My most minimal kit

Yesterday I posted a drawing that I had done while waiting for someone at the hospital. A few people wanted to know what was in the smallest kit that I carry in my purse for sketching while waiting. Instead of describing it, I took a few photos for a show and tell.

I have lots of small sketchbooks that are “in progress”. That means that they are not the A4 size ones that I use for full colour sketches, but rather ones for doing value sketches, jotting down ideas or throwing in my bag for days when I know I will be waiting somewhere for a few minutes and may have time for a quick drawing. These books are full of warm-up drawing, bad drawings and scribbles. The stuff sketchbooks are made for.

The books I like best for this are the softcover series by Stillman & Birn. They are very light and the paper is excellent for drawing and light washes. The one I used yesterday was an 8″ x 8″ Beta. The paper in that one is fairly thick and it takes wash well without warping.

I also take along a pencil bag that I bought years ago from Muji. It’s transparent, which allows me to find stuff quickly, and it’s pretty durable too. Of course, there are bags like this everywhere, including at my local dollar store.

In the photo above are the necessities that I carry in the bag when I know I have no time to paint, just to draw. Of course there are duplicates, so the bag looks a little fuller, plus there’s a pencil sharpener in there which takes up lots of space.

So, from left:

  • A Derwent Line Maker permanent pen
  • A white Gelly Roll pen for white lines
  • A Platinum Carbon desk pen with Platinum carbon ink in the cartridge
  • A brush pen with black water-soluble ink
  • A brush pen with black permanent ink
  • A Pitt Artist Pen, Black (assorted sizes in bag)
  • A mechanical pencil with a 2B lead
  • A tiny spray bottle
  • A tiny travel brush
  • A 6″ metal ruler for making vignettes

A good addition to this would be a water-soluble graphite pencil or a Art Graf block to get grey tones quickly with a little water. A water-brush with a reservoir would also be useful.

Today I was out painting with friends at the Fort de Chambly — a beautiful spot just south of Montreal with an old French fort. It’s right on the water and surrounded by trees and parkland. We painted in the shade, on the water side, and my sketch was done in watercolour and gouache. I add a blob of white gouache to my regular palette and I’ve included a photo of what the palette looks like at the end. Quite a mess, with lots of white paint on top of the watercolour, but with a quick rinse in the sink, it’s back to its pristine self.

12 Comments on “My most minimal kit”

  1. Beaumont Nancy says:

    Thanks! Nancy



  2. Always great to be prepared. Have tools; can sketch! Thanks for the peak into your kit.

    Regards Mary (Molly) Harvey



  3. Equipped with supplies.


  4. Betsy says:

    What do you do about duplicates and sizing up your kit for longer or more intensive sessions? I seem to end up with multiple bags and pencil boxes, all in various states of jumbled half-readiness, and always having to re-sort and re-assemble a kit right on my way out the door, which kind of ruins the spontaneity (and the whole point of being prepared with a grab-and-go kit).

    Or, I’ll “just add one or two Prismacolors” and before you know it, most of my prismacolors or neocolor wax crayons aren’t in their boxes in the studio, they’re rolling around in my various jumbled larger or smaller sketch kits, and nothing is where I need it! *Laugh and sigh* If you have any good way of handling similar challenges, I’d love to know about it.


    • HI Betsy, Your comments made me laugh. That sounds so much like me. I have several solutions for the problems you are mention. 1: If I know that I will be sketching the next morning, I get my bag ready the night before. I did that for many years when I sketched on my way to work when I was teaching in a college. And if I knew how much time I had, I would know what to pack. 2: I have lots of smaller kits, palettes, etc so I can grab little bits of things and put them together. 3: This is a recent development but one that helps me a lot. In my studio I have drawers for pens, drawers for paint tubes (organized in bins by colour), drawers for misc. stuff like erasers. 4: I have several different sketch bags depending on whether I will be driving or walking. The walking bag has a great shoulder strap that takes the weight off my bag. I also have a rolling bag for air travel and for carrying my easel.
      I am organized but it has taken my many years to develop these systems, and fortunately I have a large studio space for storage of all these things. But I find that if I know where everything is, it makes it so much easier to get out the door with what I want. Does that help??


      • Betsy says:

        Oh, yes, it does!! Wonderful suggestions. Thank you for sharing these.

        I think some in-studio organizing time to do some things along these lines will help me, as will cleaning out some different sizes of kits and bags.


  5. jameswebbart says:

    Love the pictures of the “stuff” you always carry around as well as the watercolor/watercolor palette. The painting of the old fort in which you’ve yet again instinctively captured the mass as well as the depth of the scene. What really caught my eye is the vertical division of the scene that’s almost centered on the page which for this scene is perfect. I invite you in visiting my blog site which I’m using for training purposes till I launch my WORDPRESS site next month.
    My blog on “the artist”. Is a little collection of anecdotal life experiences growing up. I am a little handicapped, however, the heavy duty walker I use is a mobile studio which I can set up anywhere I go.


  6. Julana says:

    You have such a wonderful range of landscapes to draw from, up there. So appreciate seeing all of them.


  7. Tracy says:

    I really love the Platinum Carbon pen, but had to take it out of my “grab and go” plein air kit because it leaks at higher elevations. That makes it fine for use at home, but on the weekends I’m often in the Cascades at 4-6,000+ ft in elevation. The Micron Pigma pens hang in there and elevation and I carry the 003 and a couple other sizes in black and sepia. It’s so much fun to see people’s mini plein air kits!


  8. Donna says:

    Thanks for all this info. Will add some of the drawing tools since that’s what I’m doing lately.


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