Monday, December 30, 2019

Winter 2020 Minimalism Challenge Begins

My walk/sketch fitness program materials (from left): Caran d'Ache Bicolor watercolor pencils,
ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil, waterbrush, Uni Pin brush pen, Bic ballpoint

My walk/sketch fitness program has motivated me to lighten my load. Let the annual sketch kit minimalism challenge begin!

Before I put my kit on a diet, I reviewed previous years’ attempts to see what went well during this temporary challenge and what didn’t. Last year’s challenge was less successful because I took out too many colors, forcing an extreme palette reduction, and I felt like I never had what I wanted. I was also wishy-washy about which sketchbook to use (the previous year I had stuck with a toned-paper Stillman & Birn Nova, which went much better), so I was constantly switching back and forth. Paper choice always leads the decision on which materials to use, so I kept that in mind this time. I’ve learned that minimalism only works for me if it’s not a radical departure from but more of a simplification of “normal.”

As you might guess, a key component of this winter’s kit is the Caran d’Ache Bicolors water-soluble colored pencil set that made my top products of the year list. Although they don’t have the pigment quality of my favorite Museum Aquarelles, they still have good quality pigment. More important, the bicolor form factor enables me to carry half the number of pencils compared to my usual daily-carry. I carefully selected five pencils (10 colors), so it’s not a drastic change from my usual full palette but a lot less bulk and weight.

In addition to the bicolor pencils, I put in one ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil, one compact-size Kuretake waterbrush, one Uni Pin brush pen and one Bic ballpoint pen. For the sketchbook, I’m taking a Field Notes Signature edition notebook. For a while I considered a pocket-size version of a Stillman & Birn Zeta or Beta, but the Signature has a slightly larger page size while being thinner, so it gives me more options. In the same way that the Cd’A Bicolors are a compromise in terms of quality, the Signature’s paper isn’t as good as Stillman & Birn’s, but I enjoy using it with all the media I will be carrying in my minimal kit.
Field Notes Signature notebook as sketchbook

These items all fit nicely into the Rickshaw pen case I used last year (below; this prototype design has not been produced and probably never will be at this point). The case has two important functions: It limits the number of tools that will fit comfortably, so it self-enforces my minimizing restrictions to the number of items you see here. (If I put something in, I have to take something else out.) Secondly, it is super-easy to switch materials from the small fitness-walking bag (see below) to my usual daily-carry bag. Nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
Everything fits nicely in this Rickshaw pen case.
Mini-size Rickshaw messenger bag with coordinating pen case!

My fitness-walking bag is the waterproof mini-size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag (at right) that I use in transit when I travel. It’s actually large enough to accommodate my daily-carry 5½-by-8½-inch S&B, so if I decide the Signature isn’t working out, I can switch books without changing the whole bag. Other than the sketch kit materials, the mini Rickshaw also holds my wallet, glasses, keys and phone.

Total weight of walk/sketch fitness program mini bag:
1 lb., 10 oz. (light as a feather compared to my everyday-carry; see below).

As my daily-carry (my usual small-size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag), I take all the same tools from my fitness-walking bag, plus the following (below): my usual softcover Stillman & Birn, a kneadable eraser, a tortillon, one Blackwing pencil, an M+R pencil sharpener, a white Derwent Drawing Pencil, a white Gelly Roll and a red Field Notes.
For my usual daily-carry, I added only the items not enclosed in the pen case.

Below are the items I took out: my full palette of watercolor pencils and Tran Portfolio pencil case, a Faber-Castell waterbrush (used only to spread clean water on the page), a full-length Kuretake waterbrush, a soft graphite pencil and my spritzer bottle. I might miss some colors and the ease of use of pigment-rich Museum Aquarelles, but I rarely use the spritzer or the F-C waterbrush in winter when the landscape is so colorless, so I probably won’t miss them at all.
These items came out: Tran Portfolio pencil case of my usual palette, 2 waterbrushes, another graphite pencil, water spritzer

The top view of my everyday-carry bag doesn’t look much slimmer, but the difference in weight is a half-pound:

Weight of daily-carry bag before diet: 4 lbs., 2 oz.
Weight of daily-carry bag after diet: 3 lbs., 10 oz.
The flap of the pen case stays folded back inside my bag so that everything is always accessible as usual.

As in the past, I intend to stick with this slimmed-down kit until at least the end of January. (I thoroughly enjoyed using a toned book during my minimalism challenge a couple of years ago, so I may make a switch at some point.) Even after I go back to my full kit, I plan to use the minimal kit indefinitely on my walk/sketch program.

Edited 1/29/20: See the results of my minimalism challenge.

Minimizing my kit was so satisfying that I looked at my studio desk and decided it needed to go on a diet, too. Shown below are the “before” and “after” photos (unretouched and without filters! The light through my window shows that that the sun went down while I worked). I put away some pencil sets I wasn’t using as much and weeded out at least a dozen waterbrushes that I had tested and rejected (so many bristled from the top of their mug that they could no longer be shoved in). Less obvious are two mugfuls of miscellaneous pens that kept multiplying, yet most were never used. Again, there were so many that I couldn’t shove them further in. A thorough weeding left the two mugs with only the tools I use regularly, and I can find and grab one easily without the rest falling out.
Before . . . 

. . . and after.

Some items that I cleared off the desk went into storage boxes for now. Many others went into the bag where I’m collecting items for the next Urban Sketchers Gab & Grab. One sketcher’s unneeded items are often another sketcher’s treasures.


  1. I have so many pointy devices that I think I'm going to have to reinforce the floor under my studio. My ongoing dilemma, however, is how much of it do I keep in the open and how much to I store in drawers and boxes. On the one hand I like a spartan look to my work areas but on the other I want stuff available. It's a tough life being an artist.

    1. I hear ya. . . the struggle is real! But we have to struggle for our art. ;-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...