are a smooth material, not at all leather-like but with a leathery-looking pebbly tone, which you can see but not feel. The covers are neutral shades of grey, dark green, dark red and blue, corresponding to the paper type within– greenish for the Delta, with 270 GSM ivory cold press paper; red for Alpha, with 150 GSM bright white medium grain paper. There is nothing imprinted on or inside the sketchbooks except for the Stillman and Birn logo embossed on the back cover.

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The signatures are stitched, and there is a fair amount of glue at the spine, holding the signatures to the cover. The pages open very flat despite the spines feeling a little stiff at first, especially with the thicker papers. After being opened all the way, the covers will stay open for a while but will eventually close most of the way. There is no elastic to hold the sketchbooks closed. No inside pocket or ribbon marker either.

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The papers are up to the same high standard as S&B’s other products, performing well with all sorts of pens, pencils and watercolors. Only the bleediest markers show through much on the 150 GSM paper, and the 270 GSM paper is pretty impervious. Even the papers meant for only dry media held up fine with watercolors. From the outside, these sketchbooks don’t look like fancy sketchbooks designed to be kept forever, but with acid-free, archival quality paper, what you create on the inside should stand the test of time.

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What’s not to love? This is where I thought I’d be saying “well, they are a bit pricey…” but they’re not! The pocket size sketchbooks have a list price of $10.99 and are currently discounted to under $9.00 for some models at Amazon. With so many options in bindings, paper types, sizes and portrait/landscape formats, Stillman & Birn really offers something for everyone!

And I am offering you all the chance to win a free sample! Four winners will be randomly selected from those 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 4 winners, I will pick at least one winner from each entry method above, and each winner will receive at least 2 sketchbooks.

The deadline for entry is Friday June 23 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!

Beautiful Bullet Journals

I’m amazed at some of the spreads you see online of people’s bullet journals– some of these are works of art that go way beyond just detailed organization and tracking!

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See more at These Instagrammers’ Bullet Journals are organizational masterpieces

Notebook Addict of the Week: Caylee

This week’s addict is a Moleskine fan, with quite a shelf-full of various sizes and shapes of Moleskines, with many decorated covers:

Caylee says:

“My love for Moleskine knows no limit. I love them purely for how simple, classic, and consistent they are. And the paper, oh my, the paper. It fits the way I write and draw perfectly. So smooth, and just the perfect shade of off-white. While unpacking and repacking, and purging, and trying to get settled, I had a good look at my little Moleskine collection. I love every single notebook. I have many unfinished ones because I just couldn’t start a new project in a Moleskine meant for another purpose…”

Read more at  Moleskine | My Collection – Caylee Grey

Notebook Addict of the Week (Again): Wandeka

Wandeka is an artist and writer, originally from Jamaica and now living in Louisiana. I featured her about a year and a half ago when I found her blog post about wanting to join a stationery addict support group. She has since found some support here at Notebook Stories, but it hasn’t cured her notebook addiction! Now she’s even started her own notebook blog, Notebook Obsession, where she shares pages from her over 100 notebooks used for line drawings, watercolor sketches or writing notes and drafts for stories and much more.

She also talks about how she uses her various journals, notebooks and sketchbooks and flips through some of their pages in this video:

You can follow Wandeka’s work at all these sites:

Main website: www.wandekagayle.com

Blog discussing notebooks: www.notebookobsession.blogspot.com

YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/wandekagayleart

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wandekagayleart

Thanks for sharing your addiction, Wandeka!

Notebook Addict of the Week (Again): The JournalCEO

This week’s repeat addict was featured about a year ago with my first ever video submission. Now she’s back again with another great video documenting her growing journal collection and some of the life experiences that have been documented in those journals. See more at TheJournalCEO – YouTube.

Here’s what the JournalCEO has to say:

“I just reached 7.5 years of a journaling anniversary, and took out my collection today.

These are my used journals. I have more blank journals than I do used journals, but these used journals span 7 years… and quite a ways up my wall. Somehow I was expecting my stack to be taller after 7 years, but this is it. Maybe I’ll have to add in the blank journal collection one day too.

There are a few photos of it at:


I love all those densely filled and collaged pages! Both the video and the photo of the stack are impressive. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your growing addiction, JournalCEO!

Moleskine Monday: New Products

It’s always interesting to see what new products pop up on Amazon for the coming year. There are quite a few “Chapters Journals” in various colors and sizes– unusual ones for Moleskine, such as 3.75 x7,” 3 x 5.5,” and 4.5 x 8.25.” The colors include “old rose,” “tawny olive,” and “plum purple.”  There are no photos yet, and no descriptive info. The format says “diary,” but they don’t seem to be dated. All are soft cover, and page format options seem to just be dotted and ruled. Will these be something book-related? Intriguing…

There are also new collections of notebooks with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Batman themes.
I was thinking that what Moleskine really should create is a daily planner specifically for art journalers. The Hobonichi Techo shows there’s a demand for a daily planner with a more free-form page. Moleskine’s own daily planner in the extra-small size comes with unlined pages, making it perfect for daily drawings, but a bit small. I was all excited when I first saw that, as I thought they’d changed the design of all the daily planners to having unlined pages, but it’s only that size– I guess they thought the lines made the extra small page too busy. If they made a pocket size and large size daily planner with unlined pages and slightly heavier paper that doesn’t bleed as much, I think a lot of people would embrace them for daily art journaling. People like Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel have made a name for themselves doing daily artwork in Moleskine planners over many years, but lately she’s been complaining about the severe decline in paper quality. She points out that she’s never expected Moleskine paper to be perfect for all media, but their planners used to be able to hold up to watercolor and now they don’t:

moleskine planner paper qualityI don’t know if the lines bother her, but I think a plain, unlined day-per-page art journal would be a widely popular product if the paper was either the heavier weight sketchbook paper, or at least a version of their thin paper that was more in line with the quality of prior years. Would you buy one? Do you know of other planners with an unlined daily page layout?

Notebook Addict of the Week: Esmé

This week’s addict is another young one who is getting an early start on collecting. Esmé emailed me these photos of her collection and the commentary below.

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“Attached are photos of my notebook collection. I’m 16, I’ve been writing a diary since I was 9 (although before that I dictated to my mum and she would write diary entries for me in a princess notebook, before I could write myself)- diaries 1-12 are in the loft now, but number 13 is currently in use and stays in my box of in-use notebooks (the green one- there are 8 books in there). On the shelf are filled notebooks and art journals of various sorts (ten of them) since the start of this year, and in the plastic drawer is my set of empty notebooks and sketchbooks waiting for me (6). I also have a few others somewhere in my room, but I have no idea where.  I’ve only been collecting notebooks for a year or two, because until I was 14 I would tear out the useful pages of the notebooks I brought to school and throw away the rest (I’m horrified at myself now, but they were cheap notebooks that would have fallen apart anyway). I have different books for different things now, including the purple notebook with the cakes on it- that’s been with me since I was 9, and I use it for creative writing. It’s almost full, so I have a new one waiting for me. It’s falling apart, but I love it dearly!”

I wish I had filled my notebooks so diligently and creatively when I was a teenager. And you can see that she has really used that cupcake one pretty intensively! I’m sure Esmé will be building up an amazing collection of notebooks filled with some great writing over the next few decades! Thanks for sharing your addiction, Esmé!

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.

Moleskine Monday: Valerie’s Journal Pages

I love the way Valerie Sjodin is using her squared Moleskine to create beautifully decorated journal pages. So much color and texture. And it’s part of a great project– a journal with a page devoted to each letter of the alphabet as a prompt for exploring different aspects of the journaler’s life and personality.


See more at visual blessings: X-Y-Z Moleskine Journal Pages.

Notebook Addict of the Week: Wandeka

This week’s addict was blogging about a list of things she wanted to do before her 31st birthday. Among them:

#14. Join a STATIONERY ADDICTS support group.

Here’s her story about why:

I have come to terms with the fact I have not yet outgrown the childhood nickname “Paper freak” – dubbed so by my loving siblings….

My parents knew they could get my heart racing by tossing me a legal pad or even those blank pads without the cover that serve as quick “phone-message-takers.” Birthdays were easy for them. No need to think about dolls or such (though I got one of those too occasionally), coloring books were fine, but it was the journals that made me so excited I could jump out of my skin. They once told me they caught me sleepwalking and they said I kept stooping to scoop up some imaginary thing and then walk back upstairs to bed and I don’t remember the dream but I can bet good money, I was cradling my paper.

Once, one of my sisters got me a simple one with a brown cover and a lock on my thirteenth birthday and the way I acted, one would think it was lined in gold. Then, another year as an adult, another sister gave me a more grown up version. It was a hand-made hardcover journal with sewn tan pages held together by bamboo! It was an absolute beauty but I knew she got some sick pleasure in watching a grown woman act like a lunatic over a dead tree.

That was when my journal collecting began in earnest….

Read more at Days 3 and 4 – Buy Just ONE LAST Journal (#13) Join A Stationery Addicts Support Group (#14) | 31 Days to Age 31.  She also has a post about art journaling, and
you can see more of Wandeka’s artwork at wandekagayle.com.

Happy belated 31st birthday, Wandeka! Welcome to your support group!