New Product Review --- Introducing Stillman and Birn Zeta

If you're a fountain pen aficionado, sketch with ink and dip pens, love Pitt Brush pens, or the coverage you get with colored pencils on smooth paper, or mixed media on a plate-like surface of extra heavy-weight paper, you're going to adore this new Zeta paper from Stillman & Birn. Think of their fabulous Epsilon surface in a thicker, more opaque version, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this paper is all about. When I first tried the Epsilon paper, I loved it so much that I wanted an even thicker version. Now it's here! Many thanks to Stillman & Birn for making my dream come true.

I was sent some 8.5x11" sheets of the Zeta by Stillman & Birn when it first came in from the mill in France. When I first saw and felt the Zeta paper, there seemed to be such a world of possibilities for media that would work well on it, that I didn't know where to begin. I wanted to do a sketch that would showcase the potential of this smooth, slick surface. I did a few sketches in watercolor and ink of flowers, pitchers, vases and fruit, and played with assorted inks and washes. Then I decided to sketch some of the materials I'd like to use on this paper, which became the inspiration for this particular sketch. I tossed some of my favorite pens, brushes, markers, crayons and pencils into a brightly colored little pot that I normally use for my painting water, and set out some paint tubes as foreground elements.I felt the colors in the setup were strong enough to carry a strongly colored ink. Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses is one of my favorites. It is not lightfast. It is not waterproof. But there is something magical about the color, so I keep a wonderful Sheaffer 100 loaded with this ink, and it is always with me. I like the way this ink weaves the color harmony of the sketch together. I started this sketch with a few pencil lines, then went right in with ink and did the drawing, working mostly front to back. I used a wet brush to create some wash effects with the ink in shadow areas, followed by the watercolor. The last step was putting in small ink details, like some of the writing on the paint tubes, which would have run if I'd done it earlier in the process. I accidentally did this sketch on the reverse side of my sheet of dark ink test swatches, which proved to be a testament to the high opacity of this paper; no ink lines showed through at all!

The way the internal and external sizing of the paper permits the paint pigment to lie on top of the page yields a wonderful brightness in the color. The pigment does not spread out and mix together like with traditional watercolor paper, so it does take some getting used to and adapting. I'm really looking forward to breaking out my gouache on this paper. I think it will be a great match. The sketch below was done with transparent watercolor and just a bit of white gouache toward the end for the lights. But actually, the sizing allows for pretty easy lifting of pigment, so I probably could have reclaimed those lights without adding white. This sketch is 8.5x11.

I also did a sketch with an ink that I know to generally be very waterproof. Since waterproof fountain pen inks are at least partially challenged by heavy sizing, I wanted to find out if Noodler's Kung Te-Cheng would run when I added watercolor. It's one of my favorite inks, and I wanted to be sure it would stay put on this paper, no matter what else I did to it. Well, as you can see, the ink did not run at all. The sketch below was done while visiting with my friend Gingie at RiverWinds Gallery in Beacon. They have so many beautiful displays there that it's a fun place to break out a sketchbook! This one is also 8.5x11"on the Zeta paper, using a Kaweco fountain pen with a broad nib and transparent watercolor.

There is so much more to explore with this paper. I can't wait to have it in sketchbook form. Finally there is an ink-friendly paper that does not show through to the other side at all, so there will be no ghosting of images when working front and back on the pages. If you enjoy working on smooth paper, this is definitely one to check out. I know I'll be going through a lot of it. If you would like to also read another artist's review of this paper, check out this post by Jeanne Powers-Forsyth.


  1. I'm so glad you get to do the testing for S&B. You put your heart and all your supplies into it :) These are beautiful! Can't wait to try this new product!

  2. Congrats, Jamie, for helping to develop what sounds like an amazing product! Your sketches and paintings are so inspiring!

  3. I'm so glad you put the bug in S&B's ear. After reading your review now I really can't wait to order a book.

  4. Anonymous1:24 PM

    I find reading the reviews of artists who test and try's their materials with the product is the honest cold facts about whether or not it is worth the investment to buy and utilize.

  5. Thanks Jamie! I recently bought some gouache paints to try out. This paper sounds like something I'd like, too!

  6. Anonymous9:08 AM

    this sounds like great paper. Have you by chance tried full on washes of watercolour yet. It seems so matter what brand of paper I use it always buckles, some less than others, but always some even on blocks of paper. I'm wanting to use 300 lb but that gets pricey. thanks for your review. found ou thru fb on the Stillman & Birn post.
    peace n abundance,

  7. CheyAnne, IMO, this isn't the kind of paper to use for layered watercolor wash techniques. It doesn't behave like rag paper, which mingles the paint and runs colors into one another. However, paint does lift very easily, which presents other opportunities. I see it as a paper for pen and ink with some watercolor wash added, or Pitt Brush pens, water-based markers, colored pencil, crayons or oil pastels etc. In terms of wet media, I think it will do very well for gouache and acrylic too, but I haven't had a chance to test drive those on it yet. Hopefully within the next week I'll have a chance to do that and get the images up here and make some more comments on it with the additional media.