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REVIEW: Zen Art Supplies Sketchbook

Today I will be reviewing another product from Zen Art Supplies and this time I am going to talk about their sketchbooks, which come in two sizes and are available on Amazon. I chose their portrait format B6 sketchbook (4.9 x 6.9 in or 12.7 x 17.8 cm) which features 160 blank pages (80 sheets) of 81 lb. or 120 gsm acid-free ivory paper. It comes with some nice features such as two ribbon bookmarks, elastic closure, and inner back pocket.

First Impressions:

One of the first things I noticed is the soft flexible cover. It is made of bonded leather and has a textured fabric or suede-like feel. To be expected, it also has a slight leathery smell. This has dissipated for the most part with time.

Moving on, I love the size of this sketchbook! It is super cute and perfect to take with me on the go. It fits nicely in my hand and has reminded me how much I enjoy sketchbooks of this size! The outside edge of the paper has also been decorated with a spotted pattern which can only be seen when the book is closed. I think this is a nice touch and I really appreciate little details like that. I also like that the inside cover is black paper (rather than the same paper as the rest of the pages). I decorated mine with a sticker and a white Posca paint marker.

Performance:

This little sketchbook as a ton of pages, which is made possible by the lighter paper weight. Before doing any sketches, I decided to do a test page in the back of the book to see how different drawing materials would behave on the paper. I would say that pencils performed the best, erasing cleanly with no show through to the backside of the paper. Micron pens also worked well but there was some show through. Pens with heavier ink flow such as my Lamy Safari fountain pen or typical Pilot gel pen had more noticable show through on the backside. Lightly applied watercolor performed fairly considering the weight of the paper but did cause some slight warping and noticeable wrinkling.

I also found that dip pens are probably not the best for this paper. While they write well on the smooth surface, this type of pen typically applies a lot of ink at one time and also scratches the surface of the paper causing considerable show through on the backside. I did not have a chance to test any alcohol based markers, like copics, because I do not own any, but I would be curious to see how they perform.

While this paper is only 81 lb. and not meant for watercolor or wet media, I decided to try it anyway. I found that I could get away with some watercolor use as well as ink and wash without the paper curling or warping too much (which really surprised me). However, the colors seem a touch dull and it is difficult to create traditional watercolor effects one would expect with actual watercolor paper. I also found it a bit tricky to achieve smooth paint application over large areas.

I would like to mention that none of the things listed above are due to a flaw in the paper. To be honest, this paper holds up amazingly well all things considered. One cannot expect watercolor to perform to its maximum potential in this situation because the paper is not intended for this purpose. Some understanding of paper types, paper weights, finish, etc. is needed when purchasing any kind of sketchbook or paper. The kind of paper you choose should ideally be suited to your art and the purpose you have in mind (what works for one person may not work for another). All paper is different, and there are vast differences in performance between different brands of watercolor paper, nevermind between drawing paper, bristol board, the list goes on. As always, I advise that you do your research before spending money on a product to be sure that it is capable of meeting your needs.

In the course of testing this book, I did a variety of sketches. Some with more ink drawing and less watercolor and others with just watercolor, even working with some fairly wet washes. Medium to heavy watercolor application wet the paper significantly but did not leave a mark on the following page. I am also noticing some bleed-through along the seam in the center of the book, but it has been minimal thus far. Working on the backside of the previous page/sketch is not advisable. I tried this several times and found the show through to range from slight to considerable (depending on the materials used). In one case, using a black gel pen, it effectively ruined the sketch on the other side of the page.

The other thing I noticed is that the book will not lay flat without some extra assistance, particularly while using the pages at the beginning or near the end. It lays flatter when opened more towards the center of the spine.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I would say that this is a cute little sketchbook at a great price point. It is obvious that a lot of thought and care went into the design. I would recommend this sketchbook for dry media like graphite, colored pencils, and pastels. It is okay for some pens (fine liners, etc.) but less than ideal for others (dip pens), depending on the nib and amount of ink application. Ink brush pens and markers are not recommended due to a lot of show-through onto the reverse side of the paper. I feel that watercolor use is really pushing the limits of this sketchbook as the paper is not meant to handle that level of moisture. However, as I have demonstrated, you can get away with it if you are careful and not expecting normal watercolor paper results. I plan to use this book for more casual sketches with a few splashes of watercolor here and there.

I hope you found this helpful and as always, thank you for reading!

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REVIEW: Moleskine Art Sketchbook

Admittedly, I bought this sketchbook because the cover was red and I am on a red kick this year. Last year it was moonglow and the year before that it was turquoise. What can I say? #colormood

You can find this sketchbook listed HERE on Amazon.

As a side note, I have used Moleskine planners and sketchbooks in the past. The quality is decent, usable for my purposes but nothing to write home about. I know they have changed their watercolor paper several times in the past but I am not so familiar with their products to have noticed this.

For starters, I just want to clarify that this Moleskine sketchbook is NOT a watercolor sketchbook. It is from their ART Collection product line and has smooth ivory colored paper. The packaging describes it as follows, "Made using pigmented pulp, this rich sketch-grade paper stands up to eraser use and provides a great base for a wide variety of media. Ideal for Moleskine Drawing Pencils and Moleskine Pens (I didn't know they made pens?), as well as pastels, charcoal, fountain pens, and markers."

104 pages, 111 lb./165 gsm acid-free paper, 5" x 8.25" with expandable inner pocket.

 

First Impressions:

I absolutely LOVE the red of the cover and matching elastic closure (sometimes it's the little things, am I right?). The size is really nice for quick sketches and it fits easily in my bag. The ribbon bookmark is a bonus. I always forget to use the inner pocket and goodness knows if I put anything in there it might as well be in a time capsule (LOL).
I was a little bit disappointed to discover the paper had an ivory tone rather than being white (I prefer a warm white paper). This isn't a huge deal considering my intentions for this sketchbook BUT I do not like how it gives a yellow tone to the watercolors. It is also more difficult to photograph and often ends up looking more yellow in pictures or throwing off the white balance sensor in my camera. 🙁

Performance:

I fully agree with Moleskine's claims and think that this paper works really well for pencil sketching and ink, including fountain pens and limited use of paint markers. It also handles the watercolor surprisingly well. I was happy to find that I could use wet washes and layers without warping the paper much at all. In fact, it dries fairly flat, so I have no complaints. That being said, I did notice that the colors seemed a little on the dull side and certain effects just don't work. Salt, for example, produces almost no texture at all on this paper. Some granulation is apparent, but not as much as I would expect, especially from colors that I know produce granulation on watercolor paper. As an added bonus, this paper also dries pretty quickly which is great for working in a sketchbook format. While the paper is smooth it does not have the same feel as hot press paper, which I find to be rather slippery for lack of a better word. When dry, the paper surface tolerates erasing well, but when wet it does not react favorably to scrubbing or lifting and will start to pill quickly.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I would say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the use of this sketchbook, however, that is directly related to the purpose I had in mind. I bought this knowing the quality of the paper with the intention of using it as a "no pressure zone" to create. Due to the fact that it is not watercolor paper, it liberates me of having any self-imposed expectations or responsibility to "make something good". I am free to experiment, splash around, and work more roughly than I usually do. It encourages me to sketch more often because it has been designated as a safe area where I can simply play. There is a shift that happens mentally when we pull out the good paper and suddenly feel obliged to make something we are proud of but I truly believe that creativity needs more space to flourish and that this is just a trick of the mind. At the end of the day, it is just paper and we shouldn't let a thing like paper become an obstacle that stands in the way of artistic expression. This is something I have been working on overcoming and it is still a work in progress.

While I am happy with this sketchbook as a creative outlet I would say that it does not replace an actual watercolor paper sketchbook. I am still on the hunt for a sketchbook that does all the things I want it to do and I have several new sketchbooks in my collection that I am itching to test out now that this one is complete. Hope that you found this review helpful. Sometimes you just have to buy things because they are RED! ❤️

Thanks so much for reading and if you would like to get a page by page look at this sketchbook, please see the video below.

Moleskine Sketchbook Flip Through

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REVIEW: Black Tulip Watercolor Brushes

A few weeks ago, the generous folks over at Zen Art Supplies contacted me and asked if I would like to try out a set of their watercolor brushes. I was thrilled to receive such an offer and happily agreed to try them out. A big thank you to Zen Art for sending me this lovely set of brushes!

A little bit about the Black Tulip Collection: it is a 6 piece set that includes two round brushes, two flat brushes, a rigger, and a cat's tongue (swipe to see photo). The set is listed on Amazon for about $25 which works out to just over $4 per brush which is a pretty good value in my opinion. The set also offers a really nice variety of brush shapes. Lastly, the brushes are made with vegan synthetic bristles that are meant to mimic squirrel hair.

First Impressions:

The set came all together in a single package, which gave excellent information about the brushes themselves as well as usage and proper care. I thought this was a nice touch since most brushes do not come with any information whatsoever. This also gave the added bonus of eliminating the need for those pesky UPC code stickers from the handles which are a pain to get off and leave behind a sticky residue.
The brushes themselves are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with well balanced and beautiful handles that feel very comfortable in the hand. All of the brushes come to an excellent point or edge, especially the round brushes, which is something I love and is a quality I look for when purchasing brushes.

Performance:

The bristles on these beauties are a bit springier than what I am used to, but not excessively so. They do hold a smaller pigment load than my usual natural fiber blend brushes but both of these qualities are to be expected of a synthetic brush. The only thing I found while using these was that it was possible to overload the brush with pigment which would then drop off leaving a big drip. Once I realized this, I was able to adjust my brush loading to avoid it. Naturally, there is an adjustment period when using any new art supply as you learn how it behaves.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I would say that these brushes are a great value for the price point and the best full synthetic brushes I have tried in recent years. If you are in need of new synthetic brushes or are a beginner looking to purchase a set of brushes this Black Tulip collection from Zen Art Supplies may be just what you've been looking for.

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