Thursday, April 27, 2017

Travel Bag Dump: Colored Pencil Refresh

Bound for Italy!

Whenever I prep for major travel (somewhere new or for longer than a week), I go through my everyday-carry Rickshaw Zero messenger bag and purge any sketch materials I haven’t been using much the past several months. With strict self-guidelines to manage bulk and weight, I also consider new things to put in. My personal tradition is to document those changes here. I also write a post-travel follow-up to review how well my sketch kit served me. Both posts are very useful in helping me further refine my kit (and they also seem to be popular posts among my readers!). For example, looking back at all that I brought to the UK last year and then thinking about what I actually used most made me slim down my daily haul by quite a bit.

A slim signature of paper instead of a
heavy, bound sketchbook.
The past couple of years I’ve found that my sketch kit has been so well-honed from basic daily use that I’ve only needed to make minor tweaks. In some ways that’s still true for my trip to Italy that begins next week – items 2 – 8 in the photo above are all things I carry every day with no changes at all.

The most obvious change, though, is a significant one: the number of colored pencils – now housed in my fantastic Tran Portfolio Case (item No. 1). Before I got the Tran case, I could carry only about 15 because they got quite bulky and bunched up in the largest compartment of my Kutsuwa bag organizer. But in unfamiliar territory, I’ve sometimes felt frustrated that I brought the wrong or not enough colors. Not this time – the Tran case has slots for 25 pencils while also being less bulky! My carefully selected palette (see below) is made up of my usual “urban” colors plus the secondary triad palette I fell in love with in my colored pencil class last week. In addition, I always take a few “local” colors specific to the place I’m going. In this case, it’s the pastel peach, pink and turquoise for the candy-colored architecture of the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.

The rest of the items in my bag are as follows:

2. Two Sailor fountain pens (with Naginata fude and Cross Point nibs) – one with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink, one with water-soluble Sailor Jentle Doyou ink.

3. Three Kuretake waterbrushes in various sizes.

4. A two-hole Kum pencil sharpener that miraculously accommodates all the pencils I use (though its not ideal for any of them. . . the perfect portable sharpener remains my grail).

5. Four writing instruments specifically intended for use in a Field Notes notebook might seem like overkill. But often when I’m short on time (both at home and while traveling), a quick sketch – almost a visual notation, really – is all I can manage, and that’s what the Field Notes is for. A couple of brush pens, a white Gelly Roll and a white colored pencil all fill that quick but essential need. (OK, I might take out one of the brush pens.)

6. Two Kuretake waterbrushes filled with ink – diluted sky blue Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa and, for easy shadows, Iroshizuku Kiri-same (a warm gray). I call them cheater watercolors.

For quick sketches on the fly.

8. Two graphite pencils – a Palomino Blackwing and a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 8B.

9. Six hand-stitched sketchbook signatures of Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper. I carry only one 16-page signature at a time. Although I treat it almost as a footnote now, carrying one signature of paper instead of a heavy, bound sketchbook or even one with a leather cover is my single best space-saving and shoulder-saving sketch kit improvement ever.

10. One Field Notes notebook (probably a brightly colored Sweet Tooth edition) for quick sketches on the run.

And finally there’s the one non-essential but hope-I-have-room-for new item: my Daiso Banquetta Leisure Chair! I won’t know until I fully pack my bag this weekend whether it can go with me, but I hope it can. It came in very handy last Saturday at David Chamness’s workshop.

A closer look at the colors in my palette.


  1. I always love these posts! It's really fun and informative to read about how your sketch kit has evolved over the years.

    The perfect sharpener! Yes, that is a challenge. I got tired of carrying a little single hole sharpener in a plastic zip-lock baggy (don't want to be the person who leaves their shavings wherever). While it was lightweight and barely took up any room, it just wasn't quite working. I ended up getting a little two-hole sharpener with a receptacle, which is compact enough and sharpens well.

    I'm curious, do you still use the Vista-Gloves on your signatures? I haven't been using mine since I started using the Softcover S&B sketchbooks this year. Do you have any issues with your signatures while standing to sketch? Or becoming tattered or crumpled in your bag? I'm always intrigued with the idea of your signatures, and compiling a sketch-journal in that way. It would be cool if sketchbook companies did this! Kind of a modular, "Build-A-Book", sketchbook where you could choose pre-made signatures with different kinds of paper (toned, watercolor, etc), custom covers, and then an easy way to bind it all together (that's not hole punched, or wire bound) when you're ready!

    The photos of Italy you linked to are breathtaking!! I hope you have a marvelous trip, and plenty of time to create all the sketches you want!

    1. Happy to hear you enjoy my bag dump posts! They are so popular that I really should just charge admission to look inside! ;-) You know, I used the Vista-Glove for quite a while, but often it would get in the way when I scanned images, so I would end up having to remove it. I finally took it off altogether, since I go through the signatures so quickly that they rarely gets much wear and tear. However, I'm going to use one in Italy because I'm more likely to set it down in the street (or even on a messy cafe table) when I'm outdoors. And everything gets treated more roughly when I travel because I'm walking a lot more, shoving things into my bag more, etc.

      Thank you for the good wishes! Watch IG for photos! :-)

  2. A trip to exciting! Looks like you're going to two of my favorite places, the Cinque Terre and the Portofino area. Love reading about your materials and what is and isn't making the cut. That chair wouldn't be good for me...too low to the ground. My knees would be killing me. lol I'm going back and clicking on a few more of your items. I find some good materials that way. I'm thinking about making signatures to bring to Chicago. How big are yours?

    1. I bet you had fun painting all those brightly colored houses in Cinque Terre! I'm really looking forward to it! To make my signatures, I use 9x12 paper folded in half, so the folded size is 6x9, which I find really easy to carry and use. I fold 4 sheets of paper together, so that's 16 pages per signature.

    2. When are you leaving and how long will you be gone? That's a nice trip. We took the bus from Sorrento to Positano and when we got there my husband said there had better be another route back because he wasn't getting back on the bus and doing that ride again. It hugs the curvy road which is barely wide enough for two cars to pass. When the bus driver is making a turn he just honks like crazy and turns his wheel and keeps on going. Meanwhile you're way up on this sheer cliff looking down at the water below from the bus. We took the ferry from there to Capri so we didn't have to do that return trip. lol Have fun!

    3. Leaving Monday! We're taking the train between all of our locations, so I hope that won't be quite as rough a ride! :-) Thanks for the good wishes!

    4. That means you can travel leisurely and sketch on the train. Enjoy!!! I'll be watching for posts somewhere.

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  4. ...another way to simplify your kit is to decide there is only one type/style/speed/etc to do your sketching. Some seem to manage it but that's not your style/approach. I struggle with the same dilemma, though I love the struggle :-)

    1. Yeah...that's not gonna work for me! ;-) I prefer fussing with my kit!


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