Friday, June 5, 2015

Post-Travel Follow-up, Part 2: Sketch Kit Refinement and Other Lessons

5/31/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Van Gogh watercolors, Stillman & Birn
Alpha sketchbook
It’s become a personal tradition to follow up a major trip with a post about what I learned from travel as it relates to sketching. I learned the most from my trip to Spain and Germany in 2013, and I still had a lot to learn from Brazil last year.

Even while I was still in France toward the end of the trip, I took a critical look at my sketch kit and used down time on trains or in hotel rooms to make notes in my journal about what I could leave behind next time. Shown in the sketch at left are the key items I used most often – probably 95 percent of the time. (See my bag dump and travel prep post for the full list of everything that came with me to France.)

The items are (left to right):
  1. Waterbrush filled with a mix of dark, cool gray inks (used often for quick shadows)
  2. Waterbrush filled with Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa ink (used for sky when I wasn’t using watercolors)
  3. Caran d’Ache Museum water-soluble colored pencils in bright green, ochre, taupe, bright blue and red (the latter two for the French flag, which came in handy several times!)
  4. Watercolors
  5. Sailor “calligraphy” fude pen containing waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink
  6. Sailor 1911 Naginata Fude de Mannen pen containing Sailor Doyou ink

 Not shown but included in the items most often used are two waterbrushes filled with water, water spritzer and watercolor mixing tray, Escoda travel brush (a reliably clean brush for spreading spritzed water), my handbound signatures of sketchbook paper and the “Stefano” sketchbook cover.

A few things weren’t used frequently, but when I did need them, I was very glad to have them, so I still consider them essential to my kit. They were:
  1. Pencil sharpener (see my post about Paris shopping for more on that)
  2. Platinum brush pen containing Platinum Carbon Black ink (I loved this pen for doing very quick sketches of buildings and statues in Arles as well as Notre Dame)
  3. My clip-on watercolor setup (I almost left this at home because I rarely use it anymore, even when I’m not traveling, but it came in handy several times)
  4. Waterbrush filled with Iroshizuku Fuyu-syogun ink

5/24/15 Sailor Doyou ink, Caran d'Ache
Museum colored pencils
One colored pencil I brought with me, based on a suggestion from a friend whod visited Paris, was a pale blue-green seen in the ornate details of many buildings there. While I didnt sketch any Parisian buildings with that color, several days later in Arles that pencil was exactly what I needed to quickly capture the lions on the Place de Republique Obelisque. (Detail shown at left.) It would have been difficult or time-consuming to mix that particular tint using the primary paints I have in my mint tin. So while I didnt use it often, I was happy to have it. The ochre colored pencil, too, was one I threw in at the last minute after seeing photos of Arles tile rooftops. The lesson learned here is that a little research about the places I plan to visit can go a long way in helping me choose the right colored pencils to bring (without bringing a lot).

5/25/15 Iroshizuku Asa-gao ink,
Rhodia notebook
(My shorter waterbrush

came in handy on this train sketch.)
These are the things I used so little that I could have left them at home and not missed them:
  1. Waterbrush filled with Iroshizuku Chiku-rin (grass green)
  2. The third waterbrush filled with water (although the shorter size made it handy to carry in my small passport case while in transit, when I did make several pen and ink wash sketches of fellow passengers)
  3. The Sailor fude pen containing Diamine Chocolate Brown ink and the Platinum music nib pen containing Diamine Eclipse

 The things I didn’t use much aren’t heavy or take up much space, so it wasn’t a big deal to have them. Still, it makes me realize I tend to over-estimate my need for a variety of pens and inks. One filled with black waterproof ink and one filled with a brown or blue water-soluble ink are probably sufficient for a two-week trip.

Other things learned or confirmed:
    My trusty Stefano comes through again!
  • You’ll recall from my pre-trip prep post that one major change in my sketch kit plan was that I intended to use the leather Stefano sketchbook cover less frequently to reduce the weight and bulk in my Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag and carry only a signature of paper when possible. I knew this would reduce my sketching options at times (sketching across the page spread is almost impossible without the support of the cover, and I didn’t think I could use my clip-on watercolor box without it, either), but I thought it would be a reasonable tradeoff. As it turned out, I missed the support of the cover frequently when I didn’t have it, and most of the time it was worth the extra bulk and weight to bring it along. What I did do, though, was to carry the whole sketchbook (cover and signature) in my essential supplemental tote bag instead of in my Rickshaw bag, which distributed the weight more evenly. It was an easy solution, and now I know that my Stefano is still an essential part of my sketch kit. I’m so happy that I didn’t leave it behind altogether!
  • You may recall my thoughts about using colored pencils instead of markers for spot colors (incidentally, I didn’t miss the markers at all). You may also recall my ruminations on using colored pencils and ink-filled waterbrushes in favor of watercolors because they don’t require me to find a place to sit or to set down my paint box and mixing tray. I did make many sketches in France standing up or in less-than-ideal sketching conditions, and I was happy to have easy-to-use coloring tools that enabled speed and efficiency. But just as often I went ahead and pulled out watercolors anyway, even if conditions weren’t ideal, because. . . let’s face it – France demands aquarelles!

    The second day of our trip at a
    Paris farmers market, I had brought along only a signature of paper (see bullet point above), trying to keep my bag light. But the scene, accented by fruit and the colorful stripes in the vendors’ awnings, demanded more color than I could produce with pencils. Standing in the middle of the busy market thoroughfare, I clipped my watercolor box to the flimsy paper signature (Stefano, I still need you!) and wobbled out the quick sketch! Definitely not an ideal sketching situation, especially for watercolors, but you probably know by now that very little comes between me and the sketch I want. J
  •  I regretted that I didn’t bring along a waterbrush filled with warm gray ink for shading. It was the only thing I missed time and time again. Both the dark gray ink mix and the medium-gray Fuyu-syogun ink I had filled waterbrushes with are on the cool side, and the French landscape consistently required warm shadows.
  • While packing, I was going to bring along two things only if I had room in my rollerbag: the self-inflating cushion that had been so nice to have in Brazil last year and a landscape-format sketchbook. A couple of times (like when I was sitting on some hard steps in the Villefranche cemetery), I regretted that the cushion had stayed home, but for only those couple of times, it wasn’t worth carrying. I threw the landscape-format book into my rollerbag at the last minute, and for three sketches I was very happy to have that long, skinny format. That was a worthwhile throw-in.
  •  I filled six of the seven paper signatures I packed – about as accurate an anticipated count as I could expect to have!
  • I brought a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen to use as a basic journal-writing and jotting pen that could double as a backup if I ran out of waterproof ink. In fact, I didn’t enjoy writing with it at all – compared to the expressive fountain pens I’ve gotten used to, it feels stiff and ungainly – so I abandoned it halfway through the trip and used my sketching fountain pens (the ones I was hardly sketching with) to write with! For next time, I think it makes more sense to bring a second fountain pen filled with waterproof ink to use as my journal-writing pen – and that could serve as a backup sketching pen.

 All in all, I’d say my sketch kit in France was almost perfect. If I can keep reminding myself that I really don’t need a second pen with brown ink and a music nib with blue ink, it might be exactly right.

Now on to a couple of regrets not related to the sketch kit. . . 

1 comment:

  1. Trying to cut back on art supplies is like trying to cut back on the clothing you bring. You have most of the right stuff, but there is something left at home that would be handy, and items of clothing that you haven't worn by the end of the trip. lol


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