Friday, December 16, 2016

Which Field Notes Would I Take to Gilligan’s Island?

From left: "Pretty Much Everything," Workshop Companion, yellow Sweet
Tooth, red Sweet Tooth, Lunacy
Every now and then I like to think about what kind of sketch kit I would take to Gilligan’s Island. I admit, this is mostly an intellectual exercise, for if I were really going to board the S. S. Minnow from Honolulu for a three-hour tour, surely I would take the same bag I carry day-to-day and everything in it. Every time I step out of the house, my bag contains enough sketch materials to last at least a week stranded on an uncharted island.

But I’m recalling one of the many times the castaways thought they were going to be rescued, and the skipper commands the others to bring only “the bare essentials” (which causes much consternation among the Howells and Ginger, who clearly thought a three-hour tour would require several changes of evening wear). So when I refer to the sketch kit for Gilligan’s Island, I’m really talking about sheer minimalism. The bare essentials. What is the absolute smallest, minimal sketch kit I could have and still survive – not only the three-hour tour but perhaps even stranded for a few days?

Pretty Much Everything's dark orange paper makes a great
background for brush pen and opaque white gel pen. The
pale grid ruling is hardly visible. Alas, this book is a very limited
edition and difficult to find.
I define absolute “bare essentials” as paper in the form of one small sketchbook and one drawing instrument. Since Field Notes Brand notebooks have become my pocket sketchbook of choice, it seems reasonable to assume that one would fulfill the paper part of the essentials. A couple of years ago, I was bemoaning the dearth of small notebooks with paper appropriate for sketching, but now I have my choice of four: Workshop Companion, Sweet Tooth (in three colors), Lunacy and the very limited, orange-paper “Pretty Much Everything” edition. Which would I take to Gilligan’s Island? And with that choice of notebook, which writing instrument would I take?

These were among the weighty questions I pondered as I prepared to head out for Zoka Coffee yesterday. In addition to the one I am currently carrying (a red Sweet Tooth), I grabbed a couple other Field Notes notebooks to test them for Gilligan-ready status.

Red Sweet Tooth with brush pen, white gel pen, white colored pencil.

You know by now how much I like red Sweet Tooth paper (and, similarly, the bright orange “Pretty Much Everything” paper) – it’s an ideal toned background for a black brush pen highlighted with a white Gelly Roll pen or a white colored pencil. But without that white highlighter, I’m not sure dark red or orange paper would get me through a whole week.

A gray-papered Lunacy takes a brush pen or fountain pen beautifully but not a white highlighter, and colors fall a bit flat, so it would be similar to a red Sweet Tooth in that regard – monochrome Island sketches.

A yellow Sweet Tooth, however, could take a brush pen, a pencil or even a compact coloring implement of my choice – maybe a rainbow pencil. Better yet, a Uni Jetstream multi pen containing four ballpoint ink colors and a pencil! And an ivory-papered Workshop Companion could take all of those, too.
Yellow Sweet Tooth with rainbow pencil

Both also go well with my favorite Sailor fude fountain pen filled with water-soluble ink that could be washed for shading – the ultimate in simplicity. But here’s the rub: If I stick with my one-implement rule, then I can’t bring a waterbrush. At the coffee shop with that restriction in mind, I used a handy tool I know Don Colley uses frequently but that I don’t use much – a finger. With spit! I was pleased with the shading I was able to get on the man’s back and head with one finger (see bottom of page), but even my pinky was too wide to shade his hand.

It would be difficult to sketch several days on that island without color, but I think I still get more mileage from a tool that allows me to convey tones quickly. If I could bring two implements, I’d bring the red or orange book, a black brush pen and a white Gelly Roll, and I’d be happy for a long time. But since I can only bring one. . .

I’d pack the Workshop Companion and either a water-soluble brush pen or the Sailor fude filled with water-soluble ink. My spit-finger would always be available for toning, and if we weren’t rescued in a week, I’m sure the island would offer minerals and plants that could be made into pigments.
Yellow Sweet Tooth with ballpoint pen

Now if only one of the gajillions of multi pens available included a brush pen component, I wouldn’t care if I ever got rescued. 

Lunacy with brush pen

Workshop Companion with ballpoint pen
Workshop Companion with rainbow pencil

Workshop Companion with graphite pencil
Workshop Companion with fountain pen
and finger-spit wash


  1. LOL You did a lot of pondering about your materials. It would be nice to have a pen with a brush pen at the other would make hunting in my bag a lot easier.

  2. I say take two pens and a waterbrush with you. If the Howells can have their candlesticks, surely there's room for a waterbrush :-)


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