Archive of Sketch Kits

Sketchbooks I've used, clockwise from upper left: Moleskine large watercolor sketchbook, Moleskine pocket watercolor sketchbook, Stillman & Birn Alpha, Hand Book sketchbook, Moleskine large sketchbook

Because I want to document the evolution of my sketching process, this page is an archive of art materials and sketching systems I’ve used in the past. Please see my Current Favorite Art Materials page for the updated list. 

Everyday-Carry Sketch Bags

2012 - 2023: After more than a decade of using the “small” size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag (in several colors) as my everyday-carry, in 2023, I made a transition to downsize to the same style of Rickshaw bag in the “mini” size. I'm a bit sentimental about these bags, expecially the purple one, which has sketched with me on four continents. They have all served me well.

My oldest Rickshaw bag, which sketched with me on four continents from 2013 - 2019.

The waterproof version for the wet months.

The pink spring version!

You have served me well!

Sketch Bag Accessories

For a short time in 2022, I used a Rickshaw Model R Sinclair to organize my materials in my bag -- until I downsized my bag.

Rickshaw Model R Sinclair

From 2018 - 2022, I used a lovely, custom-made sketch kit organizer as a supplement to the Tran Portfolio Pencil Case

Custom, handmade organizer made by Brynn James

(2017 - 2021) The Tran Portfolio Pencil Case served me very well, keeping all my implements upright and easily accessible at all times in my bag. In 2022, I replaced both the Tran Portfolio Case and the handmade organizer with the more versatile Peg & Awl Sendak Artist Roll

Tran Portfolio Pencil Case (2017 - 2021)

(2015 - 2017) To keep my sketch bag organized, the Kutsuwa Dr. Ion accessory organizer was invaluable! Purchased in Tokyo, it was an integral and essential part of my sketch kit:

Kutsuwa Dr. Ion bag organizer

(2012 - 2016) It breaks my heart to put my "Stefano" on the Archive page, but it was truly loved and used well on four continents:

My beloved Stefano sketchbook cover

Sketchbook (2019 - 2021)

Stillman & Birn Beta and Zeta softcover books

In early 2019, I made the first change in my everyday-carry sketchbook since 2013 -- a big deal for me! Instead of binding sketchbooks by hand, I started using a softcover Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook in the 
5½-by-8 ½-inch size. Later I switched to a softcover S&B Beta.

Sketchbooks (2013 - 2019)

  1. A self-made signature – four sheets of 9-by-12-inch Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper folded in half and stitched with a temporary cover. This is my daily-carry sketchbook. When I have filled six of these signatures, I bind them together with Coptic stitch. This is the lightest, thinnest, self-supported sketchbook I have found containing paper I can use with any media – but I have to make it myself. It’s a small price to pay for getting all my needs met.
  2. Stillman & Birn softcover sketchbook in the 5½-by-8 ½-inch size. Except for the two-month period when I challenged myself with a minimal sketch kit, the S&B books are not my daily-carry. I keep a variety of books with different papers (Alpha, Beta, Epsilon and Nova) on my desk for use on still lives and other experiments in the studio. I also take one 8 ½-by-5½-inch softcover landscape-format Beta book when I travel, since that tends to be when I use a landscape format most often.
  3. and 4. Field Notes notebook. I always carry one, most often a red Sweet Tooth edition, but occasionally others for variety, like the slightly larger Signature edition. This is handy for quick, perhaps discreetly made sketches of people on public transportation or other situations when I don’t necessarily need or want my full-size sketchbook.

Bag Contents 

July 2019:


1. Tortillon
4. 8B graphite pencil
5. Blackwing graphite pencil with soft core (about 4B)
7. Two waterbrushes – a general-use Kuretake and a special-purpose Derwent
8. Kneadable eraser (kept in a slender, hinged Daniel Smith watercolor crayon box)
9. Two black brush pens – one waterproof, one water-soluble. I use many different brands with no specific favorites as long as one is waterproof and one is water-soluble. Shown here are a waterproof Tombow Fudenosuke and a water-soluble Kuretake Fudegokochi.
10. Pentel Pocket Brush Pen with dark gray waterproof ink
11. Water spritzer that I find essential for a couple of techniques with watercolor pencils.

Feb. 2018:

The Rickshaw bag contains the following tools and materials:


  1. Pentel sign pen (a hard-tipped brush pen). I change out the brush pen frequently, so this one is not necessarily a favorite, though I do like it. The Pentel has water-soluble ink, which is nice for fast and easy shading. But now that I’m back to using water-soluble colored pencils, I’ll probably switch to one with waterproof ink. I also like to switch between real (“hairy”) brush tips and formed “non-hairy” tips, because each has benefits (and drawbacks). The Copic Gasenfude is a favorite hairy one containing waterproof ink. See the post on my favorites in all categories for details. Diet tip: I used to carry four brush pens – two hairy (one with waterproof ink, one with water-soluble ink), and two non-hairy (one with waterproof ink, one with water-soluble ink). Now I make a choice and carry only one.
  2. Two Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen fountain pens, one with waterproof Platinum Carbon Black ink (very waterproof and non-clogging) and one with water-soluble Sailor Doyou ink (fast drying). These have been my stable, consistent pen-and-ink combos for several years now. For variety, I occasionally rotate in my Franklin-Christoph with fude nib, but it’s not a sketch kit standard.
  3. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush marker in warm gray. I like it because it’s waterproof and is handy for quick shading on both white and toned papers.
  4. Two Kuretake waterbrushes with the largest and smallest tips.
  5. An emptied hand sanitizer bottle that I’ve filled with water for spritzing (see my demo for one technique I use).
  6. A low-quality traditional brush that I use only to spread water that I’ve sprayed onto paper.
  7. white Gelly Roll gel pen. I use it for sharp highlights on red or toned paper and whenever I need to write white signage lettering.
  8. white Hester & Cook Midtown grease pencil. Unlike most grease pencils, this one can be sharpened with a sharpener, so I can get a good point on it. But I sometimes use a traditional white colored pencil, too. Its purpose is for subtle highlights (especially nice for skin and other rounded surfaces) when using toned or red paper. (If I’m not carrying either a toned or red sketchbook, I take it out of my kit.)
  9. Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble carbon pencil. I also use water-soluble graphite pencils in a soft grade (the ArtGraf 6B is a favorite), but this carbon pencil has the darkest darks I’ve ever seen when activated with water. It also doesn’t have the shiny look of graphite.
  10. Blackwing pencil with the softest (ungraded) core. I swap this out frequently with other soft-core pencils – usually 4B or softer. Other favorites are the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni in 4B or 6B and the Gekkoso 8B.
  11. An ever-changing palette of water-soluble colored pencils (mostly Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle). Right now I’m carrying 14 colors, but as you can see, my Tran Portfolio pencil case still has a few slots to spare. I always add one or two specialty colors when I travel (based on what I see in photos of the place I’m visiting). My goal is to carry no more than 18 colors under any circumstance, which would fill all the slots in the Tran Portfolio.
Not shown: M+R portable sharpener and Derwent pencil extender: Finally, two important tools that fit my favorite, larger-than-average colored pencils!

    Transition from watercolor to colored pencils, Sept. 2016:


    1. A hand-stitched signature of 140-pound Canson XL paper
    2. KUM pencil sharpener (the only one that seems to accommodate my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle colored pencils (see No. 7 below)
    3. Waterbrushes filled with warm and cool gray inks for shadows; and sky-blue Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa ink (still my favorite way to make a quick streak of sky)
    4. Water spritzer
    5. Two Sailor fude fountain pens (one with waterproof ink; one with water-soluble ink)
    6.  One small and two large waterbrushes and one traditional brush (which I use only to spread sprayed water with)
    7. An expanded but still carefully selected palette of colored pencils 
    8. A red Field Notes notebook
    9. A white colored pencil I like using with the red Field Notes (No. 8 above)
    10. hairy brush pen
    11. A white Gelly Roll gel pen (again, for use with the Field Notes)
    12. non-hairy brush pen with waterproof ink
    13. A non-hairy brush pen with water-soluble ink (currently a Zebra double-ended brush pen)

    Bag contents (July 2016):


    Bag contents (October 2015):


    Contents (May 2014):

    3. Pilot Metropolitan and/or 14. Pilot Prera fountain pens containing some of the following inks (see my updated blog post on how I came to select these inks):

    Waterproof ink:

    Water-soluble inks:
    Private Reserve Velvet Black
    Diamine Chocolate Brown

    6. A waterbrush filled with undiluted Diamine Grey ink
    12. A travel-size perfume atomizer filled with water to spray paper and paints and freshen mixing palette
    13. Kuretake waterbrushes (one small, two large) (For an excellent article comparing various waterbrushes, please see Russel Stutler's website. I review several waterbrush brands in this blog post.)
    14. Pilot Prera fountain pen (see No. 3 above)
    15. A careful selection of Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush pens (see An Urban Palette for the specific colors)
    Pencil sharpener
    Paper towels
    A pocket-size hand-stitched signature of watercolor paper (my "catch-all" sketchbook)
    Water bottle

    Contents (February 2013):


    2012: In my everyday purse that goes with me everywhere, I carry:

    2012: If I’m on my way to a coffee shop for sketching, I’ll grab:

    Rickshaw Folio with Moleskine sketchbook
    My “coffee shop sketch kit,” a Rickshaw Bagworks Smartphone Folio containing either a Global Art Materials Hand Book sketchbook or a Moleskine sketchbook, plus a few assorted drawing and coloring implements.



    Sketching vest

    2012: For an outdoor urban sketching adventure, I like to keep my supplies as simple as possible so that I can carry almost everything I need in my sketching vest and be able to sketch bag-free:

    My clip-on watercolor box (2012)

    3/12 photo

    2012: Recently I acquired a Rickshaw Bagworks Zero messenger bag (in the small size), customized to match my Rickshaw Folio, of course. I take it on sketching adventures when I want to use larger-format sketchbooks than the pocket-size Moleskine that fits in my vest. It has more space than the vest, but I don’t want it to get so heavy that it becomes cumbersome, so my goal is to be judicious in my selection of materials. It contains everything listed above, plus the following:

    Minimal Sketch Kit

    2018 - 2019:

    When fitness-walking, I never used to take sketching gear of any kind. But ever since I wanted to capture an elusive gray heron I spotted at Green Lake, I’ve been taking my ultra-minimalist sketch kit.

    This kit is currently housed in a Lihit Lab Smart Fit Carrying Pouch, which has ample space for my smart phone, wallet and keys, too. It contains:

    2013 - 2018: 

    Travelon bag and contents (photo updated 9/16)

    This kit is currently housed in a Travelon Convertible Travel Wallet, which has (though barely) enough space for my smart phone, wallet and keys too, so it’s actually a serviceable bag. It contains:

    My studio (2012)
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