Travel Sketching Kit

(Warning: this post is a bit of a sketching geek out)

Refine, refine refine.

That is the keyword when it comes to travel.

Each time I travel I want to pack lighter and bring even less than my previous trip. Travel experts say to lay everything out before you pack and then get rid of half. And I try to follow that advice with varying degrees of success.

This also applies to my sketching kit for this trip-of-many-sketches. I wanted to bring fewer things. Fewer sketchbooks, pens and pencils, and paints. I was hoping that limiting my sketching gear would encourage me to sketch more and make it my daily practice when I was on the road. I wanted to see if traveling light would be more freeing and more productive in a sketcher’s paradise like Barcelona.

First I needed to find the right bag.

If your sketching supplies are not easily assessable you don’t sketch as often. So I knew access was a key feature in choosing a bag.

I have previous used a lighter weight Chino bag which has one pocket and a larger main pocket which you wear around a shoulder like a murse (a man-purse) but for this trip I was looking for something more rugged and functional with more internal organization.

I also wanted a sling bag and not a backpack for two reasons. First I wanted easy access and a sling bag could be easily moved from my back to my front meaning that the zippered compartments would be almost right under my chin. Secondly I would be traveling to the “Pickpocket Center of the Universe”, Barcelona. A sling bag can be easily adjusted from my back to under my arm up front if I was in thick crowds in tourist zones or riding the Metro (both hot spots for petty crime). This meant that the sling bag had many advantages to a backpack.

After doing a little research I settled on Patagonia’s Atom 8L. This seemed to have all the features I was looking for. It was a compact sling bag with a divided main compartment for sketch books and a smaller zippered pocked for paints and an even smaller pocket that could hold my Escoda travel brushes. The exterior had two compression straps to keep things tidy and which also could be used to hold a rolled up lightweight jacket (such as my Patagonia micro puff). The bag comes in many colors but I went with a classic black.

Once I decided on a bag it put limitations on the size and number of sketch books I could bring with me. This was a good problem to have. The three sketch books I brought were:

  1. A Hahemuhle Nostalgie Sketch Book (5.83” X 4.13”). This is a true sketch book that was small but could take a light watercolor wash.
  2. A Pentalic Aquabook (5.5” X 5.5”), this is a medium sized book with quality watercolor paper, good for sketching in a perfect square or a 5.5” X 11” panorama. (One downside with this book was that due to an manufacturing flaw, the pages started to fall out).
  3. A Strathmore Watercolor Book (5.5” X 8”). This book contains quality watercolor paper and was great for cityscapes and birds. This book was the true workhorse of the trip.

To hold my pens and pencils I brought a simple flat pencil case that I could easily fit into the main compartment of my pack. I attached a small carabiner to the loop so I could hang the bag from my pack while I was field sketching.

Inside were my favorite assortment of pens, pencils and a water brush. For this trip I favored two pens: Staedtler permanent Lumocolor sizes S and F.

My paint palette that I normally use would prove a problem because it was too big (it was really designed for studio and not field work). So I knew I needed a major downsize for my palette. I found the solution at California Arts Supply. They carry a small MEEDEN painting tin that holds 12 pans in a box about the size of an Altoids box.

This palette was the perfect size and could easily fit into a shirt or pants pocket. Now the really hard decision was, which paints would I put in the 12 pans? I settled on: Payne’s gray, violet shadow (Daniel Smith), burnt umber, burnt sienna, sap green, olive green, Quinacridone Gold, cobalt blue, ultramarine, violet, Winsor red, Winsor yellow, and a smudge of sepia. Yes I know I couldn’t resist sepia.

For brushes you can’t beat my Escoda Prado travel brushes which I originally bought for a trip to Madrid. The faux sable hairs retain water and keep a sharp point. The tip seats into the handle but when the brushes are put together, they are close to the size of a full brush, which is a huge advantage over other travel brushes.

The other advantage is that Escodas are a Barcelona brush maker. Escoda have been making brushes since 1933 and it is a family owned company now run by a third generation.

Did this new set up help me sketch more? Well the proof is in the drawings. Over the 14 days I was in Spain, I completed 63 sketches. Not a bad haul.

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