Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Beta/Zeta Dilemma

October and November sketches are scattered between Beta (left) and Zeta (right) (both festooned with some favorite stickers). 

During my first couple years of sketching, I tried nearly every sketchbook on the market, looking for the right fit (you can see a few of them at the top of my Archive of Sketch Kits page). It’s what you must do as a beginner – explore various book formats, paper textures and weights and how they meet your media needs. Then I decided to roll my own using 140-pound Canson XL watercolor paper, and that kept me happy for years with all the media I used.

Last spring, I stopped hand binding my sketchbooks for the first time since 2013, and I’ve been in a mild sketchbook tizzy ever since. At first I thought Stillman & Birn Zeta would be “the one” – a daily-carry I could count on with all media. But during my trip to the Netherlands, I started wavering, and I tried switching to S&B Beta as my daily-carry.
Zeta handles ink and graphite beautifully. . . 

I just finished filling my second consecutive Beta, and it took quite a bit longer to fill than usual – because I kept interrupting it to use Zeta instead! Whenever I was in the mood for graphite or ink (especially during InkTober), I would grab the Zeta as I was going out the door. I don’t like carrying more than one book, but if I was planning to drive, I’d take both books, just in case I changed my mind.

With all that dithering, my sketches from October and November are scattered between two sketchbooks, which annoys me greatly. During most of my sketching experience, my limited media choices enabled nearly complete chronological continuity of my sketchbooks. But now that I use more media, and neither Beta nor Zeta meets all my media needs, I must either compromise on the paper choice or compromise on the continuity.
. . . but I still love Beta best when I want rich, vibrant hues.

At this point, after months of wavering, I’ve concluded that it’s probably more important to have the paper that makes me happy with whatever medium I’m using than it is to have the sketches appear in chronological sequence. All the sketches are dated, so I could easily retrace the chronology if that’s important. But if I used paper that wasn’t right for the medium, I’d probably be less satisfied with whatever sketch resulted. And ultimately, the sketch itself is not nearly as important as the sketching of it, and that gets done no matter what paper I use (or whether it’s in the right sequence). I’ll keep using both books and get over it.

Now, if only Stillman & Birn would make my dreams come true and create a sketchbook containing both Beta and Zeta papers . . . !


  1. "Mild sketch book tizzy"? Indeed! You crack me up;-) I empathize with the consternation over a lack of temporal continuity. (Although, as you've noted before, some authors recommend scattering dated sketches randomly through the sketch book) You seem to be prompt in scanning your sketches each day. Do you find any consolation in knowing that your digitized sketches can be ordered by date? Do you have notations included in the files so you know which sketchbook/paper was used for each sketch?
    W.R. (Warm Regards) Anne

    1. Yes, I do digitize most sketches, and their file names are dated, so it would be very easy to see the order in which they were sketched. I guess I'm just compulsive about temporal continuity! But I'll get over it.


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