The Shinola Sketchbook: A Review

July 29, 2016


Above: Dick sitting on a couch in the TV room. Stabilo All used dry. (I really fixated on those pens in his pocket.) The paper has a nice tooth for use with this and other dry media. )

In April of this year I started working in a Shinola Sketchbook. It’s important that you note I’m talking about the SKETCHBOOK. There is also a notebook version with lighter weight paper that didn’t suit my needs for mixed media.

While the Shinola Sketchbook is designed for drawing and for dry media, I of course felt compelled, as usual, to use it for wet media and mixed media.

I’ve been posting images from it off and on since I started using it in April, and have long since moved into other sketchbooks—but I didn’t have time to sit down and put my thoughts together for a review.

You can go to the category list in the left column and click on “Shinola Sketchbook” and see all the posts that I’ve put up about this journal. Then you will find my comments and the various sample sketches I created. 

But for ease I’ll just tell you the basics here:

The sketchbook paper has the most amazing tooth for the Pentel Brush Pen (either the Pocket Brush Pen, the brush pen with dye based ink and a squeezy barrel, or the squeezy barrel with pigment ink too). Some pens like the Platinum Carbon Black felt-tipped brush pen take a bit longer to dry on this paper than on other papers so your favorite pen might respond differently than you are accustomed to seeing it work.

There are some potential negatives. The paper does buckle slightly when wet media is used. You can control this to some extent depending on how you like to use your paint—for instance my gouache pages buckled less than my watercolor pages. I use much less water with gouache than with watercolor. The book really loves gouache.

Here’s the thing about papers that buckle—if the buckle is minimal and you can still work on the paper, it’s alright for me. And this paper is alright. 

The Shinola Sketchbook is 8 x 9.25 inches. It has 112 pages of 100 lb. (148 gsm) acid free paper. I purchased it for $28 at Wet Paint in St. Paul.

This is the PERFECT SIZE FOR ME! I mean that, if all my sketchbooks could be this size I think it would be marvelous!

The book contains sewn signatures and the binding holds up well through usage. The case has thick cover boards covered in what looks like some sort of very stiff, impregnated linen. I say stiff because I can see how it folded over the rounded corners of the book in pleats, which are neatly executed. There is also a bookmark ribbon emerging from the spine. (Mine came off as soon as I walked in the door from purchasing the book at Wet Paint in St. Paul.) The back cover sports a black elastic closure that can be pulled forward over the front cover. Also on the back cover is a shiny black debossed company name. The front cover has a small silver lightning bolt centered about two inches down from the head of the book. It is not intrusive. I didn’t try to paint on the cover, but I know it will take acrylic marker and Uni Poscas (I wrote on the spine with a white one.)

Inside the back cover there is a convenient expandable pocket.

While you might think that this book, from that description, has many characteristics of a Moleskine I would have to say that’s like saying a Honey Crisp is like a Red Delicious. (The Shinola is the Honey Crisp apple in this example and the Honey Crisp is my favorite apple.)

Did I mention that the book is the PERFECT SIZE FOR ME!???

The paper is heavy enough to take the abuse I’ve written about here and in my other individual Shinola Sketchbook posts, and it is a fairly opaque paper. I like to use the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. The bold strokes of that pen typically will show through most papers. There is some show through of that bold tool on these pages, but it’s well below the nuisance level for me.

The price is the real sticking point for me. It’s just a little bit more than I like to pay, but I know that I will use one of these sketchbooks again, because it just worked so well with all the dry and wet media I threw at it.

For instance, when I test a book I really am hard on it as I do my watercolor test. And I really fuss with the watersoluble dye-based brush pens to see if the ink will seep through (it doesn’t on these pages).


160613_Pulse-ShootingCRBRLeft: Layered watercolor washes, wet-in-wet and wet over dry, are possible on this paper.

I was able to layer in glazes of color as shown in the quick sketch of the two men.

In the next image of the woman, you’ll see how I made repeated attacks with watercolor trying to get the paint to seep through the paper. I did begin to break up the paper when I tried to do some extensive lifting, yet the paper still held up. No seeping.


Left: Watercolor attack page—I wet, mopped up, rewet, let dry, and lifted color from this page. I was trying to see how hard I could push this paper. Despite this harsh treatment the wet paint didn’t seep through the paper. It isn’t sized like a watercolor paper and your washes and strokes will be more pronounced on the page (see background color) but that’s true of all the non-watercolor journals you might try to paint in that I can think of off the top of my head. My point is, don’t expect to do all your traditional watercolor techniques in this book. If you do you’ll be frustrated. But if you are into experimentation you’ll be very happy.

So I think you can adapt wet techniques to this book. As I wrote earlier this paper loves gouache!

160514_PearsCRLeft: Here you can see a Pentel Brush Pen sketch on the Shinola Sketchbook paper, and at the same time you can see the dark brush pen lines showing through on the verso page. (This is just ink showing through. This is NOT ink seeping through.) I find that scanning accentuates this effect. While sketching I was not distracted by show through of black brush pen lines. Additionally if you simply insert a sheet of black paper behind the page you are scanning you can scan without seeing the show through. More important is that you can tell I am having a ton of fun with the brush pen on this paper. It’s holding the line CRISPLY and yet it is also, on quick strokes, allowing a dry brush effect that shows the tooth of the paper.  

The one drawback you can’t get around is that the binding doesn’t open completely flat for scanning. If you work across the spread as I do this can be a disappointment. However, you will have no trouble working across the spread—it’s just that then capturing your work in a scan will be a bit difficult. That said, I really man-handled the binding to ease it open and I weighted it when placed it on the scanner in order to get scans that I’m happy with. The binding stood up to the various manipulations I applied.

In a nutshell, so I don’t put off writing a review any longer, that’s what I’ve discovered about the Shinola Sketchbook. 

If you don’t bind your own books and you are looking for a journal or sketchbook of this size this might just be the commercially bound journal or sketchbook for you. I know that I will use one again. 

Note: I purchased the Shinola Sketchbook used for my experiments and am not financially related to Shinola or Wet Paint.

    • Deborah Basel
    • July 29, 2016

    I’m so happy you mentioned that it doesn’t open flat because that is a major sticking point with me. Up until then I was really excited about the size of the book and your description of the paper. And thank you so much for your great reviews.

  1. Reply

    Thank you for showcasing this Shinola sketchbook. I found one at a local shop in Portland, Little Otsu. I’m really liking it – both the size and the paper. I like the way watercolor works on it much better than the Strathmore 500 mixed media softcover even though they seem similar. The Shinola sketchbook has 112 pages compared to 64 in the Strathmore, so that plus the hardcover and pocket make it seem not that expensive. I don’t mind the buckling. It’s very pleasing to use colored pencils on it as well. And the sketchbook itself is very sharp looking. Thanks for sharing, Roz!

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