Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tackle your Toolbox

Ever put the wrong color on your sketch? Realize you didn’t bring along any water-resistant pens? Forget which pen skips on watercolor paper? Stare at a completely blank sketchbook afraid of making the first sketch? Or maybe you hoard art supplies and can't remember which palette has your favorite yellow? (Oh, maybe that's just me.)

Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks is my favorite way to help prevent some of those bumps in happy sketching. It’s especially fun because it involves using your tools!
Sketch & originals of my current palettes and tools
That’s right this is about sketching your tools.

 My solution to help prevent all these problems? Sketch my tools in each sketchbook.

Tools on paper over back cover of S&B Zeta Sketchbook
Depending on the book’s purpose, I like to chart out my tools in the front or back of the notebook.  With my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook, fear of a huge stack of nice blank paper kept it that way for nearly a month. Finally I decided to sketch my palette on the back of the front cover to help me get over my fear. It worked and I’m happily filling it with paintings! However, in the smaller watercolor sketchbooks I carry for Urban Sketching, I prefer to make a chart or drawing in the back. When I’m out sketching I find it easier to reference a chart in the back than in the front. In my Zeta series Stillman & Birn sketchbook, the endpapers are so close to the rest of the pages that I sketch my tools there. Those of you who received sketchbooks at last year's seminar should check the end papers in your sketchbooks--unlike other sketchbooks I've used, these are high quality and can often hold watercolor!

How to get started? Well, you can always just jump in and get started making up your own method. For those of you who less inclined to experimenting, there are great examples by other Urban Sketchers, like Liz Steel with USK Australia, who sketch their tools often. Here are some ideas to get you started and examples from my sketchbooks:
Here I only draw one pen & pencil to represent multiple variations

  • Draw one pen to represent multiple pens of the same type in different widths. Draw a line from each pen coming from the tip or under the pen and label its size.
  • Draw your pens and make a line coming out the tip of each. After all have dried, take a wet brush or q-tip and run it over the lines so you can see (and refresh your memory about) how each pen handles water.
  • Draw only your top three favorite pens. Sure your favorite may change in a month or so, but this will help you see which types of pens you like best over time.

Watercolor Pencils:
  • Draw a watercolor pencil and a swatch from each color under it. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
  • Make swatches of your pencils inside a rectangle or square to keep your pencils together. Label each swatch with the color name on the pencil, then wet half of each swatch to see the color wet and dry.
This was my first watercolor chart in the back of a pocket Moleskine

  • Draw the palette you want to take on your next sketch outing and fill in each pan with the appropriate color. Leave the     colors flat to see how they’ll look on the paper or practice shading to show the texture of the paint.
  • Draw all of your palettes to help you remember which ones have certain colors without having to test them all again.
  • Paint a stroke of each color on the page where it would appear in your palette. This quick method is still a great reference in the field. 

What about you, how do keep track of your tools? Are there tools not mentioned here that you bring along to sketch with?


  1. Great ideas! I often break the ice in a new sketchbook by painting my palette on the first page.

  2. Some great new or expanded ideas for me. I keep inventories in written form, and refer back to where tools are and what changed.

  3. I haven't done this...yet. A good warm up too. Thanks

  4. Zoe, That's a great way too! Do you keep your written inventories in your sketchbook for outings or are you one of those folks who doesn't need reminders so often? :)

  5. Hello Frndz.....
    Nice post!..good information,it is really helpful..it really impressed me alot and i just loved it.Thanks for posting such an informative content..

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