Pages

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part IV of Stillman and Birn Alpha Review --- Road Trip!

To read this review from the beginning (Part I), click here.

Finally the time had come to take the Alpha sketchbook on the road and answer questions that come into play in a real sketching situation. The questions I wanted to be able to answer by the end of the day were:

  1. Was this particular book a good size to hold while sketching standing up or sitting down, in terms of size and weight?
  2. Did it stay open pretty well, or did I have to wrestle with the pages as I sketched?
  3. Is the gutter in the center of the book too deep to comfortably work across two-page spreads?
  4. Did the pages buckle as I painted on top of the prepared surface?
  5. Is the result of doing prepared pages before going out sketching worth the time invested, or the expense of a book constructed well enough to handle that process?

I went with my sketching group to Adams Fairacre Farms. They recently opened a huge, new store in Wappinger, New York, complete with a greenhouse, gift shop, prepared foods section, seating area to eat, and full service grocery store. I asked the manager if it would be okay for us to spend the day sketching there, and she was very welcoming! Five of us assembled there at 10am to sketch. The holiday displays were stunning, food was delicious, and we got to do grocery and gift shopping too.

I started out in the greenhouse, where the splash of color of the poinsettias would surely satisfy the color junkie within me. Standing up as I sketched in my initial lines, I found this size book very comfortable to hold. No backache! Also, the pages were flexible and light enough so that they didn't do battle with me in trying to keep the book open. However, I wasn't expecting the book to be quite so cooperative. In anticipation of battle, I had cut a piece of coroplast (nearly weightless, corrugated plastic) to the size of the open sketchbook, and stuck it in my messenger bag along with two large metal binder clips. Since I had that with me and it is such a convenience, after awhile I pulled it out and clipped the open sketchbook to the board.




The book was small enough for me to also hold my tiny watercolor set in my left hand, while holding the book on my left arm, and my right hand could wield the waterbrush. Still no backache! This answered my big question about whether or not I could comfortably paint standing up with this book. No problem at all.

That inner color junkie still wasn't fulfilled, so I went into the adjoining store and set a small three-legged stool in front of this incredible poinsettia tree display. (See below. The arch beyond the tree leads into the garden center/greenhouse.)


Although I hadn't planned on having enough space to set out a stool and actually be comfortable, there were some open areas around the store that made it easy to do so, and I had a pack stool in my car. I was definitely getting a good feel for this setup by now. With two watercolors done, there was no page wrinkling. I suspect that the small bit of acrylic on the paper helped to minimize additional buckling.

It was noon and time for the group to assemble in the eating area for lunch. I managed to get in a rough pen and ink sketch while chatting with the other artists. I found myself wishing that the book didn't have as deep a gutter. This was more of an issue in drawing, and especially writing, than it was in painting. Drawing across the gutter wasn't a smooth ride, but it wasn't as bad as using a spiral either. Writing text across it wasn't going to happen without planning for the breaks between words to fall in the center. Still, the cohesiveness of the two page spread is way better than with a wirebound or spiral bound book. IMPORTANT NOTE: Since doing this review, I learned from the company that you can break in the book before you start working on it, so that the pages will lie completely flat. I did a blog post about it, which you can see by clicking here. There is no gutter problem at all with this book if you follow that breaking-in procedure! (Not currently recommended for the 4x6" books, but you can do it with all their other hardbound sizes.)


After lunch, I went to the gift area, where there was a lot of open space and large displays of decorated Christmas trees, holiday lights, and even Santa flying a chopper suspended from the ceiling. Not only was the scene utterly captivating for somebody who likes lights and sparkly stuff like Yours Truly, but by sheer coincidence I'd arrived at a page with a border that had red, green and gold.


By this time, I'd answered the questions that were on my list for the day. To recap:
  1. Was this particular book a good size to hold while sketching standing up or sitting down, in terms of size and weight? The size was easy to hold, small enough that I could still hold my tiny watercolor set, and light enough so that I didn't get a backache. However, I really would like to work larger, mostly because I like these prepared borders on the pages, and they eat up a lot of my available painting space. The larger book (8.5x11") might be too large or heavy for this particular situation though, and there is no size in between. I'd have to go out with the larger book and give it a try sketching on location to know if that would be doable for me.
  2. Did it stay open pretty well, or did I have to wrestle with the pages as I sketched? The book stayed open fairly well. I still had to hold open the pages, since they don't open completely flat like a Moleskine, but I didn't find it nearly as cumbersome as the very slightly larger Fabriano Venezia, which has stiff, heavy pages that require serious wrestling talent. It was made even easier by clipping the book to my open coroplast support, with very little additional weight. 
  3. Is the gutter in the center of the book too deep to comfortably work across two-page spreads? It wasn't so awkward for painting, but was more so for drawing, and quite awkward for writing across the center. Still, way better than a spiral or wirebound book, in terms of wanting the two halves to feel like a whole in the end. IMPORTANT NOTE: Since doing this review, I learned from the company that you can break in the book before you start working on it, so that the pages will lie completely flat. I did a blog post about it, which you can see by clicking here.
  4. Did the pages buckle as I painted on top of the prepared surface? No!
  5. Is the result of doing prepared pages before going out sketching worth the time invested, or the expense of a book constructed well enough to handle that process? I am loving the finished pages with the borders and prepared surfaces, and I think they definitely enhance the sketches and contribute to my art form. In terms of the expense of a book that can take that amount of media without falling apart, it's well worth it to me. They are a collection of my artwork when finished, as well as a life journal, and I want them to last forever. So far, I'm a happy camper.
To see Part V of this review, which covers working on the plain white paper in wet and dry media, click here.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, you got a sketch group together and went out!!! Glad the book was easier to use than you expected. It always pays to have a stool to sit down and sketch. lol Love these!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. A terrific 4-part overview of the sketchbook and one that is immensely helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thank you for this great review! it's been extremely helpful!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I will be finishing up this sketchbook this week and have a few more installments of the "Review" to add, so stay tuned! I'm glad so many people have found it helpful.

    ReplyDelete