The Stillman & Birn Series

My favorite sketchbooks are made by Stillman & Birn. They offer a wide variety of options, below are the three that I use most often.

If you don’t know what to get, just start with the hardcover Alpha Series. If you want thick watercolor like paper, then the Beta series is what you’re looking for. The Epsilon series is for artists who like smooth paper. The Zeta series also has smooth paper but it’s thicker.

The Alpha Series Is My All Purpose Sketchbook

I quickly sketched this outdoors with pencil and then ink. The sun was close to setting but I was able to capture some of the colors on site. I put the finishing touches on it in my studio. This is the Alpha series hardcover sketchbook.

The alpha series of sketchbooks is for sketching and light washes of ink or watercolor. The paper is 150GSM which is similar to regular sketchbook paper. It’s thick enough so that the sketches on the other side of the paper don’t usually show through.

I prefer the hardbound alpha series sketchbook that measures 5.5″ x 8.5″ (14.0cm x 21.6cm). It contains 62 Sheets which equals 124 pages. They also make them with a softcover.

The wire bound sketchbooks will lay flat and the pages won’t close on themselves like a traditional binding. However, the holes from the wire binding interferes with a double page spread. Watercolor tends to drip down through the holes and stain the other sheets. If you do one sketch per page then this shouldn’t be a problem.

The sketches shown here were done with pencil, micron pens, the Pentel brush pen, and watercolors.

A sketch of a tree along a creek. I used watercolor, micron pens, and some gouache for the highlights.
The paper found in the Alpha Series can take light washes of color but it will buckle somewhat. As you complete the sketchbook, it will become thicker on one side.

Buckling is difficult to avoid when using wet media in sketchbooks. Sketchbook paper isn’t stretched so it won’t dry flat. If this bothers you then you may want to limit how much water you apply to the paper when painting with watercolors or ink.

Dry media such as pencil shouldn’t cause the paper to buckle.

I don’t mind it if the paper buckles. I think of my sketchbooks as places to work out ideas and for experimenting with new techniques. If you consider your sketchbooks as works of art, then you may prefer the thicker paper found in the Beta series.

The Beta Series Is Made for Wet Media

The beta series is for those who like thick watercolor paper with a cold press surface. The paper is 270 gsm.

The extra heavyweight paper is similar to regular cold press watercolor paper. It can take more layers of watercolor washes than the Alpha Series, but it still buckles slightly.

The thicker paper means that the sketchbook contains less sheets 26 sheets or 52 pages. That’s 72 less pages than the Alpha series.

The Epsilon Series Has Smooth Paper

If you work with markers or just prefer a really smooth surface, the Epsilon series may be what you’re looking for. The Zeta series has the same smooth surface but it’s the extra heavy weight version.

Below is a value study from my Epsilon sketchbook. I used microns, the Pitt Big Brush markers, and the Pentel brush pen. The smooth paper is great for shading with markers and for drawing with fine tipped pens.

The Pocket Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn also make softcover sketchbooks. I like the smallest sketchbook that measures 3.5″ x 5.5″ (8.9cm x 14cm). I refer to it as my “pocket sketchbook” because it’s small enough to fit into my coat pocket. It would fit into the front or back pocket of most jeans but I think storing it in my pants pocket would damage the pages. I also keep one in my backpack along with a pen and pencil for sketching in spare moments.

It’s fun capturing scenes when you’re on the go. Below is a sketch of some Canadian geese I spotted at a local park. I had to sketch them in a hurry because they were on the move. At the top left is a quick sketch of a goose taking flight.

I use this sketchbook for experimenting and practicing my drawing skills. Sketching before work is something I enjoy during the warm seasons.


This is a sketch of Ellicott creek as seen from Island Park in Williamsville NY.

These little sketchbooks are great for filling in the boring moments in waiting rooms. Waiting around is normally an annoying experience, but the time flies when you get lost in a watercolor sketch. They’re good for jotting down notes too.

I sketched this in my car in downtown Buffalo. The sketch on the left is from a rainy day. The sun came out for the drawing on the right.