Friday, May 26, 2017

Italy, Part 5: Sketch Kit Follow-Up

Sketch materials I used most in Italy (and at home)
As I do after every major trip, in this post I take a look at the sketch kit I brought to Italy and review how well its contents worked for me. (You can see the detailed contents here.)
  • It’s no surprise that my most-often-used implements are the same as those I use most often every day (and used most often during my last international trip): a fistful of water-soluble colored pencils; a Sailor fude fountain pen filled with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink; a waterbrush filled with slightly diluted Iroshizuku Kiri-same ink (a warm gray that I used frequently for shading); and a Zig Mangaka (non-hairy) waterproof brush pen. Without actually counting, I’d say that 90 percent of my sketches were done with the combo of colored pencils, the fountain pen and the ink-filled waterbrush. I had expected to use the Mangaka brush pen regularly in the Field Notes notebook I brought along, and I did, but I also used it several times for larger sketches, too. (It’s currently my favorite non-hairy brush pen because the tip has held up a long time without mushing down as many do.)
  • I used every one of the 25 colored pencils I brought. Of course, I used some colors more than others (especially the secondary triad palette; more on that in a future post), but they all got used well. It was satisfying to know that I had chosen my palette well. The only specific pencil color I missed was the verdigris I found useful in France a couple years ago. The photos I had seen of regions in Italy we were visiting didn’t show much of that color on buildings and monuments like the ones we saw all over France, so I didn’t think I’d need it. I was able to mix it easily enough with the colors I had when I needed it, but it would have been a convenient pencil to bring along. (It’s going to become a permanent part of my European travel palette!)
Waterproof Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger
  • Speaking of colored pencils, it was a bit of a gamble taking my Tran Portfolio Pencil Case on the trip because I had been using it for only a couple of weeks. It was serving me well at home, but I still considered it unbroken-in. A worthwhile gamble, it turned out to be the single-most functional part of my sketch kit (in addition to the bag itself, of course, which is the waterproof version of the Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag). Whether standing or sitting, the pencil case made it so easy to see all my pencils and grab the ones I need.

    The Tran Portfolio Pencil Case -- the single-most functional part of my sketch kit.
  • I regretted that, at the last minute, I decided to fill the Sailor Cross Point fountain pen with Platinum Carbon Black instead of the water-soluble ink I had initially planned on. My logic was that I always use waterproof ink with water-soluble colored pencils and generally use water-soluble ink only when I want quick shading on sketches of people or small objects, so I felt better having the second waterproof-ink filled pen as a backup. But the few times that I sketched people or small objects, I really missed having water-soluble ink and the quick washes it makes. My daily-carry bag always contains at least one pen of each ink type, so I should have stayed with the tried-and-true.
  • I had swapped out a second Sailor fude for the Sailor with the broader Cross Point nib, which I thought would be an interesting option when doing larger scenes (like those cliffside houses in Positano). It gives me a bolder line than the fude, but not quite as broad as a brush pen. I did have fun with it several times, but the Cross Point just isn’t as versatile as a fude.

    Filled in Italy (from left to right, top to bottom): Field Notes notebook,
    pocket-size Rhodiarama journal, A5 size Stillman & Birn softcover
    landscape-format Beta sketchbook, three 6x9 signatures
    (to be handbound soon)
  • On previous trips of about the same duration, I’ve typically filled five to seven of my usual 16-page, 6-by-9-inch sketchbook signatures, so halfway through our trip, I was surprised to find that I was filling them at half the usual pace – and yet it didn’t seem like I was sketching less. (I ended up filling three of those signatures.) That’s because the dark horse of my sketch kit turned out to be my landscape-format Stillman & Birn Beta softcover sketchbook! I realize now that I didn’t even include it in my bag dump post because I think of it as an optional supplement to my standard sketchbook, and sometimes I don’t have room for it. Wherever I go, I often find one or two uses for a long, skinny sketchbook spread, so it’s nice to have, but not essential. I sure wasn’t expecting to make 12 full landscape spreads in that sketchbook in Italy! Whether held vertically or horizontally, I used it for both hillside scenes and panoramic skylines. It was more essential than I realized! (It bothers me a little that I now have some of my favorite sketches from the trip in a separate sketchbook that won’t be bound into my main Italy sketchbook, but I guess I can’t have it both ways.)

    Just a few moments captured in my Field Notes.
  • An important supplement to my main sketchbook continues to be my Field Notes notebook. This time I chose a multi-colored one that a friend made for me by disassembling red, blue and yellow Sweet Tooth books and reassembling the pages so that the page colors alternated. It was perfect for Italy’s candy-colored landscape! This little book, which takes so well to black brush pens highlighted with a white gel pen, was essential for sketches that I had only a few minutes for – a snoozing cat; a detail of an interesting water feature; fellow train travelers. I use one regularly in my “normal” life too, but it’s especially useful on the go. The small, informal format is ideal for capturing the small moments that might otherwise get lost because they aren’t the big scenes I tend to look for when I travel.
  • The only items I didn’t use at all were the two graphite pencils. I had a feeling that would be the case – I rarely sketch with graphite except in the colorless winter months – but they weigh almost nothing in my bag, so I had left them in. I might as well take them out until winter.
    Sketching in Bellagio on my Daiso stool.
  • My little Daiso stool made it into my suitcase, and on at least a couple of occasions, I was happy to have it. As usual, I chose to stand when making most sketches, mainly because I got a better view or composition that way. But at certain times a lower viewpoint was useful, and the stool made sketching much easier.
  • Although it’s not related to the sketch materials I brought, I did have one disappointment: Despite our water-focused itinerary, I didn’t get close enough to any body of water (lake, sea or canal) to fill a waterbrush. I had fun incorporating ancient Roman spring water from Bath and the Pacific Ocean from L.A. into my sketches when I had filled waterbrushes from those sources on previous trips, but trying to dip into a Venice canal seemed precarious at best (maybe I should have befriended a gondolier for the task?).
  • Also technically not part of the sketch kit but worth mentioning is the Rhodia Rhodiarama pocket-size notebook I used as my journal. I’ve used these sturdy, hardcover notebooks as travel journals for several years now, and they continue to serve me well as a receptacle for writing, collage and Zip printer photos. (I used to also make small sketches in them, but now I use the Field Notes for that.) During downtime while riding trains or in our hotel room or flat in the evenings, I enjoyed reflecting on my experiences, gluing in ticket stubs and receipts and printing out one or two favorite photos from the day’s explorations to stick into the journal.

Key Learnings

  • When in doubt, stick to my usual daily-carry materials (such as two Sailor fude pens, one with water-soluble ink and the other with waterproof). If they serve me well day-to-day, there’s no reason to think I’d need something different just because I’m traveling.
A versatile secondary triad palette
  • I carefully selected a useful colored pencil palette, especially the secondary triad part of it. I like it so much that I think it might be versatile enough to use here in little ol’ Seattle as well as Italy. I’m going to leave the selection in my bag for a while and see how it does at home.
  • I now realize a landscape-format sketchbook is an essential part of my travel sketch kit – not an optional supplement – because I can’t always predict when a particular location is going to be well-suited for a long, skinny page. I’m happier than ever that Stillman & Birn came out with a softcover version that packs well.


  1. Great review of your travel supplies. So glad you had the landscape sketchbook with you. It was perfect for the areas you were in.

  2. Thank you for this update. I am going to Sardinia this summer and starting to worry about what to bring: this was useful.

  3. What is the dark paper that you use as "covers" for your signatures? And what do you do with the covers once the signatures are full? Are they bound into your books? Do you sketch on them? Thanks in advance for enlightening me

    1. I had an old pad of 9x12 heavy colored paper (Canson, maybe?) that I used for the covers. When I'm ready to bind my signatures into a book, I have to cut the temporary thread used to sew the signatures together, so I remove the colored covers at that time. Then I reuse them over and over when I stitch new signatures. The main reason I chose that pad of colored paper is that it is exactly the same size as the sketch paper, so I don't have to trim. ;-)

    2. Thanks for the info! I like your system and I ma thinking of trying it out myself, as weight is a major concern for me.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...