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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How this Renoir Used to Look

A study by the Chicago Art Institute reveals a huge color shift in Renoir’s painting “Madame Leon Clapisson” resulting from exposure to light. The investigation showed that the picture we see today has lost the impact of Renoir’s use of the carmine lake, or cochineal, pigment. The study has allowed conservation scientists to create a computerized visualization of what Renoir saw when he completed the painting. Archivists believe that similar color degeneration may have occurred on other paintings owned by the Institute, including its most famous holding, Seurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte’ “Zinc yellow paint used in the Seurat was also unstable, turning from bright lemon to drab ocher. In that case, an art critic noticed the change within a few years, lamenting that some of the color had drained out of that painting.”

Renoir comparison

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

West Hartford, Connecticut Demo

Date: Saturday, April 26, 2014
Time: 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Jerry’s Artarama of Connecticut
1109 New Britain Avenue
W. Hartford, CT 06110
Phone: 860-232-0073

Artist and educator Alexandra Walters will host a demo this Saturday about mixed media techniques in Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. This back-eyed Susan (gloriosa daisy) was created by Alexandra for the demo: “For this piece, I combined four media: pen and ink, tube watercolor, watercolor pencils, and dry colored pencils. I first did a simple line drawing with the ink, then laid down an underpainting with the tube watercolor. I started deepening the yellow-oranges with watercolor pencils; I used some water to blend, but wanted to allow some of the lines to portray the folds of the petals. I finished with dry colored pencils, to get nice, crisp details in the center and on the stem. This Beta Series paper may well be my favorite; incredibly versatile and durable. Love it!”

MEDIA: Ink, watercolor, water-soluble colored pencil, colored pencil
SURFACE: Beta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish
black-eyed susan

Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Beginnings

Starting a new art journal can be the beginning of a spiritual journey. Naturalist Jean Mackay illustrated this belief by integrating poetry about new beginnings into the opening pages of her journal.

“Starting off my new Zeta Series journal with a favorite subject! The red-winged blackbird nest was a great find at a local nature center, since they’re very hard to come by in the field. I extended the nest grass right onto the inside cover and added the quote to convey a sense of the journey and the unknown that this journal will capture. The quote reads: ‘Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.’

A note about technique: I started by staring at the nest for a long time to figure out how it was put together, where the lightest strands cross in front, and what materials went into making it. Then I did a really loose drawing in ink using Micron 02 and 005 pens. After that, I started to weave more detailed strands in ink and build volume by laying in washes of color.”

MEDIA: Watercolor and ink
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Jean Mackay Nest


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Feather Mixed Media Exercise

British mixed media artist Vivien Blackburn created this two-page spread of feather drawing as an exercise for her mixed media class. “I’ve been teaching some individual classes as well as my usual weekly ones and this drawing was a demo of mixed media for new students. I find that feathers are a good subject for beginners because it’s possible to place the feather right next to the drawing; the student’s visual memory hasn’t far to travel, helping build observational skills. Students start off thinking it’s going to be too difficult but end up delighted with the result, surprising themselves.

Feathers are a challenge with their subtle colours and lovely changes of texture, the soft fluffy base, the hard spine and sleeker areas further up. Raggedy ones are even more interesting. This drawing was done in my Zeta Series sketchbook; the paper is ideal as its heavy weight and smooth surface allow me to create the textures I want with no interference from the paper’s own texture.

To create this image I used Derwent Graphitint water-soluble graphite pencils with touches of watercolour for added detail, colour and texture. I also used water-soluble pencils, normal coloured pencils and a little Conte pencil as well. The fine lines were drawn out with the ‘wrong’ end of the paintbrush from areas of wet paint (and at times a twig) and some with Graphitint pencil. I just pick up whatever is going to make the mark I want, I don’t consciously set out to ‘do mixed media’ and it just happens! And I’m not good at travelling light even when sketching plein air! As a result, my descriptions of materials or tools used often include “kitchen sink” as I can’t always remember it all!” Vivien Blackburn’s work can be seen on her blog at this link:

MEDIA: Graphite, watercolor, water-soluble pencil, colored pencil
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

feather (2)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Portrait of Sean Connery

French watercolorist Martine Pittet draws a striking portrait of the legendary Scottish actor, creating the work with ink and a water brush. “As a member of the Facebook group Sketching Workshop, I took part in the Portrait Challenge and drew this sketch of Sir Sean Connery. I loved the black and white photo which was given to us and thought I wanted to explore the various values and strong contrasts.

So I decided to use a tool I am still shy about: the Pentel water brush. I used directly it in very dark areas and Zeta’s bright whiteness immediately brought out the contrasts. In order to play with the different tones, I either put a touch of ink in the reservoir of the brush and then spread the ink with the water brush or put some water directly on the page and dropped some ink in it, letting it flow by itself. I just love the way the Zeta paper accepts so many “ill treatments ” !! “

SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb. – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Sean Connery

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Urban Sketching: The Complete Guide to Technqiues

Thomas Thorspecksen’s acclaimed new book about Urban Sketching is a great resource for the technical aspects of the urban sketching genre. Some of the topics covered include composition, perspective, line work, value and color and action and movement. But the topic that distinguishes Thorspecken’s urban art and this book is his focus on populating sketches. As Tina Koyama writes in her excellent review, “I am dazzled daily by the vibrantly peopled, fully saturated watercolor sketches of Thomas Thorspecken. Compared to most other well-known urban sketchers, Thorspecken’s sketches are unique in that they focus invariably on people and their activities rather than architecture.” This beautifully printed book includes a generous number of examples of Thorspecken’s work as well as that of other prominent urban sketchers such as Liz Steel, Pete Scully and Teoh Yi Chie. “Urban Sketching: The Complete Guide to Techniques” is published by Barron’s and is available here:  Here is the link to Tina Koyama’s review:


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Art Supplies from Heaven

Congratulations to New York Central Art Supplies for receiving this tribute that appeared in the New York Times today. Founded in 1905, New York Central is an institution in the art material world. Kudos to owner Steve Steinberg, paper department manager David Aldera and the rest of the New York Central team on being so honored.

New York Central is at 62 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Here is the New York Times text:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Florida Stone Crab

In this post, watercolorist Nancy Wright describes painting a stone crab on a prepared surface that has a wash of watercolor textured with crumpled plastic. “Thirty-five years of teaching art did not allow a lot of time for my own interest in creating, so I retired early and after a lot of trial and error, found a renewed passion for watercolor. My husband and I also started spending our winters in Florida, where I have been inspired by the wildlife. This “Florida Stone Crab” was done in a Stillman & Birn 7×10 Beta. The 180 lb paper holds up particularly well to texturing, washes and scrubbing.

Before painting, I prepared the page with a mid-tone brown wash. While the wash was still wet, I crumpled a piece of plastic wrap, and placed it over the wash, opening just enough to cover the page, pressed lightly and let dry. The resulting texture inspired the crab painting! Different results can be obtained by varying the wash color (mid-tones work best) and sprinkling coarse salt on the wash before applying the plastic wrap.”

MEDIA: Watercolor
SURFACE: Beta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Nancy Wright Crab

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Daffodils

Kelli McNichols’ daffodils are a welcome reminder that warm weather in this part of the world is not far off. “This painting of daffodils was inspired by flowers I purchased on a recent trip to my local market. Their sunny yellow color was the perfect antidote for all the snowstorms we have had this winter. Normally my botanical pieces are done in colored pencil but this time I chose watercolor pencils.

I wet the background with clean water then dragged a damp brush across the pencil so that I could apply the pigment like traditional paint. Using this technique I was able to randomly add puddles of blue, violet, and green and let them mix on the paper to create the background. I used complementary colors so the warm yellow would appear to pop off the page. Before the background had fully dried I wiped the same pencil colors over a very wet brush and flicked it over the paper to create the splatters. The flowers were sketched with dry pencils in shades of yellow and orange then wet to blend everything together. Once the petals were dry I added more detail with dry pencils.

I have yet to see signs of spring in my garden but at least these flowers are a reminder that spring is on the way. More of my work can be seen on my website:

MEDIA: Water-soluble colored pencils
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb. – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish


Friday, March 28, 2014

Cinque Terre

Watercolor artist Leslie Fehling has been posting regularly about her magical trip to northern Italy last year. This is one of the last pages in her journal. Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands”, comprise five enchanting seaside villages on the Italian Riviera connected by foot paths and ferries, but no cars.

“The little village of Manarola, in Cinque Terre, was one of the most charming and memorable places I visited in Italy. Its colorful houses, rocky cliffs, terraced hillsides and aquamarine sea all add up to something really special. I did several smaller sketches during the short time I was there, but I wanted to have one page in my journal that told the whole story and just screamed “Cinque Terre”. This late-day scene seemed to fit the bill as it included all the best parts of Manarola – the houses, sea, cliffs, and gardens.

Just before sunset, I followed the walking trail that winds around the cliffs, high above the shoreline, and found the perfect spot, where I could watch the sun go down on my right and see the gorgeous golden glow of light on the rocks and buildings in front of me. The scene was a little daunting – so many buildings, and stone walls, and complicated rock formations! I had to edit out lots of detail while still trying to remain fairly true to the scene.

I drew quickly with a Noodler’s Creaper Flex Pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink. (I didn’t want to be sketching in the dark!) I managed to get the drawing done, but the lettering and the watercolor would have to wait for another day. I finished it this week at home in my studio, painting from reference photos I took on location.

The wirebound Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook that I carried on this trip served me well. The paper is smooth enough to allow my pen to glide easily over the surface when drawing or writing, and it handles multiple watercolor washes very well. The covers are sturdy enough to endure weeks of being manhandled while traveling, and the spiral binding stands up to being jammed in a backpack along with everything else I need for a day of touring.” To see more sketches from Leslie’s Italy trip, visit

MEDIA: Ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Beta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Finish

Cinque Terre

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Magnolia & Pines

Pam Johnson Brickell is a naturalist artist and workshop instructor. Pam frequently does plein air art journaling and loves to incorporate calligraphy into her pages, as you can see here. “My husband and I went on a Sunday excursion to check out the new golf practice facilities at the Plantation Club in Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC. Rob brought his clubs – I, my trusty rolling art studio…. my bike; “Blue”. The bike trails in Sea Pines are wonderful, and this at this time of year, uncrowded. I had no painting destination in mind and just headed off on the trail that runs between two golf courses to gather my inspiration. That’s when I came upon this lovely, eye-level magnolia branch right beside the bike path. I viewed the possibilities, then rode on. It called me back.

My Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Journal propped nicely on the bike’s basket. I clipped my Expeditionary Art Pocket Palette to the journal and started painting – no sketching with pencil first, I just wanted to feel and capture the end of the limb with paint. I laid in shapes lightly with paint.”

You can visit Pam’s blog “Nature Journaling and Art” at this link:

MEDIA: Watercolor and ink
SURFACE: Alpha Series – 100 lb – 150 gsm – White – Vellum Finish

Magnolia and Pines

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Herbs and Plants Art Journal

Italian artist Palma Rea keeps an interesting journal of herbs and plants. “I dabble in many kinds of art from mixed media to assemblages. I have had no formal art training and have been keeping art journals for four years. I’m currently very passionate about watercolour as a medium.

I have always had a general interest in healing herbs, folklore and botanical paintings. I had trouble remembering the medicinal uses of certain plants so I decided to sketch them which enabled me to absorb the information better along with having a practical journal handy to refer to when needed.

This page was created by sketching simple shapes before lightly colouring with watercolour paint. Felt-tipped markers were used for the writing.” You can see other pages from Palma Rea herbs and plants journal on her blog here:

MEDIA: Pencil, watercolor, marker
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lg. – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Surface

Palma_Herbs and flowers

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dance Like a Monkey: A Plea for Help

Designer Christina Yoder sent us this drawing and write up as part of a campaign by friends of writer C.J. Henderson to raise support for him as he battles a serious illness. “Recently I created a cute “Dance Like A Monkey” artwork for a benefit for author C.J. Henderson, and it is for a very good cause. One of C.J.’s catch phrases was always “I’ll dance like a monkey for a nickel” so to help out on an anthology dedicated to raising funds for his medical situation, I created a cartoon of C.J. dancing like a monkey! Concept pencil sketch was done on Alpha Series paper, then transferred to a sheet of Epsilon Series paper in light pencil that was finished with pen and ink for a clean, black and white artwork.

I love that with Epsilon paper I can do a cartoon piece using a dip pen and ink and not have the paper get torn up or have the ink “spread out” on the surface. It’s almost exactly like drawing on the same kind of plastic or vellum that used to be used in animation cell work. The ink did not smudge at all.

C.J. is getting treatment for lymphoma and needs your help. So please consider visiting the link below for details on this. He is a good man and a talented author and the logo is included in an anthology created for helping him out. Thanks guys!”

Monkeying Around for a Good Cause

MEDIA: Pencil and ink
SURFACE: Epsilon Series – 100 lb – 150 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Dance Like a Monkey

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fourth Presbyterian Church – Chicago

Illustrator Andrew Banks reflects on the influence of spirituality in resolving the challenges of drawing a monumental subject. “On-location sketching is just as much about capturing the experience as it is illustrating your subject. The Fourth Presbyterian Church was a perfect opportunity for me to bring those two elements together into this sketch. This church is one of my favorite buildings in Chicago. The detail and beauty of the sanctuary rivals churches I have been to in Europe. During my last visit on another freezing Chicago winter day, I not only found relief from the cold, but even more memorably, an inspiring environment to illustrate.

As I sat at the rear of the sanctuary, attempting to capture the entire length of the space was a daunting task with only limited time. However, as the liturgical music filled the nearly empty space, I was drawn to the stained glass windows at the front of the church. From the back row, details and colors in the windows start to blur together into groups.

Tying the ethereal atmosphere of the church together with the vibrant colors and shapes of the stained glass windows, I loosely sketched in ink and painted using large strokes, dabbing motions and splatters. I also placed emphasis on the depth of the apse with strong shadows and highlights in the vaulted ceiling and windows.” See more of Andrew’s drawings on his FB page here: Andrew Banks Facebook Page

MEDIA: Pencil, ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Fourth Presbyterian Church Sketch Cropped [Banks]

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Homage to Cowboy Bebop

Jorge Santiago is a freelance comic artist and illustrator working on his MFA in sequential art. Students of sequential art will surely be influenced by Japanese anime and this drawing reflects that connection. “This is an homage to one of my favorite animated shows, Cowboy Bebop. I wanted to use a limited palette of cold blues and purples to capture one of my favorite scenes in the show where Spike Spiegel is about to confront his long standing enemy.

After loosely penciling in the figures, I used a variety of Copic markers to build up the forms and saved inking only his facial features for last. I prefer to use markers after pencils because it forces me to focus on form and volume instead of just filling in areas between black lines. I chose my Stillman & Birn Zeta paper because I prefer to use Copics on smooth paper and the Zeta accepts the ink without it bleeding into other areas. The stroke I make is the stroke I make. I didn’t quite capture the scene as well as the show did but I hope the spirit and emotion of it carries through.” Jorge’s blog:  The Comic Art of Jorge Santiago

MEDIA: Pencil and markers
SURFACE: Zeta Series – 180 lb – 270 gsm – White – Smooth Finish

Cowboy Bebop

Friday, March 14, 2014

Zeta Series Selected by Nature Trails 2014

We are honored that our Zeta Series sketchbook has been selected by Nature Trails 2014, a prominent group of botanical artists, for a unique artwork exchange. Here is an explanation of the program’s concept:

“Nature Trails 2014, a natural sketchbook exchange, is promising to be an exciting collaboration of 15 botanical artists from all over the UK, Ireland, Holland, Italy and the USA. Each artist’s book will have a double page spread completed and then be mailed every month to the next artist. Subjects to sketch and paint will encompass anything to do with the natural world; for example, feathers, shells, berries, habitat landscapes and absolutely anything botanical. Also colour notes, poems, any writing that you would include within normal sketchbooks can go in, in whatever design.

The Zeta Series sketchbooks to be used on the exchange are made by Stillman & Birn with thick, smooth, quality paper perfect for nature studies. The size is a neat and small A5 [5.5” x 8.5”], just right for posting.”

We are grateful for the support of our U.K. partner, Jackson’s Art Supplies, whose team made the timely launch of this project possible.

We will be posting updates periodically from the blog of Nature Trails 2014:

Nature Trail

Saturday, March 8, 2014

GUEST POST — David A. Parfitt RI: Across the Reeds

My use of sketchbooks is quite varied. They are very much working tools but each one is a treasured possession; for example they can take the form of a holiday ‘diary’ or used to make drawings/paintings during a day walking in the landscape. I will also draw/paint from photographs and experiment with different ‘techniques’. All this reference material is gathered for the pleasure of mark making and used as inspiration for studio work or something to reflect on when work is not going so well.

In this instance I filled an entire Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook with drawings and sketches from reference photos to record a couple of days spent early this winter at one of my favourite painting locations in the Wetlands of Somerset UK. These sketchbooks are so well suited to the different ways I work, be it subtle watercolour washes or heavy applications of paint. Either way they can take quite a lot of punishment.

With this particular study I was trying to show the contrast of the sunlight on water against the rich colours of the reeds and trees, but all within a soft winter atmosphere. I decided to paint directly onto the paper without any preparatory drawing (which is the way I approach all my ‘full’ watercolours), so that I could get an impression of how a full painting might look. I used a number 10 Sable round and a no.1 rigger to put in the background reeds and trees first, wet into wet. I then tackled the foreground reeds before putting in the overlapping branches, once the previous washes had dried. It is quite a straightforward, loose little study really but it immediately reminds me of the place and the feeling I had at the time

MEDIA: Watercolor
SURFACE: Alpha Series – 100 lb – 150 gsm – White – Vellum Finish

David Parfitt is a British landscape painter working with watercolours and other water-based media. He was elected a member of The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours in 2011 and won the Neil Meacher RI sketchbook award in 2012. See more of David’s work on his website:

David_Parfitt_RI_Across the Reeds


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Giveaway Winner Report: Inking in Epsilon

Tas Kyprianou is a London-based portrait photographer specializing in advertising and editorial photography for an impressive roster of corporate and arts clients. Tas is also an illustrator who was the winner of one of our giveaways in which he won an Epsilon Series sketchbook. Tas wrote to us about how he uses his sketchbook: “A photographer by trade, I took to playing around with fountain pens and inks to illustrate my ideas about a couple of years ago. It was around the same time that I won an Epsilon Series sketchbook from Stilman & Birn and I’ve not looked back since. The paper is not only smooth but it works wonderfully with all my pens and inks. I always water wash my sketches and no matter how heavy handed I am with the inks or water the paper has yet to let me down and always produces some lovely gradations in both tone and colour. “ To read more about Tas Kyprianou’s work, here is the link to his website:

MEDIA: Ink and ink wash
SURFACE: Epsilon Series – 100 lb – 150 gsm – White – Smooth Surface


Monday, March 3, 2014

February Giveaway Winners Announced

These are the ten winners of our February Sketchbook Giveaway. Each will receive their choice of a Beta Series (cold press) or Zeta Series (smooth) 8.5” x 11” hardbound sketchbook along with a 12-unit set of Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle color pencils.

Vivian Aldridge
Dana Burrell
Marlo Lodrigueza
Jean Mackay
Vickie Nelson
Niroot Puttapipat
Kris Preslan
Gaylynn Robinson
Margaret Stermer-Cox
Francis Theo

Thanks to all for participating….our next contest will be in June.

Facebook Feb Giveaway WinnersAnnounced

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sydney Town Hall

The fanciful roof of Sydney’s Town Hall was beautifully captured by Chantal Vincent at a recent sketching event. Chantal writes, “A recent Urban Sketchers meet was held Sydney Town Hall. It’s an impressive building and is considered one of Australia’s finest examples of its ornate style. My current goal is to loosen my work and be courageous with splashing my watercolours freely. With this in mind I packed an A4 Beta Stillman & Birn Sketchbook which I’d been saving for such an occasion.

I sketched with a Hero bent nib fountain pen which gives a nice varied line, but on some occasions can deliver too much ink to wash over without bleeding. This was not a problem on the 270gsm paper and the De Atramentis Black Archive Ink held up well under water. The A4 size pages were also great for larger areas of colour to pool on the page, and for dropping in extra pigments to mix on the cold pressed paper. I’m looking forward to trialling this sketchbook with a greater range of media next time.”

To see some other details of Chantal’s drawing of this building, check out her blog here:

MEDIA: Ink and watercolor
SURFACE: Beta Series – 180 lb. – 270 gsm – White – Cold Press Surface

Sydney town hall line and wash