Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sketch Kit Retrospective

11/9/19 My current sketch kit

In the eight years that I’ve been sketching, my materials and tools have changed significantly as my working methods and habits have evolved and my preferences have changed. Whenever I prep for a major trip, I review my sketch kit and report on how I’ve refined it for travel (I’ve consolidated related links on this Travel Sketching page). I thought it would be fun to put all my sketch kit photos together in one post to see the transitions all at once.

During most years, I shuffled my kit more than once, but I chose only one photo for each year as representative of the direction of my changes at the time. If you surmise that I’m somewhat obsessed with my sketch kit, you wouldn’t be wrong – but at least I know I’m in good company. (I challenge you to name one sketcher who doesn’t think about, talk about, shop for or rearrange their sketch materials regularly and often!)

11/10/10 Here's the M+R sharpener I forgot in the large sketch.
Unlike many, I don’t sketch my sketch materials much (though I like the meta-ness of the concept), but since this post is the ultimate in sketch-kit navel gazing, I decided to indulge. I must say that there’s a good reason I don’t do this often: It’s tedious and even annoying to sketch all those long, narrow objects. I wanted to keep the sketch to a reasonable size so that it wouldn’t take all day, but the tradeoff is that I couldn’t put in as much detail as I wanted to distinguish among all those long, narrow objects. If you’re interested in the details, a post from July describes most of the same items. (At right is the sharpener, which I tend to forget about because it’s kept in a separate bag compartment.)


Taken six months after I began sketching, this is the earliest photo (from March 2012 when I began this blog) that I could find of my sketch materials: a Sakura Koi watercolor kit, waterbrushes, waterproof fineliners and a few brush markers. It’s a solid, basic kit that many sketchers begin with. The Moleskine landscape watercolor sketchbook is the only one shown, but I was trying out a wide variety back then.

2012 A beginning urban sketcher's basic kit.


I dumped the fineliners for fountain pens, including my first Sailor fudes. The brush markers increased, and so did the waterbrushes. My leather “Stefano” sketchbook cover made its first appearance as I readied for my first symposium.

2013 Fountain pens have appeared.


Surprisingly few changes from the previous year except that a few more colored pencils crept in.

2014 More colored pencils.


This was an interesting year: More fountain pens were added as well as more colored pencils. I jettisoned all the brush pens except a few self-made ones (ink-filled waterbrushes).

2015 More pens and DIY brush pens.


I’m certain this was a record-breaking year – my fattest sketch kit ever. I remember it as a year of major transition. I knew that watercolors were not meeting my needs, but I hadn’t figured out what to replace them with, so I carried everything – color brush markers, black brush pens, DIY ink-filled waterbrushes, watercolor pencils and more fountain pens. A small red Field Notes (and a white gel pen to use with it) became an integral part of my daily-carry. Very sadly, I let my beloved “Stefano” go. 

2016 Whoa... did I really carry all that to the UK? Yes, I did.


During the second half of 2016, I made the final jump from watercolors to watercolor pencils, and by 2017, I had fully embraced colored pencils as my sole color medium (so much so that I committed to two quarters of study at Gage Academy). Graphite pencils made their first (and permanent) appearance (also reflecting my study at Gage). The only markers and brush pens that remained were black and gray. And the Tran Portfolio Pencil Case I had discovered the previous year turned out to be my best bag enhancement ever.

2017 The colored pencil era begins.


Last year’s kit looked very similar to my current supplies except that it still had two fountain pens in place. Not shown is the sketchbook, which was still the DIY signatures and handbound sketchbooks I had been using consistently since 2013.

2018 A stable kit.


(Sketch at top of post and photo below.) The biggest change I made this year was switching to off-the-shelf Stillman & Birn sketchbooks instead of the handbound books I’d been making since 2013. A kneaded eraser and tortillon are currently among my daily-carry for when I’m in a graphite mood (more often in winter than at other times of the year). The ballpoint pen took up permanent residence after 2018’s InkTober. And reluctantly, I realized I had been using a fountain pen less and less, so I took it out (and put it back only for this year’s InkTober).

Kit staged for the sketch, plus the usual desk mess.

During all these changes, the one constant throughout has been my faithful Rickshaw messenger bag, which has sketched with me on four continents since 2012. Although the organizing accessories within the bag have changed many times, since the beginning, I’ve always made all the primary tools stand upright to be fully accessible without the need to unzip, unroll or un-Velcro tabs, pockets and cases. So even though most of the media and tools have changed over time, my basic carrying setup has not.

Everything upright and ready for action.

My Favorite Art Materials page has details about my current kit contents. For details about any of my past sketch kits, see the Archive page.


  1. This is a really fun post, Tina. It does cause me some shame, however. I keep saying to myself that I need to talk about my drawing tools but I never do. I think the last time I did was in 2012 and, like you, what I use now is very different from what I used then. I guess I'm a lazy blogger :-)

    1. Glad you enjoyed my bag retrospective! It was fun to gather all the old photos. I'm not sure you're lazy... maybe just less obsessed with sketch tools than I am. ;-)


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