Is it too early to count down my top 10 art supplies and tools for the year? Last year I waited until after Christmas to succumb to that media cliché. But since the retail holidays arrive earlier and earlier each year, why not jump on that bandwagon, too?
A few comments before I get to the list: If you compare this year’s list to my 2012 Top 10 list, you’ll see that seven of the 10 products remain the same (marked with *). Since my reasons for keeping a product on the list probably haven’t changed, you can refer to the 2012 countdown for more details. I also changed the criteria slightly. Last year I chose my top 10 favorite products, even if I didn’t use them often. The Cretacolor Nero extrasoft pencil and Faber-Castell PITT Big Brush Artist Pens are still my favorites in their respective categories of graphite pencils and permanent markers. But they fell off the list this year because I tend to use them only for specific types of sketching (life drawing in both cases). This year’s list reflects my top 10 most-often-used products as well as my favorites. Like last year, except for Nos. 1 and 2, the numbering does not necessarily indicate a ranking.
10. Handbound sketchbooklets. My little handmade sketchbooklets made it onto the top 10 not simply because I’m pleased as punch with the way they came out. It’s not really even the booklets themselves; it’s more the idea of having a need that couldn’t be filled with something store-bought, so I had to resolve it by making the solution myself. (See No. 1 below for more on this concept.)
9. * Lamy fountain pens. The Safaris and Al-Stars remain the workhorses of my sketch kit. (Note the latest color in my collection!)
8. Sailor DE Brush Stroke Style Calligraphy Fountain Pen. This pen (55-degree angle nib shown), which I reviewed in September, is neck-and-neck with the Lamys as a pen I reach for first. Its ability to produce lines of varying widths by tilting the funky bent nib continues to challenge even as it fascinates me. (I also own its blue brother, the 40-degree nib version, but it has just recently taken to skipping when it used to be very smooth flowing. It’s out of the picture, figuratively and literally, until I resolve the issue.)
7. * Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush markers. These are still my favorite water-soluble brush-tip markers.
6. * Kuretake waterbrush filled with Diamine Grey ink. This listing is actually two products in one: The Kuretake waterbrush (large size) remains my favorite; it’s an everyday workhorse just like my Lamy pens. Shown here is one that I’ve filled with undiluted Diamine Grey ink, which I use for shading.
5. * Escoda Reserva Sable Travel Brush. This brush is still on the list, though with some ambivalence. You can read my thoughts on how the waterbrush is generally my preference in the field. But this past summer and fall, I used the Escoda frequently for painting skies, and I know my waterbrush isn’t up to that task. Having to remember to bring a water container used to be what kept me from using the Escoda more. But I found that a small lid from a plastic milk bottle is deep enough to swish the brush around once or twice, and I can carry that easily in my everyday bag, so the brush gets used more often now.
4. * Diamine Chocolate Brown ink. This warm, rich hue is still my favorite for sketching indoor scenes. In general, Liverpool-made Diamine inks are the best-behaved I have used, at a very reasonable price.
3. * Platinum Carbon Black ink. At $20 a bottle, this Japanese ink is pricier than most. On the other hand, I use it almost daily, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the bottle that I first opened a year-and-a-half ago. It’s probably one of my best sketching investments.
2. * Self-made mint tin watercolor sketch kit/mixing palette assembly. As you might guess from previous posts, my attachable watercolor assembly housed in a Trader Joe’s mint tin remains a mission-critical part of my portable sketch kit. Note, however, that most of the components that make up the assembly have changed in the past year. I swapped out the stubs of Daniel Smith watercolor sticks for more traditional Winsor Newton and Daniel Smith tube watercolors in half pans. (Fewer colors fit, but I prefer the ease of mixing tube paints to the DS sticks.) And I’ve changed the mixing palette three times – first to a switch plate cover, then to the lid of a Sakura Koi watercolor box, and most recently to the lid of a Van Gogh watercolor box. And the last significant change is that this year it has moved from the No. 1 position to No. 2, because the single-most critical component is. . .
1. My “Stefano” sketchbook system. If you read my blog regularly, then you’ve already heard me go on and on about this leather sketchbook cover (custom-made for me by Stefano Bramato of BroLeatherWorks) and its many advantages. (If you haven’t heard me go on, please indulge me.) But beyond all of those advantages, the Stefano is No. 1 because it opened up a whole new source of creative joy when I discovered bookbinding. That’s why I call it a sketchbook “system”: It includes the entire process of initially stitching the signatures with various papers of my choice; carrying slim individual signatures instead of a heavy sketchbook; and finally handbinding a collection of signatures into a finished book.
Honorable Mention: Since it’s not an art material and not exactly a tool, I haven’t been putting my Rickshaw Bagworks bag on my Top 10. But I’ve used the term “workhorse” to describe several products on the list for their hardy, everyday reliability. Surely my bag deserves honorable mention for being the hardest-working horse of all, hauling my art supplies (and everything else) day after day.