Sketchbook Review: Stillman & Birn Nova – Beige

Review by Tina Koyama

Stillman & Birn sketchbooks have been my favorites for a long time, especially Beta (toothy paper for wet media), Zeta (smooth, mixed media paper) and the Nova series of toned books in beige, gray and black. This review is of the beige Nova in the versatile 5½-by-8½-inch, portrait-format softcover ($19.99).

The plain, dark gray softcover has a pleasant matte finish. After the bellyband is removed, the only branding is the slightly shiny logo and book series type on the back cover.

That solid dark surface is a blank slate just waiting to be festooned with stickers! (The first thing I do when I start a new sketchbook is put my contact info on the inside front cover and stickers on the outside.)

According to the bellyband, the 92 pages are 150gsm intended for dry media, light wash and ink. The paper has a mild tooth that I adore with every form of pencil I’ve used on it – graphite, colored, charcoal, pastel. The model below was sketched with soft graphite and white colored pencil. The garlic was colored pencil. The beige paper has just the right amount of tone for white highlights, which I especially like for life drawing.

Wet media will cause a bit of warping, but light washes will leave almost no trace after drying. The costumed models below were sketched with a Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen, which has water-soluble ink, and washed lightly with a water brush.

A huge benefit of all Stillman & Birn softcovers is that each page spread opens completely flat and stays open – very helpful if you scan your pages as I do. The paper is also completely opaque, so I can use both sides of the page with no ghosting.

In addition, the sturdy binding can be flexed so that the covers touch. (I prefer holding a sketchbook this way with one hand when I sketch while standing.)

A few months ago, Clairefontaine Rhodia announced that it had acquired Stillman & Birn. Initially, I was wary that the European parent company could make undesirable changes to my beloved sketchbook line, but the announcement included this statement: “[Stillman & Birn] sketchbooks are made with robust, high-performance Schut paper and are bound in the USA. . . . the Schut mill has been manufacturing fine paper in the Netherlands since 1618. And in 1998, Clairefontaine Rhodia acquired Schut Papier, B.V. as a subsidiary of Exacompta Clairefontaine. So it makes perfect sense for Clairefontaine to add Stillman & Birn to its fine art lines.” That’s good news; at least the paper quality is unlikely to change. I know that some of my sketcher friends outside North America have had difficulty sourcing S&B sketchbooks, so perhaps Clairefontaine’s ownership will bring with it wider distribution.

Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were provided to us free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.


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