When I first started sketching, my materials changed often, but now I seem to have found my favourites and most of the time these are the things I reach for first. Or rather the ones I find that I can’t be without.
The list below is what I carry in my bag on most days. If I am working on a larger plein air painting, I would add an easel to this list, and probably a bigger water container. My travel easel is the Eric Michaels En Plein Air Pro. If I’m not sketching in my car, I also carry a folding stool of some sort.
Raphael Petit Gris Pur, series 803, no. 7: A big floppy brush that’s great for skies, large washes and foreground texture
Da Vinci Casino, 498, no. 4: This one holds a lot of wash and comes to a fine point. It’s a great all-purpose brush.
Grumbacher 6143 Aquarelle, 1″ Kolinsky sable flat: This brush is a vintage treasure, and one of my favourites, but I think it’s discontinued. It holds lots of water, covers big areas of paper, is great for painting straight edges and the angled handle is ideal for scraping into wet areas.
Nevskaya Palitra Kolinsky sable 1113, no. 6: I bought this one in Singapore because I needed a good all-purpose, high quality round sable brush. It holds lots of wash and comes to a good point. A necessity, really, but a sable/synthetic blend like an Escoda Versatil would do the same thing. If I could only have one brush on a desert island, it would be this one. But in a bigger size.
Rosemary & Co Sable Blend Series 772, 1/2″: This is a new addition to my brush case. I love it for painting the shapes of foliage when a round brush just doesn’t cut it. Great for brush drawing too because it comes to a good point and makes wonderful swirls and waves.
Colorpro Series 4400 Taklon/Squirrel, no. 8: This brush (also purchased in Singapore) has an odd shape but it’s very useful for drawing branches because it holds a lot of water but comes to a thin point like a rigger.
Cheap Joes Scroogy Loose Goose, no. 3: Another great brush for drawing branches and foliage. It has a mind of its own when put to paper.
Cheap Joes Regal Rigger, no. 5: I use a rigger in almost every sketch that has power lines. If you have trouble mixing up enough wash for this, use a bigger brush for creating a puddle of wash and then dip the rigger into the puddle.
Mechanical pencil: I use pencils that I buy at MUJI stores. I just like the way these feel in my hand, but you can use any mechanical pencil that feels right for you. The leads in these are 2B, 005.
Platinum Carbon Desk Pen with Platinum Carbon ink cartridges: This pen is really not meant for being carried around. That’s why it’s called a “desk” pen. It’s meant to sit in a holder, but I love the extra-fine nib because it’s super flexible and fine enough for wiggly lines. The cartridges seem to last forever so I don’t fill this pen with bottled ink.
Lamy Safari Pen: This is a favourite of many urban sketchers. I don’t find it flexible enough for most drawings but I like it when I need to thicken up the lines or emphasize something.
Micron Black Pens: I used to use these more often, but now I alternate with the Platinum Carbon pen. Different weights might be useful but the 005 is very fine and seems to be my preference. My only complaint is that the tiny nib wears out before the pen runs dry.
Koi brush: I use this brush (with a built-in water reservoir) when I want to travel very light or can’t carry water, like in an airport or museum. It’s perfect for using with water-soluble markers or pens, but it’s not my preference for painting because it doesn’t carry a good wash.
Bulldog clips: You need these for windy days when the sketchbook pages flap and fly about.
Kneaded rubber erasers: These don’t damage soft watercolour paper like pink or white erasers might.
Palette and colours:
My main palette is the Alvin Heritage Palette. It has a big mixing area, holds 18 colours and has a rubber seal that keeps paints fresh. It comes shipped with a plastic tray but I discarded it because water seeps underneath it and gets all muddy. When I want to travel really light, I use the tiny Van Gogh palette with 12 pans. The colours aren’t exactly what I would normally use but it’s good to have variety sometimes. Plus there’s white and black in there. I also carry tiny Nalgene bottles because they don’t leak in my bag. Unless I forget to close them properly.
My preference is to use tube colours, not little pans which have a tendency to dry out. I change the colours quite often in my palette but currently they are (in order, from top to bottom): Quinacridone Gold, Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Medium, Pyrrol Orange, Quinacridone Rose, Organic Vermillion, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Teal, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Phthalo Green, Carbazole Violet, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber.
Paper and sketchbooks:
If you have to skimp on something, don’t let it be paper. Use the best you can afford. I paint on blocks, in sketchbooks and on loose sheets (taped to a plexi backing board). The watercolour paper I use most often is Arches or Fabriano, 140 lb cold press, bright white. My preferred sketchbooks are made by Global Art Materials. For watercolour, I like the linen-covered Travelogue Watercolor Artist Journals in either 8.25″ square format or portrait format (10.5″ x 8.25″). For drawing I use the Travelogue Artists Journals (red cover) which have a creamy paper that’s great for both ink and pencil, and come in many formats. For quick little paintings I also love the Fluid Watercolor Paper blocks, 8″ x 8″, shown here with the orange cover.