Review: Stillman & Birn Nova Series Beige-Toned 6 x 8 inch Wire-bound

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    Sandra Strait

    I was so excited when I saw that Stillman and Birn was coming out with a series of toned sketchbooks.  I don’t have every one of their formats in every size, but I have at least one of every series and every format.  Except the new Nova series. Can’t have that! When I was making a purchase at Wetpaint, I saw this Beige-toned wire-bound sketchbook and here we are.  You can find the full review at my Life Imitates Doodles blog.

    Cover: Extra Heavyweight Binders Board, Textured, High Density, Resistant to warping
    Paper Color: Beige
    Paper Weight: Heavyweight 150 gsm
    Paper Surface: Medium Grain Mixed Media, Internal and surface sized, Archival,pH Neutral, lignin & chloride free
    Withstands multiple erasures,Superior wet and tear strength, Uniform fiber distribution
    Size:  6 x 8 in. ( 15.2  x 20.3 cm). See info at end of review for all the available sizes.
    No Pages: 50 Sheets – 100 Pages
    Binding: Double Wire Binding
    Rated for: Dry Media, Light Wash, Ink
    Complies with international standards of responsible forestry.
    Bound in the U.S.

    Look & Feel
    The covers are textured black extra heavyweight binders board.  Possibly too heavy for some to carry, but they are definitely sturdy.  Going by my previous wire-bound Stillman and Birn sketchbooks these covers are resistant to stains and very difficult to bend, crease or break.

    The sketchbook lies flat. The double-wire binding has a little give so if you’re a lefty like me it’s comfortable enough to rest your wrist on.

    The paper feels smooth to the touch.  I was surprised when I started drawing on it, to discover it did have some tooth.  The color is a neutral beige – it didn’t turn my yellows green or my reds brown.

    It seemed to me that there was more play in the cut-outs for the wire binding, so this book it gives you more room for expansion.  But the pages don’t lie evenly to form nice, straight edges. Some of us are disturbed by things like that, lol.

    I held one page by a corner and shook the book for several minutes with no bending, tearing or fraying around the wire.  No creases or bending in the pages, either.

    All the mediums I used worked well on this paper.

    The beige-tone add a darker value to the colors, but they stayed true, just slightly darker.  Yellows stayed yellow, reds, red, etc.  I could get a good degree of transparency with watercolor, but fineliner pens didn’t show up as well.  The lighter colors become more of a tint than a full color.

    Brush Pen

    The paper has some tooth,so you can get get a variety of line types.  I went for solid, bright lines, but by varying the pressure, I could easily get broken lines for a more textured effect.


    Gel Pen
    Gel pens really like this paper.  The coverage is smooth, but the tooth is just enough to really pull the ink from the pen.  The colors stay bright, and surprisingly, the beige background doesn’t change the colors. (NOTE: For some reason, my gel pen example doesn’t seem to be showing up even though it shows in Edit. Hopefully, it will appear later).


    Colored Pencil
    As with the gel pens, the paper pulls the color from colored pencils.  It might wear them down faster than some papers, but you get bold, bright color, with an underlying richness.

    The paper is rated for light washes, but, yes, I had to try and destroy the paper.  It is wonderful to try destroying things like a three-year old and act like I’m performing controlled and scientific test… because I am.  Really, in control, and highly scientific. Lol.

    I didn’t soak the paper, but I did use some very juicy washes, and I painted wet-into-wet.  I scrubbed and lifted and re-painted and lifted.

    The paper held up well. It did dimple (see photo below this one).  I used small pieces of tape at the outside corners to hold the paper down and there was no curl (and the tape didn’t affect the paper either).

    Lifting color was surprisingly easy.  I never got to the point where the paper was pilling.  It was easier to get soft edges than it was hard edges.  Glazing helped me to get the darkest values, but I had to work to get them.

    I decided I wanted to turn this into a mixed media piece, so I quit at this point.


    I think this is why the paper is only rated for light washes.  I kind of like the dimpled texture so I’ll continue to use heavier washes, but you can avoid the dimples by heeding the rating that Stillman and Birn gives the paper.

    Mixed Media-Technical Pen & White Ink over watercolor

    I decided that I wanted to finish this as a line and wash, so I added detail with a technical, waterproof ink pen, and highlights with a white, opaque ink.  It soon became apparent that the walnuts were really popping off the page and I was reminded of the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.  With my sense of humor, I had to emphasize that!

    Even at this point, I was able to lift color without damage to the paper.

    Mixed Media – Fineliner Pen & Opaque White Ink

    As I mentioned above, the lighter colors – mostly the yellows – become more of a tint than a full color on this paper, but the other colors do quite well. One of the issues I have with fineliners (and most marker pens, for that matter) is that the colors all tend to have the same bright, intensity and it can screw with your values.  On this paper, the colors are toned down, just a notch, so it is easier to get a good range of values – except the lightest.

    The Stillman and Birn Nova Series Beige-Toned Wire-bound Sketchbook is a sturdy, well-made product.  It might be a bit heavy for some to carry.  The wire-binding gives room for expansion if you glue things into it. The paper is archival.  It’s rated for light washes. I wouldn’t recommend it for wet-into-wet, but I think you can do much heavier than light washes, if you don’t mind dimpling in the paper.

    The beige-tone darkens the value of the colors, but yellows stay yellow, reds stay red and so on.

    The Nova Series is available Beige, Grey and Black paper in the the following formats and sizes:

    3.5×5.5 in/8.9×14.0 cm
    5.5×8.5 in/14.0×21.6 cm
    8×10 in/20.3×25.4 cm

    6×8 in/15.2×20.3 cm
    7×10 in/17.8×25.4 cm
    9×12 in/22.9×30.5 cm

    Individual Sheets
    22×30 in/55.9×76.2 cm

    Other Reviews
    Just Add Water Silly
    Larry D Marshall
    Fueled by Clouds and Coffee

    You can find Stillman & Birn Nova Series Beige Toned Sketchbooks at many stores, including

    Wet Paint

    Hyatt’s All Things Creative

    DaVinci Art Supply

    Jackson’s Art Supply

    Pamela Smith

    Wow,you are brutal,lol I like that you gave it a workout..I like the toned paper and I especially like the painting of the cardinal..what is the white?gouache? There was a time when the wrinkling of the page would have me undone but now I love when it happens in my sketchbooks..I have only ever used inexpensive sketch books so it definitely happens…


    Sandra Strait

    There is something nice about a sketchbook where the paper is flat and even and pristine.  But there’s something nice about the crinkled, dimpled paint-dotted ones too.  I like having both kinds (but seldom manage the pristine kind).  The ink I use is Kuretake’s White Ink 30.  It is a cartoonist’s ink that is noted for being opaque and for allowing you to work over it without messing up your pens (too much.  I’m careful about it anyway).


    Great Review.  Their papers are good, I just have not fallen in love with a sixe + binding (picky picky.)

    One thing I do that helps with this pucker is I either clip my pages or I add Aileen’s white glue to the edges and turn them into a quasi watercolor block-book, leaving about an inch free of glue at the corner.  Not too much or it sops the glue up.  I did it with Aquabee with is 90 pound and have little pucker, aand made watercolor blocks from all my Strathmore pads.



    Sandra Strait

    That sounds like a good idea.  I’ve often thought about gluing the edges with rubber cement, since it peels off so easily.  I used to paint on something similar to create paper pads at one of the places I worked, so it might work.

    I suspect this paper might dimple anyway with the amount of water that I used.  It was well beyond what was recommended.

    You can buy this paper in sheets, though I didn’t investigate to see who carries it that way.

    Jennifer McLean

    I must admit, I do love how crinkly a journal gets, so it looks well loved, lol. Great review sandra! Glad I could comment here, I have no luck on your blog. I hope you know that I appreciate the links you add from my site. I wish I could tell you that every time. Love that you share your reviews here too.

    Jennifer McLean

    That is DAMN brilliant Kate. Now why didn’t I think of that!???

    Pamela Smith

    I’ve made my own watercolor blocks before,cutting the pieces of paper the same size and using rubber cement to seal the edges,leaving a small opening..Lindsay werich,the frugalcrafter has a video.

    Sandra Strait

    Yeah.  I’m thinking about double-posting all my stuff on WordPress.  I used to that because so many people had trouble with Blogger.  Then Blogger got better for a while and now half the people can’t comment or follow me.  I don’t want to spend any money though, so I don’t know if WordPress will be any better.

    Sandra Strait

    Pamela, I’ll have to look up Linday’s video.  I think it would be well worth the effort to create the blocks.


    I tried both for a few months and went with WP.  You don’t have to pay money on WP unless you want specific items — I think what blogger does is deliberate… you have to have certain accounts for them to take you.  It is annoying.  I love Paint Party Friday but cannot comment on their site or many of their followers.

    Sandra Strait

    I posted on both WP & Blogger for years, but there were some things I couldn’t do on WP.  These days I can’t do them on Blogger either.  For time’s sake, I quit posting on WP a year or two ago.  I will have to pay for WP because I maxed out the amount of posts or photos (I forget which) and I have to keep deleting stuff if I don’t pay.  I’ll have to see how WP works these days before deciding, but I don’t think I’ll keep both going.

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