I’m an urban sketcher and I love to travel with a lightweight and highly portable sketching kit. This video shows all the art supplies I take with me for travel sketching. Below are a lot of reviews and links for everything in this kit and much more.
Here’s a video of me showing how I juggle these art supplies when I’m out and about in the world.
A mechanical pencil, because it stays sharp. My favorite: the Pentel Quicker Clicker with a side click button. Buy lots of extra HB refills and store them in the pencil.
A kneadable grey eraser.
I use one of these little paint cups to store my eraser in so it doesn’t stick to everything inside my bag.
BLACK DRAWING PENS
LOOK FOR PERMANENT OR WATERPROOF, NOT WATER-SOLUBLE! That way, your ink won’t smear if you paint on top of it.
.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.
For writing in my sketchbook, I’m a big fan of the Micron PN with permanent ink and a slightly flexible tip.
For practicing, a small (8 x 5 or so) spiral-bound watercolor sketchbook. I love this Canson sketchbook with high-quality paper at an affordable price. Here’s another line of Canson Watercolor Sketchbooks that also offer a lot of high-quality watercolor paper at a good price.
For more finished sketching, I like the Moleksine watercolor sketchbook (make sure it fits in your bag!)
This Etchr sketchbook is made with extremely high-quality hot press paper, which is a smooth-textured paper that I prefer because ink flows so well over it. There’s a cold press version as well. These have the added advantage that you can paint on the canvas covers!
Or the square Handbook sketchbook (and of course you can do bigger horizontal or vertical layouts with a square notebook, too) This one comes in many other sizes, too.
Another favorite among urban sketchers is the Stillman & Birn collection, which includes both softcover and hardcover options, with many sizes and choices of papers.
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, easy to refill pans with solid half-pan or tube watercolors. It comes with a starter set of colors that would be OK for a beginner. Here’s an empty one if you want to fill it with your own colors. Notice you can order extra empty pans, which I recommend. That way, when you travel, you can have extra pans that are already filled and ready to go.
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 want an extremely lightweight kit, which I do! This is the one I’m using and I love it.
I haven’t tried this one yet, but it looks awfully nice and the paints are top-notch.
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 if you just want six colors, or if you’d like a bigger set, try this one.
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
• Phthalo Turquoise
• 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. Some sketchers cut the toes out of an old athletic sock and slip it over their wrist.
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 like this one.
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. These kits from Art ToolKit are pretty cool.
ONLINE URBAN SKETCHING ART CLASSES
I’m teaching writing and art classes on Skillshare and Udemy these days! Go here to see all my online courses.
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 a free trial 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.