Tag Archives: sketchbook

Facing Fears


This week I haven’t had an illustration assignment to do so I’ve been taking some time to just draw. I haven’t used an actual sketchbook regularly in a long time and I realised that I was missing it. Most of the work I’ve done lately has been on loose sheets of paper, which has made it easier to scan. I went through the stack of sketchbooks that I’ve not yet filled and each one was for a different but very specific purpose.

So today I started a new everyday sketchbook. It’s a type that I haven’t used before – a Seawhite of Brighton watercolour travel journal. My plan is simply to fill a page every day – or most days at least – with whatever I feel like drawing or painting.



We’ve had a hint that our next MATS Bootcamp assignment will have something to do with ‘faces’. For some reason I tend to avoid drawing faces because they feel so difficult but I think it was Tommy Kane who I once heard say that it’s not about being able to draw a particular type of thing, because it’s all drawing – observing something and translating that through your pen or pencil to the page.

So as uncomfortable as it might feel, I’ve started practising drawing faces this week. The first I did on loose paper and the second one is on the first page of my new sketchbook. My ultimate goal would be to loosen up and draw faces in a more minimal or stylised way, but for the moment I’m enjoying learning by creating portraits with a bit more detail to them.

For reference I’m using my own photos – either old family photos or pictures I’ve taken myself. Is there a subject you tend to avoid in your creative work because you’ve told yourself that it’s too difficult? What might happen if you started practising that type of work more regularly?

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.

100 Days of Hand Lettering

Today I finished my 100th piece of hand lettering for this year’s 100 Day Project. I’ve made 1 piece of hand lettered work every day since 4th April. It’s been a big challenge and some days I wondered what I’d got myself into. I’ve digitised some work but I actually settled into working in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook a lot of the time. I also combined some of my hand lettering with other work that I was doing on any given day.

Let me know in the comments below which one is your favourite, and if you’ve been working on the 100 Day Project, leave a link to where you’ve been sharing your work.