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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

At the Palace of Fine Arts

Watercolor artist Joanne Gustilo is being increasingly recognized for her drawings of iconic buildings on both coasts. Joanne recently created a series of studies of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. The Beaux-Arts architecture is rendered with elegance, precision and drama. This is Joanne’s statement about her work: “Being able to visit the famous Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, was a dream come true for me. For when I was a little girl, I fell in love with that place as I watched my father create a painting of it as a commissioned piece. Standing in front of this magnificent structure and being able to sketch and paint it was a very overwhelming experience for me, almost surreal.

I have been keeping art journals for quite sometime which contain special memories of places, things, and dreams I cherish the most. For this series I did several pen and watercolor sketches in my Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook. I chose this particular sketchbook because of the quality of its paper. It is heavy duty, and can take a lot of heavy washes of watercolor which is usually my style. On this particular sketch of the pillars, I used a Sakura Micron pen 01 & 05 in Sepia to sketch the main structures and some details and then added some watercolor washes on it. I just love working on the Beta Series, it allows me to make several layers of watercolor washes and I can lift colors easily without ruining the paper.”

MEDIA: Ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Beta Series- Extra Heavy Weight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Palace of Fine Arts

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Bee Study

Barbara Tapp recently retired from a distinguished career as an architectural illustrator and is now pursuing an old/new direction for her artwork. She talks about it here: “This study began when I needed an image of a bee for a painting I was completing. Working outdoors, I was observing and taking notes and I found I was captivated by the maneuverability and industry of the honeybees as they gathered pollen and nectar. Then on Sept 1st, I began a challenge to create a daily piece on bees. It has been 38 years since I worked in the art department at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and here suddenly and unexpectedly I was brought to combine my love of watercolor, flowers and insects in this project.

My Mum told me in February the day before she died that she wanted me to paint for myself. I have had a great career drawing architecture but these bee paintings are honestly where my heart lies and the joy I am experiencing creating them is amazing.

This was my first time using Stillman & Birn’s Beta Series cold press paper. I chose it for its weight and white tone. This painting is about “buzz pollination” with the bee gathering in a dish shaped flower. [Ed: ‘In buzz pollination bees are able to grab onto the flower and move their flight muscles rapidly, causing the flower and anthers to vibrate, dislodging pollen.’ via Wikipedia]. And I am as much interested in the structure of the flower as that of the bee. I specifically chose to have a contrast between the bright colors and shadows of the flower and the dark-toned body of the bee.

Working from sketches and my own photos I blocked in the flower and bee loosely in pencil and applied many washes on the flower before adding the bee. I wanted to be semi-abstract and playful with the petals and the backgrounds of this study, yet I wanted the focus of the artwork, the bee, to be accurate.

The Beta Series paper proved to be excellent for very wet washes without absorbing the color. Therefore, the possibility for layering colors seemed endless. I could get precise line work and brushstrokes ending with bold solid color as in the vivid yellow at the top. It is this response from the paper to my paint that really satisfies me.

MEDIA: Pencil and watercolor
SURFACE: Beta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish
Bee low res

Saturday, October 11, 2014

After the Rain – Paris Morning

Thanks to Iain Stewart for posting this great watercolor of a wet Parisian street on his Facebook page, Iain Stewart Waterrcolors. In creating this piece, Iain started with an underdrawing in pencil and then layered color, building up tone with several watercolor washes. Afterwards, Iain lifted pigment from the center of the page to create the illusion of reflection on the wet street. We generally recommend our extra heavyweight Beta (or Delta) Series with this heavy amount of wet media and paper manipulation. But Iain likes to push the limits of the Alpha Series and in this beautiful artwork he demonstrates how much abuse the paper can take. Thanks again, Iain!

MEDIA: Pencil and watercolor
SURFACE: Alpha Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Medium Grain

After the Rain_Paris Morning

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vibrant Greens Along the River Fowey

British artist Hannah Ivory Baker uses a unique abstract style in her sketchbooks which she creates with gouache and a bold impasto technique. The result is more of a finished work then a sketchbook study. Zoom in to see how loaded the page is with pigment.

“I am an artist living in Crouch End, North London. I began painting when I was quite young, nothing formal but I was always encouraged to draw and paint. My grandad was an artist and I used to sit and watch him for hours in his studio. I loved watching him work. There were bits of dried paint, used brushes and half whited-out paintings everywhere. If I close my eyes I can remember the smell of cut wood, turpentine and chalky paint lingering in the air of his studio. It pleases me that my studio now smells similar!

All my sketchbook work really aims to capture the essence of place, time of day, weather conditions. So with this in mind the key is to remain as loose and free as possible when painting without being too intricate or detailed.

In the sketch titled ‘Vibrant Greens Along the River Fowey’ I was specifically trying to record lots of greens, vivid and luscious, and combine this with a sense of life and movement; the movement of water, sparkling light reflecting off the river and foliage.

I started by wetting the paper and spreading varying shades and intensities of blue and yellow gouache directly on to the wet paper leaving an abstract wash and creating a rough guide of the general composition. From there I built up the darker areas of trees, shadow and reflection. Using a palette knife loaded with paint I flicked thicker blobs on to the paper and scratching away certain areas of the thicker paint I was able to create a little texture. This enabled me to define the reeds coming out of the water, areas of leaves and branches as well as certain areas of the foreground.

The techniques I employ in my sketchbook work are very harsh. The paper must be robust enough to support wetting, scratching and the application of thicker paint without creasing, wrinkling or tearing. I have been incredibly pleased that the Stillman & Birn mixed media sketchbooks.”

MEDIA: Gouache
SURFACE: Delta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – Ivory – Cold Press Finish

vibrant greens on the river fowey, Bodmin, cornwall (Delta)


Friday, October 3, 2014

New Sargent Exhibit Announced

Artist and writer Katherine Tyrrell reports on a major Sargent exhibtition coming next year to London and New York. Very exciting news for Sargent enthusiasts after last year’s Sargent watercolor exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and MFA in Boston.

” ‘Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends’ will be on display next year at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I’m sure this will delight many fans of portraiture!

This morning I went to the launch event for this new exhibition which has been five years in the making. The exhibition is going to be a unique perspective of some 70 paintings and works on paper by John Singer Sargent – one of the greatest portrait painters of all time.” For more details and insight, see Katherine Tyrell’s blog, Making A Mark.  via Jan Blencowe

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Packaging Giveaway – Winners Announced

These are the ten winners of our New Packaging Giveaway. Each will receive their choice of one of the six sketchbooks listed in the contest.

Hannah Ivory Baker
Leonie Barton
Becky Cao
Hap Newsom
Colleayn Klaibourne
Wong C. Lee
George Lewis
Jenny Lin
D. Katie Powell
Mike Walters

Winners were selected by chance using the random number generator function in Excel. Thanks to all for participating….our next contest will be in November.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Packaging Giveaway

As part of our new packaging launch, we’re giving away ten sketchbooks. Winners have a choice of any one of the following sketchbooks pictured:

• Alpha Series – 5½ x 8½ – 14.0 x 21.6 cm. – Hardbound
• Beta Series – 5½ x 8½ – 14.0 x 21.6 cm. – Hardbound
• Gamma Series – 6 x 8 – 15.2 x 20.3 cm. – Wirebound
• Delta Series – 5½ x 8½ – 14.0 x 21.6 cm. – Hardbound
• Epsilon Series – 6 x 8 – 15.2 x 20.3 cm. – Wirebound
• Zeta Series – 5½ x 8½ – 14.0 x 21.6 cm. – Hardbound


Simply email us with your name to: We will automatically enter you. You will receive an email reply confirming your entry within 48 hours. Entry to this contest closes September 29, 2014 at 11:59 PM EST.

Winners will be picked at random on September 30, 2014 and will be announced on our blog and social media sites that day.

No purchase required. No geographical limitations. You must be over the age of 18 in order to enter.


Our six series offer artists a choice of paper weight, shade & surface.

Alpha Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Medium Grain
Beta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press
Gamma Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – Ivory – Medium Grain
Delta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – Ivory – Cold Press
Epsilon Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Smooth
Zeta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Smooth

New Packaging Giveaway_low res

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Packaging — Same Great Paper

We recently started shipping our sketchbooks with new packaging. Our objectives:
• To refresh the design of the line and make it more striking.
• To clarify that there are lots of black sketchbooks around — ours are premium quality.
• To highlight that support for mixed media techniques is a core feature of our sketchbooks.
• To make it easier for both retailers and customers to quickly understand the differences between our six Greek-lettered series.

There are no other changes whatsoever in our sketchbooks. We use the same paper and there is a label on each book “New Packaging…Same Great Paper!”

Beauty Shot_Final

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sci-Fi Temptress

Illustrator Trev Stair has a great has a collection of interesting portraits in his sketchbooks .This one is of the character Rachael, the femme fatale character in the 1982 film “Blade Runner”.

Trev’s report: “I’ve always been a fan of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, so it was really fun to draw Sean Young’s character during the Voight-Kampff test scene. [The test is designed to distinguish android ‘replicants’ from humans]. I sketched the drawing first with Pilot Parallel calligraphy pen. I love the line that the Parallel pens give — it’s loose and lively. It’s so loose and lively that it can sometimes get away from you (which can be seen in the wonky bits of this drawing). After the lifework was set, I added tone by brush with diluted India ink. Once the ink wash dried, I added the smoke and bits of highlights using a brush and Daler-Rowney Pro White ink. Pro White is a very opaque white ink that works great over India ink.

This drawing was done in a Gamma Series sketchbook. While the Gamma Series is designed to accept light washes, I have found that it holds up really well to a heavier hand. I have been able to introduce ink washes, watercolors and some gouache into my Drawing a Day work. This really lets me push myself in new directions.” Trev’s blog:

MEDIA: Ink and ink wash
SURFACE: Gamma Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – Ivory – Medium Grain Finish


Friday, September 12, 2014

Soho Panorama

British-born Pete Scully is Urban Sketchers’ correspondent now living in California but he returns to the U.K for regular summer visits. Here is a drawing Pete recently did on a Soho street in London: “This is a two-page panorama of Berwick Street, in the heart of Soho. Straight ahead is the Blue Posts Pub, an old boozer whose name reminds us of Soho’s past as a hunting ground; blue posts would be used to mark the boundaries. I stood sketching using a brown-black Uniball Signo pen for two and a half hours with the Alpha Series landscape sketchbook, and coloured it in later with watercolour. I like to draw panoramas of city streets because you can get a greater scope of the scene, really immerse yourself in it – but you need to commit the time!”

Pete is also active in Urban Sketcher’s London chapter. He currently is featuring a great report on his blog ( ) of the group’s sketch crawl of the buildings of Christopher Wren, Britain’s greatest architect (St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.). And, besides his many other talents, Mr. Scully is also an extraordinary mapmaker as you can see here in this map “Wren’s City”:

MEDIA: Ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Alpha Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Medium Grain

Pete Scully_Berwick St panorama sm

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Rigolets Lighthouse

Annie Strack is an art educator and a master of marine paintings. This is Annie’s report about her drawing of the historic Rigolets Lighthouse, destroyed by Hurricaine Katrina. “I used to live in the New Orleans area, and one of the best things about living there was the diverse and numerous subjects nearby that make for interesting maritime paintings.

I was tidying my studio the other day when I came across some of my old photos of the Rigolets Lighthouse, and I painted this 4×6 watercolor from them. This lighthouse was built in 1855 and once guided maritime traffic at the Rigolets Pass entrance to Lake Pontchartrain until it was abandoned in the mid-20th century and fell into disrepair and then lost to Hurricane Katrina 9 years ago.

The paper is Stillman & Birn’s Beta Series, from a small sample pack they sent to me along with a sketchbook that I had won on one of their social media contests. Nice paper, very good for sketching and studies. Very resistant, the water and pigment stays on top and doesn’t soak in, so very easy to lift the watercolor paint off, down to the white paper.

I wanted to depict a stormy day in this painting, so I used mostly indigo and Payne’s grey for the sky and water. While it was still wet I blotted out some clouds in the sky with tissues, and I let the damp paint create a few blooms in the water to give the effect of rippling reflections. After it dried, I painted the marsh and the rusty roof using Quinacridone gold, burnt sienna, and sepia. I used the sky colors of indigo and Payne’s grey for the shadows, and for the weathered wood of the building and the pilings. This paper allows easy lifting of non-staining colors, so after the painting dried I added a few lighter values by removing paint with damp brush.” Annie’s website:

MEDIA: Watercolor
BETA SERIES: Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Annie Strack, Rigolets Lighthouse

Saturday, September 6, 2014

GUEST POST — Leslie Fehling: Cleome

Leslie Fehling’s post of this drawing attracted a lot of attention when she first posted on her blog. We’re happy to repost it now along with Leslie’s Artist Statement: “I drew this Cleome, or spider flower, in Maine at the lovely Thuya Gardens on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. The line drawing was completed on location using a technical pen with black ink in my Beta Series sketchbook, and the lettering was lightly penciled in.

When I painted the page later at home, I used masking fluid on the entire flower first, including the long arcing stamens. This allowed me to paint the background freely without worrying about preserving the flower shapes. I used a ruling pen to apply the masking fluid. A ruling pen is a drafting instrument designed to hold ink between two adjustable metal pincers which taper to a point. The line width is controlled by an adjustment screw. It works well for applying masking fluid, because it holds a good amount of fluid, and it’s easily cleaned by simply wiping with a tissue. No more ruining paintbrushes with masking fluid! It worked perfectly for masking those long, thin lines on the Cleome.

After I painted the background wet-in-wet and allowed it to dry, I removed the masking fluid and began painting the Cleome itself. The lightest washes were applied and allowed to dry, then subsequent washes in progressively darker shades were added. I kept the whole thing fairly light to convey the feeling of a sun-struck flower against a shady background.

The lettering was inked with a black Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pen and painted with watercolor. At the end, I felt the whole picture looked too static and controlled, so I added some spattering with a paintbrush to make it a little more lively.”

MEDIA: Pencil, ink, watercolor, masking fluid resist
SURFACE: Beta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Leslie Fehling is a watercolor artist and sketchbook journaler from Prosperity, PA. She loves sharing the joys of sketching through her Everyday Artist blog and in workshops in the U.S. and Tuscany.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Sketching Fast & Loose

Rhoda Draws (yes, that’s her real name!) is a caricature artist, illustrator and educator who has hosted several Stillman & Birn workshops in the Bay Area. Rhoda’s dynamic drawing style is to capture the essence of a subject quickly with long fluid lines and bold color. Last year Rhoda came back from a trip to India with a sketchbook full of drawings. We asked her to report on the bronze elephant, one of our favorites:

“I specialize in drawing and painting very quickly. The “Sketching Fast & Loose” techniques that I teach in workshops and art holidays are based on the methods I’ve developed filling sketchbooks in Europe, USA and India, as well as decades of creating live caricatures at events in about three minutes per face. Sketching quickly with a minimum of basic materials is practical for capturing the essence of a subject. Sightseeing, it’s also nice to be able keep up with your tour group leader.

This sketch of a bronze elephant with two passengers was done at the National Museum of Delhi in a Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook. I used a dark brown Faber-Castell Pitt pen for the line work. Color was added with Caran d’Ache aquarelle pencils and a brush pen with a water reservoir in the barrel. I love subjects with lots of intricate detail and ornamentation….a great opportunity for creative scribbling.”

MEDIA: Water-soluble colored pencils and ink
SURFACE: Alpha Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Medium Grain


elephant statue-museum

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Yorkshire Farmhouse

Judith Alsop Miles posted this rainy day drawing at the beginning of August, soon after her return to the U.K. after living in southern France. It’s interesting to note how the artist captures the cloudy atmosphere of the day with water-soluble colored pencils, left dry. “Today was the first day of #DrawingAugust [tag] on Twitter. Although I’m sketching a couple of times a week at the moment, I was interested to see if this would motivate me to draw every day.

I want to keep all the drawings for this challenge in one place and I chose my S&B Gamma series sketchbook because it’s suitable for a range of techniques and I’m planning to try out some different things this month.

It was raining this morning so I opted to draw the view from the small window next to my desk, which faces up the track towards a typical Yorkshire farmhouse. Having recently moved back here from southern France, I found it quite weird to see smoke curling up from the chimney in August! The roof was shiny with rain and the magenta-coloured rosebay willow herb was standing bright against the stonework.

First I did a rough sketch using a Stabilo OHPen Universal Permanent, which is meant for transparencies but gives a really punchy black line on paper. Then I built up the colour gradually with Derwent watercolour pencils, left dry on this occasion as the soft effect seemed appropriate to the misty conditions.”

MEDIA: Ink and water-soluble pencils (dry)
SURFACE: Gamma Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – Ivory – Medium Grain

Friday, August 22, 2014

Architectural Study

Missouri-based designer and watercolor artist Don Gore sent us this sketchbook study and artist’s statement: “I am first and foremost an admirer of art. I have great respect for anyone that works with their head, hands and heart to “create.” Watercolor paintings specifically speak to me in a unique and compelling manner.

I am currently working on a series of small watercolor paintings for an art show in early September. A Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook has become my book of choice for my sketch work prior to the actual painting. I use everything from a Sharpie fine point to a Pilot V5 extra fine roller ball to a newly acquired TWSBI mini fountain pen with Noodler’s Ink for my sketches. The paper in the Alpha Series is terrific with all of these and more.

S&B says their Alpha Series sketchbooks work fine with light washes. To be totally honest, I was hesitant about adding any watercolor, as I just didn’t think the paper would take it. Well, I was wrong. As I’ve progressed through my sketches, I’ve continued to make my washes more and more soupy and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how the paper performs far better than I would expect. In one of my sketches here, I went as wet as I would on an actual watercolor paper. Much beyond what I ever imagined. “ Don Gore’s Flickr photostream can be found at:; his Instagram username is @dongore50.

MEDIA: Ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Alpha Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – White – Medium Grain

Don Gore

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mum’s Vase

British artist Jean Stevens created this watercolor study of a beautiful china vase that has holds not only flowers, but precious memories. “Here’s a painting of a rather special vase which belonged to my Mum and now has a special place in my studio. It’s a beautiful vase (in fact it has a little handle and a spoon but I left those out of the painting) and the background colour glistens when the light catches it. It’s much more beautiful than I’ve painted it but I think it’s a fair representation.

I’m currently taking part in #DrawingAugust where Tweeters from all around the world are creating a drawing each day and posting this on Twitter throughout the month of August. Last year was the first time for #DrawingAugust and it was such a great success we thought we would repeat it.

My Mum passed away in April and she had a huge love of china. This piece is one of my favourites amongst her large collection and I thought it would be a lovely subject for a watercolour study.

This is a watercolour in the Delta Series sketchbook. I’ve used St Petersburgh Artists Watercolours and painted using both wet on dry and wet on wet techniques. Before painting, I’ve outlined the vase in faint pencil lines and used a Uni-ball pen to outline the leaves, flowers and neck of the vase to create definition.” Jean Stevens’ website is:

MEDIA: Pencil, ink, watercolor
SURFACE: Delta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – Ivory – Cold Press Finish

Jean Stevens Vase

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Portrait of Elle H.

Riko Colin Chuck never got to meet his model, Elle H. He drew this exceptional portrait from a selfie she contributed to the Sktchy iPhone app. Sktchy invites users to upload their selfies and then watch how artists transform the photos into drawings. We asked Riko to explain: “I am a self-taught artist with a current interest in Representational Art. Due to a difficult work schedule, I don’t get to attend classes, workshops, or life drawing sessions. So I’ve been using an app called Sktchy. Users upload ‘selfies’ and the fantastic international community of artists create and post artwork based upon these photos. I selected this one of ‘Elle H’ because it had such a quiet Pre-Raphelite beauty to it.

To create this drawing, I used General’s Charcoal pencils in grades 2H and 2B with tortillion smudging and a kneaded eraser and Paper Mate’s Tuff Stuff eraser stick to lighten values and add highlights. The brightness, weight, and smooth finish of the Zeta paper worked flawlessly to help me create this drawing.” See more of Riko’s artwork at his Flickr photostream at

This drawing is also special for us because it is the first report we have of an artist using the Zeta Series exclusively with dry media. Do you know of others? Please let us know.

MEDIA: Charcoal
SURFACE: Zeta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Elle H

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Packaging Coming

This week we will begin a repackaging process that will refresh the look of the Stillman & Birn sketchbook line. Why are we doing this? Because we want to make it simpler for everyone to understand the mixed media capabilities of our papers and to easily see differences between our six series. But although our look will be changing, there will absolutely be no change on the inside. OUR SKETCHBOOKS WILL CONTINUE TO BE MADE WITH THE SAME GREAT PAPER! This label will be on every book to give you our assurance of this fact.

More info soon….


Same great paper_small

Monday, August 11, 2014

Floral Study

Florida artist Kathleen Pequignot sent us this colorful drawing along with the following report about her spontaneous drawing technique: “This floral study began with three separate photo inspirations. From these references I drew directly in my Beta Series art journal with a Uni-ball Super Ink pen. The ink is waterproof, so I was able to create watercolor washes over the line drawing. The heavy duty paper allows me to use a good amount of layering to create transparent wash effects. I was also able to add some small line texture with a watercolor pencil, adding water to fade it slightly into the background. I didn’t have a plan in the beginning or a graphite pencil layout, but I enjoyed the process as each floral took shape. I find that I tend to work more relaxed and direct this way in my art journals, and they end up being my favorite creations!” See more of Kathleen’s artwork on her Facebook page here:

MEDIA: Ink, watercolor, watercolor pencil
SURFACE: Beta Series – Extra Heavyweight – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Kathleen_morninglightr (731x1024)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Commonwealth Games Sculpture

Wil Freeborn is an artist and Urban Sketchers correspondent living in Scotland. This is a report Wil sent us about an urban art installation celebrating the Commonwealth Games which ended last week in Glasgow: “I studied Environmental Art at Glasgow Art School but later pursued a career in design. I’ve been moving into illustration and art more in recent years from a love of drawing on site around Scotland.

Here in Glasgow we’re currently hosting the Commonwealth Games. I created a drawing of a sculpture of the games’ logo that is currently in George Square in the middle of Glasgow. The weather for the games has been incredible and with all the countries visiting the city there has been an excitement and vibrant atmosphere for the last two weeks.

The drawing of the sculpture has all the primary colours in it so it makes any kind of subtlety very difficult. It’s usually pretty rare having a painting with red, green, blue and yellow equally placed, as it can make it look unnatural. Here I didn’t really have a choice. A few things I did was I started by making the background fairly light to help it recede. There are only a few colours and strokes used just to give a light impression. In contrast the sculpture has been outlined with a heavy Pentel brush pen. I did a few extra washes of bright paint to emphasize the primary colours.”

To see more of Wil Freeborn’s artwork visit his website here:

MEDIA: Ink and watercolour
SURFACE: Gamma Series – Heavyweight – 150 gsm – Ivory – Medium Grain

Commonwealth Games 3