Let’s welcome the new outdoor sketching season with a little art supplies geekout! I’m always scavenging blogs and YouTube to see what sketching tools other artists are using, and I often use that in lieu of formal product reviews. So far it hasn’t failed me (except when people fail to mention certain ink is not waterproof. That I hate).
2021 update: I published a video on the 5 types of portable sketching kits I use, so check that out for the most current information! Some of my favorite tools have remained the same over the years, but I also discovered new things along the way.
I’ve only mentioned my sketching kit once before on this blog, so I decided to create a post about this topic alone, in case you’re as curious a creature as I am.
This is my day-to-day sketching toolkit that I carry around everywhere, and primarily use at home. Since I’m an art supplies hoarder, I do have a lot of other fancy tools. However, in this post I’m only mentioning my essentials.
My usual sketching set up
Disclaimer: Where applicable, I’m linking products on Amazon using referral links, which means I get a small cut if you purchase any of them. I only refer to products I have personally tested and loved. It also helps me feed my book addiction.
My all-purpose sketchbook is a Canson Art Book Universal (sized 14×21.5cm or 5.5×8.5in). Although the paper is not thick, it can take light watercolor washes with only slight buckling. Ink doesn’t bleed through, and the paper is smooth. I’ve gone through 2 of these already, and I’ll be coming back for more. (I also wrote a detailed post why I love this particular sketchbook.)
There are others I use less often: a small Moleskine watercolor sketchbook that contains exclusively sketches from life, regular Moleskine sketchbook (bought once and never again, I hate the paper) and a Handbook Journal that I got as a gift, which I find quite nice (I used it for my Month of Fairies project).
I have a small pencil case where I crammed in as much tools as it can hold. Occasionally I vary the contents, based on what I plan to draw, but on most days this is what’s inside:
From left to right: Pentel Aquash waterbrush, flat brush, red lead mechanical pencil, regular mechanical pencil, lead holder, Sakura Micron pen, Pentel pocket brush pen and a Uni white gel pen.
I do most of my initial sketching with a regular mechanical pencil. When I draw exclusively in graphite, I use this really old lead holder my mom had in school, along with 4B carbon leads.
Red mechanical pencil
One day I was browsing an online stationery shop and noticed they leads can come in a variety of colors — red, blue, green, purple… and I absolutely had to have them! So I bought a pack of red leads, and I’ve been happily using them since.
I use them as a sort of substitute for “non-photo blue”. I sketch guidelines, rough shapes etc, before I go over with a graphite pencil or ink. Once I scan the drawing, I can easily remove the red lines in Photoshop without messing up the rest of the sketch. And also, I sometimes sketch in red just for the fun of it.
Brush pens are one of my favorite drawing tools ever. I love expressive ink strokes that only brushes can give you. To have that with a convenience of a pocket pen is amazing.
Pocket pen is medium-sized, yet it’s fine enough to make even very delicate details. The ink is waterproof so it’s great for a combination with watercolor.
Sadly, the fine regular Fude brush pen is not waterproof, and that’s its only serious drawback. For this reason I use it mostly for lettering, or in case I’m sketching something I know will remain black & white.
The ink flow is slower than the pocket pen so if you sketch fast the strokes are kind of dry, but the ink barrel is flexible so I can press it if I want more ink to run through.
(I talk about brush pens and show examples of work I do with them in this video compilation: My favorite black, white & red mixed media art supplies)
I’m relying on fine-liners less and less, especially if I’m at home (I prefer good old pen nibs), but when I need fine, consistent details I use the finest Sakura Pigma Micron pen 0.2mm.
I keep a white Uni gel pen in my case to write over dark surfaces and fix smaller mistakes made with ink.
Pocket watercolor sets
My main set is a Sakura Koi Field Sketch Set which contains 24 individual colors, a waterbrush, 2 sponges, separate palette you can move around, and a ring at the bottom for a better grip.
I use it at home and when I travel. Although portable, it does add the bulk, so it’s not practical to have it in my purse all the time.
My secondary set is a Van Gogh Watercolor Pocket Box which is a bit more modest: it has 12 colors, a tiny brush, a sponge and the lid doubles as a palette. It’s very light so I can fit it anywhere, and this set of pigments works great for life sketching. (I can’t find it on Amazon anymore because they seem to have come out with a new box design, but from the description the contents appear to be the same.)
When I was just getting started with watercolor, I used a handmade tiny watercolor box (here is a post on my other blog how I made it). I wanted to test how I like sketching in watercolor before I splurge on a more expensive pocket set. It served me well for a while, but I prefer the commercial ones with a larger palette.
I have a set of 3 Pentel Aquash waterbrushes: small, medium and large. I carry the medium size in my pencil case because it’s the most versatile, and the others stay at my studio.
I recently started carrying a small flat brush as well, so I can create more consistent areas of solid color. These two cover the most of my needs, since I work small when sketching.
In my set I also carry a kneadable eraser wrapped in plastic, a small piece of a paper towel to wipe paint from my waterbrush, and a small clip.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this little "behind the scenes", and if you want to know more about my tools and processes, feel free to suggest it in the comments.
You might also like these other posts and videos:
- VIDEO: 5 types of portable sketching kits I use: watercolor, minimal, travel kit & more
- VIDEO: My favorite black, white & red mixed media art supplies
- My 6 favorite mixed media art journal & sketchbook techniques
- What’s the best sketchbook out there?
- Sketching with fountain pens
- VIDEO: Sketchbook tour compilation: Watercolor & mixed media
What’s in your sketching kit?
Do you have some of the same tools I do? Or are there other tools you love?
Please share, because I’m always on the lookout! :)
P.S. Still don’t have a sketchbook? Or you have one but not sure what to do with it? Read Why I Think Every Visual Creative Should Keep A Sketchbook.
If you’d like to see more posts featuring drawings from my sketchbook, check them out here.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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