A sketch demonstration using the Sakura Koi Watercolour Field Sketch Set

Nearly every watercolor set you see in the art supply shops has a lid that doubles as a paint mixing area. This is fine for when you are working at a table, but I have never been able to use them when sketching on location without the luxury of a table.

If I hold the paint set in one hand and a brush in the other, I need a third hand to hold the sketchbook.

So for several years I have been looking for a sketchbook that uses that lid as a resting place for the sketchbook. I've ranted about it here on my web site. I finally ended up making my own out of wood.

Although my clunky home made wooden sketch boxes have served me well, I'm always keeping an eye out for something professionally made.

So I was very happy when I found a watercolor set on the shelves that gives me what I want. It's the Sakura Koi Watercolour Field Sketch Set. Its lid actually doubles as an easel.

The mixing area is a separate piece that can attach to the box on the left, right, or center bottom. On the bottom of the box is a ring for for your thumb or finger so you can balance the whole thing on your hand and still have your fingers free to wiggle or hold things.

I was surprised to see a full size waterbrush in this set. Sakura Koi waterbrushes are known for their short compact size, with a cap on the detachable barrel so you can carry both parts separately to take up even less space. The barrel on this waterbrush also comes with the cap so when you take the waterbrush apart it will fit inside this kit.

At first glance this set might seem bulky, but it carries the brush inside it and there is a little room for other small things, plus several sheets of paper or postcards. So it sort of doubles as a carrying case. The inside palette unit with the colors and sponge holders will lift out, allowing the restless hacker to completely modify and customize the inside to fit his personal needs.

This set comes in 18 and 24 color versions. I'm usually a small palette sketcher, limiting my selection to 9 colors, but this time I took a walk on the wild side and went for the 24 color version. They are really nice, and I fear they will spoil me!

  • Chinese White
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Aureolin Hue
  • Permanent Yellow Deep
  • Permanent Orange
  • Jaune Brilliant
  • Vermillion Hue
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Crimson Lake
  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Purple
  • Cobalt Blue Hue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Prussian Blue
  • Yellow Green
  • Viridian Hue
  • Permanent Green Deep
  • Olive Green
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Light Red
  • Burnt Umber
  • Paynes Grey
  • Ivory Black

I've used most of these in the past, but one in particular was foreign to me: Jaune Brilliant. I had never heard of it before, but a web search showed that it is apparently popular and useful for quick flesh tones. Since I often sketch people on the subway, this could save me some time. I didn't use much water in the sample above, so it doesn't look like any human skin you've seen on this earth, but it does make nice flesh tones with a little more water and perhaps a touch of color to modify it to according to the person you are sketching.

I made this color chart in the back of my Moleskine watercolor notebook so I could refer to it on location.

Speaking of which, here's a really nice unexpected feature about these watercolor sets. They were designed specifically for on location postcard sketching (there has been a postcardsketching boom in Japan for several years now) and postcard size sketch paper fits perfectly into the easel lid.

However, postcards are about the same as Moleskines, which means a Moleskine notebook or sketchbook also fits in there perfectly.

Of course you can't paint in a Moleskine while it's closed, but they still fit nicely when opened, especially of the Moleskine watercolor notebook which is horizontal and becomes very awkward and unbalanced when you open it.

But it rests in the lid of the watercolor set nicely and takes the strain off your hand. I love Moleskine watercolor notebook, but my left hand does get tired from holding it open and keeping it balanced.

This could be great news for all those sketchcrawlers who like to use Moleskines.

I was eager to get outside and try out my new treasure, so I went to a very old shrine in Shinjuku in the west part of Tokyo. It's near Sekaido which is one of the two large art supply stores in Tokyo, the other being Bumpodo in the east part of town. I often test my new art supplies at this shrine because it is only a few blocks away from the store, hidden next to a back alley.

First, after a few very light rambling pencil lines to get an idea where everything would go, I got out my brush pen and jumped in with a rambling continuous line, back tracking and scribbling as I went.

It wasn't stricly a continuous line, and I often jumped from the left side of the page to the right and vice versa to keep from smudging wet ink.

A continuous line helps me get a feel for spacial relationships because the act of drawing becomes a way to measure distances, so you feel the spaces as well as see them. This kind of haphazard free drawing puts a lot of my own personality into the drawing. I've been drawing this way ever since I read Bert Dodson's book Keys to Drawing several years ago. I like to draw this way with a brush as well as a pencil and it makes for an interesting effect. This took about half an hour.

Then I switched to my stiff extra fine nib fountain pen and went back in, adding confident lines and hatching, and enjoying the luxury of being able to press down and scratch into the surface of the paper after hovering with a brush. This took about 20 minutes and was very gratifying. I really like the contrast of free brush outlines with stiff pen hatching. I call it "magic" and try to remember to make magic when I'm sketching. The ink in both the brush pen and fountain pen is waterproof carbon ink.

Then it was time to add color. Since drawing and painting are two separate things, I don't bother to keep my drawing supplies together with my painting supplies. No need to prop the sketchbook in a watercolor kit when you are in the drawing phase. I put my pens away and take out the paints.

It was a relief to be able to cradle the sketchbook into the lid of the sketch set. My hand was really starting to cramp from holding that Moleskine and keeping it balanced. I hope someday they will produce a vertical format watercolor notebook. I added a rubber band to keep the page open and kept my left hand under the set, using the thumb ring. Very comfortable. (I didn't think of the ring until after I took these photos, and was half way through painting).

There is always the danger of losing that little cap from the waterbrush barrel (even if it is just lost in one of your pockets) so I stuck it into one of the extra holes that take the legs of the mixing tray, and it fits perfectly. After experimenting, I decided I like the mixing tray on the right side.

I colored this sketch in two "passes" to use scanner terminology. The first time I colored every area to mark out territories like a political world map. The colors were fairly bright and light. I stick to one color before going to the next color. For example, I to paint everything that is green, modifying the color as needed. It required more thinking this time since there were so many choices within each color group.

A lot of sketchers stop at this stage, and maybe I should have as well. My watercolor sketches tend to get dark because I'm easily impressed by the shadows in the subject. This first pass took about 30 minutes.

This set has two synthetic sponges for wiping the waterbrush. They worked well enough, but I've become so accustomed to using tissue paper, that it was a bit of a learning experience. It's easy enough to swap them out for some rolled tissues if I decide I don't want to learn a new trick.

The second pass further defined the dark areas. By the time I got to this stage, the sun had moved quite a bit and most of the subject was in shadow. It was not until later when I looked at the photo above (taken before I started sketching) that I realized how bright the scene had been originally.

This sketch took about an hour and 50 minutes, which is longer than my short attention span and small reserve of perseverance will usually allow, but it was enjoyable. I was so glad to finally discover a watercolor set that addressed the issues I've encountered when sketching. Compared to my home made sets this set has so many colors and an incredibly large mixing space. Several people have asked me to make wooden sketch sets with easel lids for them, which makes me groan at the thought of cutting all that wood (I'm lucky I still have all my fingers) so I'm happy to be able to recommend something even better that they can find easily enough in the local art supply store or on the web.

Technical information can be found at the Sakura web site. They're the same folks who make those Pigma Micron pens.

Here are Amazon links to both the 24 and 18 color sets, plus related items: