A Sketchy Obsession

Anyone following my Facebook or Instagram knows that I have developed a new obsession, sketching…with watercolors…in sketchbooks.

I have always been a sketching guy, but I never kept my sketchbooks or organized them or even thought of these sketchbooks as anything other than a place to workout ideas before making actual art. And the idea of sketching in public seemed unnecessary. But, I have had a change of heart about the way I create, what I use to create, and even where I create.

Urban Sketching

The Idea behind urban sketching is that you go out into your world, take all your supplies with you, find your spot and sketch, draw, and paint what you see. Yes, plein air painters have been doing this for centuries. But this is somehow different, in that, the artist is usually using a sketchbook and simple tools, capturing the scene simply. The most common style among urban sketchers involves ink pens and watercolors. And often a bit of journaling, titles, and other information may be added to the sketch making it a bit more up my alley as my day job is as a graphic designer.

My Style…so far

Right now, I’m sketching people and places around DC. you can follow me on IG @sketchydc. I’m usually not using pencils, but once in a while I will use a pencil to mark out space. I will usually start with the fountain pen. I do not always know if I’m going to do some crazy illustration or a realistic view of the subject. I’m really working har at staying loose and fun, but I keep getting sucked into details when I dont really need to. My lines are wobbly and I’m trying to think less about perspective and more about relational spaces.

Watercolors and other mark makers… once the line work is done, or partially done, I add color, usually with watercolors or colored inks. Sometimes I feel like I’m just filling in colors, other times I’m splashing around and making a mess. When I first started this sketchy style, I wanted muted tones, natural tones and I loved how grey worked with a limited pallet. But recently, I have returned to the bright colors and splashy mess that I love. I’m having a lot of fun right now for sure.

My Tools

Ugh! Tools! It is so easy to go overboard with choosing the right pens, ink, paints, brushes, bags… the list goes on and on. The up-side to being an Urban sketcher is that part of the goal is to cary only what you need so you can easily sketch anytime it suits you. So, here goes.

  • Ink Pens: I was a fine liner guy ( Microns, Copics…) when I first started but I found that I was blowing though pens too fast. I switched to Fountain Pens and fell in love. I see how people become obsessed with fountain pens and how expensive it can become.
    • Lamy Safari Fine: Mine is matte black and feels great in the hand. It’s about a 0.8 line so it’s a bit large for my tases, but I find when I use it, I make more economical lines.
    • Kakuno Extra Fine: This is my main pen. Pilot Kakuno is meant to be a “beginners fountain pen” whatever that means. I love this pen. I changed it from cartridges to a Pilot Con-40 converter so that I can use whatever ink I want.
    • Kakuno Fine: Honestly I thought I was ordering a second Extra Fine, but I must not have paid attention. The fine and the extra fine are nearly the same line width, around .004 but when you lean into the fine pen, it does get a bit wider than the Extra Fine.
    • Sailor Fude (green): This is a crazy pen. the nib is bent up at an angle so depending on the angle you hold the pen, lines go from very fine to extremely wide and wet. It takes a lot to figure it all out.
  • Pencils: I try not to use pencils. There is something about having the ability to erase makes me, less secure in my lines? Not sure what that would be? I have recently found some pencils that I do like.
    • BlackWing Pearl: My favorite. It is soft and buttery, but hold a point longer than the Black Matte
    • BlackWing Black Matte: If I were only doing pencil drawing, this would be the one, soft and buttery, needs to be sharpened frequently
    • BlackWing 602: This one is designed for writing, but is great for sketching. I pull this one out most for blocking out large objects to get perspective.
    • Sakura Xs127, 0.7 : This mechanical is great, but really pretty much the same as any other mechanical pencil. If I were going to pack a smaller case, this is the one I would bring.
  • Erasures: I keep two with me.
    • Prang Vinyl Erasure If I have done an lot of sketching, I may ink over the whole image, then go back with this powerful erasure to remove all of the pencil and to clean the paper, but on some papers, they can change how the paper takes water, just slightly, but a little.
    • Kneaded Erasure If I sketch before I ink, I will roll this over the pencil to lighten it up without disturbing the paper texture.
  • Brushes: Most time I do a whole painting with only one brush, other times, I switch it up a lot. I love travel brushes, cheap brushes, and water brushes.
    • Da Vinci Travel brushes: These are incredible, and ridiculously expensive…. but keep an ey on amazon, I managed to get a 3 pack for a round $30… I have a 10 a 6 and a 4. I love this enriches and the travel well.
    • Water Brush: I have no allegiance to any one brand of these. I love the stiffness of these nylon brushes for working colors into each other. A water brush uses the handle as to hold water, and when you squeeze it, the water comes through the bristles. Very handy, but not great if you like to work very wet.
  • Shaders, Markers, Inks.
    • Ink for pens: Carbon Black is my favorite and the only ink that I use for my fountain pens.
    • Inks for Painting: Sennelier Abstract Acrylic Ink. I use this for painting, diluted and used like water colors, or in a dip pen… but not in my table bag for urban sketching, but once I come home, I may touch things up with this ink.
    • TomBow: Grey, water soluble brush pens. I keep two, mid-light colored grey, a warm and a cool. It’s nice to be able to add shadows after a sketch has been made without having to mix up the watercolors. I’m using these less and less they day and they may soon leave the travel bag.
    • Sakura Koi Ink Brush Markers: I picked them up on a whim and I’m falling in love with them. They are a pain in the but in most ways, but I love the strong pigments. When using these, I usually have 3 markers in-between my fingers and the water brush in hand. I work quick and as wet as possible.
  • Watercolors:
    • Schpirerr Farben: I bought this set because I liked the pallet box and figured I would replace the pain in the pans. Well, for the most part, I LOVE these paints. yes, I see plenty of short comings and I have replace a few pans with other options. But overall, this is a great set of paints.
    • Winsor Newton: I’ve been slowly replacing my current watercolors with the professional line. and yes, I do see a difference. Currently, Moss green, Turquoise, Transparent Orange and Paynes Grey are in my travel pallet.
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  • Bag and Easel: This is the real game changer! Many sketchers have little table tops that fit on photo tripods and such. I admit, I’m thinking about those. But I found this company on Etsy that makes a bag that is exactly the right size and a simple foam core board that once clipped on, is all the easel I need.
    • The easel board: It’s very well thought out. it is basically firm foam-core board with a little notch to fit the spline of your sketchbook. It comes with an elastic ban with some hoops, great for holding extra brushes while you paint. and it has a could strips of magnets that hold my metal paint pallet in place. I looked at pictures of it online over and over and didnt quite get it, but now that I have it, WOW, I love this thing.
  • SketchBooks: I use a lot of different books. I have not settled on just one style, size or paper that I love. I have recently purchase a 5.5X5.5 that I think will be my Inktober 2022 book.
  • The Random Stuff: Every artist’s bag has some random stuff.
    • Lighter: When paint or ink is not drying fast enough, put a little flame near it.
    • Paper Towel: I love Blue Shop towels, they last forever.
    • Toothbrush: To make some random splashes on the page. You can get a splatter style airbrush effect format too.
    • BullDog Clips: This big black paperclips can help keep things together and lay flat.
    • Dual Water Cup: Oil painters use this to have different solutions in each. For me, it’s a clean water and dirty water. the two cups have a clip on the bottom that fits nicely over the sketch board.
    • Carabiners: It’s good to have some extra clips around for different things.