Current Favorite Art Materials

Updated February 2018

After nearly a year of trying out many art materials, sketch kit setups and bags, in 2012 I simplified my system to one bag (and the occasional ultra-minimalist kit). I update this page regularly to reflect my current favorite materials, but products I used previously are stored as an Archive for a personal record. If you saw something here before that is no longer here, check the Archive page.

Please see the posts below for my reviews or commentary of some products listed below. This list is much shorter than it used to be because I realized that many products had not been my favorites in a long time, but they were still on the list. To keep this page relevant as my "current favorites," I deleted them, but reviews for all products can still be found by using the "Product Review" label or by using the search box at right to search for the specific product name:

Sailor fude ("bent" nib) fountain pen
A Word (or Two) on Brushes
Comments on various watercolor papers
Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle water-soluble pencils
Sailor Profit Fude De Mannen fountain pen
Comparison of three waterproof inks
Comparison of seven (hairy) brush pens
Comparison of seven (non-hairy) brush pens
Stillman & Birn Softcovers: New and Improved
Waterproof and refillable non-hairy brush pens
Comparison of water-soluble colored pencils and techniques
Reviews of six colored pencil brands
Tran Portfolio Pencil Case

My Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag has sketched with me on
four continents.

Here are other related posts that you might find interesting:

Tina's 2016 Top 10
Tina's 2015 Top 10
Tina's 2014 Top 10
Tina's 2013 Top 10 
Tina's 2012 Top 10 
Tina's Bottom 10 (including reasons for detesting these products)
The Sketch Bag: An Update
My Bag Gets 15 Minutes of Fame
What I Learned About Travel Sketching (2013)
More Things I Learned About Travel Sketching (2014)
The Hand Bookbinding Groove (my bookbinding process)
Lightfastness is a Philosophical Issue (and a Longevity Test of Zig Markers)
The Search for the Holy Grail Continues (seeking the perfect travel sketch bag)
Hooked on Handbound Sketchbooks (my post on the global Urban Sketchers blog)
Epic Pen Search and Discovery (my multi-part series on my search for the Grail of variable-line-width fountain pen nibs)
The Grail Has Landed: Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen (the result of my search)
Colored Pencils Are Taking Over (why I prefer them to markers)
What I've Learned from Field Notes
How Many Colored Pencils Do You Really Need?
Sketch Kit Diet: Lighter, Slimmer, More Essential

(Note: For your convenience, I’ve included links to online resources for my favorite art supplies, but please shop around for the best value. I am not affiliated with any of these retailers and will not receive a kickback, even though I should, since I give them so much of my money.)

Everyday-Carry Bag

Since 2012, I've been using a "small" size Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag, carried with me at all times the way I used to carry my purse.

This waterproof version of the Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag is my wet-season bag. It's the same size and style as the original -- just a different fabric.

Tools and Materials 

The Rickshaw bag contains the following tools and materials:

Photo updated 2/18

  1. Pentel sign pen (a hard-tipped brush pen). I change out the brush pen frequently, so this one is not necessarily a favorite, though I do like it. The Pentel has water-soluble ink, which is nice for fast and easy shading. But now that I’m back to using water-soluble colored pencils, I’ll probably switch to one with waterproof ink. I also like to switch between real (“hairy”) brush tips and formed “non-hairy” tips, because each has benefits (and drawbacks). The Copic Gasenfude is a favorite hairy one containing waterproof ink. See the post on my favorites in all categories for details. Diet tip: I used to carry four brush pens – two hairy (one with waterproof ink, one with water-soluble ink), and two non-hairy (one with waterproof ink, one with water-soluble ink). Now I make a choice and carry only one.
  2. Two Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen fountain pens, one with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink (very waterproof and non-clogging) and one with water-soluble Sailor Doyou ink (fast drying). These have been my stable, consistent pen-and-ink combos for several years now. For variety, I occasionally rotate in my Franklin-Christoph with fude nib, but it’s not a sketch kit standard.
  3. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush marker in warm gray. I like it because it’s waterproof and is handy for quick shading on both white and toned papers.
  4. Two Kuretake waterbrushes with the largest and smallest tips.
  5. An emptied hand sanitizer bottle that I’ve filled with water for spritzing (see my demo for one technique I use).
  6. A low-quality traditional brush that I use only to spread water that I’ve sprayed onto paper.
  7. white Gelly Roll gel pen. I use it for sharp highlights on red or toned paper and whenever I need to write white signage lettering.
  8. white Hester & Cook Midtown grease pencil. Unlike most grease pencils, this one can be sharpened with a sharpener, so I can get a good point on it. But I sometimes use a traditional white colored pencil, too. Its purpose is for subtle highlights (especially nice for skin and other rounded surfaces) when using toned or red paper. (If I’m not carrying either a toned or red sketchbook, I take it out of my kit.)
  9. Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble carbon pencil. I also use water-soluble graphite pencils in a soft grade (the ArtGraf 6B is a favorite), but this carbon pencil has the darkest darks I’ve ever seen when activated with water. It also doesn’t have the shiny look of graphite.
  10. Blackwing pencil with the softest (ungraded) core. I swap this out frequently with other soft-core pencils – usually 4B or softer. Other favorites are the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in 4B or 6B and the Gekkoso 8B.
  11. An ever-changing palette of water-soluble colored pencils (mostly Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle). Right now I’m carrying 14 colors, but as you can see, my Tran Portfolio pencil case still has a few slots to spare. I always add one or two specialty colors when I travel (based on what I see in photos of the place I’m visiting). My goal is to carry no more than 18 colors under any circumstance, which would fill all the slots in the Tran Portfolio.


  1. A self-made signature – four sheets of 9-by-12-inch Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper folded in half and stitched with a temporary cover. This is my daily-carry sketchbook. When I have filled six of these signatures, I bind them together with Coptic stitch. This is the lightest, thinnest, self-supported sketchbook I have found containing paper I can use with any media – but I have to make it myself. It’s a small price to pay for getting all my needs met.
  2. Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook in the 5½-by-8 ½-inch size. Except for the two-month period when I challenged myself with a minimal sketch kit, the S&B books are not my daily-carry. I keep a variety of books with different papers (Alpha, Beta, Epsilon and Nova) on my desk for use on still lives and other experiments in the studio. I also take one 8 ½-by-5½-inch softcover landscape-format Beta book when I travel, since that tends to be when I use a landscape format most often.
  3. and 4. Field Notes notebook. I always carry one, most often a red Sweet Tooth edition, but occasionally others for variety, like the slightly larger Signature edition. This is handy for quick, perhaps discreetly made sketches of people on public transportation or other situations when I don’t necessarily need or want my full-size sketchbook.

Bird's eye view of my Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag and its contents. (Photo updated 2/18)

Minimal Sketch Kit

When fitness-walking, I never used to take sketching gear of any kind. But ever since I wanted to capture an elusive gray heron I spotted at Green Lake, I’ve been taking my ultra-minimalist sketch kit.

Travelon bag and contents (photo updated 9/16)

This kit is currently housed in a Travelon Convertible Travel Wallet, which has (though barely) enough space for my smart phone, wallet and keys too, so it’s actually a serviceable bag. It contains:


When I am in my studio (alas, the wet, dark and cold winter is long in Seattle), I have at my disposal all of the above, plus:

  • Stillman & Birn sketchbooks 
  • Van Gogh watercolors (travel set of 12, which I received at the USk Barcelona symposium)
  • Winsor & Newton watercolors
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Big Brush Pens
  • Tombow Dual Brush Markers
  • Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens
  • traditional colored pencils of all types
  • Winsor & Newton sable brushes (sizes 0, 1, 4)
  • Escoda Reserva sable travel brushes (sizes 2, 4)


    1. I love your gear> Everything!
      Probably I will ask you some suggestions on some of your equipment later, especially the marker and the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.
      And what an ordered and clean desktop... I will never had something like you! :)


    2. Love your kit! Have you ever tried the Cretacolor water-soluble coloured pencils, "Aquamonolith" series? (I don't know if they're available in U.S.). They're fantastic. Good thing is they are made all-graphite, there's no wood around the graphite. Bad thing is, if they fall they will break in two pieces.

    3. I always love reading about your gear and bags. So interesting.

    4. Dear Friend Tina,
      A fab blog with many things I like so much. I will watching all works.
      Best regards,

    5. Hi your blog. So much great information. Can you please advise the size of your Rickshaw bag? I've looked over your blog but can't see any sizing...unless my eyesight is worse than I thought! 🤓 Thanks again for a great blog.

      1. Hi Jeannette! I have the "small" Rickshaw Zero bag. You can find all the dimensions and other info here:
        If you explore the site, you'll find info on the other sizes, too. Have fun, and happy sketching!

      2. Thank you Tina....just need to decide between the small and the medium 🤔😀

    6. Oops...darn eyes are bad. "Love" not live 😜

    7. Hi Tina,
      Very informative blog! Thanks, came to know so many new art supplies which I can explore. It's a pleasure to read.

    8. Hello Tina,

      I’ve been enjoying your blog. It has been very helpful. I too have started binding my own sketchbooks using the Coptic stitch. However, so far I bind them first and then use them. I will be taking a trip to Italy this May and will be traveling VERY light,and small. So, I’m searching for anyway I can minimize my kit, and lighten my load. The idea of carrying signatures which I can bind later is very intriguing. Tell me, do you remove your temporary folder prior to binding? Or are the colorful I assume heavier weight paper covers retained in the bound sketchbook? I use 140# watercolor paper. When I bound my sketchbooks I used only two sheets per signature. I understand you are using 4 sheets stitched together in your signature? What stitch do you use for the signatures? I appreciate your advice on this topic. Thank you,

      1. Hi Stephanie! I bind 4 sheets plus the heavier colored paper cover into a signature using a simple temporary stitch (saddle stitch?), and I punch the holes so that they will be the same as what I would want to use when I finally bind with Coptic. I fill the signature with sketches, and I wait until I have 5 more signatures filled. Then I cut away the temporary stitching, remove the colored paper cover (which is simply to protect the first and last pages of the signature), and bind the 6 signatures together with Coptic using the same holes that I had punched previously for the temporary stitching. It's a very lightweight and simple solution that has been working well for me for 5 years! :-)

      2. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. This is very helpful.


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