In The Studio: Art Supplies For Field Work, Summer 2017

2017 art supplies

I’ve done a number of posts over the years covering the art supplies I use both here at home and also take to Mongolia (along with other gear) which you can see here for 2014 and here for 2015. If you check them out you’ll see that not much has changed.

2017 watercolors

The major upgrade this year is my new set of Yarka watercolors (top). The plastic box of my old well-loved one was getting brittle, cracking with pieces coming off. The new one, which holds 36 pans instead of 26 is definitely bigger but the price from Dick Blick was too good to pass up. The color try-outs at the top of the first photo are all the colors, a number of them new for me. Below the Yarka set is a Winsor & Newton travel set of 26 colors. I carry it because some of the colors, like the Payne’s Grey (which has a lovely cool blue tint), are quite different than the Yarka equivalents. The little set at the bottom is also from Winsor & Newton. I can slip it, a brush, my foldable water container (the purple cube near the upper right in the first photo), a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketch multi-media sketchbook and the drawing tools in the Derwent brown cloth holder into the pockets of my Domke photographer’s vest and not have to worry about the day pack. So it’s all super light and portable.

For paper I take a 9×12″ Arches cold press block and a couple dozen loose 8×8″ pieces of Saunders Waterford cold press, which I tape to a small packing tape covered “portfolio” with drafting tape. The portfolio holds the finished watercolors and also some sheets of toned drawing paper. I also have a small Strathmore Wind Power sketchbook for doing preliminary value studies and composition sketches.

2017 case

To carry my brushes, I have a lovely zip case that I got at Cass Art in London a couple of years ago.

2017 brushes

Inside are a variety of brands of brushes that have accumulated over the years, including Cass Art rounds, a flat and a bright; a Jack Richeson 9000 Signature Series round and flat; some Robert Simmons Sapphire rounds, flat and angled flat; the newest addition is a Gray Matters  round from Jack Richeson; a couple of Stephen Quiller Richeson Professional flats; and a Robert Simmons One Stroke flat.

I also carry a good selection of Derwent water soluble colored pencils (top photo, lower left), which can be wetted with the water brushes I carry in my drawing kit. The drawing media and the colored pencils fit nicely into these zip cases from Global Art Materials and I really like them.

2107 drawing stuff

For drawing, from left to right above: Cretacolor Monolith graphite pencils, which are pure graphite with a thin coating of lacquer. They come in HB to 9B. Next is a Prismacolor white colored pencil since I take some toned paper with me. Then I have two Derwent Drawing Pencils in Venetian Red. They draw very nicely on the Pentalic Nature Sketch paper. I take at least two since they’re pretty soft and can get used up fairly quickly. Next is a General’s Draughting Pencil and then a sandpaper pad. I also have a retractable Exacto knife and a Swiss army knife for sharpening if the Maped handheld sharpener isn’t enough. The silver pencils are Derwent Watersoluble Graphitone pencils. Yes. Watersoluble graphite. I use the 2B, 4B and 6B. They’re wrapped in paper which can be peeled off for a larger surface area. They are also somewhat brittle and should be handled with care. I have a variety of brands of water brushes, but the reservoirs of most are too long for the case. I take a set of three Sakura Koi brushes which were the first ones I bought and one of the first on the market. At the end is a paper stump for blending. Above the water brushes is a small cut open plastic bag that holds a couple of kneaded rubber erasers. It’s taped to the inside of the case. This was a temporary hack that turned out to work just fine.

Not shown is my Moleskine sketch journal. It’s where I keep a diary of my trips and also draw and sketch using Sakura Micron pens. You can see my 2015 Mongolia journal and the art here.



Off To Mongolia Tomorrow! Plus 2015 Trip Equipment And Art Supplies

Paaport HD

I  have a 6am flight tomorrow to San Francisco, where I’ll catch a United flight to Incheon International Airport in South Korea and, after a bit of a layover, fly on to Ulaanbaatar on a Korean Air/MIAT codeshare flight (since United doesn’t have a Star Alliance partner who flies into UB).

For some years now I’ve been doing pre-departure posts on new equipment I’ve acquired. You can read last year’s, which also has links to the previous posts here.

Also last year I decided to try to have gadget charging available in the field and wrote about a Power Monkey Extreme. I ended up returning it before I left since the little solar panel was useless and pain to set up. But I’d still like to have some kind of alternative available and that’s kind of the theme for this year.

But first, at the top, is my new external hard drive…a 2TB Western Digital My Passport. WD seems to be the consistently reliable choice. It will replace a 250GB Toshiba, which I’ve used for years. My procedure in the field is to download my camera’s memory card into, as of this year, Photos, on my MacBook Air. I create folders on the HD and export image copies to those. So all my images and video are in two places. Three if at the end of the trip I don’t wipe the card. Since I now have two Nikon D750 camera bodies that shoot 27MB files, plus HD video and my total images shot for last year was 9,255, which could easily go up this year, 250GB wasn’t going to cut it. 2TB should be enough for the next few years, I hope. :0)

Belkin inverter

On to re-charging….I had a Kensington inverter that finally stopped working and wouldn’t seat firmly into the car lighter. I still have the Belkin inverter shown above, but as you can see, it only has USB ports. What to do? I’m going to take two options, both from Energizer. If you read the reviews on Amazon you find that there are quite a few options, but most of them are cheaply made and don’t last. Hoping the brand name choice will do better.  So here’s the inverter that plugs directly into the lighter. It has two USB ports and one for a regular plug. My plan, based on past experience, is that I’ll be able to plug in my laptop and charge it while we roll and also my camera batteries. The drivers are willing to do that, but want it unplugged when stopped. They want no drain on the battery whatsoever, just in case. That’s what the margin for error can be out in the countryside. So travelers to Mongolia (probably true elsewhere also) with gear need to think this all through ahead of time. Pulling rank (I paid for this trip!) because you didn’t is not appreciated. I’m hoping the adjustable neck is a feature and not a bug. It only moves between two positions and seems to lock in firmly. A couple of weeks, possibly, in a Russian van on the earth roads will tell the story.

Energizer inverter

Energizer inverter 2

The charger below is one of those “I’m not sure I’ll use it, but it could be the PERFECT solution and only one, depending on the situation” purchases. It’s an Energizer 180 watt inverter with a base that rests in a cup holder. Clever. So less bulk hanging off the lighter, which the drivers will like. I also think anyone I’m with who’s driving a Land Cruiser will get a kick out of it. The Russian vans don’t bother with effete stuff like cup holders. I like that the charge base is stable and only a cord has to go into the lighter. I could plug almost everything into this one at once….the laptop or camera battery charger, iPad iPhone and will probably try it if I can.

Energizer cup charger

Finally, after searching and researching and reading the reviews on Amazon, I’ve settled on two sizes of Jackery portable batteries. I picked the lovely gold to match my iPhone 5, but they also come in black, silver and orange. This is a Three Bears deal: there’s a mini, a medium and a Giant+.  My plan is to use the mini for the iPhone and the big one for the iPad and in a pinch. I’m hoping, the laptop just to get enough juice to finish a download.

Jockery batteries

jackery case

This is how I’ll carry them. It’s one of a set of three nifty, well-made zip cases I found at K-Mart for $15.

I also want to give an update on the little Altec Lansing speaker I bought some years ago. It’s the bomb. I reliably get 13 hours or so of music from the three AA batteries. The sound quality is still good.


Other equipment that is still with me and doing well is the KATA camera pack which I believe has unfortunately been discontinued, the hiking boots, sleeping bag, gear ties, tripod, Smartwool socks and earbuds. My faithful Domke photo vest, which I’ve had since my first trip to Kenya in 1999 finally has failed. Tears at the corners of the pockets that can’t really be fixed and places where the fabric is finally wearing out. I got online and, of course they’re not being made anymore either, but eBay to the rescue!. I scored a new vest in like-new condition for 20 bucks, including shipping!

I’m planning to do as much art in the field as I can this trip, both drawing and watercolors. While we were London there was an art supply shop near where we were staying. They had some things that are not available here, like the small cloth Derwent pen and pencil holders. The larger one that rolls up is available from Jerry’s Artarama last I looked.

art1Watercolor supplies

art2Drawing supplies

As I have for some years now, I’ll use a Moleskine Sketch Journal to record the trip. One for the WildArt Mongolia Expedition and one for everything else.

Watercolor supplies:

1 Winsor Newton Cotman Travel Set

1 Yarka watercolor set (I have the color chart because I got some new colors and re-arranged the order of the pans)

A variety of brushes. The rounds are ProArte, Cass (the house brand of London art shop) and Robert Simmons Sapphires. I don’t use real sables anymore. The synthetics work just as well for my purposes, cost less and don’t require killing small mammals.

Saunders Waterford cold press 140lb. paper; in a block and also cut from a large pad into approx. 8×8″, a format which I’ve found I like a lot.

Pentalic Nature Sketch multi-media pads in two sizes; can also be used for drawing; indispensible now that they’ve upgraded the cover from thin paper to sturdy board

Plastic water bucket

Water flask

Homemade matboard support covered with clear tape for holding watercolor paper

Drafting tape

Small green pouch to carry the Cotman set, a small water container, paper towels, a brush; slips into the pocket of my Domke photo vest.

Drawing supplies:

Sakura Micron pens in a variety of sizes in black and brown

Cretacolor Monolith graphite pencil sticks in a variety of “B” softness; really, really liking these a lot

Derwent Graphitone water soluble graphite pencils in 2B, 4B, 6B

 Derwent regular and Inktense water soluble colored pencils

Koi Waterbrushes in three sizes; for getting a tone with Graphitones or blending the water soluble colored pencils

Derwent Drawing pencils in Chocolate and Venetian Red

Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils

Prismacolor brush and hard tip pens in shades of grey

A couple of other Strathmore sketchbooks; one white paper, one toned paper

Pencil sharpener

Kneaded rubber erasers

Gearing Up for Mongolia 2014 And An Update On Previous Purchases

New art supplies
New art supplies

I’m two weeks away from my 2014 departure to Mongolia. When I’ve gotten new gear and equipment I do a post about it. You can read the previous ones here, here, here and here.

Looking back, I’m still using stuff I bought in 2010, including the REI jacket, KATA camera pack and the Toshiba external hard drive, which is the backup to my main image storage, a MacBook Air. The Nemo Nocturne sleeping bag, purchased last year, was a success, as was the cover for my iPad, but I’d still like to find something that provides a little more protection, but isn’t made from leather. The transport case got 15 original oil paintings to Ulaanbaatar undamaged and I’ll be using it again this year (more on that next week). My two Nikon D80 bodies with their Nikkkor 28-300 and 80-400 lenses are taking one more trip after a professional cleaning. They have served me well, but newer bodies like the D610 have some features that I know I’d really use, like in-camera video. In the meantime, the Panasonic camcorder also goes one more time.

Below is the list of art supplies I’m taking this trip. The new additions are in the photo above. I really like the Nature Sketch from Pentalic. It seems to take all media nicely, including watercolor. The only thing I would fault them on is that the cover is flimsy and gets beat up easily. I’m going to put packing tape around the edges. I’m taking my Yarka watercolor set, but also bought a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor travel set for its small size that lets me slip it into the pocket of my photo vest or the old point and shoot camera bag that forms my “portable art studio”. I also got some Koi Water Brushes in three sizes. I got the idea for these from a blog post by James Gurney.  They are the same plastic-barrelled, nylon-tipped brushes with a reservoir holding different colors that you see sets of, but are empty. Gurney had one with water and a couple with dilute ink in them. A very fast way to lay down a tone without having to carry a water container and separate brush. I tried one out yesterday, doing a quick sketch of Alexander with a pen that doesn’t have permanent ink and then using the brush over the ink to create a wash tone. I liked it.


art stuff (1)Here’s the art supply list for Mongolia this year:

Old point and shoot camera bag holds all the art media except the Yarka watercolor set

Moleskine sketch journal, usually two
Spiral-bound Nature Sketch sketchbook 7×5”
Sakura Micron pens- black and a few colors, .01 to .03
Derwent water-soluble colored pencils
Derwent drawing pencils- HB, 2B, 4B, 6B
Kneaded rubber eraser
Small pencil sharpener
Yarka watercolor set and Winsor Newton Cotman Watercolor travel set
Winsor Newton white gouache (tube color)
Sable watercolor brushes, round- 4, 8, 10; various flats
Waterproof folding water “bucket”
8×8” loose pieces of 300 lb. watercolor paper-(a couple dozen)
9×12″ Arches cold-press block
7×10″ Cartiera Magnani “Annigoni” toned 100% cotton block
8×10” piece of foamcore to hold watercolor paper
Roll of 1/4” drafting tape (low adhesion) to attach watercolor paper to foamcore

tripodI’ve never bothered to take a tripod to Mongolia because, for what I’m there to see, there’s never time to set it up. The animal or person or light would likely be long gone, not to mention the weight of my very nice full-sized Manfrotto with the gimballed head. But last year, one of the other people on the Expedition was doing some night photography and her pics were great. Well, you can’t beat Mongolia for nighttime skies in the countryside since there is no light pollution at all. So I searched around and on the B&H site I found this MeFoto tripod that got good reviews from photographers who travel and use it in the field. It does sacrifice some sturdiness, but seems well-made overall. It’s also only 12.4″/315mm in length folded up and weighs only 2.6lbs/1.20kg. It unfolds to 51.6″/1310mm in height. The plate that holds the camera body let me mount the camera quickly and easily. In my studio. So we will see how it does in real field conditions. You can get them in a variety of accent colors. I went for red.

bootsMy old LL Bean light hiking boots have served me well, but were always just a mite short. It got uncomfortable last year, particularly in hot weather when one’s feet swell up. Time for a change. I found these Merrill Salidas at our local outdoor store. Not wild about the lavender accent color, but they were comfy the minute I put them on. They are breathable and water resistant, both desirable in a Mongolian summer that can oscillate from heat to rain to cold in just a few hours.

Power monkeyFinally, what I hope will be a main solution to the recharging-in-the-field challenge. I’m usually able to use the lighter in the vehicle with a Kensington adapter that has a regular outlet on one end and the lighter insert on the other, but last year there was an odd wiring situation in my van. I’d plug in my iPhone or battery charger and we’d roll, but nothing would happen. If the driver stopped or even turned off the ignition, charging would occur. Go figure. But considering we were a LONG way from anywhere, it was worrisome, especially the camera batteries. So I’m going to take this PowerMonkey Extreme, which has a small solar panel and a battery pack, as backup. The sun shines in Mongolia 274 days a year, so it’s a natural for solar recharging. The problem is that flexible, roll-up panels are fairly large and there’s no guarantee of being in one place long enough for it to charge a battery. The drivers are justifiably very conservative about laying or attaching anything they’re not familiar with on or to their vehicles since they will be stuck dealing with the consequences if there’s a problem. “What could possibly go wrong?” is not a good way to operate in the Mongolian countryside. I’ll be trying it out here at home, but won’t know what it will do when it counts until, well, it counts.

So that’s the gear report for this next trip. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment!