Keeping a sketchbook has probably been the single most important thing that has helped improve me as an artist. It’s a form of visual notetaking, attempting to capture whatever captured me about the scene in view. That makes tools to paint or draw with an everyday essential for me, and these supplies have to be accessible on a moment’s notice. It took a while to find what really works and I’m still making refinements from time to time. Here’s the current setup – you’ll rarely find me out and about without one of these two kits.
The Starry Sketch Kit
This is about 7″ x 10″ and was designed specifically to hold my most essential gear. It’s made of kraf-tex™, which is amazing stuff… the case is over two years old now, has seen daily use for all that time, and looks nearly as good as the day I made it. I redid the closures to improve usability, but that has nothing to do with kraf-tex™. This is the natural color material, crumpled for texture, and antiqued with an India ink wash. I drew the star map and compass motif with more India and white acrylic ink. It’s sewn with a machine on the bottom and double-needle style by hand on the vertical seams.
The size and shape was tailored to my very minimal plein aire gear. I believe in being able to set up and put everything away on a whim and a moment’s notice. This allows me to take advantage of random opportunities that would otherwise be wasted: lunch breaks, waiting rooms, rest breaks on walks. I don’t want to waste time and energy wrangling anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, so this case holds just those essentials and nothing more. That’s what led me to make my own kit in the first place – nearly every bag on Etsy.com that I liked was far bigger than I needed. Bigger bags just attract more stuff!
There’s really only three things I need: paper, waterbrush, and paint. Something to wipe the brush on is usually included, but I’ll go without in a pinch – it does create an interesting challenge. (It’s also the reason why black jeans exist.)
- Water is included inside the brush, so I won’t carry a dedicated water jar unless it’s a really long PA session, and/or I want some for drinking purposes.
- Paper is supplied by my sketchbooks, in this case handmade ones. All my hardbound books have featured 90lb or 140lb watercolor paper and 6″ x 9″ pages. This is an odd size for watercolor – it creates some scraps from 22″ x 30″ full sheets. The scraps are useful though and the size just feels right for me for everyday use. Every book has had different paper – it’s an opportunity to thoroughly explore one paper’s qualities, and changing it up once in a while keeps me form getting stagnant.
- The brush is a Koi Waterbrush – large brush size and large handle. These are remarkably efficient painting tools! The water in the reservoir seems minute compared to what you’d have in a wash bucket, yet it lasts me for a good hour of sketching. The tips will get mushy after a time, at which point I’ll trim them with a sharp Xacto and get several more months of use out of them.
- The palette is a repurposed vintage tin, in this case a tin that once held little cigars. It’s the perfect size for half-pans of watercolor, a mix of Da Vinci, Winsor Newton, M. Graham and Maimeri Blu paints.
- My favorite sketching tool is the Platinum Carbon Ink EF fountain pen. It comes with a truly waterproof ink that dries instantly, a nib that’s nearly as fine as a crow quill, it draws smoothly and the ink doesn’t bleed – it’s the pen I’ve been dreaming of! This is usually found in my pocket though, since I write with it all the time too. If you hit the link, you’ll note that the pen is actually quite long. It’s a desk pen, so it’s designed to sit in a fancy holder and the cap doesn’t post. In my world, that guarantees a lost cap. I took a Dremel tool and a pair of pliers to it, and caused the cap to fit on the back of the pen. It’s like a mini-pen now and I like it even more.
The Compass Pocket Kit
This little gem doubles as a stealth sketch kit, and contingency plan if I’m not taking the other case. It’s also made of kraf-tex™. (This was actually my warm-up project for the Starry Sketch Kit, so I could learn about the material prior to starting that project.) It fits in a jeans pocket and contains everything I need to do little paintings. I’d like to make several more of these and scatter them around my truck, desk at work, and other places – just in case there’s some kind of art emergency or something.
Here it is, ready to paint. That picture shows a plastic empty palette on the side. It was always my intent to repurpose a little tray that came to me via a pack of gum, but it just didn’t look vintage enough when all was said and done. The kit needs a very small palette and I didn’t have the budget for one of Maria Coryell-Martin’s nifty Expedition Palettes – so I made a little one out of copper foil and pans from a cheap makeup kit. (The white thing is a business-card sized piece of paper, for scale.) This has 10 tiny pans, with neutralizing complement pairs in the two largest wells. That way I can have each color, but also gain the neutral by sweeping across the center where the two paints meet. It’s a little unpredictable, which is fun to work with and keeps me on my toes.
The waterbrush is the large tip Koi, with the smaller handle. Paper is supplied by a removable mini-book. I usually fold up a few scraps and give them a simple binding. This then tucks into a pocket, like a book jacket.