When I first started sketching, my materials changed often, but now I seem to have settled on my favourites — the paints, brushes, paper and other tools I reach for first. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not open to trying new tools. In fact, I experiment with unfamiliar art materials all the time. But the ones listed below are my essentials. You’ll find three sections below: One for supplies I carry around in my sketch bag, a second for studio and plein air painting, and a third section for painting with gouache.
If you were to catch me while I’m sketching, here’s what you’d find in my bag on most days. (If I’m not sketching in my car, I also carry a folding stool of some sort, as well as sunscreen, bug spray and two water bottles.)
I use a travel palette from FOME which I have modified so it can accommodate more than the original twelve half pans. You can see how I customized it here. I like this palette because it has several mixing areas as well as a handy ring for my thumb on the bottom. It might be hard to find where you live, but here’s a link to a similar one.
The colours in my travel palette, from left to right:
Top Row: Quinacridone Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red Deep, Transparent Orange, Quinacridone Gold, Hansa Yellow Deep.
Middle Row: Carbazole Violet, Lavender, Cobalt Violet Light, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre.
Bottom Row: Phthalo Green, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Turquoise Blue.
Right Side: Permanent Magenta, Cobalt Green, Chromium Black.
If you’re interested in knowing the brands, the tubes are below, photographed in almost the same order as the placement in the palette.
I use three travel brushes from Rosemary & Co. I like them because they hold lots of wash and come to a good point. If you want to carry just one of these, I would recommend the R3.
Rosemary & Co Squirrel Mop Travel Brush R14
Rosemary & Co Pure Kolinsky Travel Brush Size 10 R3
Rosemary & Co Pure Kolinsky Rigger Size 6 R5
Mechanical pencil: I use pencils that I buy at MUJI stores, simply because I like the way they feel in my hand (however, I’m not sure if these are still available), but you can use any mechanical pencil that feels right for you. The leads in my pencil are 2B, .05mm.
Pens: When I’m out sketching, I also like to draw with permanent pens, usually quite fine. My two favourites these days are the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen and the Platinum Carbon Desk pen, which I fill with Carbon Ink cartridges.
Brush Pen (not shown): I like the Pentel Brush pens with permanent ink. I use these often for drawing people in cafés.
White Gel Pen: These are great for adding fine white lines to boat rigging, the mullions of windows, and for other details.
Bulldog clips: You’ll need these on windy days when your sketchbook pages flap and fly about.
Kneaded rubber erasers: These don’t damage soft watercolour paper like pink or white erasers might.
Small spray bottle: I often give my paints a little spritz to freshen them up.
Small metal ruler: I use this when I’m drawing small vignettes in my sketchbook
Studio Painting Supplies
For larger studio or plein air paintings, I use a Holbein Enamelled Steel Folding Palette with 24 slots for colour and a handy thumb hole. This palette is really well designed and rests on my arm when I’m standing to paint.
The colours I’ve filled it with are somewhat different from my small sketching palette. New additions are Lavender, Naples Yellow and Cobalt Green — all opaque colours that are fun to play with.
Top row: Hansa Yellow Light, Hansa Yellow Deep, Naples Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Orange, Cadmium Red Deep, Quinacridone Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.
Bottom Row: Turquoise Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, Leaf Green, Oxide of Chromium, Phthalo Green, Cobalt Green, Lavender, Cobalt Violet Light, Carbazole Violet.
If you’re interested in knowing the brands, I’ve photographed the tubes are below in the same order as the placement in the palette.
Studio/Plein Air Painting Brushes
Rosemary Rigger Red Dot Size 2 Like the liner brush below, this one is great for fine lines and details.
Da Vinci Casaneo Inlaid Liner series 5599, # 10 Wonderful for branches, rigging, wires and other details. I have several sizes of these.
Rosemary Kolinsky Sable Series 33, Size 12 Everyone needs one amazing round brush and for me this is it! It has a great point and holds tons of wash.
Da Vinci Casaneo #4 Mop Great for big washes and for getting texture on rough paper, if used with not too much wash. I have several sizes of these.
Jackson’s 1″ Icon Sable/Synthetic Flat Flats are great because they hold lots of water, cover big areas of paper, and are ideal for painting straight edges.
If you want more info about how I use different brushes, have a look at my free video My Five Favourite Watercolour Brushes.
Paper and Sketchbooks
If you need 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 plexiglass or coroplast backing board). The watercolour paper I use most often is Arches or Fabriano, 140 lb cold press or rough, bright white. My preferred sketchbooks are made by Etchr and Handbook Journal Co. I tend to work large so the smallest book I have is 8″ square. The Etchr books are all in A4 format.
If you’re new to gouache, I invite you to take my online course, Sketching Skies in Gouache. It’s a good introduction to colour mixing and understanding the paint consistency of this versatile medium.
Gouache brush set
It’s a pleasure to partner with Jack Richeson & Co, a family-owned fine art supplier, for this brush set. The Plein Air Brush Set contains a variety of round and flat brushes, perfect for carrying in a small sketch bag. I love it because the kit has an easel back, so it stands up on its own, so the brushes are always within easy reach. The brush kit also comes packaged with a great viewfinder that I always carry with me when I go out sketching. This set is available on at Judson’s Art Outfitters.
When painting in gouache in studio, I use a STA-WET palette and a separate Jasper mixing tray. This palette has an integrated sponge to keep your paint wet for a long time — unless, like me, you sometimes forget to put the cover back on!
The gouache colours I use most often are Permanent White, Zinc White, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Spectrum Violet, Primary Magenta, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Phthalo Green and Cobalt Turquoise.
Since I sometimes work on larger plein air paintings, I would add an easel to this list, and probably a bigger water container. My travel easel is the Eric Michaels En Plein AirPro. My gouache easel is from Cup Easel and my sketch easel is from Charlie USk Factory.
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