This is my list of sketchbook drawing supplies. You can read more about watercolor painting over here: Watercolor Supplies
I prefer 0.7mm sized lead for larger (9×12″ and up) drawings. It doesn’t break as often when drawing. I like HB lead. I find softer smudges, and harder digs into the paper. For a very small book (pocket-sized) I’ll sometimes use 0.3mm lead. I never use a wooden pencil. Sharpening is a constant messy chore, and plus you don’t acutely want a lot of graphite on a drawing you plan to ink or watercolor later. If you’re doing soft tonal drawings, that might be different, but that’s not my thing for travel sketching. Too slow!
You’ll also want a Kneaded Rubber Eraser. The grey rubbery kind you can squish into points for small erasures, or blot and roll for overall lightening. These don’t damage paper surfaces like white or pink erasers.
- Pentel Graph Gear Mechanical Pencil 0.7mm
- Pentel Graphgear Mechanical Pencil 0.3mm
- Kneaded Rubber Eraser
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I like fountain pens for their rapid smooth drawings, and the line variation you can get with a flexible nib. Plus the ability to refill it yourself with different color ink, or switch from water-proof to water-soluble inks. They cost more than a disposable pen up front, but you regain the cost in re-usability. Most pen makers sell parts, so your pen will last forever, given moderate maintenance. To clean a fountain pen, just unscrew all the parts (paying some attention to how they go back together), and run it all under tap water.
Starter Fountain Pens:
- Lamy Safari, Fine Nib: I mainly use a Fine, but often carry an Extra Fine as well.
- Lamy Joy Calligraphy Fountain Pen, 1.5mm Nib: Chisel tip allows drawing with the edge for fine work, or the width for broad strokes. Longer body is nice for expressive drawing. I use this long body with F and EF nibs as well.
- Lamy Replacement Steel Nib, Fine: You can get any size Lamy nib, and put it on any Lamy pen body. If you want to swap around line weights and body styles.
- Lamy Black T10 Ink Cartridges: For convenience of disposable cartridges. This ink comes in about 8 colors and is water-soluble.
- Lamy Safari Ink Converter Z24: For refilling custom inks. This can be any color, and might be water-proof, or not, your choice).
Other Fountain Pens:
- Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen, Super Fine Super fine line, great for detail or small drawings.
- Platinum Carbon Ink Cartridge: Disposable
- Platinum Fountain Pen Converter: Refillable
- Noodler’s Ahab Flex Nib Fountain Pen: Clever piston filler, needs no converter cartrige. Flex nib makes expressive lines. Great drawing pen, but not as well made as a Safari. My personal favorite despite cheaper build quality.
- Noodler’s Ink Nib Creaper Standard Flex Fountain Pen: Internal twist-fill piston, does not require cartriges or converters. Flex nib is great for expressive drawing. A very small pen suitable for people with smaller hands. Take care posting cap on the end, due to the twist mechanism.
A real brush pen has a synthetic fiber brush on a fountain pen body. They are much nicer than the rubber tipped disposable brush markers. You can get better line variety, and have finer control of small tip work.
- Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen: Inexpensive, widely available. You will pay back the cost of the pen in only a few refills, comparerd to a disposable brush marker. Uses it’s own brand of cartridges – labled FP10. These are water PROOF ink and are a dark, solid, black. You get two cartridges with the pen, then can buy them in little boxes of six extra. They don’t make an ink converter sadly – but you can refill the empty cartridges with a syringe. (Ask at a pharmacist, or at medical supply store, you can get blunt needles for dispensing medicines).
- Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen: A very nice brush pen. A little more expensive for a fancy metallic body design. The name-brand Kuretake ink cartridge comes loaded with water SOLUBLE ink. If you want to use water PROOF ink, the Platinum Ink Converter will fit the Kuretake pen. So use one of those with Platinum Carbon ink. One last nice thing, if the brush tip wears down, you can replace just the brush part: Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen Replacement Nib. You can also order natural sable hair replacement nibs! Splurge for an anniversary.
- There are so many choices, you’ll have to do some experimenting to see what you like. Here’s some suggestions to start:
- Platinum Carbon Ink, Black: Reliably waterproof, reliably black ink. Despite rumors online, I have not found it clogs pens in normal use. I am not an obsessive about cleaning my pens either – just every so often. Overall, a reliable, safe ink.
PLEASE NOTE: You are looking for Platinum Carbon Ink, (black) not just Platinum Ink, (black). The box and bottle labeled ‘Carbon Ink’ (gold text) is the water-proof stuff. The bottle labeled simply ‘Black’ or ‘Ink’ (in white lettering) is water-soluble. Some people have had bad experiences due to this small confusion – and some discount online retailers will also make this mistake when shipping to you. So double check your order! Thanks to Larry D Marshall of Quebec city for solving that mystery.
- Lamy Bottled Ink (LT52BK): A water *soluble* black ink. Nice for making softer, tonal sketches out of your drawings – just paint over with clear water, or watercolor to ‘melt‘ the ink.
- Noodler’s Ink Red Black: My favorite color alternative to black. This is a highly reactive water-soluble ink even when dry on the page.
- Noodlers Ink Rome Burning: A dark gold color, nice antique feel. Also water-soluble.
- Higgins Sepia Ink: I like the color and the amount of water soluble flow – and it’s inexpensive.
- Here’s a post about what’s so cool about water soluble Ink and another one about colored ink. And a sketchbook project done with Lamy ink cartridges and watercolor.
There’s lots of reasons *not* to draw with these. They’re messy and scratchy-er, and you run the risk of ink drips. However – you can’t really get the same ‘organic’ quality of line any other way. Plus – they allow you to quickly change ink color without bringing a lot of pens. Though you do need a lot of small in bottles. (Here’s an article on why I like dipping pens). Plus, they’re pretty much the cheapest art supplies you’ll every buy. Next to drawing with a stick.
Fine Nibs: You get the finest lines with crowquill nibs. They’re tiny tube shaped nibs with sharp little points. They use their own size of holder that fits the cylindrical profile. You can’t fit them in an normal ‘flat,curved’ pen holder. The easiest to find seem to be the Hunt #107 and 102. I actually can’t tell them apart, but one must be meant for slightly more flex.
General Drawing: I’m liking the general purpose Tachikawa G nib or the a bigger, more flexible Brause 361 Steno also known as The Blue Pumpkin for its round ink reservoir and gunmetal blue finish.
Bold Nibs: You can get chisel flats in sizes like 2mm or 5mm from Brause, Speedball or Tachikawa. They call them C nibs – usualy they will say C-0 or C-3, depending on size. The C-0 is the biggest I have. These are great for laying in broad strokes. You can also draw wiht the corners, or the edge held thin-wise, making it possible to do an entire drawing with just this nib.
You’ll also need a wooden or plastic nib holder. A simple device with a slot or groove to insert the pen nibs.
If you want to try a bottle of ink in the field, don’t bring the manufacturers glass bottle. A: it’s too big. B: you cannot rely on the seal not to leak in your bag. I recommend leak-proof 5 ml HDPE plastic bottles from Nalgene. Here’s a shot of how I’m holding the tiny Nalgene bottle while doing a larger drawing in a museum.
- Travelogue Watercolor Journal by Hand Book My all-around favorite sketchbook. I use the 10.5×8.5″ Grand Portrait size, when I can’t find my preferred 8.25” square format. For whatever reason the square book is hard to find. I like the weight of these slim books (not too heavy to hold and draw), and the paper is reasonable for any kind of drawing or watercolor painting.
- Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5″): This is an excellent sketchbook for ink and wash. It doesn’t take water quite well as a Hand Book, but is an ideal multi-purpose book. The smooth surface is wonderful for detail in pen.
- If you want to go larger There is the Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series (8.5 x 11″). But this can be too heavy for some sketchers.
- If you like a slightly toothy-er paper surface try out the S&B Alpha series: 9 x 6″ and 8 .5 x 11“.
- For everyday pen and ink doodling, I do like the classic Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook (5 x 8.25″). This heavy, waxy paper is great for pen and ink, and will take light washes with only mild buckling. It’s not a true watercolor paper however.
- For that they have the Moleskine Folio Watercolor Album (11.75 x 8.25″). This is a larger sized book, big enough to do multiple sketches on a page spread, or make an ultra-wide panorama.
- These books are also available in more convenient sizes: Notebook (5 x 8.25″) and Pocket Album (3.5 x 5.5″).
- For little spontaneous portraits on the subway, or a quick street corner drawing that I don’t intend to color, I carry a Moleskine Cahier Journal (3 x 5″). These are ideal for everyday carry, so I am never without. Very cheap paper. Only for doodles.
WATERCOLOR TRAVEL KITS:
I recommend artist quality watercolor half pans. These will come in a tin (or plastic) box with around 12 colors. I have used Winsor & Newton Artists’ WaterColor Half Pans in the past. They’re great for tinting sketchbooks. Make sure you find the W&N artists’ quality watercolor *not* the student grade Cotman line.
As well, there is more info about my personal color choices over on my watercolor supplies page.
You don’t need a lot of brushes for sketching in small or mid sized books. My workhorse brushes right now are the:
- #3/4 DaVinci Artissimo, Quill (Quills have strange numbering. This is really almost the same size as a #14 pointed round).
- #7/8 Winsor and Newton Artist’s Watercolor Sable Pointed Round. These seem to come in long hair (my choice) and shorter hair, with no visible difference in the labeling, so you just have to compare. The long hair is almost a rigger. It’s great for sharp details and linear work (tree branches, wires, etc).
I don’t really use synthetics any more – but they were good enough for many years. They’re perfectly fine for learning on, and are getting better every year.
If you go for synthetic, rather than sable, you might want to go with one more smaller brush – as they won’t anywhere near as fine a point. I would bring a #1 or 2 for detail, and a go with a #4-6 for the alternative to my #7-8 W&N Artist’s Sable Pointed Round.
I am just now trying a new synthetic fiber by Raphael called Soft Aqua. They claim it is engineered to hold more water. The fiber is spiraled, rather than smooth like a nylon strand. They come in quill’s that are working very well for me as a cheap alternate to the DaVinci Artissimo.
Can’t say how long the points will last, as they are new to me in 2015. Update: The points lasted about a year of use. They’re pretty blunt now so I’ve downgraded my set to use with India Ink. (Which is harsh on nice brushes).
I’ve also used Princeton Neptune synthetics, and found them decent enough for the price.
IMPORTANT MISC STUFF:
- Backing Boards: Coroplast plastic boards cut to a size slightly larger than your sketchbook. As shown above – it’s very handy to have a backing board supporting your book and tools. Coroplast is light and reasonably rigid. Beats a wooden board hands down. This setup, I call the Palm Desk, can be used on the lap or while standing.
- Bulldog Clips: (6-8) large bulldog clips (also called binder clips). Handy for holding the book open in the wind, or while wet. Also for clipping on the paint box and ‘clamping’ damp books overnight.
- Water Containers: I suggest a few 125ml / 4oz HDPE plastic bottles from Nalgene. I carry more than one, so when the water gets dirty I can pull a clean bottle out of my bag.
- Paper Towels: Very important painting tool!
- Tiny Atomizer Spray Bottle: For misting your watercolors to prime the pigments.