Monday, January 7, 2019

Minimalism 2019 Begins!

Slim, trim and minimized!

Who made a resolution to lose some weight? I did, but not from my body – just my bag!

About a year ago, I challenged myself to put my sketch kit on an extreme diet for a limited time. I had two goals: Learn what it was like to use minimal materials and also lighten the load on my shoulder. Two months later, I learned a lot from thinking in different ways when I didn’t have every tool or color at my disposal. A few things that came out of my kit for the challenge were never replaced because I realized I could live without them (unfortunately, other things crept in throughout the year since).

I’ve decided to make it an annual winter self-challenge, and this year it began Jan. 2. I’ve committed to sticking with my minimal kit through the end of January (possibly longer, depending on how I’m feeling about it by then).
Contents of my minimal kit

Shown above is my slimmed-down kit, which contains (from left):

Last year my only color for a while was the blue/red bicolor, and I found that the palette was too limiting, so this year I added a secondary triad: orange, medium green and dark purple. I love using a secondary-triad palette, but I haven’t done much with it since my trip to Italy, so this seemed like a good opportunity.

You’re probably looking at the photo and wondering, What about a sketchbook? That’s a key question because the sketchbook can be the heaviest part of any sketch kit. Last year I used a Stillman & Birn Nova softcover sketchbook, and the beige paper was ideal for a limited-color palette. But it’s also significantly thicker and heavier than my usual handmade signatures of paper, so although my tools and other materials were lighter, the Nova added some weight back in.

I've stitched thin, lightweight signatures from these papers.
Giving all of that experience lengthy consideration, this year I decided to continue using my usual super-slim and lightweight handmade signatures (you can see how thin it is in this post), but I’m also giving myself more options. I stitched one using paper from a 9-by-12-inch S&B Nova spiralbound edition. Throughout the month, I can choose among my usual 140-pound Canson XL watercolor paper (for use with water-soluble colored pencils), Strathmore Bristol smooth (with graphite), and Stillman & Birn beige (when I’m in the mood for toned paper). Even carrying two at a time is still lighter than a bound sketchbook, so I expect these signatures to serve me well.

Despite the narrow selection, at least some tools and materials can be used with any paper I choose, so when I leave the house to sketch, I only have to consider the paper – not the rest of the materials. I’ll probably carry the Canson XL watercolor paper as the default and choose the others sporadically.

Initially I had hoped to slim down even more by switching to a smaller bag. Although I made a valiant effort to eliminate some elements from my non-sketch-related everyday-carry items (typical purse stuff), I just couldn’t make it work comfortably. I was able to jam it all in, but then it was so tight that I knew I would struggle each time I reached into it. Still, I’m happy to have reduced the weight of my usual bag by nearly 20 percent:

Bag before diet: 4 lbs.
Bag during minimal challenge: 3 lbs., 4 oz.
My everyday-carry Rickshaw bag and the pen case that holds my sketch kit.

I took my svelte bag out for a first sketch a few days ago to see if I needed to make adjustments. The secondary triad is going to take some getting used to (in the house sketch at top of page, I had to mix orange with warm gray to get the wood tone for the door – a hue I usually carry in one handy pencil), but I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of mixing colors from a limited palette.

Below are all the things I jettisoned from my bag, at least for the duration of the challenge. Like last year, though, I intend to consider each item very carefully before it goes back in!

Here's all the weight my bag lost!
Top view: Slim and trim, even when filled with my usual "purse stuff."


  1. That IS very minimal. Is there timeline for if or when that prototype pen bag will be available? I really do like it. And more about how you got a prototype?

    1. Rickshaw just reposted my photo on their Instagram, so perhaps that means they will be putting it out soon! ;-)

  2. Hi Tina - I'm surprised you left out the very utilitarian Bic pen for a minimalist set up. Will be interesting to read your post after this challenge is over. :-) Mel

    1. I thought very hard about putting that Bic in. . . and I might swap it in for something else later in the challenge! (My rule is that I can add things if I take others out so that the net quantity is the same. ;-) ) Thanks for reading, Mel!

  3. I might have a even more minimal kit although it could just be my imagination. Mine always looks tiny next to the other Taipei ssketchers' kit. ;)

  4. I love this challenge! Love the little bag too! ;) Your secondary pallette is very versatile and I’m looking forward to seeing how you use it!

    1. Thanks! I've hardly had a chance to use it so far, though. . . it's been so wet and cold! :-(


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