7 Essential Tools for Sketch Artists

What was even more interesting to realize was that out of all seven supplies, I only still use one of them today. For the rest of the list, either my preferred brand for the supply has changed, or I no longer use a particular item at all. Just as my sketching style and methods have evolved over the years, so it seems my  favorite art mediums have been undergoing their own evolution.

1. Sketching pencils

I begin all my sketches with a light pencil outline. For me, this is a chance  to let my brain warm up to the scene , to figure out the perspective, and to get a sense of what details I want to include (or not include) — and to do this, I use Derwent sketching pencils with a hardness of HB.

2. Soft vinyl erasers

One of the main reasons I start every sketch with a pencil outline is that I love having  the freedom to make mistakes . If I don’t get the perspective just right the first time, I can always erase my lines and start over. The best erasers I’ve discovered are extra soft vinyl erasers. I also use them to erase my pencil lines after I’ve drawn in a sketch with pen, to give the sketch a clean look.

3. Drawing pens

From the first day I started sketching, I’ve been using drawing pens to give my sketches definition and detail before painting the scene in with watercolors. However, what has changed over the years are the brands I’ve used — from Pigma Micron to Stadtler to Prismacolor pens. Finally, I settled on Faber-Castell’s PITT artist pens with a superfine nib, which I love using.

No matter the brand, just be sure to look for ink that is lightfast, acid-free, and — most important for watercolors —  waterproof .

4. Watercolor paints

My paint kit is the only supply where I’ve stayed faithful to the same brand for six years — Winsor & Newton watercolors.

My first watercolor field kit was from Winsor & Newton’s line of affordable Cotman paints, and after a few years, I upgraded to their professional watercolor compact set. If you’re new to sketching and painting, you might consider starting with the Cotman field kit,  as you grow more familiar with the medium .

In terms of adding additional colors to your kit (especially black, which doesn’t come in either set), you can easily order tubes of extra colors. I also keep a tube of white gouache paint in my sketching kit. Gouache is an opaque watercolor that feels like a hybrid between watercolors and acrylics, so that means lighter shades will generally show up on top of darker colors. I like having white gouache on hand, in case I need to add highlights to my sketch or use it for detailed lettering.

5. Brushes

The Cotman kit from Winsor & Newton comes with its own short brush, which is what I used during my first years of sketching. But as my familiarity with different art techniques grew,  so did my preferences for more specific materials I now use three main brushes: two Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor round brushes (sizes 2 and 4), and my go-to favorite, a synthetic squirrel hair brush by Mimik (round, size 6). To keep the tips of the brushes from being damaged, I also store them in a separate brush roll.

I’m occasionally asked if I recommend water brushes, which are another great option for travel sketching. While I personally prefer the feel of a traditional brush, be sure to experiment to see what style of brush works best for you.

6. Sketchbooks

The key thing to keep in mind for sketchbooks is the quality of paper . Standard drawing paper has a weight of about 130 grams per square meter (a unit of measurement abbreviated as “gsm”), but watercolors can cause such paper to buckle. A good weight for watercolor paper starts at 200-300 gsm, so keep an eye out for this when you’re shopping for sketchbooks.

In terms of brands, I’ve come to use Canson regularly, specifically their line of Montval watercolor pads. I love their 5.5” x 8.5” spiral-bound sketchbooks, as well as their 7” x 10” field artbooks, whose thick black hardcovers make the book feel solid and balanced in your hands as you sketch. In the past two years, however, I’ve primarily used Moleskine’s pocket-sized watercolor notebooks for sketching, as their smaller size helps me work faster in the field (each page measures only 3.5” x 5”).

7. Bag

As I’ll share more about just below, I haven’t always traveled light as a sketch artist, but I now store everything but my brush roll in a small canvas pouch that measures just 7” x 7”. I love how easy it is to pack — no matter what bag or backpack I’m using at the time — and it ensures I’m always ready should inspiration strike.