Thursday, January 28, 2021

2021 Minimalism Challenge: Most Extreme Ever


Downsized! Here's the sketcher's-eye-view of my extremely slimmed-down sketch kit.

Every winter since 2018 I’ve challenged myself to minimize and simplify my sketch kit (here are reports from other years: 2019, 2020). Not intended as a permanent kit change, the challenge usually lasts about a month during the most colorless time of year. Though it is occasionally frustrating, I enjoy the opportunity to clean out my kit and remove inessentials. With fewer materials to choose from, I look at my sketch opportunities with a fresh eye. Of course, after the end of each challenge, more materials inevitably creep back in, but not without a critical evaluation of whether they would earn their long-term keep in my bag.

This year, because my pandemic edition sketch kit is already smaller and pared down, I was tempted to skip the challenge – how much slimmer could my sketch kit possibly be? But then I looked at it critically one day, and I had to admit that quite a few things kept appearing over the summer and fall during the best color months. The kit could certainly stand to lose a few tools. It was time for a minimalism challenge after all.

A bit over-stuffed.

Before: Everything that was in my daily-carry kit.

And minimal it is – perhaps the most extreme kit ever (below). The kit’s focal point is a new rendition of a very old-school tool: the classic Bic 4-Color ballpoint pen, but with a twist it comes with a mechanical pencil unit. I’ll be writing a full review of this fun tool soon, but for now, I’ll just say that the addition of the pencil makes it an interesting and functional Swiss army knife of ballpoint ink (red, blue and black) and graphite.

After (from left): Bic 4-Color, Caran d'Ache Bicolor, Uni Pin brush pen, Gelly Roll, Derwent
Drawing Pencil, all contained in Rickshaw Waldo field case.

I thought very carefully about color. Of course, I always want all hues, but which colors would be important in conveying meaning in an otherwise monochrome sketch? In my limited geographic sketching area, the only colors I felt that way about are heavy equipment yellow and traffic cone orange. I judiciously picked out the yellow/orange Caran d’Ache Bicolor pencil and called it good.

The Uni Pin brush-tip marker, white Sakura Gelly Roll gel pen and white Derwent drawing pencil made the final cut because I use them whenever I sketch in a red Sweet Tooth Field Notes, which is still one of my favorite fast-sketch approaches.

Slim and trim.

To keep myself honest, I went through my stash of bag accessories and found a bright pink Rickshaw Bags Waldo field case that I had received as a gift a while back. It’s a slightly smaller version of the one I used all last year in my pandemic kit. There’s a bit of space to spare, but not much, so it will prevent too many tools from sneaking in. (I mostly live in yoga pants these days, but every couple weeks, I put on my jeans to make sure I still can. Same concept.)

A tough but significant decision was to use dry materials only. (The Caran d’Ache Bicolor is water-soluble, but I’m using it dry.) This simplifies the kit significantly: I could eliminate both the waterbrush and the spritzing bottle. This also means paper quality is no longer an issue, so I can use any simple sketchbook or notebook. I took out the pocket-size Stillman & Birn Beta book that had been my daily-carry in the fall and replaced it with a slimmer Field Notes Signature. Although the latter’s paper has let me down with light washes, I enjoy using its slightly larger page size with all dry materials. The red Field Notes is already a daily-carry alternative to any white paper book I carry.

Sketchbooks: two Field Notes options

1/25/21 First sketch with the spartan kit

Too spartan? Probably. But it will be fun to find out how long I last and what I can’t live without. I took my ultra-lite kit out for a trial run the other day. News flash: ballpoint ink doesn’t blend well with colored pencil. And I’d like to get a softer lead for the mechanical pencil. It’s an interesting combo, though. Stay tuned for updates.


  1. Just a thought, but Bic do another of the classic multi-pens offering violet, pink, orange and yellow ballpoint. Would that solve blending issues?

    1. Yes, I have one of those, too. It would give me more color options, but at that point, I would probably rather have colored pencils. We'll see how long I last without more colors! ;-)

  2. It will be interesting to see how this minimalist kit works for you. I know I couldn't pare down my tools that drastically. Good luck...I'll be watching.

    1. I have doubts about how long I'll last with this! ;-) But it's always a fun challenge to try.


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