Update on my Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook

October 13, 2016 | 18 Comments

Just a quick post today to share with you how much I am loving my Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover sketchbook.

I’m really enjoying the reduced weight and the ‘less precious’ feel of it. Please refer to my initial thoughts here and also two great reviews: one by Tina and one by Larry.

I had three big questions about whether these softcovers would suit me, and so far all three are not a problem.

  1. The flex and lack of support: Once a few pages into the book it doesn’t seem to be an issue at all.
  2. The durability of the covers: They are holding up really well to my rough treatment
  3. Holding pages down: Using a thinner rubber band and a few small bull-dog clips is working just fine.

There is not necessarily a permanent change to my standard sketchbook, but it is promising!

What’s your favourite sketchbook at the moment?



  • Dee Ludwig says:

    Am on the end of my second soft cover beta book. I love it. A real game changer for me, as I think I have tried everything on the market. I have even wiped really bad food spills off the cover and they didn’t stain or blot. And the paper is wonderful and heavy giving plenty of stability to the book. I wish the prices weren’t quite so steep, but the 5×8 size has encouraged me to do double page spreads that have seldom been done in other books. It is now my go to book!

  • Sara Coulter says:

    My red hardcover Moleskine Art Plus sketchbook is my fav. The pages are smooth fir drawing but hold up to watercolor, and I like how it feels in my hand.

  • LauraLupe says:

    Liz, do the pages hold up to your watercolor washes?


    Stillman and Birn Alpha series, hard cover and landscape size: really like the paper quality (takes watercolours washes beautifully), stitching and hard cover, although it does not lay fully flat when opened. I have filled a Hahnemuhle “Travelbook” (or is it Travel Journal?) that was not too bad in certain respects and made an unsuccessful attempt at Leuchtturm sketchbooks (I found the paper not suitable at all for wet techniques, paper peeling off under the brush, under the eraser and pigments bleeding trough in spite of the weight of the paper. Also like the size of the S+B landscape sktchbk, slighly larger than a regular A5. Will try the A4 book soon.

  • Flory says:

    I’ve been using two spiralbound Canson “Mix Media Multi-Technique” sketchbooks recently, one 5.5×8.5″ for casual sketching and my own building-a-day project, and a full sized one for the Buildings course. I like the weight and feel of this paper for both ink drawing and light washes. It will warp under heavy washes. This encourages me to pay attention to how wet my washes are! Juicy, but not a flood.
    I also want to say a big thank you to Stillman and Birn, whose Alpha and Zeta books are among my faves too. A year ago I bought two of the then-new softbound Zeta books to take on a long trip. I was disappointed to discover that the bindings broke. Months went by and suddenly it had been a year since I bought the books, and I had no receipt. Liz reminded me to notify S&B (thanks!), so I sent a photo and explained the situation. I got three things back: an email apologizing for the defective books (which had escaped the recall) and promising replacements; a Priority Mail package within a few days containing two new Zeta softbound books; and a personal letter from Viktor Stevens of S&B. Now this is superior customer service! Thank you very much, S&B!

  • Deb Mostert says:

    I’m using the Alpha soft cover too Liz, after your blog I went out and ordered one to try, the reduced weight being the biggest draw card for me. I am a little disappointed to find the paper is still ghosting (my way of saying I can see my drawings on the backs of the pages which is annoying when scanning). I guess i could always only draw on one side which would be a pain l as i tend to work across the gutter a lot. But the paper is much more capable of taking the watercolour without swelling and buckling. All up I’m happy enough but think I may yet go back to a thicker paper to avoid the ghosting. I still love the Fabriano 200 gsm Venezia despite the extra weight. I used a ‘cheap as chips’ Canson 180 which was surprisingly good despite the paper buckling. Ghosting was a problem too but I must say I was not so precious about what went into this sketchbook and as a result it’s one of my more experimental and fun books. go figure.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Deb. Yes I have ghosting too but I slip a black sheet of paper in when I scan and then brighten the overall image. It is only 180gsm paper so there will be compromises

    • Dana Burrell says:

      Deb, here’s a hint about scanning. Try putting a piece of black construction paper behind the page you’re scanning. The show through, or “ghosting” as you call it, won’t be visible. I now have dedicated black paper for each sketchbook size. I’m sorry I can’t remember who clued me in but I thank them every day I scan… it’s a game-changer!

    • Deb Mostert says:

      ah, thanks for the tip about the scanning…. never knew that….I must say I do love the light weight which is a major consideration when lugging it around with me everywhere I go. It lives with in my handbag unless I’m in the studio but seems to cope with the battering of being dragged around. I’m keen to try the larger size having just watched your video blog on the sabbatical week.

  • Dana Burrell says:

    Deb, I have a great hint for your scanning. Try putting a piece of black construction paper behind the page you’re scanning. The show through, or “ghosting” as you call it, won’t be visible. I now have dedicated black paper for each sketchbook size. I’m sorry I can’t remember who clued me in but I thank them every day I scan… it’s a game-changer!

  • Dana Burrell says:

    Sorry about the duplication… hey… maybe I learned it from Liz!! Thanks Liz!

  • Meredith Davies says:

    Hi Liz
    I love the Stillman and Birn Beta series. The paper is just right for drawing and watercolour.
    Where can i buy the softcover in Australia? The larger 8×10 is quite difficult to locate.
    Thanks Meredith

  • Deborah Alexander says:

    My absolute favorite is the Aquabee Super Deluxe Sketchbook. Dick Blick now carries a 6 x 6 version and it fits in my purse perfectly. I use the 9 x 9 at home in the studio and I also have an 11 x 14, but it is too big for me really. I usually use the entire 2 page spread.

  • Ittenmodo says:

    I’ve been using the Hobonichi for simple sketching but ever since I’ve “graduated” to watercolours, the paper don’t fit the criteria I would like and so I’m currently using Midori’s Sketch Paper. Eventually I would like to try Fabriano’s.

  • Christy Byrd says:

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks to your recommendations I used the alpha hardbound book. Now I am going to try the alpha softbound book. Is the break in process required for the softbound book? I used the break in process you referred to for the hardbound book and it worked really well!

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