I’ve been on the hunt for a new sketchbook for after I finish off with my Stillman and Birn Beta that I’m almost done with (yay!).
A few words on the S&B Beta
I got the Beta imagining it would be the one perfect sketchbook that would rule them all. In my dreams it would work for everything I could ever draw and I would never need to bother wasting time researching sketchbooks again. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite pan out as I desired, and I am really straining to make it to the end of this book. Let me preface this by saying the Beta is made for wet media and worked reasonably for almost anything and I’ve had quite a few pieces on it turn out great. The paper is indeed of excellent quality and will not peel as easily as other pulp papers when wet media is used. It does warp upon the application of any liquid, so be sure to use a clip to keep everything flat while working, but after it is dried it is fairly flat.
For watercolours, the pulp type paper will never give you predictable results like cotton paper will. I discovered this fact too late when on the first page I made a mistake on my piece and needed to rework it with gouache, I found the paper was incredibly unmerciful and there was noticeable peeling if I worked over an area at all. After a few more watercolour pieces I realised it was really much more tricky to work with than even the cheap cotton paper I got from Riot. Alas, it never promised to be a watercolour paper so I still think it held up pretty well considering.
Being not quite perfect with watercolours and inkwash, too grainy for pencils, requiring thick oil pastel application, and too thick for copics (soaking the ink from my poor markers); it felt like in covering all bases and being usable with all mediums, the Beta compromised the individual medium. Atleast for my personal artwork.
Epsilon vs. Alpha
I still really do enjoy S&B and mixed media paper, and I really didn’t want to use a sketchbook that couldn’t handle everything I could throw at it. So with this in mind, I decided to try an Epsilon or Alpha as my next main sketchbook. These both have thinner paper, more pages, with much less tooth – the Epsilon being the smoother of the two.
The logic was that either of these might allow me to use most of my mediums effectively. Water and ink wash would be where I would have to compromise as it will buckle, but with the tests I did I could see the paper would still hold up well enough for sketching purposes.
Thankfully I had both in smaller travel sizes to compare. Below are the comparisons just in case they can be of help to you.
Up until now I always thought I preferred smoother paper to draw on, but I found this time with the pencils the Alpha held up much better for pigment lay down because of the rougher tooth which resulted in more depth. Although it was really offputting seeing the shiny pigment sit on top of the Epsilon paper, I was able to achieve smoother transitions and the individual pencil marks were easier to blend which was awesome.
Watercolour & Ink
Honestly, both handle watercolour really well. There really isn’t much difference except that the epsilon will have a smoother application because of its smoother tooth and the alpha will take water a little easier because of its slightly rougher tooth. I would not sell a watercolour work from either sketchbook given the large amount of buckling but they will still look nice from the front and serve you well for sketching and light washes.
The markers were much smoother to apply on the Epsilon and I felt like the colours were slightly more accurate (possibly because the paper of the Epsilon is more white in colour). However, the Epsilon lended a strange grainy texture to the markers after drying. I tested both with generic brand and Copics but the texture would surface regardless. The grainy texture was not on the Apha, but the markers did apply more unevenly. I would give the edge to the Epsilon because I personally liked the smoother result more despite the graininess.
I’m choosing the Alpha for my next sketchbook! I might still try the Epsilon in the future just because I love the smooth pages so much, but if you have any suggestions for multimedia sketchbooks let me know as I’m always keen to try new books out!
PS: Acrylics on the Alpha
After my test I was curious to see how my new acrylics would turn out on the Alpha, I lightly gesso’d the page and then did the below painting 😀 I really like how it turned out.