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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!

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