Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Going Small with Epsilon

9/28/19 graphite (parking lot under the First Avenue bridge)

Ever since I got back from the Netherlands and reviewed my sketch kit, I’ve been vaguely restless about my sketchbook choice. In case you haven’t been tracking my sketchbook dithering, I became less than satisfied with Stillman & Birn Zeta’s sizing while sketching in Holland (activated watercolor pencil pigments don’t look as rich, and water sinks in faster than I want it to). I decided to switch to a Stillman & Birn Beta instead, which I just filled. Beta isn’t new to me – I’ve filled several Beta books with still lives at my desk, and I use a landscape-format Beta occasionally when I travel – but this was the first time I used a Beta as a daily-carry from start to finish. For the most part, I’m happy with the paper’s weight, texture and sizing with watercolor pencils, my primary medium on location (full review coming soon), so I just cracked open a fresh one.

My vague restlessness comes from the few occasions that I’ve had the urge to use graphite, which I don’t like at all on Beta’s tooth, and even ballpoint, which I also prefer on a smoother surface. The past week or so, I’ve been trying an experiment: In addition to my usual 8½-by-5½ -inch softcover Beta, I’ve been carrying a pocket-size Epsilon, which has the same surface as the heavier Zeta (which I do enjoy with all dry media, especially graphite). Here’s my thought process:

Both graphite and ballpoint are relatively time-consuming media for me when used in the way I like to use them – with layers of smudged graphite or lots of ballpoint hatching. So if I keep my sketches small in both media, they will go faster, and while carrying the additional pocket-size book adds some bulk to my bag, it’s tolerable.

9/26/19 ballpoint (Zoka Coffee patron)
A few days ago, I was waiting for the Daniel Smith store to open on their annual Vendor Day (lots of great demos and free samples, and it’s fun to run into my sketcher friends there), so I made a graphite sketch in the parking lot. I have more difficulty scaling large urban scenes to a pocket size, but that means I need the practice, so it was an enjoyable challenge, and it certainly took less time.

On another day, I was in the mood for a ballpoint portrait at Zoka Coffee. I could easily use ballpoint in a Field Notes notebook or on any kind of paper (ballpoint is arguably the paper-friendliest drawing medium I’ve used), but Epsilon’s weight is more substantial, and the book itself is easier to draw in because it has some heft and a stiffer cover than typical stapled notebooks.

It’s still a trial, but I’m already happier knowing I have a graphite solution when I want one.


  1. I usually have more than one book with me to sketch in, or at least some loose watercolor papers. It seems a shame to do just ink on wc paper and it sometimes is a bit scratchy. It is hard to focus on one kind of paper, especially with Inktober taking place.

    1. Yes, Inktober can complicate matters! I was just thinking that now I have to carry both my small Epsilon and my small Moleskine!


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