Page 7. Tools and materials (continued)


If you have visited web sites and blogs of many sketchers, you will see many glowing references to Moleskines. The Moleskine is the darling of artsy bloggers. A lot of sketchers are in love with their Moleskines.

A Moleskine is a pocket size notebook with a cloth black cover which has a texture similar to leather. They have a permanently attached black ribbon and a pocket on the inside back cover and a black elastic band to hold the whole thing closed when not in use. Some special versions of the Moleskine come in different colors.

Moleskines are bound with thread instead of glue and the pages lie perfectly flat, which I believe is their biggest advantage over most imitations. Of course this means nothing to those who prefer spiral bound sketchbooks whose covers fold back on themselves.

Moleskines are based on a type of black hardbound notebook which had been made by different manufacturers until the the last one stopped making them in the mid 1980s. These blank books were called "les carnets moleskines" and were apparently popular with artists and writers for two centuries (so the story goes). Italian manufacturer Modo& Modo registered the name Moleskine as a trademark and started producing Moleskines in 1998.

Granted black hardbound sketchbooks have been around forever, but they have not been as small and portable as the current Moleskines, nor do the pages lie perfectly flat.

Now that they have come out with the Moleskine watercolour notebook, even the paper is better than what you will find in a typical black hardbound sketchbook -- if you plan on using watercolors.

For pencil sketching the Moleskine sketchbook is great. That's the sketchbook with thick off-white paper. Pigment pens also work great in the sketchbook. Fountain pens work better in the watercolour notebook since it was intended for wet media.

The Moleskine has become a classic icon, and might make you feel good about yourself and your creative ability because of its alleged association with famous artists and writers in history. Sure it might be advertising hype, but that little psychological boost may be what it takes to keep you sketching.

Besides the Moleskine there are several good pocket size hardbound sketchbooks out there which have appeared after the Moleskine became popular. Several are cheaper or offer more options than the Moleskine, such as Stillman & Birn.

I like to use this type of sketchbook in crowded situations such as the subway because people really can't tell if I'm writing in a calendar, revising business meeting notes or sketching those very people when they aren't looking!

See my article called Sketching with a Moleskine for more information and observations on this popular notebook.

Digital Sketching

When I first wrote this section, the easiest way to sketch digitally on location was with a portable game device such as a Nintendo DS which is what I used.

A sketch I did on the subway with my DS Lite. This one still retains my light ink and watercolor style .

I've had to delete most of the original article because this kind of technology races forward at an incredible pace, introducing new devices and rendering old ones obsolete in a short time. And my DS eventually broke...

A few years before I first typed this section, I was sketching on an Apple Newton Message Pad with a program called NewtPaint. Both that device and the software are historical relics now. Who knows what digital sketching possibilities will be open to us a few years from now?

Many artists have switched to digital drawing and sketching on computers, smart phones and tablet computers, and it's amazing what they can produce. Personally, I still prefer sketching with pencil, ink and watercolor, but even in this context, recent digital technology has produced a great tool I can use.


Many years ago I wished I could view photos on a portable screen big enough to allow me to sketch directly from the photos. Now my cheap $65.00 Android seven inch tablet is exactly what I had envisioned. It has a built-in camera which is adequate for the job of capturing subjects.

The tablet camera is silent (no shutter sound) to my surprise, so even if the model notices me snapping a photo, he or she will assume I'm reading a book or playing a game. And it has a zoom function so I can take a photo from a distance. I also found a free Android app with a grid view-finder function which makes the tablet even more useful.

Here's an attempt to capture the subject on the tablet along with a quick sketch in my pocket spiral sketchbook. No, I didn't draw grid lines, but it's helpful even without them.

tablet modeltablet model

I made this sketch later and it took only a few minutes.The model disappeared into that train when it came to a stop, so I wouldn't have been able to get more than a scribble even if I tried to sketch him on the spot.

A few days later I found myself in Higashi (east) Ginza and came across an old shop on a side street. I waited until there were no cars coming down the road, stood in the middle of the street and snapped a few photos with my tablet.

tablet background

Later at home I propped up the tablet on my desk and opened my sketchbook. First I lightly sketched in the basic lines of the background so I would know where I could place the people. I then proceeded to add people which I had already sketched in pocket size spiral bound sketchbook. A few of the people came from photos taken on my tablet (notice the guy on the right).

color sketch

I write more about this on page 7 of part 4 in my online sketchbook.


Do you prefer sitting or standing when you sketch? Sometimes you have no choice and sitting near your subject is simply not possible. But what a joy it is to sit in a quiet open field or by the river with a big sketchbook. There is almost never a bench in the best sketching spots, so you have to get a stool or sit on the ground.

There are several portable stools on the market, and most of them are not very comfortable or portable. One very nice stool which I often use is a Walkstool in the photo on the left (see the bottom of this page for links) which is very portable, and very strong; mine will support 200 kg (440 lbs) which is far more than most humans will ever weigh no matter how hard they try.

There are many different types of portable stools out there including some that combine a cane with the stool so it will support you even while you are walking and searching for a place to sketch.

You can even make your own stool. The photo on the right shows one I made from a few pieces of wood and a piano hinge (it's upside down in the photo so you can see the hinge).


The sun will cause big problems for the unprepared sketcher, especially in the summer. Not only is there the obvious danger of sun burn, but we need protection to reduce the risk of sunstroke and even skin cancer. The sun can actually kill a person. A wide brimmed hat is an absolutely necessary sketching item in such conditions.

A baseball cap is not good enough since it will not protect your ears or neck.

A wide brim hat can also provide shade over your sketchbook, which will give you more flexibility in choosing a location, and can be used to effectively swat deer flies out of the air as they attack you (a stiff sketchbook will also do the trick, and makes a rewarding noise as you hit them).

Make sure you get a hat with a chin strap if possible since wind is one of the sketcher's biggest enemies besides the sun, and it will delight in blowing the hat off your head at the worst possible moment.

I am a hat nut, and could bore you with several pages on what to look for in a nice hat, but you would not appreciate it unless you are also a hat nut.

I will say that my favorite hats are big brimmed Akubra rabbit felt hats from Australia (where folks in the bush know a thing or two about protection from the harsh sun). I've got far more Akubras than I will ever need.

For those who don't see the need for a felt hat, or want to roll up and pack away their hats when they are done sketching, there are also good old light weight fabric hats such as the ones by Tilley or Dorfman Pacific.

Cheap versatile no-brand fishing hats are also perfect (you'd be surprised how many great sketching accessories can be found by searching for fishing supplies).

And don't forget the classic Panama hat which is always appropriate in the summer weather whether you are sketching in shorts and T-shirt or going out on the town in tie and jacket.

Sketch bag

It's always nice to keep a bag with your sketching stuff ready to go out the door. If you are trying to keep your stuff convenient and non-intimidating, then this bag shouldn't be very big. You could probably do without it and carry all the stuff in your pockets (except maybe the stool) but the bag keeps everything in one place so you don't have to tear up your home or office tracking it all down. If you sketch on your lunch break then it's a good idea to keep a sketch bag at work. My favorite bags are short ones with wide bottoms that don't fall over when you set them on the ground. Having said that, I will admit I have yet to find the perfect sketch bag. If I find it, I'll post it here.

Here are Amazon links to products mentioned on this page:

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