Stillman & Birn Journal Review

The past few posts have been about keeping an art journal so I want to expand on that and share with you a new brand of art journals that I came across. Stillman & Birn are the only journals that focus on paper quality and an artist's needs. Usually people praise Moleskine journals since they're heavily toted around in the art world. Moleskines are great (and I have been using one since 2013) but I dislike how the paper buckled in my watercolor folio album. Washes were eaten up on the paper which made wet-in wet techniques a bit more difficult to do. I'm not saying moleskine journals are horrible to use but specifically for watercolors and my work, I found them to be a challenge.

This is where Stillman and Birn steps in to save the day. 

The different series include: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Gamma, Zeta

The different series include: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Gamma, Zeta

  There are currently 6 types of journals and each of them come in various sizes with an option for finishing in either wirebound or hardbound. I favor hardbound journals because the pages are all sewn in nicely and there's no risk for tear. Other artists may prefer wirebound so that they can flip the pages back. However, the hardbound journals do lie flat and just require initial 'breaking-in' to loosen up the spine. I've had no issues painting across the span of two pages after breaking it in and opening up the book. 

The two types that are currently my favorite out of the possible line are the Zeta series and Beta series.

Perfect for pen, ink and watercolors with a bright smooth surface

Perfect for pen, ink and watercolors with a bright smooth surface

Zeta Series

The Zeta series is almost identical to the Epsilon series with a smooth surface but in a heavier type of paper at  180lbs (270gsm). The Zeta is similar to the texture of a smooth bristol board and acts like hot pressed watercolor with slightly less absorbency since the paper isn't made of cotton. Watercolors glide smoothly but also tend to stay afloat on the paper which isn't bad but just different than what I'm used to. The following sketch was painted across the span of two Zeta pages in a hardbound 8.5 x 11" Zeta journal.

"Autumn is Here" 

     The paper took a lot of beating and I was able to layer many washes without experiencing severe buckling. While the watercolors didn't sink into the paper, I found that this effect was actually quite pleasant (but a tiny bit more time consuming as you wait for layers to dry). The sketch I painted "Autumn is Here" is based on my last hike during the fall in 2013. As usual, I used M. Graham watercolors and a Kolinsky Sable Rosemary brush in size 2-4 combined with some watercolor pencils. I love how vibrant the colors stayed on the zeta paper because of the bright white surface but might need to experiment even further to adjust myself to using it. I also painting a "The Last Unicorn" sketch to grace the title page of this book. Zeta is great for wet media or dry media and well suited for watercolors, pen, ink or marker with it's smooth bristol board-like surface. Even though I liked the Zeta paper, I was intrigued by the rest of their line and ordered a sample paper packet from

Beta series

The paper samples arrived in 3-4 business days from the time of my request and I was delighted to play with them. The paper that captured my interest the most was the Beta which is a cold pressed bight white version of the Delta series (both are 180lbs except the Delta comes in a ivory cream color instead). This paper felt more like regular watercolor paper with a slight texture instead of a smooth surface like Zeta. I loved how the paper handled and absorbed watercolor washes. The tiger lilies sketch "See me Glow" was painted on the sample Beta paper from the packet I received. 

"See Me Glow" - Tiger Lily sketch on sample Stillman and Birn sample paper of the beta series

I absolutely adore the final result of this paper and look forward to also purchasing a hardbound Beta journal once I find one in NYC (currently they are not stocked due to the re-branding switch). The Beta also worked wonderfully with minimal buckling and allowed for layering of watercolor washes a lot easier than the Zeta. Both series from the Stillman and Birn journals are a pleasure to work with and I am fond to have found their journals! Finally, a brand of journals that fits my watercolor needs! This is a big move from a moleskine journal (which is the only brand I used prior to the switch). Keeping a journal helps continue fueling my creativity despite stressful times. 

Let me know your thoughts in a comment below or feel free to contact me anytime! I'd love to hear from my readers. Do you use a journal? If so, is there a specific brand that you like or are you similar to me and like to hunt for the 'perfect' art journal?

I am considering a giveaway at some point so stay tuned and thanks for reading! :)