Tag Archives: painting

31 Painted Patterns

In January I joined in with Lisa Congdon‘s brand new CreativeBug class. A couple of years ago she taught a class on CreativeBug which was a daily drawing challenge. This new class was similar but instead of making a drawing each day we created a painted pattern. As you know, I love making patterns and I’m a big fan of Lisa’s work so this was right up my street . I also really enjoyed getting more familiar with gouache paint.

Here are the 31 patterns I made this month.

Urban Sketching in Highgate


Earlier this month I went out for the day with Urban Sketchers, London and we sketched in Highgate, in north London. Almost everyone seemed to spend most of the day in Highgate Cemetery, which is where I sketched Karl Marx’s grave, probably one of the most famous there.


I also managed to get in another quick sketch from a spot that’s not on the main ‘trail’ in the cemetery and it was very peaceful. This was in my Hahnemuhle grey sketchbook using an HB pencil and a 0.3 Unipin pen.

There’s not much shelter from the elements in Highgate cemetery but we were really lucky with the weather. There was a thunder storm but that held off until the end of the day, by which time most of us were under the shelter outside a cafe back in Waterlow Park.


After lunch and before the rain started I made a start an a third sketch. I ran out of time, and although part of me would like to finish it off at home using a photo for reference, I quite like leaving some of my urban sketches unfinished because they tell the story of the day.

Our next outing’s planned for Spitalfields Market on 14 October so come and join us!

My Urban Sketching Kit


Someone asked me recently what’s in my urban sketching kit so I thought I’d share that with you today. I don’t carry all these things with me every day. I have a small sketchbook, pen, pencil and a tiny watercolour set that I sometimes keep in my bag in case I want to sketch while I’m out doing other things. This bigger kit is what I take when I go out for a full day’s sketching.

Zip Pouch

This is a black quilted zip pouch that I got from Paperchase and it’s actually an iPad case. When I bought this one I also bought one that’s about half this size, which I use to carry my smaller, day-to-day sketching kit. I’m able to fit almost everything in here – minus the stool and the big sketchbook – and it keeps everything together inside my bag so it’s easier for me to find what I need.

It also means that when I get home I can take the whole thing out of my bag easily and store it so it’s ready to go when I next need it. It’s kind of my portable studio.


I usually have one dedicated urban sketching sketchbook on the go and until recently that was the big A4 Moleskine watercolour sketchbook that’s at the bottom of this stack. I’ve just finished that one and I already have my next sketchbook lined up. It’s a spiral bound Daler Rowney sketchbook  which is 7 x 10 inches and has a sturdy hard cover.

I don’t usually go for spiral bound sketchbooks because they’re difficult to scan but for urban sketching I think this could be a good choice because it’s not too cumbersome and should sit nicely on my lap.

The smaller black sketchbook on top is a Hahnemuhle sketchbook with grey paper which fits easily inside the zip pouch and is quite lightweight so I sometimes take that with me for quicker pen/pencil sketches or to use in places where paints aren’t allowed.


This is a pocket chair which folds flat and has its own storage pouch so it fits neatly in my bag. I usually take this out with me but it’s surprisingly heavy for its size so if I’m going somewhere where I know there’ll be plenty of seating I don’t always bother packing it.


This is my small Schmincke watercolour palette which contains a mixture of Schmincke, Winsor and Newton, and Daniel Smith watercolours. They’re slightly different colours from what I use when I’m drawing at home and I’ll share more information about what specific colours I use some other time.

Pencil Case

This is a Neo Kritz pencil-case which is durable, holds a lot and stands vertically on a flat surface if you need it to.

Pens, Pencils and Brushes


The contents of my pencil-case vary a little bit but this is what I carry most of the time:

  • A black Uniball pen, which is waterproof and glides easily over coloured pencil
  • My Lamy Safari which is filled with waterproof carbon ink. If it runs out the Uniball is an excellent back-up
  • A fine Unipin pen which works well for basic ink sketches
  • A white Gelly Roll pen to use in my grey sketchbook
  • A while pencil to use in my grey sketchbook
  • A few watercolour pencils to use for my initial sketches. These blend in with the paints so there aren’t too many visible pencil lines.
  • A size 10 Escoda travel brush. It’s a decent size brush for washes but also has a fine point and the handle detaches and acts as a cap to protect the bristles


My current water container is a dipper for oil painting and it’s a bit on the small side but it clips onto my sketchbook which is handy. A spray bottle for reactivating my paints can be useful, clips are a necessity on windy days for holding sketchbook pages down and paper towels are always part of my sketching kit too.

So that’s my comprehensive urban sketching kit and it can be heavy so I don’t like to carry all of it around with me very often. My smaller, pared down kit is much simpler and obviously, the bare minimum I’d need is a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.

Do you ever sketch on location? What do you take with you?

Review: Back Pocket Notebooks

Back Pocket Notebooks

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing out the Back Pocket Notebook. Although it’s not specifically a sketchbook, I’ve been using it for some lettering and drawings to see how it compares to sketch specific books.

To summarise, if you’re looking for a good quality, robust little notebook to carry around, I would definitely recommend the Back Pocket Notebooks.

Back Pocket Notebooks Back

I have a set of 3 Kraft Plain Notebooks, each of which contain 18 sheets or 36 pages of 120gsm paper and a stapled spine.

Back Pocket Notebooks Spine

At first glance they reminded me of the A6 Eco Starter Sketchbooks from Seawhite of Brighton. The Back Pocket Notebooks are slightly smaller, measuring 9 x 14 cm. The paper isn’t quite as thick as the Seawhite cartridge paper but there are more pages than the Eco Starter and the paper has a nice smooth surface, which I really appreciated when using fine liners and markers.

Back Pocket Notebook Inside

Although it’s described as a ‘plain’ notebook, I think that refers to the cover because it’s pointed out on the band holding the 3 notebooks together that the paper inside is actually cross grid. It’s similar to dotted paper but each ‘dot’ is a tiny cross. I’d never used that kind of paper before but it was kind of handy for keeping my hand lettering straight!

Back Pocket Notebook Felt Tip

The paper in the Back Pocket Notebook is perfect for either pen or pencil. I used a few different fine liners and felt tip pens, and the only pen that bled through to the other side of the page was the Copic marker. But Copic markers seem to bleed through almost all paper in my experience so this wasn’t a surprise or a big deal. I covered some large areas with Koi brush pens and even with the darker colours the dots on the paper do show but that may or may not be a problem for you. It didn’t bother me because I wasn’t trying to create a finished piece of artwork.

Back Pocket Notebook Gouache

I was able to apply a light wash of watercolour in the Back Pocket Notebook without any problems and the paper took gouache quite well too. The paper does buckle with both watercolour and gouache but even some dedicated watercolour paper does that so, again, this wasn’t a surprise or a problem for me.

I’ve carried the Back Pocket Notebook around in my bag and it’s stood up well to that without getting damaged so far. I wonder if rounded corners might make it a bit more robust in that respect if you were carrying it around in your bag or pocket every day.

The Back Pocket Notebooks are excellent quality, and the size means that they’re really easy to carry around without adding lots of extra weight or bulk. I wouldn’t use them to replace a dedicated sketchbook but as somewhere to keep notes and ideas, make simple line drawings and practise hand lettering, the Back Pocket Notebook is an excellent option and, as the name implies, highly portable too!

Thank you to Justin at Back Pocket Notebooks who gave me this set of Kraft Notebooks to test in exchange for an honest review.

New Sketchbooks!

9 Sketchbooks

A couple of weeks ago I went online to order a new sketchbook. I wanted to try something different from what I’d been using and before I knew it I’d ordered 9 different sketchbooks! It all started because I thought a spiral bound watcercolour sketchbook might be useful for urban sketching. I’m not usually a fan of spiral bound books but last time I went on a sketch crawl it was quite windy and I thought that I spiral bound book would be easier to handle in those conditions. They fold back on themselves and if I got one with a sturdy cover it would be easy to work on on my lap.

My first thought was Seawhite of Brighton. They make some really nice, affordable sketchbooks and their watercolour paper is good quality. Unfortunately they don’t make a watercolour sketchbook in the size I really wanted (A5, or 8 x 5 inches) so I went for the A4 one.

Seawhite Watercolour Sketchbook

They have 2 options in these books – a 35 page book with paper that weighs 225gsm and a 25 page book with thicker 350gsm paper. I went for the one with thicker paper and although I haven’t started sketching in it yet I think it’s going to be really nice to use. The only down side seems to be that it’s quite heavy but I can probably live with that if I’m only carrying it around for a few hours.

I have used one spiral bound watercolour sketchbook before that was closer to the size I really wanted. It was a Daler Rowney Cachet Travel Sketchbook but they don’t seem to make them any more from what I can tell. I did find another Daler Rowney watercolour sketchbook though, which is the same size and uses the same paper as the Travel Book

Daler Rowney Sketchbook

Like the Seawhite watercolour book the Daler Rowney has lovely thick paper (300gsm) and a sturdy hard cover. It’s 7×10 inches so not as bulky or heavy as the Seawhite sketchbook, and it came with a tin containing a pencil, a few watercolour pencils and a brush. I’m looking forward to trying this one out soon.

Seawhite Sketchbooks

Going back to Seawhites, I ordered quite a few of their other sketchbooks too. These aren’t specifically for watercolour but their cartridge paper is good quality for drawing in pencil and ink, and all of their sketchbooks are excellent value for money. The ones I chose are an A5 Creative Casebound sketchbook with a green spine, an A5 spiral bound sketchbook with a black paper cover, and an A5 Eco spiral bound sketchbook and with a sturdy hard cover.

I also thought I’d stock up on sketchbooks with toned paper. I ordered 2 Seawhite sketchbooks with black paper. One is from the range of Starter sketchbooks and is A4.

Seawhites Black wirebound sketchbook

The other is an A5 hard backed, wire bound sketchbook containing thick black card, which looks like it will hold up well to pen, pencil and gouache or acrylic paint.

Hahnemuhle Grey Book

I recently used a Hahnemuhle watercolour sketchbook, which was very nice so when I spotted that they now make a grey paper sketchbook I was keen to give it a try. Grey paper sketchbooks aren’t easy to find in the UK or Europe so this one stood out for me.

Hahnemuhle Grey Paper

The paper is 120gsm so probably won’t hold up well to paint but for drawing in pencil, pen or coloured pencil it should be good.

Winsor and Newton Sketchbook

Finally, I spotted this Winsor and Newton watercolour sketchbook and I love Winsor and Newton paints so I thought I’d try this sketchbook. It’s nice and compact but the cover’s not as sturdy as the other watercolour books I bought. That does have the advantage of making it lighter to carry around though.

Winsor and Newton watercolour paper

The paper is 300gsm which is the same as the Daler Rowney book I mentioned, but for some reason the Winsor and Newton paper feels a bit thinner so it’ll be interesting to compare the two. The pages are perforated which I’m not that keen on but I can live with it. What I do like is the size. It’s 7×5 inches so it’s really easy to fit into a small bag and carry around most days.

I bought the Seawhite sketchbooks from ArtESaver. They offer free delivery on all orders over £40, and I also got a big box of ‘seconds’ for £10, which are sketchbooks that have some some damage to the covers, are the end of a range or have foil blocking on the covers but the paper is still perfectly fine for sketching.

All the other sketchbooks I mentioned came from Granthams Art Discount, which have some really good prices on a while range of art supplies and their delivery is pretty quick too.

I hope you found this useful and/or interesting. What’s your favourite sketchbook? Do you use different sketchbooks for different situations or stick to one at a time?