Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Everyday Artist Sketch Kit

I've been searching the internet for months looking for the perfect travel sketch kit that would hold all the basic art supplies I like to take along when I travel. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and make one myself.

The Challenge
I like to carry a backpack when I go out sketching, so that, in addition to my art supplies, I can carry a water bottle, a jacket, and my camera. Usually I just stash my art supplies in the various outside pockets of the pack and put my sketchbook, palette, and tube brush holder in the large interior compartment. But it wasn't always easy to remember which of six different pockets held a particular item, and trying to fish around in the interior to find my sketchbook underneath my jacket and behind my lunch just wasn't cutting it anymore.


The Idea
I needed an organizer that I could use in conjunction with my backpack - something with space for my sketchbook and palette, along with a built-in brush holder, a pencil and pen holder, and pockets for various other items.

The Solution
The Everyday Artist Sketch Kit

Exterior view of 9" x 12" x 2" sketch kit

The outside of the kit features pockets to store items which need to be readily accessible.

Open outside pockets

The handles are short because they will only be used to pull the kit out of the backpack. I don't plan to carry it anywhere on its own.

My 10" x 7" sketchbook and Heritage palette rest in slots which are accessible without opening the kit, so I can quickly reach into the backpack and grab the sketchbook without taking the whole kit out.

Top view showing palette and sketchbook slots

Here's where things really get exciting! When you open the Velcro closure, the brush, pen, and pencil slots are revealed, along with another pocket.

Inside view

The kit has internal stiffening to allow it to stand on its own, as shown above. I can sit and sketch with all my supplies at my side. The kit can stand on the ground, on a chair next to me in a restaurant, or on a table top.

Another standing option

The kit can be doubled back on itself and still stand, saving space, as shown above.

Now let's take a closer look at what goes where. The idea of the open outside pockets is to stash the most basic supplies where I can reach in and grab them without removing the kit from my backpack. The upper pocket holds a pen, pencil, and eraser while the lower pocket has folded paper towels and tissues which I use when painting.

Outside easy-access pockets

On the other side of the kit, there is a large elongated pocket with a flap. This is for odds and ends that I may want to take along such as a value finder and spatter screens.

Large outside pocket

To stiffen the spine of the kit, I made a slot to hold a 1" wide plastic ruler which sometimes comes in handy when I'm laying out a gridded page.

Inside view

The left inside is for paintbrushes in a wide range of sizes. I like to have a good selection even when I'm on the road.

Paintbrush storage

I stitched down a piece of heavy vinyl in the area behind the brushes to protect the base fabric from water and paint, then added an additional flap of vinyl over the brushes to protect the brushes themselves. It simply folds back out of the way when I need to pull out a brush. There's plenty of air circulation around the sides and bottom to allow the bristles to dry.

Paintbrush protector flap

On the right inside I made slots for water brushes, pens and pencils. I think I'll add a few more pens and a couple of water-soluble colored pencils for my trip. The pocket at the top holds odd-shaped items such as a small water sprayer, pencil sharpener, kneaded eraser, and a tube of white gouache. A collapsible water cup would be a good addition here.

Inside pocket and pen storage

A nice feature of the pocket is that it's actually two pockets in one. There's a foldover flap on the main pocket to hold the contents securely, but the top is not sewn down. This makes another open pocket behind the first one, where I can store additional pens or pencils.

Double pocket

Here's the whole shebang, ready to roll. Isn't it adorable? :)


This was my prototype, and I'm already working on a second design which will offer a few improvements. I'll try that one out on my Italy trip and report back. So far, the kit seems very convenient. I love having everything organized and accessible. It's great being able to pull the sketchbook out from the top, grab a pen from the outside pocket, and start sketching. I can keep it simple if I like, but everything I might need is readily available. Seems like taking matters into my own hands was the best solution to my eternal search for the perfect sketching organizer!

56 comments:

  1. What a brilliant idea ! I'm still wearing my L plates for sketching & painting in situe, so usually just have a pencil,a rubber and a few water colour pencils,and bits along with a sketch book. But I'm sure all your fellow artist followers will want one. I hope you have registered a patent( sole right to make and sell ) Enjoy your trip to Italy. I'm sure it will be a great help. I always love looking at your paintings.

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    1. What are L plates? Don't you take any paints along when you go sketching?

      I looked into the patent thing, and it all seemed very complicated. I was daunted by the process. And the expense is another consideration.

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  2. I love your kit! I carry a backpack too, and this is a great idea. I hope you'll consider making a pattern for it; I would buy it without hesitation. I am an experienced enough sewer to be able to modify a pattern to fit my size requirements, but I wouldn't know where to start in making my own from scratch.

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    1. I actually wrote down sketchy directions for myself, Cheryl, so I could make another one. It wasn't the easiest thing to figure out, and I've been sewing all my life. I'd have to do some work to make them understandable enough to market a pattern. I'll consider it though. Glad you liked the kit.

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  3. Oh it is so so brillant, & so perfect that is answers your own "requests" for organization. Organization & carrying transporting supplies is so crucial! And, that bright color: you can't lose it!

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  4. Awesomeness !! Please sell on Etsy or somewhere. I love this ! Or like others prior to me posted....please display a pattern.....So excited about the traveling paint/journal kit

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    1. I don't think I'll be making these to sell. I get too bored when I have to make multiples of something. I'm planning to approach a few art suppliers, though, and see if anyone is interested in the idea.

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    2. I'm with you, Leslie. Designing and making one or two is fun... after that.... torture!

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  5. You really ought to market this pattern.. wonderful idea. You will be all prepared for Italy with this. I can see the wonderful sketching coming.

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    1. I'll think about the pattern idea, Cris. Something to tackle in my free time! :)

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  6. Really excellent Leslie! What about using a Sunbrella type fabric ? Really love the ruler in the spine for support. And the heavy vinyl, you have thought of everything! You have done such a wonderful job with this! Thank you for sharing! :)

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    1. Sunbrella would be great idea, Colleen. It's lightweight, strong, and stain resistant. Why didn't I think of that?

      In the second version, which I've already started, I'm using a thinner quilter's cotton as the main fabric - the green print on the original was a bit bulky - and I'm lining the kit with a silky fabric, so the sketchbook slides in and out easier. If I do a version 3, I'll definitely try the Sunbrella idea.

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  7. Fantastic creation, Leslie! I tip my hat.... many times :)

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  8. This is brilliant! And I love the cheerful fabric too. A pattern for this would be awesome!

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  9. Oh my stars. What a marvelous craft! Please, please, please get the pattern developed so other artists can make or have one made. It is just perfect compared to the alternatives. I use my backpack often as well, and this would solve the use of multiple little containers and bags in one fell swoop. Adorable and super useful.

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  10. Wonderful idea Leslie. Please advice ASAP if you decide to make up a pattern. I would definitely buy one as I'm sure others in Aust. would also. Great job!!!

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  11. Great idea! I finally made my own sketch kit, too, after trying every pencil bag out there and finding them lacking. The addition of the vinyl is a great idea--I made one of my prototypes out of laminated cotton fabric because of the messy nature of art supplies, but found it too "sticky" so that supplies didn't slide in and out easily. Using the vinyl in specific areas is a better idea. Great combination of two artistic skills. Nice job!

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    1. For my second prototype, I lined it with silky fabric, so the sketchbook and palette slide in and out easily. Works great!

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    2. Please sell a pattern for us to make our own. I can follow a pattern, but I don't see myself figuring it out on my own.

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  12. If I wrote up instructions for making the sketch kit, would you prefer an actual pattern printed on paper or an e-book? The e-book would be instantly downloadable, and there wouldn't be any shipping charges. I could have lots of photos and diagrams to make everything really easy to understand. Also, there could be clickable links to online suppliers for various notions and supplies required. And the whole document could be printed on your home computer if you want a paper copy.

    What do you think?

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    1. I would purchase either one! But the e-book is a great instant gratification idea. :)

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  13. An ebook would be a wonderful idea. This is such an incredible design, I'd love to make one for my backpack!!

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  14. Oh my, after spending a over half an hour re-reading your post and studying your photos (figuring I could work it out for my own liking) I scroll to the bottom and see you're really thinking of offering instructions for sale.
    Phew, what a time saver.
    E-book-type written instructions is fine. Personally I don't need a pattern and would prefer to measure it off myself rather cut it out around a pattern.
    Super idea, I'd buy one pronto!
    Thank you so much!

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  15. Okay, as soon as time permits, I will write up complete instructions for making the kit. I think my trip to Italy will probably show me a few revisions I need to make, then I'll work on the step-by-step instructions. I promise I'll do it! An e-book is coming!

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    1. Wahoo about the e-book !!! Enjoy your trip to Italy.....wishing you many creative moments and wonderful painting opportunities !

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  16. What a great idea! One question: Do you have to dry out the watercolors in the palette so they don't leak or run into each other?

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    1. I squirt tube watercolors into the wells and let them dry for a day or two before closing the palette. Just spritz them with water when you're ready to paint to soften them a bit.

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  17. Wow.... this is so clever!!! You've thought of EVERYTHING!! Very cool! Have a wonderful time!

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  18. I want one! If anybody makes them, I would love to buy one (my sewing skills require a GLUE GUN!).
    Love your posts.... thank you for your generousity with sharing your gifts.
    Diana

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  19. It's beautiful and practical. I wish I had one for my art supplies... Maybe one day

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  20. I absolutely love your idea! So ingenious! Do you make these to sell? This is exactly what I am looking for. Something to keep all my supplies in one place. Thanks!

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    1. No, Paige, I don't sell these. I just made one for myself, but I may decide to make some to sell one day, or publish a pattern for the kit. I'm hoping to work on that sometime soon. If you subscribe to my blog, you'll be notified of all new posts, so you'll have a heads-up when the pattern or kit is available.

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  21. I would buy the pattern too! And I would definitely want it to be downloadable. What a great idea!

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  22. Oh my, this is fantastic!!! Functional and beautiful, thank you for sharing your talent.

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  23. I would love to have an e-book pattern for this!

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  24. I vote for an actual pattern, maybe an adobe document? I hope you are still considering this idea (and the Italy trip was wonderful!)

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  25. Wondering if you've been able to get a pattern together for this. I would love to make this for Christmas. Just wondering :-)

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    1. No pattern yet. It's still on my to-do list, but life has gotten in the way of my good intentions..

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  26. Hi, Leslie. I'm just curious how you fared with this organizer in Italy. Did the layout work for you? Is there anything you changed (besides the silky lining) in your second kit? I'm taking my sketching supplies on vacation this year for the first time, and I cannot find anything that makes sense for what I want to take. So I was thinking of attempting a similar organizer and was wondering how this worked in the field for you. Are you still using it?

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    1. The kit worked really well, and I carried it in my backpack quite a lot on my Italy trip. I still use it when I travel and when I go out sketching at home. One thing I added after I wrote the blog post was an extra piece of thin, stiff plastic that I store inside the large pocket that holds the palette or sketchbook. When I'm sitting on my camp stool to sketch, I open the sketch kit and stand it up next to me, then pull out the extra plastic piece and sit it on top of the kit to make a little table for my palette and water cup. That way everything is up off the ground and easy to access. It's a really useful feature. When I had trouble finding really thin, lightweight plastic, I ended up buying a cheap poster frame at Walmart, cutting it to the size I needed and putting two layers together with double-stick tape. It works just fine.

      The one thing I would change about the sketch kit the next time I make one would be to make the slots for the pencils and pens wider. I found that the larger spaces are more useful than the ones that only hold one pen. With the single-width spaces, there's wasted space where you can't quite squeeze in another pen, but it's more space than you need for just one. The larger spaces make more efficient use of the space.

      I have to admit that when time was limited on my Italy trip, I sometimes didn't take the whole kit with me but carried just a pencil, pen, and eraser plus my sketchbook. But when I had time to paint, the kit functioned, and continues to function, very well.

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    2. Thanks for the detailed response, Leslie! Good to know!

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  27. This is a wonderful design! I was wondering if quilters template plastic would work for the insert. It comes in a couple of weights. I am assuming that you haven't had time to figure out th pattern yet. I love the fact that you did this! I was going to make some cases for my grands to hold pencils, but was delighted to find some already finished! I do not do well with making multiples of anything, either... except for cookies!

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    1. Kathleen - Sorry I neglected to respond to your comment! I think quilter's template plastic would not be stiff enough for this application. I'm working on gathering materials to do the pattern, and I found sheets of clear acrylic at Hobby Lobby that I think will work. I keep intending to work on this pattern, but I'm so busy with classes that it keeps getting put on the back burner. One of these days!

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  28. I have just read this post and am totally inspired now to take a proper kit out with me. Having something to put everything in and not having to repack items every time is definitely a bonus. Please let me know when you do the e-book pattern.

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  29. I've just found your blog thanks to the link posted in Urban Sketchers FaceBook site. I'd like to know what you use to stiffen the interior of the covers of your kit? Is it a fusible stiffener? (the name of the product I'm thinking of has slipped my mind) I hope a pattern will be forthcoming soon. I've looked high & low on the internet & asked fellow sketchers what bag/carrier they use but have found nothing that appeals to me yet except your clever design.

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    1. On the one shown in this post, I used a fairly stiff decorator fabric which was probably originally intended for upholstery. It didn't require any further stiffening. There is also a sheet of thin but rigid plastic inside each half of the kit which gives it the support it needs to stand up.

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  30. While I hope one day to make a bag as nifty as this one, at the moment I ended up purchasing a bag for my travel kit through Amazon -- It's an A5 Stationery bag, made by LihitLab in Japan. While it took a month or so to get here, the price was good and I can fit all of my standard supplies without much fuss. It's not nearly so pretty, but it manages to do the job! :D I'll still be keeping an eye on this post, though -- I really want to try making one of your bags for myself! I get giddy over the thought of having a bigger mixing area and a larger watercolour sketchbook.

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  31. Count me in, too, for an e-book pattern- and thanks so much for sharing your art and ideas.

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  32. Hello. I found this randomly on Instagram and think it's brilliant. Well done! I can sympathize with you not wanting to spend your life sewing these things, but it's a shame if you don't find a way to make money off of your design. It has both function and charm. --Lori

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  33. Still hoping for a pattern of some sort since I can't sew and would need to have someone make it for me. It looks Very functional.

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  34. Do you have a pattern that one could purchase?

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    1. No, I haven't made a pattern for it. Too many other irons in the fire.

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