Thursday, December 20, 2012

The New "Zeta" Sketchbook

Once upon a time, an artists sketchbook was only for scribbling, testing, practice, and observing prior to the production of a master work.  Today, there is a whole movement of artists who specialize in what is now a legitimate and growing form of art known as 'art-journaling'...of which I am one.

Art journaling is something different to everyone, but the thing I love about it is that it facilitates creativity of any kind...which makes it legitimate and necessary. There is no right or wrong to working in a sketchbook, and today artists like me fill the pages of a sketchbook with ALL sorts of media for all sorts of purposes.

For the art journal-er, the greatest challenge is finding the perfect sketchbook.  Big enough to be workable, small enough to be maneuverable, paper that is durable enough to withstand the creative flow.  Everyone likes something different in a sketchbook, and when you've made your creative landing in sketchbook art, as I have, then you've arrived there via a million different kinds.

I recently discovered Stillman & Birn sketchbooks and have been raving about them ever since.  They have a whole line of books that carry different types of high quality paper that are beautifully bound. Quite simply, I have found them to be able to withstand anything I throw at them.

You can image my excitement when I discovered they are planning to release a new addition to their collection in January..."Zeta"!!   Zeta is 180lb (270gsm) natural white, smooth surface, multi-media paper.  I was jumping for joy when Michael Kalman asked if I wanted to road-test some of the new "Zeta" paper, fresh from the mills in France. I was curious as to how they could possibly top an already superior line of books...well they did!

A little envelope of paper arrived a couple of weeks ago and I got to work.  Zeta is a unique, heavyweight "multi-media" paper that has a smooth surface, kind of like a hot-press watercolor paper, which is heavy, bright and beautifully favorite.

There's no doubt that because the paper has a smooth texture and minimal tooth, it enables amazing line control for pen and ink work with no feathering or bleeding. But what I found is that "Zeta"  happily accepted a huge range of both dry and wet media. The thing is, Zeta has both internal AND surface sizing, which is the process that determines the papers ability to absorb.  It is the balance of sizing that sets Zeta apart from other sketchbooks. Because of its unique sizing, I found this paper forced pigment to stay elevated on its surface, making color and intensity remarkably vivid.

Stillman & Birn have got it right with the Zeta.  I produced a series of pages using everything from acrylic, watercolor, water-soluble pastel, graphite, to soft pastel, India ink, and oil pastel.  I will show you many of these in the weeks to come.

This "Trumpet Lily" was done using Silks Acrylic Glaze from Luminarte.  I found these acrylics held remarkably well on the surface and did not disappear into the paper.  There was absolutely no bleed-through, which is often the case with acrylics on paper.  The tone of the background washes remained strong and vibrant and I could achieve a lovely texture with the paint and the brush before the moisture settled into the surface.  It gave me plenty of time to manipulate my layers.

The lily was done by diluting the Silks with water and washing it through the flower and the background.  I was AMAZED how strong the color pigments stayed with dilution and washing.  Often when I do this, the tone fades and the pigment disappears into the paper.  Not in this case...the paper held up to the acrylics wonderfully without warping or buckling.   

Silks Acrylic Glaze are heavily pigmented, fluid, acrylic paints that contain mica and crystal minerals, and as such make them wonderful to work with.  On the Zeta paper, the color and minerals did not bleed through nor fade, they sat beautifully on the surface so the sparkle and intensity remained brilliant. (I teach luminescent acrylic technique using these paints in my online class called "A Taste of Silks". The next session of this class starts on December 21st.  For information, or to register, please click here.)

Stillman & Birn will be releasing these amazing new books onto the market in mid-January.  As a seasoned and dedicated sketchbook artist, I can tell you that they are going to be hugely popular, and will change the face of art-journaling approaches.

Thanks for checking in. xx


  1. Wow! This Zeta journal looks amazing!
    I was just planning to start an art journal in 2013. This could be the one. :))
    Merry Yule!!

  2. Loved listening to your thoughts ...your lily is so beautiful and vivid!

  3. Dear Dion, Merry Christmas,

    Is a sample of the paper available? One page would be perfect before I decide to buy. I will pay the postage, thanks!

    Pamela Carvajal Drapala

    1. Hi Pam, to be honest, I don't know if sample paper is available. You would have to contact Stillman & Birn direct. I know they are very generous, so they may have some extra sheets available if you contact them. Their website has contact info on it, here's the link...

      Hugs. xx

    2. Thanks so much for your help. Hugs back XX

  4. Thanks for this review. This sounds like a great paper. I believe it is just what I am looking for. I like that you said it doesn't warp or buckle. I haven't tried any of their sketchbooks yet, but I'll look for this one when it is out. Merry Christmas! It sounds like you may be in the area of all the snow- we are supposed to get around 8-9" by the time it all stops. This is a great painting!

  5. I am desperate to try this paper... I love smooth papers and don't use anything else... hope they start to release them in Australia, or maybe i just need to bite the bullet and order them and get them shipped... great review and the painting is perfect... can't wait to see more
    T xx

  6. I'm looking forward to this. I am wondering if you tried any collage techniques with it. I'm also hoping that rubber stamping will work well, since it is similar to hot press WC paper. I do a lot of collaging, plus stenciling, inking, painting, etc. and am always looking for That Perfect Journal.


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