Sketching kits for portable sketching on the go
How to choose the perfect tools for portable sketching - drawing supplies for beginners, hobbysts and professional artists
Sketching is a fun activity that doesn't have to be reserved for closed spaces - you can carry a sketchbook and some drawing tools with you at all times, in your pocket, purse or a fanny pack. You can sketch whenever you have a minute to spare, so make sure you're prepared!
I present some of my favorite drawing tools for urban sketching, and feature other seasoned artists' portable sketching tools of choice.
Some of these kits are very basic and cheap, and maybe you already have them at home.
NOTE: Images and texts presented here are my own original copyrighted creation, unless otherwise noted. Please do not use them without my permission.
Choosing a sketchbook - There is no "perfect sketchbook". There are only "perfect sketchbooks"
What I mean is, a sketchbook can suit you or not based on what media you use. I wrote a lengthy article How to choose the perfect sketchbook which outlines all the possible choices you may have to make when picking up a new sketchbook - but it still doesn't tell you which one. You have to make your own choice. Besides, I'm still experimenting myself.
I currently have 6 sketchbooks I actively use, depending on which bag I carry and what I intend to sketch. Some of them have become my favorite, and others I have bought for the first and the last time.
Sketchbook reviews and comparisons
5.3 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches, 72 pages
Good for water based media like watercolor and ink. Has light texture.
Thicker paper suitable for dry media, ink and and gouache.
Hardcover Sketch Book 5.5" x 8" size. 220 Pages (110 Sheets) of 65lb paper. White, Acid-Free Sketch Paper is perfect for all dry media.
If you're a perfectionist like me, better get a cheaper sketchbook you will not hesitate to use often, than a fancy expensive sketchbook you will be afraid to "ruin" with "bad sketches".
The ascetic kit: a small sketchbook and pen - Ballpoint pen, fountain pen or brush pen - whichever you prefer
This was my first kit that had served me well for several years. I carry it with me at all times because I don't want to be in a situation where I have a great idea for artwork and have to scribble on bar receipts.
I prefer ballpoint pen to pencil because it doesn't smudge, and pressure sensitivity is good enough for sketches.
I personally like black ballpoint pen best, but I also used red a lot for accents. Ballpoint pens come in a variety of colors, so you can pick your favorite!
A lot of artists prefer fountain pen - I haven't used fountain pen because I can't find any good ones locally, but this is another great option, especially if you like ink. You can find fountain pen ink in various colors as well so whether you like the blackest black or sepia - you'll have no trouble finding it.
Brush pen is my new favorite sketching tool - more about it below.
Pentel Kanji Fude pocket Brush Pen review
Product description: Create fine or broad lines; Permanent pigment ink; Portable and refillable.
I have recently bought a Pentel Kanji Fude pocket brush pen. I have completed several small quick illustrations exclusively with this brush pen and I can say I really enjoy it. It's now in my purse all the time. It can create both fine details (when handled carefully) and wide strokes that fill up a surface quickly.
Here are some examples of my brush pen art:
- Flora and Fauna doodle
- Spider lady
- Fragment of Dominican monastery in Rijeka
- Poison fairy
- Dry stone wall
- Beach bar Pajol sketch
- At the Chinese restaurant
I have found that this brush pen does not bleed to the reverse side of the page of my thin sketchbook unlike some ink pens I own. Dark shapes are visible through thin pages, but the page is still usable.
Other people who have been using it for years claim it has never dried, even after not being used for months, so I expect it to be my faithful companion for years to come.
Mini sketching kit: pencil, brush pen and fine-liner
I love drawing with ink, so Pentel pocket brush pen is an excellent tool for me - but getting consistent thin line with it is difficult so I threw in a fine-liner as well. You can substitute a fine-liner with fountain pen - I don't have one, but if I did that's what I'd use.
I take a 2H pencil with me so I can draw a light sketch and get the proportions right before I commit to inking, and of course an eraser.
Small sketching kit: Watercolor pencils, waterbrush and brush pen
My former favorite sketching kit is an Ivory black watercolor pencil, a medium Pentel waterbrush and a brush pen. This media combination works even in my small sketchbook with thin papers which was not intended for water-based media. I mostly worked in shades of gray and black only, but sometimes I added a couple of flesh toned pencils for portraits, or you can use sepia instead of black.
You can also select a limited palette depending on your subjects. Watercolor pencils are very versatile, and you can buy them one by one as you need them.
James Gourney: Kitchen Table Portraits
James Gourney: Water-Soluble Pencil
Holly's Crafty Cuts: Easy sketching on the go
Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush review
I've been using Pentel waterbrushes for a few months now. I'm now using them on a daily basis - with regular pan or tube watercolors, and with watercolor pencils.
Pentel waterbrush comes in 3 sizes: Small, Medium and Large. Each has a fine tip and is made of synthetic fibers. The brush handle is a small water tank, which makes it an excellent portable sketching tool.
One fill is enough for several medium sized paintings (depending on your use).
Waterbrushes are not meant to completely replace regular brushes - the water flow can be a bit too much sometimes, so you might still want to use a regular brushes for more complex work. But they're wonderfully practical, and they make painting gradients very easy.
For more information read this wonderful article that helped me a lot: Observations on the Waterbrush
Tip: if you don't have a waterbrush
Or decide you like your regular brushes better, get an eyedropper bottle to carry water with you and wet your brushes with. You can get it at a pharmacy for cheap in various sizes.
Watercolor pencils set and waterbrushes - ...plus optional tools of your choice
If you have enough room in your bag to take a whole set of pencils, you have everything you need for producing full-color drawings!
I would take this set with me when I'd go on a several days long trips, along with waterproof fine-liners. Trips like these always offer some free time for sketching so you should definitely not go without your drawing supplies.
Watercolor pencils work on most papers because they don't need as much water. My thin, small sketchbook handles them very well. If you don't like the messy watercolors, this is a great alternative - combination of precision color pencils give, with colour mixing capabilities not present in regular color pencils.
Katherine Tyrrell: A portable sketching kit
Buy a set of watercolor pencils
Crayons are a little thicker than the regular pencils which makes color application faster, and you get a bonus - a Pentel waterbrush included in the set.
This customized zippered carrying case features 12 watercolor pencils, a taklon brush, a pencil, an eraser, a sharpener, and a watercolor pad. Perfect for class, travel, or keeping your studio organized.
Portable watercolor sketching kit
I have a Sakura Koi watercolor field sketch set with 24 colors. There are other commercial kits of various sizes available, or you can make your own (more on that below).
Field sets offer practicality, and you still get to use the same tools you would at home. This is now my new travel set, I like it much better than the watercolor pencils because the coloring process is much faster, and mixing shades is a breeze.
Alisa Burke: sketching 101
James Gourney: Tiny Landscape Nuts and Bolts
Sakura pocket field sketch set demonstration
Look at the videos to get a feeling for size of these sets :)
More portable watercolor sketching kits - If you're looking for famous brands, here is a selection of Winsor & Newton Cotman pocket sets
A very compact box with student-grade watercolors from the Cotman series. It's very basic, just paint, 2 palettes (a flat one and a deeper mixing pan) and a collapsible pocket brush. Contains 8 colors and you can attach the palettes in various ways.
Everything you need for field sketching in a single box - paint, water basin and a water bottle, a couple of palettes and a pocket brush. Contains 12 colors.
What a great present for the artist you love - it contains literally EVERYTHING - watercolor set with student-grade paint, water bottle, pocket brush, a watercolor sketchbook, a pencil and a kneaded eraser. There is more room in the bag to fit your own favorite supplies.
Handmade watercolor sketching kit - For crafty people on a budget
It's very easy to create your own watercolor palette from a small metal or a plastic box, and a few additional tools. Popular choice is Altoids tin box, pill boxes, eyeshadow palettes, cigarette cases.. just about anything of the right size can be re-purposed into a watercolor palette with more or less work.
I made my own tiny palette out of Durex Lovebox (the only thing I could find locally, since Altoids aren't sold where I live), polymer clay and acrylic spray paint. It measures 6.5 x 6.5 x 1.8 cm and can hold 9 colors about the size of half pans. You can see my process of making a watercolor box, or see others I've listed below.
Some people also fit their brush and other tools inside the box, but I'm carrying a pencil case with all I need.
If you want to try to make one, below are some step by step projects.
How to make your own mini watercolor box
Other options for sketching on the go
Of course I haven't covered all possible options! I only mentioned those I have tried myself and know for sure to be very effective. Experiment for yourself, and add your own opinions in the guestbook below.
Some other tools you can carry with you...
- Graphite pencils
- Color pencils
- Sketch markers
- Colored ballpoint pens
- Black and white sketching pencil and a sketchbook with toned paper
My sketching kit in action during my vacation
Along with the drawing tools of choice and a sketchbook, you might need some other items to keep thinks neat and orderly while you sketch in all kinds of conditions:
- paper towels or handkerchiefs
- office clips for holding your sketchbook pages in place, etc.
- adhesive tape, just in case
- adhesive putty
Big Fat Sketch Kit by Carole Pivarnik
More in depth information about field sketching
A one-of-a-kind, art-filled how-to guide geared to wildlife students and naturalists, based on the author s college course.
Hints and advice for outdoorspeople with even limited artistic skills.
- More than 25 hands-on exercises to help you personalize your journal while developing new ideas and techniques
- Prompts for visually commemorating life events and milestones
- Support for working through creative doubts and blocks
- Instruction for trying your hand at new methods and materials
What is your choice when sketching outside?
What to do next?
Now that you have your sketching kit, consider starting your own sketchblog, or organizing a sketchcrawl in your town!
You can also join various forums and Flickr groups to share your location sketches with other members.
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