Too many times lately I have been out and about and found myself desperately wishing that I had sketching tools with me. I have a travel backpack outfitted with supplies, but I really wanted a small watercolor field kit—something simple and frugal—that I could grab every time I went out the door. Just in case.
Recently a bothersome thought also began buzzing through my mind that, as I have attempted to learn how to sketch and watercolor, I may have become too bogged down in making my paintings look “pretty.”
I mean, I admire and follow quite a few sketching, painting, and journaling artists on the internet— folks who do amazing stuff— and I want my stuff to look like theirs. Never mind that they may have been drawing and painting for 20+ years.
Ah, the thief of comparison.
I’ve heard it said that when beginning any new skill, one should focus on quantity and the quality will follow.
If this is true, I may have been practicing backwards.
I recently ran across a blog post by nature artist John Muir Laws (one of the folks I greatly admire) where he emphasizes the same principle. I decided to take this idea to heart and prepared a minimalist watercolor field kit that I can grab at a moments notice so I can sketch often and without worrying about creating a picture perfect spread.
I also want to have the tools with me to capture small moments in nature before I forget them. For me, the point of sketching is to explore and wonder at the beautiful, wide world around me.
This year, I’ve made it my goal to practice exploring and wondering a whole lot more, so here is what my minimalist watercolor field kit includes.
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Husband grabbed a set of these at Home Depot for next to nothing, and he kindly allowed me to pilfer this 6×8-inch one. A zippered pencil pouch would do, but this pouch is very heavy duty, and the clipable ring is handy. [Update: My child has since pilfered this pouch from me, so to fit a larger sketchbook, I purchased a 7x9-inch LihitLab pouch with a carrying strap. It works great! If you prefer something that will carry slightly more, I highly recommend this Tom Bihn backpack. It's not as minimalistic as the pouch but it's still very lightweight and highly portable.]
Not to be confused with Pentel’s Hi-Polymer eraser (looks similar but oh so not the same), the Staedtler Plastic Eraser is a workhorse— extremely long lasting and durable. The only trouble I have with this eraser is that I'm constantly leaving them behind.
I love to sketch with my Lamy fountain pen. I’ve outfitted it with an EF nib and keep it filled with waterproof ink. I’m also fond of Micron pens and often throw a couple of those into this bag, but I’m trying to keep it light. [Update: Since I wrote this post, I've stopped buying Microns. Here's why.]
Water brushes have a bit of a learning curve, but they sure beat carting water and multiple brushes into the wild. Pictured are Pentel Aquash brushes. I prefer this brand's large water chamber, and I rarely need more than one in the field.
Paper Towel or Small Cloth (not pictured)
Useful when painting and/or cleaning brushes.
The sketchbook pictured is the 3.5x5-inch Hand Book Artist Journal (my review is at the link), but I'm currently using a 5.5x8-inch Strathmore Visual Journal with 140 lb watercolor paper. It's sturdy in the field and super affordable. I also enjoy using a Pentalic Aqua Journal.
The Schmincke tin was my one splurge, and I’m not sorry! It’s a palm-sized 3×5-inch palette that can hold a huge assortment of watercolors. (You can see my current palette here.) If you don’t want to spend this much, there are cheaper alternatives out there.
That’s the Schmincke tin below, but lately I've been playing around with this minimalist 4-color palette and love it! So far, it's working well inside an old eyeshadow case, and I have yet to need more colors.
About the only other things I may carry are binoculars, a water bottle for drinking and my phone, which is useful for wildlife identification, weather and tide info, and for snapping photos. However, none of these additional things are necessary. I love that I can grab this little pouch and slip outdoors to sketch anytime I have a moment.
When I do want to carry extra items, this watercolor field kit is small enough to slip right into a pack along with everything else.
See you in the field!