Sunday, January 15, 2023

My “Downstairs Studio,” Part 1


It doesn't look like a studio, does it?

The small upstairs bedroom that I call my “studio” is where I store most of my art supplies. (It’s ironic, but with all the sketching I do on location, I actually make very little art in my studio except the occasional still life or convenient window view.) But you may have noticed that I’ve developed numerous small kits for specialized needs. In addition to the countless portable kit variations I’ve made for sketching on location, I’ve also put together one kit specifically for night sketching, one for sketching birds and squirrels from the back deck, and another for skyscapitos (sunrise and sunset colors).

These highly specialized kits are driven by practical needs: The subject matter is time-sensitive. The sun ain’t gonna wait for me to run upstairs and pick out materials, and neither are the jays. In addition, in the early morning, I don’t want to disturb the spouse guy sleeping in the room adjacent to my studio by rummaging around for tools. I need to have my specialized kits located in the areas where I use them.

Nocturne kit

Just lately, I’ve been driven by another need: Despite being an avid sketcher, in the evening, I run out of steam. It’s hard for me to work up creative energy when I’m tired. I had gotten into the bad habit of spending evening hours scrolling through social media or bingeing on YouTubes that were neither entertaining nor informative.

In a conscious effort to break that habit, I’ve been looking for ways to practice drawing or otherwise be creatively productive for at least part of that evening time. To be successful, it’s important that I minimize barriers. For example, looking for subject matter around the house requires too much work, and even searching for Google images to draw from can be daunting – I could easily spend the whole evening searching instead of drawing. That’s why I’ve been thrilled to discover Earthsworld’s treasure trove of portrait photography: From a single source, I can randomly or more thoughtfully choose a photo to practice portraiture – a subject that I have been wanting to develop for a long time. I’m motivated to practice, and it’s also easy to find source material.

Skyscapito kit

Having everything accessible downstairs where I tend to spend evening time is also important. Encouraged that I had found an enjoyable and productive way to break a habit, I started wanting more supplies: Bics, Neocolors, a couple of colors of Uglybooks. Whatever I wanted was still upstairs, and my potential laziness to go get them became another barrier I had to eliminate. More materials started creeping down the stairs. My “reading” table, which formerly held only a stack of books and one mugful of pens and pencils that I use in my journal, was turning into a cluttered studio annex. I needed a solution.

Around the holidays when Amazon was bombarding me with gift ideas, one image caught my eye. It was a “complete drawing kit” including a variety of colored and graphite pencils, tools and sketchbooks, and the entire contents came in a zipped-up case like a small portfolio. Having always acquired my art materials ala carte, preassembled kits had been off my radar.

Stellar's jay kit

I started looking at more options, and, of course, I found many – a multitude with slight variations in content and form factor. The contents, likely mediocre, didn’t interest me, but the zipped-up cases did. I wanted one that was neither too big (which would only tempt me to move more of my studio to the annex) nor too small. Since I wasn’t planning to carry it around, weight and bulkiness weren’t primary concerns, but I did want it to be compact. I found one that would require me to be judicious but still be comfortable: Seventy pencil slots plus space for a few non-pencil items seemed about right. At 8 ½ by 11 ½ by 1 ½ inches, it wouldn’t take over my whole reading table.

Made by Pandafly, it was 20 bucks – a price I would have been willing to pay even if the case had been empty. In fact, it was filled with colored, watercolor, metallic, graphite and charcoal “prencils” [sic], sketch pads, pens, erasers, blending stumps, two sharpeners with varying hole sizes, a sandpaper block, a paintbrush, a waterbrush and an interestingly shaped “rub sponge.” A drawing tutorial is also included. Considering the price, this kit has thought of everything.

The zipped-up case is 8 ½ by 11 ½ by 1 ½ inches.


Fully opened

Two sketch pads and a tutorial included.

The most surprising kit item: an egg-shaped "rub sponge."

1/5/23 white charcoal and graphite in Uglybook sketchbook
(Earthsworld reference photo)

Made in China, the materials are not ones I would write home about, but neither are they as bad as I had expected. After giving everything a perfunctory scribble, I used a white charcoal pencil and a 12B graphite pencil to make a sketch, just for fun. Notably, all the kit’s pencils hold the distinction of being the only ones in my vast collection without any kind of branding: Completely nameless pencils are hard to come by!

Aside 1: When I first began looking at these, I was ambivalent about the “complete drawing kit” concept. As a gift to a budding artist, especially a younger one, it’s a convenient, compact, inexpensive way to present a variety of materials to play and experiment with. If the kit had contained truly terrible materials, though, I was afraid they would be discouraging (the issue I had talked about in
my recent Crayola post). The items in the kit I purchased, however, are decent enough that they could satisfactorily whet an appetite for drawing without being discouraging. That made me feel better. I do wish, however, that the portfolio could be purchased empty. Filled by an experienced artist for another who is less so, imagine what a nice gift that could be.

Aside 2: A couple of reviews had mentioned the kit having a strong odor, which made me leery. However, the “odor” turned out to be the delicious licorice scent I love about Prismacolor and Arrtx colored pencils! They must all contain a binding ingredient that delightfully evokes Good & Plenty.

Good & Plenty notwithstanding, I didn’t buy the kit for its contents. After taking these photos, I immediately removed everything (I plan to donate them), and then the fun began: Filling the case with my own stuff. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Empty and full of potential!


  1. Do you think anything larger than a colored pencil could fit in all those pencil spots?

    1. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, which shows everything I was able to get in. The loops are pretty tight... I can force my Pitt pens in, but it's not convenient because they are too tight. Waterbrush is too big.

  2. Too bad the loops are so tight. This holds an amazing amount of materials! Have fun filling it.

  3. that Stellar's Jay kit perfectly echoes the colors of the Jays! Of course, I know that was intentional. I was intrigued by the "rub sponge". I just watched a YouTube about inked backgrounds using sponges that I want to try. Where would the sponge fit into the case?
    Anne HwH

    1. The intriguing "rub sponge" was not in any of the loops -- it just popped out at me when I unzipped the case! Looks like an afterthought to me!


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