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Friday, December 14, 2012

Product Review: Stillman and Birn ZETA Paper

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As many of you are aware Stillman & Birn makes what I think to be the best sketchbooks currently on the market today. The quality and variety of papers, and the variety of formats (size, spiral, hardbound) covers a broad range and offers just the right product for any sketchbook artist.

Stillman & Birn sent paper samples of their newest paper choice, Zeta, to a number of artist to try and review. I have not read any of those yet so that I would have no preconceived notions about the paper going in. But you can read Jamie Williams Grossman's review here, Jeanne Forsyth's review here, and a review from Liz & Borromini here.

Yesterday, I gave the new Zeta paper a whirl. If you're familiar with my sketches you know that I am a mixed media maven! One of my top requirements in a sketchbook is that the paper be able to handle all kinds of media, both wet and dry together in one sketch, or on one page spread.

The Zeta paper is a "cousin" to Stillman & Birn's Epsilon series paper.  Plate smooth, and really lovely to the touch. While the Epsilon is 90lbs, the Zeta is twice that, at a beefy 180 lbs. This for me is a big plus right out of the gate. I just have to have a heavy weight paper to work on. Something substantial so I don't have any worries about the paper buckling, the surface peeling,  getting rough or abraded, or any reservations about scrubbing, lifting or layering.

The Zeta paper, like all Stillman & Birn papers is sized inside and out, which means that wet media like watercolors and ink lay on top of the paper without sinking in too fast and reduces "staining" the paper meaning that you can lift color. Yay! But this is a little different than hot pressed watercolor paper, flat and graded washes may be a bit challenging on the other hand wet media brush strokes will remain, (as you can see especially in the lower left hand background in the sketch above), and that can be an exciting advantage adding, spontaneity, energy and movement to a piece, something I like.

So what exactly did I throw at this paper?? Well, pretty much everything but the kitchen sink......

  • Uniball Vision Pen -black
  • Sharpie Marker-black
  • Daniel Smith Watercolors
  • Winsor & Newton Gouache
  • Plaid Folk Art Gold Acrylic Paint
  • DecoColor Opaque Paint Marker - white
  • Uniball Gold Gel Pen
  • Blue Painters Tape

I worked on this sketch for about 1.5 hours. There are a LOT of layers and a lot of wet media used, that's important to know because I watched closely to see if the paper would buckle when wet.  It did, but only slightly, and from it's wettest point when I could see the buckling it dried and flattened to only a slight wave in about 15 min. Today the paper has just a slight curve but if I put it under a book I'm confident that it will flatten out completely. That means that bound in a sketchbook the paper once dry will flatten out beautifully once the book is closed.

Pen on Zeta

I started this sketch using a UniBall Vision Pen, then later on switched to Sharpie and added bling with the gold gel pen. I am happy to report two things that made me very happy...

  • the pen never missed or skipped
  • the ink dried very fast on the surface and there was no smudging
A third quality I noticed is neither a pro or con just something to be aware of is that multiple pen lines close together, or in cross hatch pattern, could get very dark very fast

Paint on Zeta

Three kinds of paint were used in this sketch, watercolor, gouache and acrylic

  • watercolors were very clear and bright and were able to be lifted
  • the gouache is a perfect match for this paper being a little thicker and less watery than watercolor and really appreciates the sizing so it can sit on the surface in all it's glorious velvety, opaque, matte beauty
  • acrylic is a pretty friendly medium overall and is pretty much able to adhere to any surface, so this was more a question of whether the paper could handle it, and I found no problems using it

Painters Tape on Zeta

One of the things I like to do in my sketchbooks is tape off a margin around the edge or tape of a rectangle or square to work in. Here's what happened...

  • blue painters tape pulled up the surface of the paper leaving it " fuzzy" and abraded
Next time I will try using drafting tape (which is what usually I carry in my sketch kit) which is less sticky, and should be gentler on the paper.

Next I'm going to test my vast marker collection on Zeta, so stay tuned!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sketching Sculpture

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 Trips to museums make great sketching days. At the Slater Museum they have life size plaster casts of  all the famous sculpture form antiquity. Pencil and gouache were used to capture the Hermes Belvedere and the Dying Gaul.

The next town over from where I live has a Sculpture Mile, a mile long section of the downtown that has a sculpture exhibit that changes every year. this privately funded effort brings art into the public spaces of the town. Pencil, watercolor and gouache capture two views of this figurative piece.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Spring Sketching, Lilacs and Trees

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Every year I make sure that I do something with the lilacs when they bloom. Sometimes it's a full painting, sometimes just a watercolor or sketch. This year it was a sketch. These come from a large shrub in my mom's yard. I brought her a huge bouquet of them as she was in the hospital recovering from a hip replacement. The scent of lilacs is just intoxicating! Watercolor, pen, acrylic marker.

This quick watercolor was done just at the edge of our property looking up the road. It was very overcast and while I was working it started to mist creating beautiful star patterns in the paint similar to what you get when you drop salt on wet watercolor.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Beaver Pond, Compositions and a Trip to the Museum

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 I've been documenting the activity in our beaver pond, and around the rest of our property. Here you can see the beaver's lodge and the trees they have felled. There are ducks, and swifts. Occasionally I hear a Great Horned Owl, and we have some lovely birch trees too. Pencil and watercolor.

One of the things a sketchbook  is good for is testing out compositions before you commit to a large painting. This is a local scene on our downtown and I admire the weeping cherry tree every spring. Four small, fast paintings let me explore several compositional possibilities. Then I was able to make notes analyzing what I liked and didn't like about each. In the end I went with a version similar to the one in the upper right. Golden Fluid Acrylic.

One of the really nice things about keeping a sketchbook journal is capturing the places you go and the things you see. This page has some figure studies of customers having lunch at Denny's along with my fruit salad! Then a trip to the museum followed where I jotted down the information on Tonalism that accompanied the painting by Emil Carlsen that I did a sketch of. Below that is a sketch of Willard Metcalf's sketchbook that he kept when he was in New Mexico and to the left two Canada Geese who were on the museum grounds enjoying the rain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Working in a Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook

This is the cover page for my Stillman and Birn Beta Sketchbook.....

...and the first page. You can see by the dates that I am way behind in posting. In fact, this books is filled and I've moved on to a new one! I'm really going to try hard to get caught up and to post regularly, as I finish pages. For now if you want to keep up to date I post frequently in Cathy Johnson's Artist Journal Workshop Group on Facebook.

The SUN page above is done with pencil, watercolor, gouache and marker.

The Bird feeder page is one of my fav's. The very quick sketches (birds don't stay still very long!) were done with a blue/black Uniball Signo pen, and since the ink is not waterproof when touched with a waterbrush loaded with yellow ochre watercolor beautiful green, browns were created, perfect for depicting the green enamel of the feeder and the color of the seed inside.

Beautiful spring colors on Messerchmidt's Pond near my home, the top three are gouache and the bottom is a watercolor.  These small landscape studies are invaluable for preparing me for the plein air painting season.

One of the things I really love about the Stillman & Birn beta sketchbook is it's fabulous heavy weight, (180lb, unheard of in a sketchbook!) multimedia paper. This paper takes everything you can throw at it with no buckling or rippling, no bleed through, and the surface stays perfect even with repeated applications, even a fair amount of scrubbing. All of that is important to me because I know that I have the freedom to experiment and to keep working a sketch until I get it working to my satisfaction, even if I have to add several types of media to do it. I really feel fearless when using this sketchbook! And that is very, very good for unleashing creativity!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Sketching Lunch

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Just a couple of quick foodie sketches! Pen and watercolor in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook...and below Faber-Castell brush tip markers in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sketching Spring Trees

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Spring Trees, done on Easter Sunday, UniBall Vision pen, Daniel Smith watercolors, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook.

Winsor & Newton Gouache, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook.

 I thought this wold be an interesting comparison of two similar (yet very different!) mediums ,watercolor and gouache. Gouache is sometimes thought of as opaque watercolor, in the 19th century it was called body color, meaning that it had a heavier consistency than watercolor, hence it had more body to it. You can thin down gouache like watercolor and create semi transparent washes or you can build up color as I did here.

The watercolor and pen is a very fast way to work and the transparent color seemed the best choice for capturing the very sunny day and the light colors in the trees.  When i did the second sketch clouds were rolling in and the weather was changing and layers of heavier gouache seemed the right choice for that particular situation.

Gouache and watercolor also work well together, allowing you to sit opaque layers or areas on top of transparent areas which produces a really nice effect.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Books-a-Million Cafe Sketch

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As much as I love eBooks, Kindle, on line magazines, shopping at  and digital media in general I still will always and forever love a beautiful hardcover book with gold gilded edges and visiting a book store. 

I also really love bookstores that have cafes. They are perfect for settling down and reading your latest purchase or for sketching. Usually people are relaxed and likely to stay for an hour or so and therefore they make good models!

I'm trying to improve my skill with gouache, and I think this is my best attempt so far. My biggest problem with using gouache is that I water down the paint too much, and don't dip back in or make more mix frequently enough and struggle to spread too little paint too far. Or as Bilbo Baggins stated on his 111th birthday “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread." ~ JRR Tolkein

Gouache can be delicate and the previous layer can "lift" or dissolve into the layer you are adding if you don't allow enough dry time. I read in the Daniel Smith catalog that you can use Golden Super Loaded Matte Medium with gouache to create a surface that does not lift when re-wet.  This sort of makes your gouache more like an acrylic but not really as you have total control of how much medium you add and at which point in the painting you add it and if you add it all at in certain parts. I'm finding it very helpful right now.

This done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook, with W&N Gouache.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Zoo Sketches

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 Sketching at the zoo is very challenging! Some of these are from on the spot observation, others developed and fleshed out from photos I took. I wish there was a zoo close to home so I could go frequently and become adept enough to capture the animals quickly and accurately while observing them.

The lions are done with 2B pencil and gouache, in a Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook.

The Baboons were very entertaining to watch especially the very young one, who persisted in pestering his elders even after getting a scolding. 2B pencil and gouache, in a Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook.

Wish I could have gotten the Bactrain Camels to turn around, but they were at the hay baskets munching the afternoon away. 2B pencil and gouache, in a Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook.

 This part of the zoo was fascinating. It's called the Deer Forest and a herd of 90 Fallow Deer roam free as you walk along the paths. The deer will come to you to eat if you buy corn from the little dispensers, they will follow you and walk freely in and out of groups of people. Here you see a chocolate variety, and a spotted. There is also a white coated variation. Watercolor, 2B pencil and gouache, in a Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook.

This was a spur of the moment visit on our way home from my daughter's college in Beverly, MA and I would have missed the opportunity to enjoy these beautiful animals if I didn't always keep at least one sketching kit in the car at all times!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sketching Sea Turtles

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 Sea Turtles at the Maritime Center in Norwalk, CT.  Pen, and watercolor in a Pentallic Nature Sketch sketchbook

Lots of fun watching these beautiful creatures swim and move, but challenging to sketch because they're always swimming and moving!