Sketching Supplies That I Took To The Urban Sketchers Symposium and What I Actually Used

I got home Sunday from the 2017 Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago and have been unpacking my bags. It was a wonderful event and I’m so glad to have gone.  The symposium team did a remarkable job organizing it, I’m happy with my sketches, and of course enjoyed seeing Chicago from a different perspective.

It’s funny, but I can pack my clothes for a road trip in no time flat and pretty much take only what I need. I’ve become skilled at packing light and taking no more than I can carry.

Art supplies, however, are a different matter. I agonized for weeks over what supplies to take. How many sketchbooks? Which ones? What sizes? Brushes: travel or full size? Waterbrushes or regular ones? How many pens? What if one runs dry? Should I take glue, scissors, collage stuff?

And what about paint?! How many colors in which box and what if I run out?



We were in Chicago. They have stores. The symposium had a vendor expo with pretty much any supply we could want, right on site, and any other item could be bought from a nearby art supply store.

Nobody panic.

The Supplies I Planned To Take

I winnowed my sketch kit down to only the essential supplies, or so I thought, and posted this pic on Instagram. I felt virtuous for packing thoughtfully. A few pens, pencils, paint, and two small sketchbooks. Ah, well done!

art supply kit for urban sketchers chicago: planned


The Supplies I Took

Then doubt crept in. Maybe I should take postcard-sized paper, too. How about gold and silver pens for some sparkle? Plus a few more pens of different sizes and tips.

Matte gel medium! Wait, I need that, being a collage artist and all. So in went a small bottle of it and a brush. Then glue stick because you can’t always wait for gel medium to dry.

A rubber stamp with my logo and a stamp pad, in case I needed to stamp a sketch. And the self-inking stamp too, with my logo and web address. Might need both.

Two water cups. They’re on the left, hard to see, below the rubber stamps. One is an empty applesauce cup, the other is the bottom half of a water bottle. A view finder. Washi tape.

art supply kit for urban sketchers chicago: what i took

My bag grew and grew. It didn’t feel heavy here at home, but after carrying it around city streets all day, I was aching. Each morning I took items out of my bag and left them at the hotel. By the last day of the symposium, my bag was comfortable to carry all day.


The Supplies I ACTUALLY Used

While out sketching during the symposium, I found myself using the same items over and over. Sketching quickly meant that I grabbed tools that would give me reliable results. I didn’t have time to fuss around with tools that were new to me or finicky to use.

Looking at the photo, I forgot to include a #6 round nylon American Journey brush made by Cheap Joe’s. It came in handy.

Click the photo to see a larger version.

Not pictured are my portable folding stool, my phone and spare battery, bug spray, sunscreen, hat, bottle of water, wallet, hand sanitizer, symposium guide, and snack.

art supply kit for urban sketchers chicago: what i used

A. The sawed-off water bottle with a little colored water in it to help it show up. It was originally more than 3 inches tall, but I kept trimming it down. I found that I only used a small amount of water for sketching on site, and the tall cup was too bulky in my bag. So, snip snip!

B. Watercolor box with 20 half pans of color and a few bits of sponge. This has been my summer assortment of colors and I like it a lot.

C. Zippered pouch. The little mesh compartment on the front is nice for holding the pen, pencil, and eraser that I use most often.

D. A piece of an old T-shirt to clean my brushes on. I use this instead of paper tissues.

E. A tiny tin of blue-gray paint that I picked up in Toulouse last year.

F. Tiny scissors. I stick the points in an old wine bottle cork so they don’t poke holes in my bag. Or fingers.

G. Watercolor paper cut to 4×6 inches, kept in the orange zippered pouch to keep them clean.

H. Eraser

I. Travel brush from Rosemary & Co. It’s a 1/4 inch dagger brush in a nylon/sable blend. I bought this on the first day of the expo and used it all weekend. Love this brush. LOVE IT! Go get one. Right now. I’ll wait.

J. Waterbrush with a flat tip by Kuretake.

K. Waterbrush with a pointed tip by Pentel. The waterbrushes came in handy when working quickly, when there wasn’t time to fuss with water cups. Also handy for sketching in the car.

NOTE on waterbrushes: Buy good ones. Yes, they can be surprisingly expensive, but they’re worth it. The cheap ones have terrible tips and they leak.

L. Mechanical pencil. This surprised me, because I normally use a wooden pencil. But not having to fuss with a pencil sharpener was convenient.

M. Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen with a hard tip. The plastic casing is dark blue but the ink is black and waterproof. The tip is a little bit flexible, allowing for an expressive line. The ink flows smoothly and dries quickly, so it can be painted over. I get it from my local art supply store.

N. Lamy Vista fountain pen with a medium nib, filled with De Atramentis Document ink in Fog Grey. Love this pen! The ink is a cool gray and is waterproof when dry.

O. Sketchbook with watercolor paper. I bought this years ago and am not sure of the manufacturer. The paper is thinner than 140lb but it’s good for ink and watercolor sketching. It’s just under 7×10 inches.

P. Small sketchbook with Ingres paper by Hahnemühle. The paper is lighter weight than the other book, an off-white color, and takes pencil nicely.


Now, does that mean that the other supplies are unnecessary and I should never pack them? No, they do come in handy at other times. I normally prefer a 2B pencil, which needs the sharpener. The Identi-pen is essential most days. I SHOULD have used the viewfinder to help me compose scenes with all those skyscrapers. And regular brushes are nicer to use than waterbrushes, when possible. A glue stick and washi tape always go in my kit, too.

One more lesson in learning to pack lightly. Will I ever learn?



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