Friday, March 29, 2013

My Travel Sketching Supplies

In my last post I showed you the fabric organizer that I made to take along on my upcoming trip to Italy. I thought you might like more specifics about what's going in the kit.

If I had to, I could get by with nothing more than a pencil, a Pitt pen and my sketchbook. Sometimes that's all I take when I go out to sketch, but for this trip, I want options. I'd like a good selection of watercolors and brushes, and a few choices when it comes to tools. It may look like a lot when it's all laid out here in the photos, but everything will fit into my compact kit and be easily stashed in my backpack.

First and foremost is the sketchbook. I've decided to take two10" x 7" Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbooks. (Info about where to buy Stillman and Birn sketchbooks can be found here.) The Beta Series contains white 180 lb. cold-pressed paper which doesn't warp when it gets wet or allow ink lines to show through to the reverse side. It should be perfect for my watercolor travel journal. The Beta doesn't usually come in a 10x7 landscape format but when I called Stillman and Birn a few months ago to inquire as to whether they had any plans to offer that size, the wonderful folks there said they'd be happy to make a few for me, just to take on this trip. Can you see why I love this company? Great products and nice people - the perfect combination!

My palette will be a Heritage Folding Palette with 18 wells. It has a leakproof seal and a nice roomy mixing area. I set this one up a few months ago with Brenda Swenson's recommended color selections, and have enjoyed playing around it. I'll have a chance to really get comfortable with some of these new-to-me colors on this trip. The 18 colors in the wells are (from upper left):
Lunar Black
Burnt Sienna
Quinacridone Sienna
Viridian Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Cerulean Blue
Marine Blue
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue Light
Cobalt Violet Light
Rose Violet
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Scarlet Lake
Winsor Orange
Quinacridone Gold
Raw Sienna
Hansa Yellow Medium
Leaf Green

I added a few convenience colors in the upper mixing area:
Sap Green
Olive Green
Payne's Gray
Yellow Ochre (I couldn't bear to leave it behind, even though it's very similar to Raw Sienna)

These paints are a mix of tube colors from Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, American Journey, and Holbein. When filling the wells with paint, I make sure it's level, not mounded, and allow it to dry overnight. When I'm ready to paint, I'll spritz the dry paint with water and allow it to soften a bit.

The brushes below are what I normally use for plein air painting. The rounds are sables from Cheap Joe's, and the flat is Cheap Joe's Golden Fleece. (I usually include a #8 round, also.)  #6 and #8 rounds are what I tend to use the most when I'm sketching outdoors. The tiny #0 is mostly for lettering text and drawing electrical wires or fencing. I sometimes take a rigger brush, too, for painting tree branches.

I have a love/hate relationship with water brushes. The biggest drawback to them is how difficult it is to control the water flow. I also don't care for the quality of the bristles. They may come in handy though, when it's not convenient to set up a water container, so I'll take them along.

Check out my new water container ...

It's a collapsible silicone mug that only weighs 2.1 oz. and collapses down to just 1/2" thick. It will slide right into one of the outside pockets of my sketch kit. It can be expanded to hold just a small amount of water or opened up all the way to hold 16 oz.

Okay, I know you're going to think I'm going overboard with the number of drawing tools I'm packing, but here's the justification for what I'm taking: I usually do a quick preliminary sketch with a mechanical pencil to get the proportions and perspective right, then use my fountain pen to do the actual drawing. But this vacation is primarily a sketching trip, and I think it would be a great time to try doing some sketches with a heavier pencil line like the 4B, and watercolor, but no ink. I'd also like to do a few sketches with the blue-grey and chocolate Derwent watercolor pencils. We'll see if it actually happens.

I only own one type of fountain pen - the Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex pen. That's what I do most of my sketching with here at home and what I plan to use on the trip. But sometimes pens clog or nibs get scratchy or a hundred other things can happen that might make me wish I had brought an alternate means of sketching, so I'm taking a few felt tip pens along, too. Workhorses like the Pigma Micron pens and Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's pens are great for sketching and I'm comfortable using them. I'm sure they will be put to good use.

The white gel pen is for adding highlights that may have been lost in the painting process. I don't use it too often, but sometimes a white accent is just what's needed.

Here are a few odds and ends that I'll throw in the bag...

  • The metal spatter screen is fun and easy to use to add a fine spray of texture to a sketch.
  • The piece of vinyl screening can be loaded with paint and pressed onto the page to add a pattern or texture.
  • The rubber band will hold down the pages of my sketchbook on a windy day.
  • The red acetate value finder is something I should use but rarely do. It simplifies a scene into values of light and dark, eliminating the distraction of color. On this trip, I want to pay more attention to value in my sketches, and this simple tool might help (if I remember to get it out of my bag and use it!)
  • The Noodler's Lexington Gray ink is my favorite for sketching as it's waterproof and fast-drying. I also like that the color is just a tad softer than full-on black. I'll be using this ink to refill my fountain pens.
  • The small sprayer is for rewetting the paints on my palette prior to painting. I also use it to wet the sky area on my paper for wet-in-wet painting.
  • The small tube of white gouache is for adding highlights. I rarely use it, but may take it along.
  • A small piece of old credit card comes in handy to scrape away wet paint for various effects.
  • A 6" plastic ruler helps me lay out pages for a gridded composition.

As if all that weren't enough, I've decided to take along a folding three-legged stool. My painting buddy, Suzie, and I figured we're going to be spending a lot of hours sketching and we might as well be semi-comfortable. It's springtime, and the ground may be wet - best not to be sitting down there with the worms and slugs.

Buddy the cat thinks he might like to come along :)

And the last art supply I'm taking is my cute new hat. It's packable, and has enough of a brim to keep the sun out of my eyes, but doesn't look like beach wear. I think it will be just perfect.

I've been planning for months, now let the fun begin!


  1. Wow! Your diagrams are so orderly, masterpieces in themselves! It's so much fun preparing to travel, yes? Bon voyage et thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. Yes, the anticipation is half the fun. I'm really itching to get going now though. It's good I have the distraction of Easter preparations today and a house full of people tomorrow. Then one day to tie up some loose ends, and I'm off!

      I'm coming to Maine in mid-July. One week in Acadia, then a week in Owls Head. I'm sure I'll be spending some time in the Camden area - want to get together to sketch one day?

    2. Oh my gosh, Yes!! Acadia is one of my favorite places in the whole word! Will you be attending David Dewey's workshop in Owl's Head, by any chance? If you stop in Portland I would enjoy showing you around...

    3. No, I'm not attending a workshop, just spending two weeks sketching on my own. My mom and I are going to Acadia for a week, then meeting up with my daughter and her family in Owls Head. My poor hubbie has to work and will miss out on all the fun!

      I thought you were in the mid-coast area. I'd love to meet up in Portland sometime. I've never had a chance to explore the city. We'll have to see if the timing works out. I'll be in touch.

  2. I can't wait to see Italy through your sketches!

    1. I'll be posting occasionally on Facebook while we're there, then I'll share all my sketches here on my blog when I get home. I hope I'll have lots to show for my two weeks of travel!

  3. Have a wonderful trip, painting & sketching. I look forward to seeing them when you get back. Thanks for giving lots of tips.

  4. There's nothing better than a trip through an artist's sketching kit. Thanks, Leslie. Have a great trip.

    Cheers --- Larry

  5. Loved seeing all of your "sketch goodies". Looks like you'll be well equipped to capture images of Italy on your trip. Can't wait to see your sketches then you return!! Have a wonderful time!!

  6. I love seeing your sketch kit, especially since I am going to Italy in Sept. for the first time. I just got that collapsible mug last month at an REI. It's really handy for picnicking in your hotel room and I discovered it's microwaveable. I never even thought of it for my sketch kit, but of course. We also got the tripod stools last week for our expedition to the Phoenix Botanic Garden but I don't think we will take them to Europe. Must get a white gel pen to try.

  7. Have a blessed, delightful time. An actual sketching trip with a painting buddy!! You both must be giddy. I will be looking forward to seeing Italy through the eyes of you both.

  8. I am so very excited for you and your friend Leslie! Can't wait to see your books when you return! I also totally agree with you on the gray ink instead of black. I wish Pitt Pens or Microns came in a dark gray as well as the black.

  9. I have a Noodler pen, but my Noodler ink bleeds. Does yours ever bleed a little even if it is waterproof depending on the paper? Is it what you use most often for your pen lines? Do you paint over it? Your drawings are lovely!

    1. I think it depends on your paper, but I find that Noodler's Lexington Gray rarely bleeds. If you would apply it very heavily and try to watercolor over it before it has a chance to completely dry though, it might. I can't speak to any of the other colors; I almost always use Lex Gray nowadays. And, yes, I watercolor over the ink drawing.

  10. Is the metal screen with the handle made for watercolor, or did you adapt it from another use? If I may ask, how does that work?

  11. Yes, it's called a spatter screen and it's made for watercolor. You simply mix up the color of paint you want to spatter, paint some onto the screen, then blow through the screen. The paint will spatter onto your paper.

  12. Stumbled across your blog researching some watercolor travel kits, great post! Question, how do you find the folding palette (with tubed paints filled into the wells) compares to a set with hard pans or half-pans? If the folding palette is meant to keep the paints quite wet, did they ever slide around or mix if the palette wasn't kept flat? (I imagine while traveling around it was usually stored upright in a backpack etc.) Or did the paints harden and you were able to use them quite a bit like pans? Thanks!

  13. After I load the palette with tube paints, I leave it open for several days while the paints dry. After they've firmed up, I can close the palette and store it anyway I choose. I've never had a problem with them running or oozing. When I'm ready to paint, I spritz them with water to moisten them, just as you would with pan paints.


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