FIELD OPS: Developing A Portable Studio

This article appears in the 2013 no.3 Journal of Natural Science Illustration

If you attended the past two conferences, and stopped by the Technique Showcase, you were treated to a display of Field Kits presented by a number of our members. It was obvious that the choice of equipment and supplies is as varied as the artists who use them, and depends on their preferred way of working, locale, subjects, etc. And of course different circumstances may require different kit compositions. All agree, though, that the best way to choose and use your own field kit is to just get out there and try various items out. Keep sketching! We will feature more Field Kits in future issues.

Laurel Mundy’s Field Kit

I almost always use the same small set of tools, regardless of whether I am working in the field or sketching at home. My most important of those is my blue lead mechanical pencil (along with extra lead), which I use for making all of my preliminary drawings. It is easily erased and hides well under ink and watercolor, which are the two media I most commonly work in while field sketching. I like to bring two erasers; a gum eraser to lighten outlines I don’t I want showing, and a fine eraser with a plastic holder. I usually sketch over my preliminary with a more final version in a regular graphite pencil before moving to the color or ink stage. I also bring along a black and a white color pencil, both very soft, for adding shadows or highlights (along with a quality pencil sharpener, of course). For finalizing dark outlines I usually use a 01 size Pigma Micron, occasionally using the even smaller 005. I like having a Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pen as well if I plan on using a lot of ink in the drawing, as it flows better and is a darker black.

When working in color in the field I bring along a small watercolor kit (mine is a Winsor and Newton, with a small water reservoir and area for mixing colors), along with a Pentel medium-sized waterbrush and a finer-tipped #4 daVinci portable brush (a high quality brush that screws into itself so the tip doesn’t get ruined in my kit). I like having the option of a finer-tipped point for tiny details, especially when working in a small space. I’ve found it’s best to minimize my equipment, otherwise I end up losing things or just carrying too much weight, and I really don’t need much to get a simple sketch down!

  1. sketchbook
  2. blue lead mechanical pencil
  3. Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pen
  4. 01 size Pigma Micron
  5. graphite pencil
  6. eraser stick
  7. white and black colored pencils
  8. Winsor and Newton travel watercolor kit
  9. #4 Da Vinci travel watercolor brush
  10. Pentel medium-sized waterbrush
  11. spare blue leads
  12. gum eraser
  13. pencil sharpener

Capt. Suzan Wallace - Sketching at sea

What may be unique to my field sketching pack are supplies that are conducive to the marine environment. Permanent ink pens and woodless pencils are the mainstay for sketching while watercolors and a Chinese brush round out the color media. One specialty tool I enjoy picking up along the way are empty bi-valve shells to use as water/ink bowls and/or palettes. I am currently experimenting with the water reservoir brushes.

Paddling by kayak limits supplies only to what is manageable within the confines of one’s lap. Expeditions by “studio boat” allow for stowable materials and more room to work in comfort. As for containing supplies envoyage, dry bags & large zip lock bags are essential. Tins & wooden boxes are the preferred storage container back on shore.

  1. bi-valve shell for water/ink bowl and/or palette
  2. water brush
  3. permanent ink pens
  4. 2 mm lead holder
  5. Chinese brush
  6. woodless pencils
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