A Sneak Peak At Stillman & Birn Nova Paper

Did you get excited when Stillman & Birn announced their new Nova series of sketchbooks?  I sure did.  Most people know that I’m a fan of S&B but, like everyone else, when I wanted to draw on toned paper, I was stuck with 60-80lb paper with little or no sizing.  This stuff was ok for line sketching but any attempts at watercolor and the paper buckled, pigments dulled as they were sucked into the paper, and you couldn’t manipulate the watercolors the way you can on a better paper.

But one day I got a call from S&B, asking if I’d like to try out their new toned paper line.  I pondered my answer carefully.  Microseconds went by as I came up with my careful worded response.  “Heck yeah!  Bring it on.”  And they sent me some single sheets of their tan, gray and black papers.

Which brings us to now.  These papers will change the way watercolorists think about toned papers for two reasons, both having to do with the fact that physically these papers are like S&B Alpha white and cream papers.

They are much heavier than other toned papers.  I don’t have any data on these papers, but they are the same thickness as Alpha paper, suggesting they are around 100lb (150gsm).  In any case, the extreme buckling I’ve experienced from other toned papers just doesn’t happen.

The papers are properly sized, so you can actually work watercolors on them.  Those who have experienced Alpha papers know that large-scale wet-n-wet is probably not the idea approach but these papers can handle a fair amount of water.  The pigments can be moved around.  You can charge into another color. You can lift pigments from these papers.  The colorsl remain bright on these papers.

I started testing by doing what I typically do with toned papers, draw with pencil or fountain pen.  Very quickly I realized that  this was lots of fun but not really a challenge for these papers.  They were almost screaming “put some water on me,” and so I did.

I’d like to provide a detailed, blow by blow on the process of getting used to these papers but, for me, it was like working on my typical Alpha and Beta papers.  If anything, I might have used a slightly thicker mix to achieve the results you see but I’m not even sure that’s true.

Above you can see a bit of buckling. I soaked the area inside the building outline and applied the color wet-n-wet. Because the exterior remained dry this small amount of buckling took place. What I did here simply would not be possible with other toned papers I’ve used.




Stillman & Birn says that actual sketchbooks with Nova papers will be available sometime in August.  I don’t know if that means softcover, hardcover, or both but I know I’m going to get in line to get some.  Stillman & Birn will shake the world of toned papers with these sketchbooks.  Thanks, S&B.






6 thoughts on “A Sneak Peak At Stillman & Birn Nova Paper

  1. Good to know. I have enjoyed my Beta softcovers. My Gray-toned Strathmore is not as sturdy, but I sure like using it too, so will probably order one of these.

    • I’ve never found a sweet spot with gray-toned papers but I’ve drawn a lot on tan paper, using black or brown ink supplemented by white pen.

  2. Aww, lucky you — you’ve already got samples? I’ve known about these for months and getting impatient! I’ll race you to the line!

  3. Larry, thank you for this review! I hadn’t visited your website in about a year (since I started following you on Instagram)…so glad I checked in. I was looking for toned paper to use for mixed media–pencil, ink, watercolor–portraits. Nova papers might be just the thing!

    • Hi Dan, it’s good to hear from you. I really enjoy your drawings on Instagram. I do feel that the new S&B Nova papers are a significant advance, at least for those wanting to use watercolor on toned paper. I’ve tried Strathmore and Canson toned papers and find both great for pencil and pen but they’re just too light weight and don’t have sufficient sizing to be used with watercolor. S&B’s idea to combine tone with the paper quality of their Alpha series paper really make that possible. — Larry

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