How I Sketch: Part One, Materials
I am often asked for information on how to sketch, in particular how I do my sketching; the more detailed the better! After much trial I have developed a process that works for me, but I continue to learn and evolve as well. I thought I would describe what I’m currently doing, starting with my favorite materials.
After trying virtually every art supply one can buy , I finally settled on a stable set of tools. My kit goes everywhere with me so that I can always do a quick sketch when the opportunity arises. To realistically achieve this portability the components must be small. This requirement has largely dictated my choices:
Sketchbook: I do all my sketching in small (“Pocket”, 3.5 x 5 inch) Moleskine notebooks that I rebind with 90lb hot press watercolor paper. I use the thicker (1 inch) “Planner” model because it holds more pages: 44 spreads to be exact. Occasionally a sketch fills only one side of a spread but usually I use the full (7 x 5 inch) page.
For the last few years I have filled at least three books a year. And, I am just finishing up Volume #4 for 2007 right now. Each year on January 1st I always start a new book: it can be a struggle to finish that last book by December 31st!
Pen: I use a Sailor fountain pen with an Extra Fine tip, which is made in Japan.
Quality fountain pens have two unique attributes that make them attractive for sketching. The first is the nib’s ball tip, which allows it to glide in all directions with ease. This can help keep the line work looser than that from a pen which favors one direction or needs to be pushed around.
The other important trait is nib flexibility, the extent of which varies in different types of pens. The stroke from a flexible pen changes width in response to the touch of the user creating a lively and personal line.
My pen is fairly flexible but what makes it ideal is it’s line weight. Because my sketchbook is small a fine line provides more versatility. Japanese pens run finer than do American or European, and this one draws the thinnest fountain pen line I’ve seen.
Ink: An ink converter allows the pen to utilize a bottled ink. I use Platinum Carbon Ink, which is a waterproof ink for fountain pens. Waterproof ink does not bleed or run when watercolor washes are laid on top of it. Although such ink is widely considered ruinous for fountain pens, mine have survived thus far. No guarantees though! It is important to use the pen daily to keep the ink flowing and flush it regularly with water to keep it from clogging up. I have found that modern pens stand up to the abuse of waterproof ink better than vintage pens.
Ink Pot: The Visconti Traveling Ink Pot is not cheap, but with it I can refill my fountain pen anywhere. I love it. The “pot” is sort of like a test tube that has a rubber neck at the top with a conical opening. One fits the pen snugly into the opening, turns the whole thing over so that the ink is above the pen, uses the pen’s filling mechanism to draw the ink down into it, and then flips everything back over to remove the pen. The outside stopper is very hard to get off (a good thing!) so I also carry a small piece of latex cut from a disposable glove which I can use to get a good grip on it. This ink pot works with many, but not all, fountain pens.
Paint Box: I carry a very small (2 X 3 inch) Winsor & Newton “Bijou” paint box. It has 18 mini pans (1/2 inch square) into which I squirt tube paint. The paint dries quickly (2-12 hours) so it doesn’t run, yet is easily reconstituted with water.
On the inside lid are four small mixing areas. The metal box is enameled white on the inside which provides a great mixing palette.
This particular box has not been made in some time (current boxes called “Bijou” are different: bigger overall with bigger “half pan” wells) and are hard to find. However, creative folks are hand making similar mini boxes with great success. I love my little box, although it’s taken quite a beating. When it finally gives out I am going to try crafting a replacement. If I change anything, it will be to use even less space for paints and a little more for mixing. I won’t make the box any bigger though!
|Colors I use most often:|
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
|Other colors sometimes used:|
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)
Waterbrush: The brush I use is the Niji waterbrush. It is especially convenient for sketching on the go.
The soft plastic handle fills with water which is fed down into the brush head from inside as the handle is squeezed. With this brush you don’t need any open water container at all, which allows for painting in many more situations. The handle holds enough water for several sketches and is easily refilled by sink, glass, water bottle, creek, puddle, etc. These brushes come in a blue a clear plastic package and can be found in the US in larger art supply stores or online. Similar brushes are available in Europe and Asia as well.
Paper Towel: To change colors with the waterbrush you simply give it a little squeeze and soak up the water with a paper towel. I carry a piece of paper towel or sturdy napkin for this purpose.
Mechanical Pencil: Rarely used, but if needed I like a pencil that is always sharp.
Mini Eraser: When I do need to erase pencil lines, a soft white eraser is gentle on watercolor paper.
Pencil Bag: I have a typical student’s pencil bag (7 inches long, 3 inches high) that holds everything listed above except the sketchbook.
This little DIY sketching kit has served me well, on travels near and far. In fact, I do all of my sketching with these materials. The bag and sketchbook are very portable and I am able to keep them with me pretty much everywhere I go.