I’m Getting Ready to Go Sketching
Pretty soon I’ll be heading to Tahiti and New Zealand, ending up in Auckland for the international Urban Sketchers Symposium. (Tickets are still available, if a spontaneous trip to New Zealand appeals to you!)
As you can imagine, I’m hoping this will be an epic sketching trip. That means figuring out what art supplies to bring! And yes, I can always pick up art supplies along the way, but the point is that I want to decide what sort of lightweight travel sketching kit will be the most fun and maybe give me some new techniques to try.
So…to that end…this month’s edition is all about what’s going in the art bag, and what could go in your art bag. A few of you have sent me questions about traveling with art supplies, and I’ve woven the answers into this post. Please post a comment and let me know if this sort of thing is interesting to you—and also, let me know if you have any travel sketching questions I haven’t answered here!
(Note: I’m not going to include links to every single art supply—you are clever people, you can Google it. But please do support your local art supply store, or order online from someone like Blick or Jerry’s or JetPens. Also, I teach loads of classes on travel sketching.)
First, the Ultra-Light Pocket Sketching Kit
I carry one of these everywhere, not just when I’m traveling. It’s a Moleskine Cahier Journal (they’re only 3 for $10) and a Pentel Side Click mechanical pencil. My favorite leads are Rotring .7 2B (here’s a reel about that) but any lead will do. Of course, any pen or pencil or marker will do.
With a little book like this in your pocket, you can draw pictures, make a grocery list,, write a poem, or give your number to a handsome stranger. (OK if you actually give out your number, you’ve got to come back and tell us the rest of THAT story!)
Here’s a slightly heftier version, requiring something more like a jacket or cargo pants pocket: A softcover Stillman & Birn 3.5 x 5.5 sketchbook, which comes in a variety of paper choices—I like Zeta for drawing & light watercolor, but get Beta if you want to do heavy watercolor. Add a tiny ArtToolKit palette, a water brush with water inside, and maybe a pencil or waterproof pen. Grab a paper napkin along the way somewhere to wipe your palette clean. Off you go!
For either of those two options, you’re not limited to a pencil or a ballpoint pen. Take one or (depending on the size of your pocket) two or three of these. You can always bring a dozen with you on the trip, and try something different every day. From left to right:
Tombow Fudenosuke marker. The black is very waterproof. The other colors are delightful but not as waterproof as promised.
A Pentel pocket brush pen. If you want waterproof ink, buy Platinum Carbon ink cartridges to replace the ink that comes with it.
Faber Castell Pitt artist pens—excellent waterproof ink in a handy marker.
Micron drawing pens, also waterproof, various colors
Colored pencils! This is tricky in a pocket kit because then you’d have to add a pencil sharpener. Or just take a few hard-lead pencils that last longer and aren’t prone to breaking, such as Caran d’Ache Luminance or Faber Castell Polychromos, and keep a sharpener in your suitcase (here’s my favorite sharpener).
Now let’s move on to an actual bag full of art supplies….
First, the bag
I like this Maika crossbody bag. It easily holds a 5x8 sketchbook, a pencil pouch or two, plus my phone, wallet, whatever. Here’s a reel that shows how I attach this NeoCritz pencil case to the outside of the bag when I’m sketching. Notice that the little pocket holds a 4 oz plastic water bottle for your watercolor.
Here’s a video (with an older bag), where I say more about how & why I keep all my supplies on me while I’m sketching. I don’t take a camp stool or an easel when I sketch—I design my setup so I can stand and sketch, or perch on a curb, bench, etc. with all my supplies on me, not spread out all over a table. But you do whatever makes you comfortable!
Next, the sketchbook
So many options! Lately I’ve been using Stillman & Birn Zeta softcovers, but like I said above, get Beta if you want to do heavy watercolor. I also love Moleskine watercolor albums, and the Etchr hot press sketchbook (that price is for three). If you are very serious about your watercolor, treat yourself to their Perfect sketchbook. It’s crazy good paper. I have one and I’m too intimidated to use it. I hear great things about Hahnemühle sketchbooks but have not tried them.
I like 5x8, aka A5. I prefer softcover because it’s less bulk and weight. I keep a couple of binder clips attached to mine to hold the pages down. Without a rigid cover, the first & last pages are a bit floppy to draw on, but once I’m a few pages in, the binder clips keep the pages together and it’s a rigid enough surface for sketching.
I love my ArtToolKit palette, which is basically the size of a credit card holder and clips on to your sketchbook with a binder clip. Believe it or not, this is enough paint to fill a sketchbook. If you don’t believe me, buy extra pans, pre-fill them with a second round of colors, and swap them out if/when you run out. That way, you aren’t carrying tube colors that count as a liquid/gel when you fly.
My colors are all Daniel Smith. Here’s my current palette, below. Here’s a video where I explain why I organize the colors this way. If you’d like to learn more about the Munsell or CMYK palette, I teach a class on that, and I also demonstrate this palette in my Amsterdam class. But if you’re wondering where the earthy neutral colors are—you can mix them all from this palette! I promise!
My brushes are not fancy. I travel with cheap water brushes. I have a couple of Escoda travel brushes. Rosemary travel brushes are supposed to be fantastic, too.
I also take a tiny mister to wet my palette, a 4 oz bottle for water (like a little shampoo bottle), and a cheap washcloth to wipe my brush.
Pens! Pencils! Markers!
Gah! This is where I can never decide! I will take more than I need and just not carry everything every day. Mix it up. Try new things.
So here’s the thing about colored pencils and markers—you don’t need every color! Take a tiny watercolor kit so you can fill in any color gaps with paint. For instance, all your sky/water/ground colors can from paint: blues, yellows, greys, greens, etc. Then draw on top with your markers or pencils. Here’s a little combo platter of a sketchbook spread with watercolor plus colored pencil:
Here’s a range of 20 colored pencils I’m considering. I’ll eliminate a few. If you try them out around town, you’ll quickly know which ones you use the most by looking at how short they are!
I like a light and dark grey marker for shadows, and I like the orange/yellow and blue markers for lights or reflections in windows, lamplight, water, etc. Or just throw in any color you love! Make all the buses or taxis or beach umbrellas your favorite color. The calligraphy markers are fun and weird to draw with, so I’ll take a few of those, along with a basic pencil, Tombow fudensuke black pen, and a Posca or Gelly Roll white paint pen for highlights.
Aaaand…now for ink.
As you might remember from last month, I’m kind of in love with colored ink lately! This is going to be my new thing on this trip. Many of you had questions about how to travel with ink. It’s easier to answer in a live action video, so here you go.
One thing I forgot to say in the video: if you end up with a tiny bit of ink left in one of those travel bottles, dip your paintbrush in and paint with it. Add a bit of water to dilute it and get lighter tones. Have fun!
That’s it for now! Feel free to post your questions & comments. With any luck (and with a little diligence on my part) I’ll send you a dispatch from New Zealand next month!
I have a question even before I read your email. Does one need to be “artistic” to benefit from your sketch classes. I’m not, but I like the idea of sketching what I see when traveling.
Yes, Amy, this is definitely a subject I'm interested in, even when I'm not planning on traveling.