Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Ever-Versatile Mini Sendak

Happily rolling along with the mini Sendak

 You may recall that I started using the Tombow Irojiten pencil roll a few months ago. Despite my many fantasies (as described in that post), I didn’t think that a roll-type case would meet my general sketching needs: When on location, I prefer to stand, and unrolling a case that I had nowhere to lay out seemed unwieldy. In the winter, though, I do most of my urban sketching from my car or in coffee shops, where I thought a roll could work. I had hoped the Tombow roll experiment would allow me to indulge in my Parisian café fantasies, at least temporarily. (Alas, I didn’t know then that omicron would dissuade me from spending much time inside coffee shops for yet another winter, but I digress.)

After about a month of use, I made several observations: As I had feared, the Tombow roll’s natural-colored canvas got dirty fast, and not in a way that I would describe as a charming patina. In addition, the Tombow’s elastic loops are ideal for pencils, but thicker pens and markers are a struggle to get into the loops, which is limiting.

At the same time, the efficient ease of folding up my supplies appealed to me. I used it to sketch in coffee shops only a few times (you can see it in action at the Nordic Museum’s Freya Café), but I used it plenty of times in my car, where I just propped it up against the steering wheel – convenient and handy. The longer I used it, the more I thought, maybe I could be a roll-type gal after all (at least in winter)!

You can see where this is going: I wanted to use a roll, but not the Tombow. A Christmas gift card and a big post-holiday sale at Peg & Awl came together: The Sendak Mini Artist Roll that I had been coveting for years finally became mine!

Upper flap protects pencils and other tools

Peg & Awl’s Sendak rolls (mini and full size) are made of durable waxed canvas in several color options. I chose dark moss, which I knew would hide dirt well (mine is already starting to gain a scuffed patina that I would describe as charming).

One zippered compartment for small tools like sharpener and blending stump

I use the single narrow zipped pocket to hold a sharpener and a blending stump. I could put more in there, but I’m keeping in mind how much I enjoyed the Tombow’s svelte folded profile. (I affectionately think of the Tombow as a pencil sandwich instead of a roll; I don’t want the Sendak to turn into a bulging burrito.) The other pockets and slots are for my limited watercolor pencil palette, one brush pen and a waterbrush – the key essentials in my sketch kit. (I still carry other non-color tools and supplies in my supplemental accessory organizer, though its contents change over time.)

Current materials: A couple of Durer watercolor markers, watercolor pencils, a Uni Pin brush pen, a waterbrush

One benefit I noticed immediately is that it’s much easier and faster to slip pencils into the Sendak’s slots and pockets compared to the elastic bands in either the Tombow or my long-time-favorite sketch bag accessory, the Tran Portfolio Pencil Case. (As much as the Tran Portfolio has served my needs for years, getting pencils back into the loops has always been frustrating – like randomly stabbing into the black hole of my bag.)

Another upside is that thicker items like the Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolor markers that I have been trying lately fit easily into the pockets – they would not fit into elastic loops designed for pencils. Overall, the mini Sendak’s elegant design is more flexible and versatile for a variety of tools and materials.

When sketching from the car...

...I prop the mini Sendak against the steering wheel.

Versatility – that brings me to my biggest and most exciting discovery about the mini Sendak: Like my Miata, it’s a convertible! While sketching from my car or at a table, I can unroll it, use it, and roll it back up again.

This Starbucks had no cafe tables, but a courtyard bench worked just as well.

Thats all fine and good, but what about when I’m standing on the sidewalk? What I loved most about the Tran Portfolio is that it kept all my pencils upright and fully accessible just by opening my bag. In the same way, when I’m sketching on location, I simply keep the opened Sendak standing inside my bag. During outdoor-sketching season, I’ll leave it that way. Imagine my glee when I realized that it works well both ways – while I’m either sitting or standing! The mini Sendak is my year-round convertible.

Opened and standing upright, the mini Sendak fits nicely inside my usual "small" size Rickshaw Zero Messenger bag. I pulled it up for the photo, but it tucks in all the way to the bottom.

I made two hacks to meet my needs better. The Sendak’s diagonally slanted cut of the lower slots is intended to accommodate implements of various lengths. But as some pencils get shorter and shorter, they begin to disappear into even the shortest slots, and then they are difficult to retrieve. I devised an easy solution: When a pencil gets too short, I drop a plastic, flat-bottomed pencil cap (like the Sun-Star Sect) into the slot, which gives the pencil a leg-up.

The red pencil would sink all the way to the bottom of the slot and be difficult to pull out...

... but putting a pencil cap in the bottom of the slot gives the pencil a boost.

Similarly, the upper pockets are the right depth for longer pencils, but even medium-length pencils can disappear inside them. I put a small piece of foam at the bottom of the pockets to make them a bit shallower. When I use brand-new pencils, I can pull the foam out.

These hacks require my pencils to be arranged according to height rather than by color. Since both the Tran Portfolio and the Tombow enabled me to arrange my pencils by color (though the order was idiosyncratic and not necessarily a conventional rainbow), at first I was afraid this would be a problem. But during these pandemic years, I got used to the free-flowing pencils in my small Rickshaw case, which doesn’t keep them in any order. Even in my full sketch kit, I carry few enough colors (currently 16, and my goal is always no more than 20) that it’s not difficult to find the ones I want. The important part is that the pockets and slots keep all implements upright, visible and easily accessible, just like the Tran Portfolio did. An improvement over the Tran, though, is that the pencils are just as easy to return to their slots as they are to pull out.

The only mini Sendak detail that I’m not crazy about is the leather belt and buckle that secure it. Fastening the buckle is fussier than I like – the Tombow’s easy elastic band was more my style – but I can live with it. I hope the leather will soften over time and become easier to fasten.

I’m thrilled that the ever-versatile mini Sendak is meeting my needs in ways I had not expected. I don’t often sketch my sketch materials and tools, but this one deserved a “portrait.”

Updated 4/16/22: See how I use both the mini Sendak and her big sister to keep everything in my bag organized.

2/7/22 My convertible mini Sendak


  1. I imagine for the short pencils it might also work to put a pencil cap with a clip, like a Tombow Ippo cap, on it and then clip it into the slot. And I'm thinking the elastic closure on the Tombow case might stretch out too much over time, so maybe the leather buckle is better in the long run. Love the sketch of the pencil roll.

    1. I agree that the leather belt and buckle are much more durable than the Tombow's elastic strap. I just need to use it more so it gets a chance to wear out a bit. ;-)

  2. I SO wanted this post! I used the Tran for a while but I couldn't get the pencils back in and I thought, "Tina must be WAY more coordinated than I am". Now I know the truth! And just this morning I noticed several colored pencils getting short enough to disappear in the pencil case. Now I have a hack! And an idea for a new pencil case pattern. Not exactly the same, of course. Different enough to be original...ish.

    1. Anne, you sew, so I know you would be able to make yourself the perfect roll/case! As for the Tran: Nope, no better coordination here! ;-) You just couldn't hear me cussing as I stabbed continuously in the dark. :-0

  3. Those pencil caps as spacers are a great idea. Just the opposite of buckled straps for anything needing opening/closing regularly. I really think they work better as a customer lure than they do once the product is bought. Don't know if it would work here but I once removed the buckle and put velcro strips on the straps and that improved things a lot.

    1. I'll take a look at the buckle, but I doubt it can be removed. And I do like it neatly buckled when I'm using it rolled. A tradeoff, I guess.


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