Monday, January 25, 2021

Product Review: Shizen Designs Journal


Shizen Designs faux leather journals

I’ve been having fun using colored papers for my daily hand series. Most of my hand drawings are tonal studies, and the bright colors work well as the mid-tone between white and black. Last summer I thought I’d give myself a fresh kick in the pants by going completely dark: I filled a black Stillman & Birn Nova sketchbook with hand sketches. After that, I used colors again, but just recently, I got back in the mood for black. Although I do love the Nova sketchbook series, I thought I’d look around to see what other black-paper options might be available.

That’s when I discovered Shizen Designs faux leather journals at Blick. The A5 size is just right for my daily hands. At 200 pages for 10 bucks, it’s also more economical than an S&B Nova (92 pages for about $17). It was worth a shot.

As soon as I got it, I realized that the black Shizen Designs journal is part of the same line as the multi-colored one that I had used sporadically last spring (and occasionally for InkTober, too). It had been years since I bought that one, so I didn’t know if it was still available. It is – I found it at Blick, too.

The “faux leather” covers are flimsy, and I’m not sure how well they would hold up as a daily-carry. The binding does allow the pages to stay open fairly flat (though not as flat as a softcover Stillman & Birn).

The 80 gsm Shizen paper isn’t as heavy as Nova, but the mild tooth is nice for both colored pencil and ink. In black, the paper is fully opaque, so I have no problem using both sides of the sheet, especially with colored pencil.

Black pages are opaque enough to use on both sides.

The lighter colors, however, are less opaque, and any wet ink is likely to bleed. Even heavily hatched ballpoint ink and rubberstamp ink came through the pages shown below, so I used only one side of each sheet in the multi-colored book.

Ballpoint and rubberstamp ink came right through the paper.

I don’t recommend Shizen journals with wet media. Shown below is a sketch I made with Uni Posca Paint Markers (which I reviewed at the Well-Appointed Desk), and they were wet enough that the paper buckled mildly. I don’t mind this degree of buckling (and I do like the way the Poscas pop on the colored pages), but anything wetter would be a problem.

Mild rippling with Uni Posca paint markers

Backside is rippled, but shows no bleeding.

Ideal for dry media, the Shizen book is enjoyable with colored pencil and chalk pastel. During InkTober, ballpoint and fountain pen both took to the surface well (though, as mentioned, you can expect bleed-through where ink is heavily applied). Even drawing on only one side of the page, at the rate I have been burning through books with my daily hand sketches and life drawing, it’s still a less-expensive alternative to S&B.

Bonus: Shizen also makes an all-red sketchbook in the same series! (It comes in a few other single colors, too – yellow, orange and white.) As mentioned before, I find red to be an ideal mid-tone hue – better than the traditional tan or gray, which don’t always provide enough contrast with white or black. After filling the all-red notebook I had been given, I didn’t think I’d ever find one like it again, so I was thrilled to find the Shizen option. I might even try it for urban sketching – it would be a largescale version of my favorite red Field Notes. I’ll find out soon enough.

Debossed branding on the back cover

The multi-colored book on the right is full of InkTober and hand sketches.
The new red one? Maybe urban sketches someday!

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