Stillman and Birn Sketchbooks – First Looks

Stillman and Birn sent me some sketchbooks to try out, and after I received them and opened the box, I sent a tweet saying they were serious sketchbooks. They are. Stillman and Birn’s tag line is “Paper matters…feel the difference!” They’re right, it does matter, and you can feel the difference.

They packed the books using waste paper from making the books, so my first experience with it was pulling crumpled paper out of the box they came in, and thinking to myself “What the heck is this stuff?” I feel sorry for the people who have to crumple it up.IMG_2012.JPG

I have a few pieces of plywood I’ve cut to use as lapdesks. They’re 5/32″ solid core plywood with cherry veneer on one side and birch of on the other. I use it because it is stiff way out of proportion to it’s weight and thickness. It’s surprisingly rigid. The paper in these notebooks is the same way. It’s heavy, stiff stuff, and it’s also thicker than the rest of the paper I commonly work with.

Stillman and Birn offers three kinds of paper. 180lb paper with a rough surface, suitable for mixed media is used in the Beta and Delta books. 100lb paper with a vellum surface is used in the Alpha and Gamma books, and with a ‘plate’ surface in the epsilon book.

My Moleskine sketchbook’s paper is about 8.5 thousandths of an inch thick, according to my digital caliper. My pad of Strathmore 400 series drawing paper is about 6.5 to 7. The Alpha series sketchbook I received was about 8.5, and the Gamma was about 9.5. The Epsilon was thinner at about .7. The Beta, naturally, was much thicker at 14. By comparison the Leuchtturm1917 notebook I use is 3-3.5.

Thicker paper deserves thicker covers, and Stillmand and Birn deliver here as well. The books have covers a full 1/8″ thick (.125″), which are stiff and covered with a black, shiny faux leather substance of some kind. The point is that they are thick and sturdy, to provide a good surface for writing as well as protections for the pages within. By comparison, my Moleskine sketchbook’s cover is about .07, and an Art-Alternatives sketchbook is .1. The Strathmore 400 series has a chipboard back that’s .07″ thick.

The bindings on the sewn books lay flat, as flat as the Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917, and without much persuasion. Notice that they included a headband – that bit that looks like black rope – which Moleskine & Leuchtturm1917 (and many others I’m sure) leave off. Another thing I noticed is that the spine stays flat rather than bending as it does on Moleskines, which means labels stuck to the spine are more likely to stay on. The wire binding used is unremarkable – the wire is the same thickness as the Art-Alternatives book I have.IMG_2017.JPG IMG_2016.JPG

These are heavily constructed sketchbooks, with very heavy paper, and they beg to be used. More to follow after I have a chance to do just that.

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