Tag Archives: heavy weight

Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketchbooks: They’ve Changed!

I have mentioned the Pen & Ink Sketchbooks from Art Alternatives many times on this blog. Their pocket size sketchbook with the heavyweight paper is the closest alternative I’ve found to a Moleskine Sketchbook, for those who prefer creamy smooth paper, as opposed to the brighter white, toothier paper found in many other competitors’ pocket sketchbooks (such as Hahnemuhle, HandBook Artist Journals, Leuchtturm, and Art Alternatives’ Sketch & Draw). Check out my “Four Notebooks Reviewed” series from several years ago for a detailed comparison.

I’ve used a few of the Pen & Ink sketchbooks over the years and they never seemed to change much– even their packaging was the same… until now. While trying to meet a minimum for free shipping at Blick, I decided to throw in a couple of these sketchbooks, but I got a bit of a surprise!

Here’s the image for what I ordered:


But here’s what I got:

I couldn’t care less if they change the design of the paper band, and in fact the new branding is quite attractive, but I was horrified to see that they’ve changed the construction of the notebook itself to the diagonal elastic that Art Alternatives has used on their Sketch & Draw line for a while. (See my Sketch & Draw review).

I didn’t like the diagonal elastic on the Sketch & Draw, and I don’t like it on the Pen & Ink. Very disappointing update– I wonder if they’ve changed anything else about the notebook, but I haven’t even taken the shrinkwrap off to investigate.

Jet Pens has updated their product image, so they are selling the new version. Amazon still has the product images with the orange bands, but like Blick, they may actually have stock with the new design, since the UPC codes are the same. If you order from them, you’re taking your chances, but since the listing says there are only a few units left, maybe it’s from older stock with the orange band and vertical elastic? (The product descriptions have been wonky on Amazon for years– there is a disconnect between the image and the actual paper weight. This listing seems to be the medium weight sketchbook with 192 pages of 54lb paper– don’t buy it unless you want the lighter weight paper comparable to a regular Moleskine. This listing has the same product image, and references 54lb paper, but the title says “heavy weight” and the customer Q&A indicates that the description is wrong and the product is actually 92 pages of 110 lb paper, similar to the Moleskine Sketchbook paper weight.)

The price on these at Blick is just fantastic– currently $5.69 for the pocket size sketchbook. And their customer service department was great about resolving my issue of not wanting this version of the product. It’s not like I desperately need more sketchbooks anyway, but I can’t help being sad that they changed these! I’ve ordered one on eBay that seems to be the old design, just because, well, you know…

Let us know in the comments if you’ve recently seen stock of the old design, or if you’ve tried the new ones!

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!)