Doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less.

“Tools of the trade…mine.”

Man. Every time I mention art supplies I get a barrage of messages asking what tools I use, which ones I recommend, which are the “best,” etc. Rather than publish and respond to each and every one of those messages and emails it’s a whole lot easier to compile a single, short post.

First off, like so many of my artist and photographer friends I can be a bit of a “gadget junky.” I love to play around with different pens and papers and paints and whatever. That caveat out of the way, I have two sketch kits: the “essentials” and the “big kit” – because I firmly believe that simpler really can be better.

The “essentials” boils down to what you see at the top of the page: a sketchbook and a pen. Period. Despite the fact that I will occasionally flirt with a brush pen – my current favorite being the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen – my pen of choice is the Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen filled with Noodler’s. I’m pretty picky about paper and I’ve gone through so many different sketchbooks over the years that I’ve simply lost count and track of them all. There are bundles of them on my book shelf that are only half filled, abandoned after I gave up on the pages within. For a long time the Moleskin Watercolor Journal met my needs. But while watercolor works well on the pages, my choice of fountain pen ink does not. It doesn’t want to set. It doesn’t want to permanently dry. About a year or more back I tried out the Canson 180 sketchbook and liked it very much. The Lamy, Canson paper, and Noodler’s ink make for a good combination. Every now and then I might even toss a bit of watercolor on the page as well, but that’s not the strength or purpose of this paper.

So, “essentials” for me are pen and paper.

The “big kit” is a misnomer. It’s my essentials plus a brush pen and a pocket watercolor travel kit. The kit includes the pigments I feel most comfortable using, plus a few others for infrequent use in special situations. The watercolor kit fits in a hip pocket, the pens in my front shirt or jacket pocket, or in a jeans pocket. The sketchbook is snugged into the small of my back at the waist of my jeans. Or better yet, I just carry it, which is usually not a big deal.

My students often want to carry way more than necessary with them, not knowing what they might need and not having the experience or confidence to rely on just a few tools. So too do my workshop participants. Years of hauling too much crap around in the car, on the bike, or in the backpack has made me reconsider those actions. If a particular drawing or painting requires “more,” I am now left to wonder if it’s appropriate subject matter for me to be engaging with outside of a studio situation. Because in that event, drawing or painting becomes more about the tools than it does about the act of drawing or painting. It took me a long time to accept that reality, but I find myself happier doing a lot more with a whole lot less.


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