Reviewing my sketching kit in preparation for our Travel Sketching workshop in Tuscany in May. My most important consideration in selecting my materials is to keep my kit as simple, compact and lightweight as possible. All the items below, except for the sketchbook fit in a small pencil case.
My preference is for a hardback watercolour sketchbook in a size A5. The hard cover allows you to work without a table or board, and the size is compact, while allowing for a larger spread across 2 pages. These are my favourites:
Stillman and Birn Zeta 5.5 x 8.5in
Stillman and Birn have a wide range of sketchbooks offering a choice of paper surface – cold pressed or smooth, lightweight or heavier. My preference is the Zeta range – the smooth hot pressed paper is best suited for pen drawing and heavy enough for watercolour washes. The stitched hardbound book allows for painting across 2 pages
Available from jacksonsart.com
Watercolour Book A5 from Evans Art Supplies
Photo shows the Watercolour Notebook on top, the Zeta Sketchbook below, to compare the format. This is the only compact hardbound watercolour sketchbook that I’ve been able to find in a local art store. Most loose leaf watercolour pads won’t work well as a sketchbook as they can fall apart, or need to have individual sheets torn out. This sketchbook has good quality watercolour paper, the only drawback being it’s wide landscape format, compared to the portrait format of the Zeta sketchbook above. The panoramic format could limit your ability to draw tall structures like buildings.
Moleskine Pocket Sketchbook 9 x 14 cm
In addition to my A5 watercolour notebook, I like to carry this handy pocket size sketchbook, for quick sketches on the go. Smooth, medium weight paper, good for pen and light wash. Available from Amazon, and I’ve also seen it in the National Gallery bookshop
WATERCOLOUR PAN SET
I like to use a small set of 12 half pan colours, and there are many brands to choose from.
Highest artist quality is probably the Schminke Horadam range available from Kennedy Art, Harcourt St (€65 for 12 half pan set)
A more affordable alternative especially if you’re starting out, is the widely available Winsor and Newton Cotman sketcher pocket box, or the Daler Rowney Aquafine range, priced around €20
WATERCOLOUR PENCILS (optional)
These are a handy alternative to a paint set, and there are many brands and options available. You use them like colouring pencils, then add water with a water brush (see below) and watch them jump to life! Depending on the quality they will be more or less soluble, but may leave some pencil lines that won’t completely dissolve. Try them out to see if you prefer them to paints, or you can choose to use both.
Available in most art stores, a water brush has a barrel that can be filled with water and squeezed to release water onto the page. Super handy for immediate use with watercolour pans or pencils.
Most watercolour pan sets will include a small brush. I carry 2 brushes, one a flat watercolour brush with a short handle, about 1cm wide for laying in washes over larger areas of the page, as well as a compact folding brush that fits in my pan set.
A selection of waterproof pens in sizes 0.1, 0.3, 0.5. Widely available in art or stationary stores such as Easons. There are several brands – Pitt, Micron, Staedtler, Unipin, and some are available as a set of 3 or 5 pens – just check that it says “waterproof”, so the ink won’t run when you apply watercolour on top. I’ll usually start a drawing with the finest nib, adding stronger, darker marks later.
I prefer not to use a pencil because it’s hard to keep it from smudging, but I’ve found a pen that marks like a pencil but is smudge proof – the Graphik Line Maker in “graphite” colour, size 0.5, available in Evans Art Supplies.
A white gel pen is useful for adding white detail like windowpanes to your sketch.
Small clip-on dipper for water, to attach to your paintbox
Bulldog clips to hold your page in place
Water bottle, sun visor, backpack or cross body bag
Optional three leg folding camp stool. May be too heavy to carry around, or to include in luggage if you want to avoid checking in a bag on the flight