If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve noticed that I’ve been posting a lot of sketches lately. Sketching is a delightful pastime that also happens to be highly portable, especially if you have a small and simple set of art supplies that can go with you everywhere.
I get a lot of questions about what art supplies I use, so here’s the answer. I’m including links to purchase online, but only because you can see a clear photo of each item. I encourage you to buy your supplies locally! Your local art supply store will be there when you need it–when you run out of ink or paper right before you’re about to head out on a sketching trip–but they can only be there when you need them IF you buy from them all the time! They can order all this stuff.
A mechanical pencil. My favorite: the Pentel Quicker Clicker with a side click button. Buy lots of extra HB refills and store them in the pencil.
OR: An HB drawing pencil and portable sharpener. Or just an ordinary No 2 pencil.
A kneadable grey eraser
BLACK DRAWING PENS—DO NOT GET WATER-SOLUBLE! You want permanent ink.
.8 thickness Steadtler permanent drawing liner (or similar brand)
AND .3 or smaller Steadtler permanent drawing liner (or similar brand)
I love Lamy Safari pens with an extra fine or fine nib (honestly I can’t tell much difference between those two) and the Sailor Fude pen. Note that the cartridges that come with these pens are not waterproof! I get the converter (Lamy and Sailor) and fill them with Platinum Carbon ink because it’s waterproof.
I also have a Platinum Carbon desk pen, which I love for its ultra fine line. The cartridge that comes with this is weirdly not waterproof, so get some extra Platinum Carbon cartridges. These are great because it’s easy to travel with extra cartridges, but I would not travel with a bottle of ink.
I used to be worried about real ink pens leaking on airplanes. It’s never happened to me, but if you’re worried about that, seal them in a ziplock bag during the flight.
BLACK BRUSH PEN
I love the amazing Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.
If you want a cheaper option, get a PERMANENT (not water-soluble) SB (“soft brush”) artist marker in black, such as the Faber-Castell Artist Pen SB.
These grey brush pens are nice for putting in shadows before you do watercolor, but not necessary.
Any good ballpoint writing pen. My favorite: A Pilot G2 or Uniball Signo 307
For practicing, a small (8 x 5 or so) spiral-bound watercolor sketchbook, like Strathmore.
For more finished sketching, the Moleksine watercolor sketchbook (make sure it fits in your bag!) or the square Pentalic sketchbook (and of course you can do bigger horizontal or vertical layouts with a square notebook, too) There are lots of options–just make sure you get paper that is meant to take watercolor.
I also like these blank watercolor postcards. You can tuck just a few in your bag and take them anywhere.
TRAVEL WATERCOLOR KIT
Field Artist Pro kit
Advantages: super portable, ring underneath you can stick your finger through, comes with decent colors, easy to refill pans with solid half-pan or tube watercolors.
Disadvantage: Plastic pans tend to slide around just a bit. I use a little blue earthquake putty to hold them in place, and I’ve replaced the pan colors with my own tube colors.
The Pocket Palette / Artist ToolKit
Made by an artist. Very well thought-out. Designed for tube colors (which you would buy separately and squeeze into the pans, and then let them dry–so you don’t have to travel with the tubes). Good if you think you are really going to get into this and want beautiful tube pigments. This is the one I’m using lately and I love it.
I haven’t tried it, but a lot of people use it.
Eventually you will get tired of the cheap pan watercolors and want real yummy tube watercolors, which you squeeze into the pans and let dry. Daniel Smith is everyone’s favorite–this set would be a good place to start. I would add a sap green, transparent red oxide, yellow ochre, a good purple or shadow violet, cerulean blue, and maybe another color that you just love for no obvious reason. If you want to try before you buy (and have a ridiculous amount of fun) buy the Daniel Smith Dot Cards.
My basic palette right now includes:
• Cobalt blue
• Ultramarine blue
• Prussian blue
• New Gamboge
• Hansa Yellow Medium
• Yellow Ochre
• Pyrrol Orange
• Quinacridone Rose
• Alizarin Crimson
• Sap Green
• Shadow Violet
• Transparent Red Oxide
• Neutral Tint
Any round watercolor brush, size 6, 8, or 10. Synthetic is fine. Don’t get fancy. Here’s one example. Short-handled is better because it fits in your bag. You can also cut off a longer handle.
If you want to get fancy, get yourself the very nice Escoda travel brush (with cap! So useful!)
Or maybe you want to try a fillable watercolor brush like these.
ODDS & ENDS
PAPER TOWELS or if you tend to forget to pick up paper towels like I do, one of those cheap microfiber cleaning cloths (sold next to kitchen sponges in any kind of store). I cut mine into fourths so I can carry less.
BINDER CLIP To hold the pages of your notebook flat in the wind.
SMALL WATERTIGHT BOTTLE for brush cleaning. I use an empty travel-sized shampoo bottle.
A bag to hold it all! Make sure your bag can also hold your phone, wallet, whatever else, and is light enough that you will actually take the whole kit with you when you go places! If it’s too much trouble, you’ll leave it at home.
I’m teaching writing and art classes on Skillshare these days! Go here to see what I’m up to.
A few people have asked me about the online classes I’ve taken, so here are some suggestions:
BluPrint’s sketching classes are wonderful (formerly Craftsy). My favorites are the ones taught by Marc Taro Holmes, Shari Blaukopf, and Suhita Shirodkar. I also love Suma CM’s class about sketching in 15 minutes a day. Steven Reddy’s style is very different from mine, but his approach really helped me figure out interiors. Stephanie Bower’s class is great if you need help with perspective. Look for others by these instructors, not just the ones I’ve linked to.
I also love Liz Steel’s Sketching Now classes, and I admire her so much for producing these herself!
James Richards teaches a great class on Skillshare about drawing people, and you can get two months free with this link.
Finally, Marc Taro Holmes (and many other artists) have great videos on ArtistsNetworkTV. I rented one of these and invited a couple of friends over so we could do them together. Great fun.