Thursday, August 18, 2016

UK, Part 5: Sketch Kit Follow-Up and Swag

Most-often used items in my sketch kit.
I know this is the post you’ve been waiting for – the one in which I review which things I used most in my sketch kit and which I could have left at home and never missed. (My complete bag dump shows everything I brought.) It’s actually a favorite and important post for me, too, because it helps me evaluate what I bring on future trips (and what I keep in my bag day to day). Here are the results:

  • Of no surprise at all was the fact that the things I used daily were the ones I also use most regularly when I’m not traveling: my Sailor fude fountain pens; a Kuretake brush pen; a waterbrush filled with gray ink; and about eight basic colored pencils.

  • As usual, I brought a few ink refill cartridges just in case I ran out of ink – but I didn’t (one fountain pen and the brush pen came close to running dry, though). However, they take up little space in my bag and weigh nothing, so I suppose there’s no harm in packing them for peace of mind.

  • The bag dump photo shows four fountain pens; I actually took one out at the last minute, but even that third one never got used (at least for sketching; I did use it for journal writing, however, so it still earned its keep). Two are all I ever need – one with waterproof ink; one with water-soluble ink.

  • Although I didn’t use Zig markers often, when I did, they were super-handy for making bright spots of color very quickly. They earned their keep in my bag several times.

Watercolors: Not used much,
but still essential.
  • The thing I hardly ever used surprised me somewhat: my watercolor box. While sketching at the symposium, I learned immediately that I had to keep things as simple as possible. Most of my sketches were done while standing on drizzly and sometimes very windy sidewalks under tight time constraints. Although I know many sketchers use watercolors under these conditions (check out Kumi Matsukawa’s symposium posts in which she uses watercolors beautifully with the same constraints), I just find it easier and simpler to grab pencils or markers for spots of color. Even when I had more time after the symposium, I still tended to use the same simple materials. I guess that’s not really a surprise – I’ve been leaning away from watercolors for a while now. But. . .

  • Despite the little I used watercolors, I still can’t leave them out entirely. A few times in Wales and Bath, I had the time and stable conditions to make more leisurely sketches that deserved watercolors, and I was very happy I had them. Again, my Trader Joe’s mint tin of paints takes up very little space; I may as well have it.

One of many brews captured in my Field Notes. The blue
paper is pale enough that I could even use colored pencils on it. 
  • A few other daily users were the pens I like to use specifically in colored Field Notes notebooks (more on that shortly) – a non-hairy brush pen and a white gel pen. Since I brought a light blue notebook instead of my usual red, I was even able to use colored pencils occasionally (when I wanted to enhance the brew effect ).

  • Several colored pencils that I had chosen specifically for the trip (based on Google images of the places I would visit) turned out to be less than useful. The particularly warm tan of all the buildings in Bath eluded me – I didn’t have that pencil with me at all! But my shortage forced me to mix a close color with what I had, so it wasn’t really a problem. Ultimately I brought too many colored pencils – or not the right ones.

    My sketch of Elizabeth Alley that
    I donated to the USk auction.
  • I relied on the waterbrush filled with sky-blue Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa ink frequently when I wanted a streak to simply represent the (rarely) clear sky. The one with Chiku-rin, which I use for splashes of foliage, will probably be taken out of my bag permanently. More and more, a lower-maintenance colored pencil does the same job.

  • The Stillman & Birn spiral-bound hardcover Beta sketchbook in the 10-by-7 size that I had gotten specifically for the symposium worked perfectly as intended. The hardcover back gave me a stable base for sketching while standing, and the size was ideal, too. I sketched on only one side of each page until I filled the book, then I started working on the back sides of a few. My intention was to donate at least one sketch to the auction, which I did, and the spiral binding made it easy to remove. The book was an excellent solution for that specific need.

  • As for the rest of my sketches? I was as happy as I always am with my hand-stitched signatures, and I look forward to binding them into a cohesive single volume from the trip. I filled only five of the seven signatures I’d prepared, however (I forgot to account for all the sketches that would go into the S&B during the symposium).

Left: Rhodia Rhodiarama notebook nearly full of journaling, photos, ephemera.
Right: Field Notes showing a little wear-and-tear from daily use but also
full of UK memories.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was how I used my Rhodia journal in relation to a blue Field Notes notebook (that I almost didn’t bring). For the past three years, I’ve been happily using a pocket-size Rhodia Rhodiarama notebook as my travel journal (nearly filling one on each trip). Small enough to fit in any bag or pocket, it has paper that takes fountain pen beautifully with sizing that allows the ink to wash nicely. It’s been a great catch-all book for travel musings and memos, ephemeral collage and small sketches made in trains and caf├ęs.

    But the past several months I’ve been having so much fun filling red Field Notes notebooks with exactly the kind of sketches I’m likely to put into the Rhodia that at the last minute I decided to take a blue one along to the UK (I still prefer red for the way it makes highlights pop, but it was fun having a different color while traveling). I feared the two notebooks would be redundant, and I’d waste time waffling over which notebook to sketch in. As it turned out, I hardly sketched in the Rhodia at all because I’ve grown so fond of the brush-pen-and-white-gel-pen combo that goes so well with colored paper. I completely filled the Field Notes with random chimney pots in Wales, heads in trains and planes, and all the brews I sampled throughout the UK.

    As for the Rhodia journal, it wasn’t wasted or redundant, either. Although I didn’t sketch in it, each evening as I relaxed in our hotel room, I’d pick out just two or three of my favorite photos of the day and print them with my
    Polaroid Zip printer. The self-adhesive ZINK paper made it easy to put them into the journal, and the sheets are exactly the right size. Filled with those photos as well as ticket stubs and other ephemera to accompany my notes and thoughts, the 192-page book came home with only a dozen or so empty pages. Although I would have preferred to keep doodly sketches in the same book as the writing, I’m happy that each book filled different needs without redundancy or waste. 

    I’ve decided to make a colored Field Notes a regular part of my travel bag – just as it is now a regular part of my day-to-day bag.

Images from my camera go directly into my journal with
the Zip printer.

I know I’ve said this before, but each time I come back from traveling, I learn the same lesson: The things I take with me when I travel should be the same things I use every day here at home. The bag I carry to Wales can contain exactly the same things it contains when I walk to Maple Leaf Park. Whenever I think I need something “special” or additional, I end up bringing it home unused. (Future self, please take note and remember this!) Overall, however, Im pleased that my kit served me well with no serious regrets.

Finally, here’s a photo of the swag bag I received at the Manchester symposium! I appreciate the months of work the symposium team went through to acquire all the goodies from sponsors. (The photo also includes some cards I exchanged with other participants.) I’ve already enjoyed trying some of the Cretacolor pencils, especially a water-soluble graphite that I used on my first sketches back home in Seattle last week. The Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbook also looks interesting. (They come in a variety of colors, and I managed to snag a bright pink one!) As a keepsake, though, nothing makes me happier than the symposium-logo tote bag that all the swag came in. I’ve used and abused my Barcelona and Paraty symposium totes for years, and I look forward to doing the same to my Manchester bag.

Swag from the Manchester symposium!


  1. A thoroughly enjoyable post, as usual! And I mean that about the last few posts as well!! I'm so glad you had a great time in London, and are back home safe. ­čśÇ

    I just received my copy of Mike Daikuraba's little Sketh Now booklet, and I love it!!

    So, how do you decide which colors of colored pencils and zig markers you'll carry on a daily basis? What's your process for whittling them down?

    1. Good question, Wendi! I guess my palette is based on the kinds of things I'm likely to encounter in my typical urban sketching world -- several greens, a cool and a warm gray, red and yellow for flowers, and always that particularly artificial shade of bright yellow-orange Zig marker that's so perfect for construction equipment! ;-) I always want to have bright pink, purple and various blues, but I so rarely use them that I finally learned to leave them out. I add some colors seasonally -- red and green during the holidays, and light pink at cherry blossom time!

      - Tina

  2. Tina -- As always, I have greatly enjoyed and been informed by your after-Symposium posts!

    Along that line, I was wondering if you would consider doing a post -- or maybe just responding, if it's not post-worthy -- about traveling to the Symposium with a non-sketching spouse. Since as far as I know you have never mentioned your husband sketching, I assume he is a non-sketcher.

    I have a non-sketching spouse and we're wondering about a lot of things now that I am considering attending the Symposium for the first time in Chicago next year. How and when do you meet up with your spouse during the Symposium? What parts of the Symposium can your non-registered, non-sketching spouse attend and not attend? How is your spouse received by other sketchers? And how do you plan a trip that pleases both of you, so he isn't just wafting about waiting for you to be finished with the Symposium so you can move on to the rest of the trip? On this last's not that my husband doesn't have his own interests, but there a difference in planning a trip to a new city where you will be on your own much of the time (him) vs planning a trip where you will be meeting up with your sketching tribe (me).

    Maybe I'm off-base here, but if I'm not, your perspective would be appreciated.

    1. Those are all great questions, Jean, and I've been asked similar ones from others when they realize Greg and I travel together, even to symposiums. I think the issue is definitely worth a future post! Thanks for the suggestion.

    2. Tina -- Thanks! I'll look forward to your post.

    3. I find myself in the same boat and though I hadn't gotten around to considering these questions, I'm so glad you asked. Tina, I'm looking forward to your perspective and tips.

  3. Great post Tina. I wish my uture self would also learn the lesson "things I take with me when I travel should be the same things I use every day here at home", it would save a lot of backache. ☺ Lovely to see you in Manchester!

  4. Great to read your materials review. I pretty much just brought along what I use at home too. Off to have another cappuccino!

  5. I work with Elizabeth Alley - thought it was so funny to see this sketch of her. She tells me she bought it off of you? Small world, I guess.

    1. Yes, Elizabeth was kind enough to place the winning (only!) bid on it! :-)

      - Tina

  6. Tina - your product/use posts are always so well considered - thanks for sharing all the insights - it'll help me as I look forward to my first symposium.


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