Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Sketch Bag: An Update

Contents of Rickshaw Bagworks messenger bag. (Photo updated 3/13)

I’ve been sketching for almost a year now, and for most of that time, sketching was something I deliberately set aside time and mental energy for – it wasn’t necessarily an integrated part of my “normal life” (whatever that is). I looked for and found ways to fit sketching outings into my “normal” day, and made the physical switch from “normal life” mode to “sketching” mode by carrying a designated sketch bag instead of my everyday purse, which required moving all my purse gear to the sketch bag and adding all the sketching gear.

The sketch bag itself has gone through numerous changes – in size, shape and number of pockets, from backpack to shoulder bag to messenger bag – and of course, sometimes it’s not a bag at all but a vest (I still use the sketch vest instead of a bag in certain circumstances). The ideal, ultimate sketch bag remains my Holy Grail.

Once the weather finally decided it was summer (this year, it was no sooner than early July, and it’s already close to being over!), I realized I was wasting precious outdoor sketching time constantly moving my gear from one bag to another, and that’s when I made a physical adjustment as well as an attitude adjustment: I now carry my sketching bag everywhere, every day, as a replacement for my purse, whether I’ll have time to sketch or not. Sketching has become an integrated part of my “normal life,” not something I “switch gears” for. My actual behavior hasn’t changed much – I still sketch almost every day, I still plan sketching outings whenever possible, and I still feel frustrated when the inconvenience of earning a living impedes my sketching lifestyle – but having my full sketching arsenal with me, whether I need it or not, somehow makes a difference in my sketching outlook as well as in my sketching.

It’s as if I find more sketching opportunities now, because I can.

So I’ve updated my Current Favorite Art Materials page to reflect my simplified sketch bag. But because I’m interested in documenting how my sketching life evolves, I’ve archived the page listing supplies I still use but don’t carry and describing my previous sketching systems.

That was a long-winded preamble to the actual topic of this post: Showing my current sketch bag/purse. It’s the Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag I initially purchased because I couldn’t resist having one to match my Rickshaw Portfolio “coffee shop sketch kit.” In the “small” size, it measures 10" H x 13" W x 4.5" D (the custom colors are Iris with Moss trim and a Mandarin lining).

I’ve used a few different bags with many zippered and non-zippered pockets and compartments. Although having multiple pockets and compartments appears to be a good idea for organizing everything, I found that I kept forgetting which pocket contained which items, and I was constantly zipping and unzipping, which resulted in wasted time. By contrast, I thought the Rickshaw messenger bag might be too loose and unstructured to suit my sketch bag needs. So I got one Deluxe Drop Pocket, which attaches with a Velcro strip to the inside of the messenger bag, and those few pockets and the bag’s two integrated compartments are sufficient for organizing everything I carry.

One major advantage that the Rickshaw messenger bag, which is made of Cordura nylon, has over some stiffer bags I've tried is that the flap easily folds over backward, as in the photo above. If I have to sketch standing up, which is frequently, I keep the bag on my shoulder and fold the flap back, which leaves all the art supplies exposed and easily accessible with one hand (very important when the other hand is holding the sketchbook).
It’s not the Holy Grail – it’s about one-half inch too shallow to comfortably hold a Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook (but the slightly thinner Moleskine and Hand Book sketchbooks fit perfectly) and the adjustable strap buckle has the annoying habit of hitting me right on the collar bone – but otherwise, it’s very close.

The photo below shows the art materials spread out so you can see that this compact bag can hold quite a bit (and, surprisingly, the total weight of the bag is about the same as my former purse). The photo at the top of the page shows the bag filled, including all my usual “purse stuff” (wallet, smart phone, glasses, keys, punch cards for all the coffee shops I frequent). The full list of art materials is now on the updated Current Favorite Art Materials page.
Art materials in the bag. (Photo updated 3/13)


  1. Wow! You've included some great tips and ideas here. My favorite is the Drop Pocket. That could be especially useful. Hmm... the holy grail of bags is so illusive!

    1. Thanks, Peggy! I'm happy that you find the info useful. That elusive Holy Grail may evade me the rest of my life, but it gives me a goal. ;-)

  2. That's great bag! I love it so much and also I can see some things more than the previous bag.
    Where did you find the pencils caps?
    Btw, have fun and enjoy, always, wherever.

    Cheers, Stefano (Mostho)

    1. Thanks, Stefano! The pencil caps came from Dick Blick:

      - Tina

  3. I love this: "It’s as if I find more sketching opportunities now, because I can." It marks that moment when sketching goes from "Okay, now it's Sketch Time and I am going to sit here and sketch for an hour." to "Oh wow, look how that red bus looks next to that violet shadowed building, need to stop what I am doing and get that down asap!"

    Good for you for making the adjustment. It's an adjustment and a re-ordering of priorities. You have only "X" number of hours on this remarkable planet and you now are equipped to spend them as YOU like, not as events DICTATE. Bravo, my friend!

    1. Thanks! You hit it right on the head, Jan -- and it's funny how I hadn't even noticed when the shift took place. And what's truly remarkable is how differently I look at things now -- EVERYthing is a potential sketching subject!

  4. I am such a "bag geek" it's not even funny. I'm intrigued by the Rickshaw products. I don't know if I could get away with just one bag, though. When I go to work, I have my handbag, my tote with my (admittedly huge) lunch (I'm a diabetic and have to split up my food into tiny meals that I eat every couple of hours) and a book or my Kindle, sometimes *another* book, my camera, and my small binoculars. Hopefully I will not develop back problems. I don't carry the stuff far.

    Once I bought a "sketching bag" that was a big handbag recommended by someone in either Danny Gregory's group or maybe SketchCrawl. The darned thing is so big that when I wore it on my hip and turned around, I'd knock stuff off shelves.

    Ever in search of the perfect bag...

    1. Thanks for your comments, Sandra! Good luck with searching for your "Holy Grail" bag! I'm happy with the Rickshaw, but that doesn't keep me from continually looking! :-)


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