I am planning a sketching trip to Italy and have been spending quite a bit of time trying to find the best sketchbook to bring. One of the hardest things I have found with the different brands is having one book contain both the paper I like best and be the size I like best. I don’t want to have to create my own, but may resort to that in the future! Each sketchbook I tested was for the specific purpose of finding one that would suit the architecture and ambiance of Italy. I wanted the granulation of my Daniel Smith watercolors to show well, and also for my Lamy Joy fountain pen to glide as I write rather than skip over heavy texture. Being a lefty can be difficult when working in a book, but I found a great site that tells how to “break in” a Stillman Birn sketchbook so that the spreads lie flat; a must for a lefty-hook form of writing and drawing. Here is the link:http://hudsonvalleysketches.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/breaking-in-your-stillman-and-birn.html. I found this link on Liz Steel’s blog, http://www.lizsteel.com.
My ratings for each sketchbook I tried with watercolor and pen:
#1- my favorite is the Stillman Birn Delta; heaviest paper; has a slight texture so the granulation of the Daniel Smith colors reacts nicely to it, yet the pen still glides fairly well. Takes a juicy wash well. Paper is ivory colored.
#2- Stillman Birn Beta; Paper is second thickest; colors are bright on this surface; pen writes smoothly since it isn’t too textured; takes a juicy wash well. Paper is white.
#3- The Moleskine Watercolor; it is the most textured paper so would show off the stonework of Italy well; the Lamy Joy pen skips a bit due to the heavy texture of the paper; this is the third thickest. I’m not sure if this is too textured for me due to the skipping pen. I am thinking I may need to totally change how I hold a writing implement which could be quite the challenge at my age!
#4- The Stillman Birn Zeta; paper has a nice weight to it; this one has a smooth surface so the pen glides on the surface; for granulated washes it is a bit trickier; the edges tend to dry sharper due to the smooth surface; for Italy this may not be the best choice but I did a few berry sketches with a more delicate watercolor style and I like it a lot for that type of painting. A good choice for other paint types too due to the smooth surface. White paper; closest to a hot press paper that I have found in a sketchbook. There is a hot press sketchbook brand that is from the Netherlands (if I remember right), but I don’t think we can order it in the US.
#5- Stillman Birn Alpha; this sketchbook seems to be a better choice for pen and ink with maybe just a light touch of watercolor; paper is the thinnest of those tested and tends to warp and buckle if you use a more juicy application of paint. Fine for a practice sketchbook.
Trying to find the perfect paper with the perfect size and orientation is not as easy as one would assume! But I am glad I have invested (ha, that is the right word for sure!) in the variety of sketchbooks to test them out myself.