Monday, January 29, 2018

My Favorite Life-Drawing Tools

I have a lot of favorite tools for life drawing -- but enough is enough.

When I go to Gage life-drawing sessions, I take a separate kit from my daily-carry gear because I tend to need different materials there. Last week I wasted half of a one-minute pose digging through my pen case (for those who are curious, it’s a Nomadic PE-18) looking for a particular brush pen because the case was stuffed. I realized the same thing happened there as happens in my daily-carry bag: Every time I acquired a tool that I think would be interesting to try at life drawing, I would put it into the case, but I wouldn’t take anything out. And while all those tools are interesting when I try them, the fact is, I tend to select by the 80/20 principle. In the same way that I’m working with a minimal daily-carry sketch kit, it was time to clear out my life-drawing case.

Canson XL 98 lb. mixed-media
Shown above are all the tools that were in my case before I completely emptied it: 10 brush pens, a water brush, and 21 pencils – graphite, charcoal, sepia, colored, water-soluble, rainbow. My favorite sketchbook for life drawing is a 9-by-12-inch spiralbound Canson XL 98-pound mixed media book. The size is large enough to make two or three poses per page, the paper is strong enough to take a light wash and use both sides of the page, and the spiral binding makes it easy to flip the pages over quickly between poses.

For short poses, brush pens with water-soluble ink in their reservoirs have become my go-to. Especially for the 1- and 2-minute poses, I want the speed of a fluid medium without the fuss of watercolors. When I have 5 or 10 minutes, I still use the same brush pens to draw the pose, but I usually have time to get out a waterbrush to dissolve the ink for quick shading.

1/25/18 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle;10-min. pose
For 15- and 20-minute poses, I sometimes like to use some kind of pencil so I can put in a little detail and toned shading. (Last week I tried a 10-minute pose with a water-soluble pencil, but that was pushing it.) Charcoal, sepia, chunky carpenter’s pencils – I’ve tried them all, but none have grabbed me enough to keep using them. The ones I reach for most (the 80/20 principle) are water-soluble or very soft graphite pencils.

The photo below shows what I put back into my kit: 5 brush pens in assorted colors (I like to keep track of the length of the poses by changing ink colors when the length changes), a 10B Mitsubishi Hi-Uni graphite pencil, one rainbow pencil, one Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencil, an 8B Viarco Artgraf water-soluble graphite pencil, and one Kuretake broad-tip waterbrush.

Minimized life-drawing kit

That’s a manageable selection to bring to life drawing sessions. I don’t have time between poses to ponder too many choices, and I don’t have time during the pose to add lots of colors and textures. 

Updated 1/21/19: Vintage Derwent colored pencils are now my favorite colored pencils for the longer poses.

1/25/18 Pentel Color Brush; 10-min. pose

1/25/18 Pentel Color Brush; 10-min. pose

1/25/18 2-min. pose

1/25/18 1-min. poses


  1. I haven't done any proper life drawing sessions but I did draw dancers and soccer players. I used brush pens with both wayer-soluble ink and carbon desk ink so I could play with shading and watercolours afterwards. Your selection looks very practical --and minimal :)

    PS. Thanks for your compliments on my recent sketches. Very encouraging to hear it from you!

    1. I love keeping up with you on your blog, Ching! Keep on sketching!

  2. Love your idea of using a different color ink for poses of different lengths! I can imagine you digging and digging if you had all those materials with you. lol

  3. Yeah, my kit really needed clearing out!


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