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.
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.
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.
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!