Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 2


Stillman & Birn paper is great for watercolor but others have ably reviewed it for that use. Looking for a different slant to evaluating the journal, I decided to find out if it would stand up to the dense, black ink used for Asian calligraphy and painting.

Finding a simple way to paint in the Chinese style without the need for lots of space for large sheets and paraphernalia has long been on my list of things to do. A journal with paper that works decently with Asian ink would make painting easier as well as more fun. So over the weekend, I put aside writing and pulled out a small bottle of Japanese ink of the sort made for painting, a few small Chinese brushes, a Japanese flat dish suitable for swirling a brush in ink, a jar of water, and the Alpha Series Sketchbook.

Chinese Brush Painting Tools

Chinese Brush Painting Tools with a Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

First a little practice in the Epsilon Series Sketchbook and then it was time to put the Alpha Series paper to the test.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook brush and ink sample

Stillman & Birn Epsilon Sketchbook Chinese brush and ink sample

The paper size is small at 5.5 x 8.5″ compared to my previous attempts at Chinese brush painting but that is what makes the journal fit so well at my desk. The only drawback to the small size is that my seals have imprints that overwhelm the limited space. Seal placement is usually an afterthought for me but in future will need to be incorporated in the composition layout to fit in a small Sketchbook painting.

Chinese Seal  "Gifted Brush"

Chinese Seal “Gifted Brush”

Chinese Seal "Let the idea carry you"

Chinese Seal “Let the idea carry you”

Properly opened the book will lay flat enough to use facing pages as a single surface albeit with a fold line through the center. That means a painting can be as large as 8.5 x 11″ which will do for most subjects when the smaller size won’t do.

Chinese Brush Painting in Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Chinese Brush Painting in Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook

Paper for Chinese brush painting can be divided into two broad categories, one for floral painting and the other for landscapes. The fiber content and properties are different for each. Alpha Series paper resembles neither because it is designed for Western-style painting but it still provides a satisfactory surface for brush painting. It is thick, absorbent, and soaks up ink quickly. Dry-brush strokes are easy to achieve and incredibly fine details can be nothing short of amazing.

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Trunk Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Trunk Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Rock Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Rock Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Grass Detail

Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook Grass Detail

Calligraphy as well as subjects like orchids and plums will require a brush well-loaded to achieve supple lines. Diluted ink will appear gray but such a toned down look will have lots of subtle applications.

Alpha paper can take several layers of ink without buckling.  It had some very pale show-through on the reverse but no bleed-through even with thick ink.

My friend, artist Nan Rae, might be amused at the apostasy of using a journal, but I did pick up a brush and put ink to paper. That is to the good even if it won’t produce paintings to hang. When the journal is full, it will be like having my own book of paintings and won’t that be something unique to pass down to my children.

This foray into brush painting with its fragrant ink and happy little brushes will draw me back again and again. I know we are going to spend many hours together over the next few months making dozens of small paintings. My large brushes are jealous but patient. Someday they will get a turn, too.

For those keeping track, the brushes are a Happy Dot, Best Detail, Small Mountain Horse, and a Super Fine brush.

See also…

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 1

Less Herger shows what an Alpha can do here and here.

Vivien Blackburn used gouache and water-soluble crayon in her Alpha.



  1. […] Blog Fountain pens, ink, paper and more « Some Fun And Uplifting Links At Mid-Week Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 2 » Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks, Part 1 […]


  2. The four most essential materials used for Chinese brush painting are so precious they are often referred to as treasures. When you mention “The Four Treasures” Chinese people will immediately know that you are talking about the brush, ink stick, ink stone, and paper.


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  4. Nice pic, but that ink bottle’s Chinese brand, not Japanese =) I just bought the same brand 2 weeks ago.


  5. […] comment from Yuebing about the ink in my Stillman & Birn Sketchbook review prompted me to do a little research on the brand and where to order it. Whether for Sumi-e or […]


  6. […] Pen – Gourmet PensInkJournals – WhateverStillman & Birn sketchbooks, Part 1 and Part 2 – InkophileLouis Cartier Transatlantique wooden fountain pen – House of PensPentel […]


  7. […] Pen – Gourmet Pens InkJournals – Whatever Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, Part 1 and Part 2 – Inkophile Louis Cartier Transatlantique wooden fountain pen – House of Pens Pentel […]


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