Sketching gear


I have had several emails lately with questions about my drawing materials, so I thought I´d put together a post about it. Click the images for a larger view.

The very basic stuff

The above image shows my absolute basic set, the stuff I always carry in my bag – to work, to town, when I travel, wherever. The sketchbooks may vary, since I bind my own, but they usually contain Fabriano Artistico hot press watercolour paper, at least 200 gsm in weight (even 300 gsm sometimes, though that´s a bit tough to fold for bookbinding purposes). This particular book is an experiment, it´s got Fabriano Rosapina printing paper in it, quite alright both for drawing and watercolours, but I still think I´ll go for Fabriano Artistico next time.

If I were to buy a ready-made sketchbook, it would be a Moleskine Watercolor sketchbook – I like the paper in them, though I am not too crazy about the extreme landscape format. Also, Fabriano has this sketchbook, available in different sizes, that I recently bought to try out, though I haven´t started using it yet. But the paper in it should be ok for both drawing and watercolours.

The pens in the image are Lamy Safari fountain pens (see more about them further down). The waterbrushes are not quite my favorite to paint with, I prefer real watercolour brushes if I can get hold of some water – hence the da Vinci travel brush (their biggest size, with Kolinsky sable hair – expensive as heck, but well worth it). But in some situations the waterbrushes are incredibly useful – they look like a pen, draw no attention to what you are doing, take up little space in a bag, and as long as I have some paper tissues with me to rinse out the colour from the brush, they do the job well up to a certain size of drawings/watercolours.

The colours in the tiny tiny (only 8 x 5,7 cm!) Winsor and Newton bijou box are also very basic – New Gamboge and Quinacridone Gold for yellows, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna for earth colours, Winsor Red and Permanent Carmine for reds, Cobalt blue and Ultramarine blue, and a Winsor Green (blue shade) to mix greens and blacks with. Plus room for three more colours when I feel like it. :)

I get very far with this setup, the colours are good for almost any subjects, and it´s not too much to carry.


I love my Lamy Safaris. The ones with Extra Fine nibs are awesome to draw with, they have that little “springy” feeling that some dip pens have, so you get wider lines if you press the pen a little harder. I do confess I got a bit carried away over the years, I can´t resist the beautiful colours when they release a new one, so now I have six of them… I have a few different nib sizes and ink colours in them, but my favorite is Extra fine nibs and Noodler´s Lexington grey ink. I only use Noodler´s bullet proof inks in them, since that´s the only kind of ink I have found that doesn´t ruin the pens but is still waterproof enough to paint watercolours on. (You probably already know, but just in case you don´t: never put waterproof ink in fountain pens, it dries on the way out through the nib, and then your pen is doomed.) In Sweden, both the pens and Noodler´s ink are available at NK in Stockholm, otherwise I´m sure you can order them online.

lamy_safari other_pens

Everybody needs a little variation, so when I get tired of the Lamys, I use just about any pens I can find that seem inspiring to draw with. If I want waterproof ink, I go for ink pens like UniPen (the package to the left in the image above), Copic Multiliners SP or Microns, but I try not to get stuck in the “waterproof archival thinking” too much – it tends to put too many limits on drawing. I use anything from mechanical pencils to multi-coloured roller balls when I want to play around a little.


If I want to have more colours with me, and don´t mind a little more weight in my bag, I have two alternatives to the little Winsor & Newton box.


The most exquisite one is the Craig Young paint box, hand made by Craig Young (duh!) in England. It´s a great little box, with sixteen half pans and quite a lot of mixing space. You can lift out the tray with the colours to use the bottom of the box as a mixing surface too.

16 colours is a lot to choose from, and I have a basic set-up that I usually have in this box, and then I change a colour or two whenever I feel like it:
Yellows/earth: Lemon Yellow, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold, Raw Sienna
Reds: Winsor Red, Permanent Carmine, Permanent Rose
Blues/violet: Winsor violet, Ultramarine, Cobalt blue, Prussian blue, Indigo
Earth: Brown Madder, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber
Green: Winsor Green (blue shade)

whole_pan_closed whole_pan_box

Then there´s my newest addition, the genuine plastic whole pan box from Ken Bromley´s art supplies. The colours are pretty much the same as in the Craig Young box. I love this one, simply because I love working with big brushes. Whole pans and big brushes make a wonderful combination. :)

Well… I guess that´s kind of it. Any questions? Good – go on to the comments and ask!

33 Responses to “Sketching gear”

  1. iHanna says:

    Thanks for sharing, I so want a lamy pen, badly. Do you think they are good for writing too? I don’t draw that much, but I love good pens! And oh, wouldn’t your floor be great as a stencil during some summer spray painting? :-)

    • I know for a fact that Lamy Safaris are also splendid for writing. I use them all the time at work. And yes, the floor would make a great stencil, the thought has struck me before. Those plastic floor tiles are cheap, you can buy them at any home improvement store, which is probably a better idea than ruining my balcony. ; )

    • Eva says:

      I have two Lamy pens (one Safari, one AL-star). I think they’re much too lightweight, and (I think) the nibs are a bit scratchy.

      I also have a Cross fountain pen. It sure is pretty, but my favourite is a cheap Parker from the local bookstore. It’s nice and heavy, which works wonders for my handwriting.

  2. Irina says:

    Great info, thank you very much.
    Though I am afraid even when I am packed and ready it would hardly improve my “individual style” :-) )

  3. Alex Tan says:

    Awesome gear! =) Definitely great for outgoing artists such as yourself ^^ I am still to shy to do anything artsy outdoor, perhaps someday.

    • You should definitely try it, Alex! It´s so much fun to go out to draw. If you feel shy, just choose a spot where there are not so many people around, plus you can wear sunglasses and maybe even headphones, and noone will bother you! :)

  4. Micha says:

    Hi Nina and thank you so much for this look into an artists bag!
    My question: How are these waterbrushes to use? One for each colour??

    I make my shopping list and then I will draw and paint like this brilliant Nina J.!!

    • Hi Micha!
      No, I only carry three waterbrushes because they run out of water pretty quick. You squeeze out some water into the brush, mix your watercolours as usual and paint. Then when you want to pick up a new colour, you squeeze out some more water first and wipe the brush against a paper tissue or towel to clean out the colour, and then you start over. They are quite easy to use.

      • Micha says:

        Thanks for answering! I will try one – sounds pretty senseful!

        Greetings to Sweden! Keep on drawing!


  5. Nina, too many choices at Ken Bromley! What’s the brand name of your new whole pan WC box? Can’t quite tell what it says on top…

  6. Raena says:

    Thank you so much for this! I do look forward to hearing what you think of the Fabriano Venezia sketchbook. I’m too lazy to bind my own and I really don’t like the format of the moleskine watercolor books.

    • I know, that landscape format isn´t quite my bag either. I emailed the manufacturers to see if they would ever make a watercolour sketchbook in portrait format, but they had no such plans right now. Maybe we should organize an email campain to persuade them of our needs? : )

      • Eva says:

        Me too, I’ve asked the Moleskine manufacturers for a portrait-format watercolor book.

        I’m currently doing some WC journalling in a Fabriano Venezia book and I’m not thrilled. The paper is thick enough, but has quite a bit of tooth and might be better for just pencil. I really like the Moleskine sketchbooks, but the paper falls apart too easily when water is applied. I like it so much I’m willing to NOT use watercolors, or try to be very careful. WC pencils might work.

        Then again, book binding is FUN! I do open spine binding – it’s simple and pretty. Wish I could find a good source for cover paper, though. I’ve used design paper meant for scrapbooking, but most of it isn’t durable enough.

        • I´ve tried coptic binding on some books, but I find them a bit flimsy in the spine. Pretty, though.
          I have used paper for covers a few times, but as you say it´s not durable enough. Nowadays I usually go for cloth or canvas. I have two colours of bookbinding cloth – very thin, tightly woven, sturdy and backed with thin paper – the best there is for book covers, really. You´ll find it at Bookbinder´s Design (in Sweden, at least).
          Otherwise I´ll buy some tightly woven but thin canvas at any textile shop – if it´s not tightly woven, the glue will show through, so that´s pretty important.

          • Eva says:

            Thanks for the tip! I thought they only sold finished products. I live in Oslo so I’m fairly near the source – will make an enquiry. Paper-backed sounds perfect. Yay!!!

  7. Super yummy photos – really inspiring! Happy to have found your awesome blog!

  8. Jane Royal says:

    Thank you for this very useful information! I always have a question of what to bring? How much is enough? etc. Now I know what to do. Yes, that floor would be a lovely stencil.

  9. Anita says:

    Oh Nina I am a bit of a Lamy addict myself but agree that Lexington Gray is the best ink. I have used the Venezia sketchbooks a few times now and love them, really nice paper. I also agree about the Moleskine sketchbook, WHY do they not make a portrait watercolour one??? I know of so many artists that love the paper but hate the format it seems crazy for them NOT to make one, they would surely sell…If you decide to tackle them about it I’d deffinately be in on that campaign.

  10. AnaIs says:

    Nina thanks so much for all this information so useful for drawing and painting lovers! :)
    My doubt: is your small watercolours box in Ken Bromley Art Supplies? I can’t find it…
    I’m looking forward to going out to draw something in my beauty city, Cuenca, and it would be an excellent option for a light bag, do you agree?
    Thanks for all ;-)

    • Hi AnaIS,
      Ken Bromley´s have the newer bijou box, with only two mixing compartments:
      I found mine in a window in a store in Rome – the last one they had. It´s the old model of bijou box, with four mixing surfaces, which I like better.
      If you decide to get one, don´t go for the one with a water container attached – it takes too little water to be of any use, which just makes the box unnecessarily big.

  11. Thank you very much for the info on your sketching supplies. I have been wanting to know what you use, but didn’t want to bother you by asking. I appreciate your generosity in sharing so much detailed information. I am taking notes!

  12. Hi Nina, I found your blog 2 months ago and I find it so inspiring. Thanks a lot for posting about your drawing/painting gear. This afternoon I took a sewing pins tin box and made an extra small watercolor box right away ! Still have to test it though.

  13. Good post, Nina!

  14. Felicity says:

    Great post Nina, thank you! I love to hear what you are using and find it so interesting to see how you have tweeked your colours over the years. Now if only I could paint like you if I use the same materials, I’d be so very happy!

  15. Johanna says:

    You are my hero! Thank you for sharing, and inspiring! How’s the painting for the show going? Will we get any more sneak previews?

    • Thanks! The painting is almost done, and no, probably no more sneak previews, but I´ll be posting the paintings once a day, beginning on the vernissage day. Check back then!

  16. Anna Wolf says:

    Thanks for sharing! Great post! Får man fråga var du har köpt resepenseln? Den ser ju super ut! Själv har jag em vanlig som jag har huggit av och fäst i lådan med kludd, men det är inget optimalt system… //Anna

    • Hej Anna, tack!
      Jag köpte penseln i Rom i våras, men de finns nog att beställa på nätet lite här och där. Dyr, som sagt, men otroligt bra om man gillar lite större penslar. Det är den största storleken som finns i den serien, vad jag vet, nr 10 (”da Vinci, pure kolinsky 1503, Germany” står det på den).

  17. I’m really loving the blog, and hope this, as well as the excellent article some other people have written, will help somebody

  18. Kelly says:

    Hi Nina,

    Thanks so much for this post – it’s great to have some insight into other people’s ‘tools’ that they use to produce their artwork!

    I was wondering whether you have one brand of watercolour paints that you prefer? Or do you use colours from several ranges?

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