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Sketching kits for portable sketching on the go

Updated on April 10, 2014

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"

My sketchbooks
My 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

My Sketchbooks Comparison

Which sketchbook?

Four Notebooks Reviewed Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Sketching With a Moleskine

Review: Derwent Journal

Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks: Excellence In Execution | Stillman & Birn "Beta" Sketchbook

Choosing a Journal

Sketchbooks

Moleskine Watercolor Album Sketchbook - 5"x8" (Spanish Edition)
Moleskine Watercolor Album Sketchbook - 5"x8" (Spanish Edition)

5.3 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches, 72 pages

Good for water based media like watercolor and ink. Has light texture.

 
Pro Art Hard Bound Sketch Book 5.5"X8"-Black
Pro Art Hard Bound Sketch Book 5.5"X8"-Black

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

Minimal sketching kit - Moleskine sketchbook and Pentel pocket brush pen
Minimal sketching kit - Moleskine sketchbook and Pentel pocket brush pen

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

Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen, Includes 2 Black Ink Refills (GFKP3BPA)
Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen, Includes 2 Black Ink Refills (GFKP3BPA)

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

Mini sketching kit - sketchbook, pencil, brush pen and fineliner
Mini sketching kit - sketchbook, pencil, brush pen and fineliner

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

Small sketching kit - watercolor pencil, brush pen and a sketchbook
Small sketching kit - watercolor pencil, brush pen and a sketchbook

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.

Others say...

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

Pentel Arts Aquash Fine Point Water Brush, Medium (FRHMBP)
Pentel Arts Aquash Fine Point Water Brush, Medium (FRHMBP)

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

Watercolor pencils, waterbrushes and sketchbooks
Watercolor pencils, waterbrushes and sketchbooks

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.

Others say...

Katherine Tyrrell: A portable sketching kit

Buy a set of watercolor pencils

Pentel Arts Aquash Watercolor Crayon and Brush Set, 10 Colors (GSK1-10)
Pentel Arts Aquash Watercolor Crayon and Brush Set, 10 Colors (GSK1-10)

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.

 
Royal & Langnickel Watercolor Pencil Essentials Keep N' Carry Set
Royal & Langnickel Watercolor Pencil Essentials Keep N' Carry 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

Sakura Koi watercolor field sketch set and sketchbooks
Sakura Koi watercolor field sketch set and sketchbooks

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.

Others say...

Russel Stutler: A sketch demonstration using the Sakura Koi Watercolour Field Sketch Set

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

Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Color Mini PLUS Set of 8 Half Pans
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Color Mini PLUS Set of 8 Half Pans

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.

 
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Color Field Box Set of 12 Half Pans
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Color Field Box Set of 12 Half Pans

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.

 
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Sketchers' Case each
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Sketchers' Case each

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

Handmade watercolor box
Handmade watercolor box

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.

Resources

Pocket-sized Watercolor Altoids Tin

Movable Pallet Altoid Tin Watercolor Set

Travel Watercolor Palette (eye shadow box)

Tools and materials - Watercolors

A Simple Watercolor Box

Home Made Watercolour Bijou Box

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

My sketching kit in action during my vacation
My sketching kit in action during my vacation
Additional tools for portable sketching
Additional tools for portable sketching

Additional tools

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

How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook
How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook

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.

 
Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures
Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures

- 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?

See results

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.

My other pages

Drawing and sketching media overview for beginner artists
This page provides brief explanations on some most common drawing and sketching techniques with their advantages and disadvantages, additional tools you migh...

Sketchblogs - Get inspired and motivated to draw more!
Sketchblog is a form of art blog that contains rough work like sketches, "speedpaints", steps or previews of work in progress, doodles, scribbles, ...

How to overcome an art block
Almost every artist has encountered "art block" at least once in his life. There are different kinds of art block depending on the causes - general...

SketchCrawl - a worldwide urban sketching marathon
SketchCrawl is an "artist date" type event where people from around the world gather and roam around their hometown drawing what they see - archite...

Showcase of step-by-step traditional paintings
I always enjoy looking at the process of other artists. Seeing the demonstration clarifies their techniques better than any amount of written words would. It...

Showcase of step-by-step digital paintings
Looking at other artist's process is very educational and inspiring. This is especially important if you are self-taught, because you have to figure out ever...

Surreal and fantasy art of Nela Dunato
My interests include surreal, fantasy and symbolic art, various traditional and digital media, graphic design, web design and handmade crafts. I've been a c...

Adobe Photoshop Brushes
Collection of web sites that offer quality and free Photoshop brushes, brush tools and articles. You don't know what are Photoshop brushes, or how they are...

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    • profile image

      paulaartist 3 years ago

      Loved the little video about making your own watercolor box. I like to have some hot colors too besides the regular ones and have been wanting to create my own little set, the Sculpey was a perfect idea! Just back from 3 days in Vancouver where I did 32 Dr. Sketchy burlesque life drawing poses and 6 plein air sketches with watercolor. So much fun! And very good for the eye!

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 3 years ago

      @QuiltFinger: Haha I know, right? We have our little obsessions :)

      When I first heard of waterbrushes I was like "How did I live so long without this thing?" - now I literally carry it with me everywhere.

      I've heard good things about Caran D'Ache, but I never got to use them since they're not available locally. Will make sure to check them out one day.

      Thank you!

    • QuiltFinger profile image

      QuiltFinger 3 years ago from Tennessee

      Ou! These are so exciting! Who else but an artist or a writer could get so hot over a pen?! I never even knew there were waterbrush pens. I'll have to try them. My personal favorite is the caran d'ache watercolor pencils. For some reason, I hate primsacolors.

      P.S. Your sketches are fabulous!

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thanks, glad you think so! Thank you for the blessing! :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Wow - what great sketching kits! Thanks for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 5 years ago

      @getmoreinfo: Glad you like them :)

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      These sketching kits are fabulous.

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 5 years ago

      @BestRatedStuff: Thank you :) some of these items were new discoveries for me as well, and when I finally got them I wondered why haven't I heard of them before? :D

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 5 years ago

      @JimDickens: Thank you! :)

      I'm glad they did, I'm still in the process of learning, but this set ups have proven themselves to be very effective.

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      Like the collection you put together, there are some old favorites and some new items I have never heard of. Very informative, thanks

    • profile image

      JimDickens 5 years ago

      "high five" I really liked your assortment. They have given me some very good ideas about my own kit.

    • nelchee profile image
      Author

      nelchee 5 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: I'm glad you found out something new from this! I am sure you'll enjoy your new media. I was a late convert to watercolors, they don't offer the precision I cherished so much in my artwork, but I've learned to enjoy it and now it's one of my favorite mediums... Watercolor pencils are great if you like stuff to be neat and precise, so I'd suggest to start with that first :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      I've always been a pencil or charcoal-pencil sketcher, but now that I know about that cool waterbrush, I may stretch to sketching in watercolours or watercolour pencils this summer. Thank you - this is both instructive and inspiring!