Frances' comment on the previous post, about her artist friend's sketching kit, made me think about my own, and I've ended up sketching it (how meta can you get?) to show you. Over the past five or six years, since I got back into this sketching thing, I've refined what I carry so that it's now down to the lightest, most compact kit I could manage - and it works really well for me. If this is helpful to any of you, then all the better.
1. Winsor & Newton compact plastic watercolor field box. However, I've switched out the student-grade Cotman watercolors for empty half-pans that I fill myself with whatever pigments I need for a particular trip or season. I use tube colors from Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith, and also sometimes use the Daniel Smith solid watercolor sticks, but break them up and soften them with water so they'll stick in the pans. You can use any sort of tin for your colors - some people even use the sort of tin that mints come in - or buy an empty one from an art supply store. Plastic may not feel as nice, but it weighs less than metal. It helps to have the color containers be interchangeable, then you won't have to rinse out partially-used expensive colors in order to switch them. Your tin needs to have wells where you can mix the colors.
2. Plastic brush-pen. There are several models; mine is by made by Letraset. This brilliant invention is the key to easy watercolors on-the-go. Not only does it dispense with the need for sable brushes (hard to carry, hard to care for), you also don't need a water container because the water is in the brush handle. I usually travel with just a little water in the brush, and fill it wherever I happen to be: on a plane, in a hotel room, at a public fountain. There is also a little sable travel brush in the watercolor box, but I rarely use it. The brush pen has a synthetic, responsive fiber tip that never separates or becomes worn, and it works by dispensing water as you squeeze the handle - you can control it very finely, with a just a little for intense color and fine lines, or squeeze hard for washes or to rinse the brush out before changing colors.
3. Fountain pen with waterproof ink. Mine is a Lamy Safari, the transparent demonstrator model, with a fine nib, and I usually use Noodler's Lexington Grey ink in it. If I'm going to be gone for a while, I take a small bottle of the ink for refills: mine is a re-purposed plastic bottle that originally contained over-the-counter eye drops. I like drawing with a fountain pen much better than with fine-tipped markers; the line has a lot more variation and life, and the nib is pressure-sensitive. This pen choice is the result of a lot of testing and research: you have to be careful with waterproof inks - do NOT put them in a favorite, expensive fountain pen!
4. Pencil sharpener and one pencil. Often I don't begin with a pencil sketch anymore; I either start right in with the pen or splash on some watercolor first, and then draw onto it with the pen when it's dry. But most of us will want and need a pencil some of the time. The sharpener (drawn a bit too large here!) is a high-quality metal one; plastic weighs less but a hundred broken points later, I've decided the cute plastic sharpeners that hold the shavings aren't worth the trouble.
5. A rag. You need something - a paper towel or a rag - to wipe your brush on.The green thing at right is a piece of a microfiber towel from Trader Joe's: this fabric works incredibly well for the purpose. It weighs very little, is super-absorbent, and can be rinsed out and dried quickly. In a pinch, you can just use a paper towel or napkin.
6. Small, high-quality sketchbook. I use Stillman & Birn Gamma series spiral-bound sketchbooks at home, and these lovely cloth-bound Travelogue Artist Journals when I'm traveling; both contain fairly heavy paper that has a bit of a "tooth" and accepts multi-media and light washes. If it's for a special trip, I've sometimes made and bound my own books, but frankly, I like these better; they open flat and the paper is excellent. I wouldn't suggest working in a book with pages that are less than 5 or 6 inches square; you'll get all tied up in details from working so small. Take the biggest one you think you can manage and will use on a daily basis: it's better to use your weight allotment for this.
7. Zip-loc bag. All the tools fis into the zip-loc, which is then closed and rolled up. (I keep the sketchbook separate in case of spills.) The zip-loc is the lightest possible container, and if the towel is damp or any water or ink should spill, it won't leak into my shoulder bag or luggage. At home I use various containers, including a beautiful India print pencil sac given to me by my friend Priya, but for travel, you need light + waterproof.
I hope this is helpful to those of you who like to draw, but more than that, I hope you'll be encouraged to get out there and try your hand. I don't show you my bad drawings here - we all do them - but the important thing is that practice really helps; my drawing continues to improve and become more lively and fluid, and that's true for everyone. So don't get discouraged by early attempts that may be disappointing, just keep at it and have fun observing and recording what you notice in the world around you, which is the point of drawing in the first place.
This drawing reminded me of an illustration in one of my beloved children's books. It was by a woman who was an artist and book illustrator, and she had drawn her palette and tools and written a little about herself: it was a loose, lovely little watercolor in shades of brown, rose, mauve, soft green. I pored over that page for hours, returning to it again and again. There was just something about that little box of colors and the brushes that was utterly captivating and whispered, "this could be you someday." I can still see it perfectly in my mind, even though the book has been gone for decades. How odd life is, how strange the way it circles back to our beginnings, our earliest longings and dreams!