What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare
W. H. Davies
I have just returned from a family holiday on the quite lovely island of Sicily- Prior to leaving, when preparing for half a month in this hot and historic location, situated just off the ‘boot’ of mainland Italy, I was considering what artists’ materials I should take with me. I am a strictly amateur ‘doodler’, attempting to occasionally capture sights and impressions in my notebook/journal.
In recent years I have been attempting to capture more of my experiences in my notebooks. Beyond a few notes or ticket stubs stuck in, I find that spending just a few minutes attempting to produce a poor drawing forces me to look more closely at my subject, noticing more, understanding and ‘seeing’ aspects that a cursory glance may have failed to appreciate. Taking a little time to ‘stand and stare’.
My artistic skill set is low. In the past, I have frequently just relied on the pen and notebook I am carrying with no supplementary materials. More recently, not only have I been looking at the lightweight and less bulky options open to me (a work very much still in progress), but have also been experimenting slightly with mediums, moving away from simply pencil or pen and into watercolours or coloured pencils. To this end, hoping to find the time to do a little drawing on Sicily, I left my usual selection of graphite pencils at home, pared down my artists’ kit but also took a few inks with me to have a play with this medium and see how they suited a lightweight set up.
I selected a small sample of Winsor & Newton inks and, with a pipette, transferred these to glass 5/8 dram (2ml) bottles with orifice reducer. I also use these in my First Aid kits and, with a little care, they are robust and have never broken on me. Just for extra care though, they were encased in a small ‘lock ‘n’ lock, box and double wrapped in bags in the suitcase which went in the airplane hold.
Colours chosen were Black, Scarlet, Blue, Peat Brown, Apple Green and Canary Yellow. Amongst these, only Black is actually permanent to light in the long term but this is less important when simply doing simple washes in a notebook. All these inks can be mixed with each other, or thinned with distilled water.
For painting washes I took no traditional brushes at all. Instead, encouraging further experimentation, I took one of the 7g fine tip Pentel Aquash water brushes.
I must say that I rather liked using this brush and am keen to experiment further. I think one of the flat tip water brushes might compliment this fine tip water brush quite well. The brush did away entirely with the need for a little water pot, which as they get smaller and made of lighter materials, can easily be knocked over or even blow away. I have frequently upset a little collapsible lantern water pot in the past. These brushes also work well with my Derwent watersoluble sketching pencils (not taken this trip). I presume also with watercolour pencils or sticks, but I am keen to experiment further using a small travel pallet of watercolours.
Eschewing my normal Faber Castell PITT artist pens, I decided to take two of the superb Sakura Pigma Micron 01 drawing pens. The 01 pens have a 0.25mm line width opposed to the 0.3mm of the S and 0.1mm line width of the XS Faber Castell. The waterproof Sakura ink shows through the pages to a lesser extent than the ink from the Faber Castell pens. I also feel that the 0.25mm width is more suited to the small notebook I was using.
I took Black and Brown ink Sakura pens, each weighing 9g, and they performed faultlessly. I also used these for my note-taking, seldom bothering to pull out the tiny 8g telescopic True Utility pen that I took for the purpose.
Incidentally, my journal on this family holiday was the Leuchtturm1917, soft-back, 121 page, pocket A6 notebook I have written about before.
Beside experimenting with ink, and in the end I did very little for reasons I shall come to later, I still wanted at least one pencil, so settled on the quite lovely Palomino Blackwing 602. This is a modern revisit of a classic design and is very well made. The smooth graphite is akin to a 2B. Not cheap and purchased by the box, they each weigh 6g prior to sharpening. The extendable black rubber in the flattened ferrule is replaceable.
I was able to include another graphite pencil by taking a mechanical pen with me. This was a 115mm ‘shortie’ pen made by Koh-I-Noor. This clutch pen takes 2mm leads and has a tiny sharpener under the push button. It weighs 12g with pocket clip and an HB lead installed.
I also wanted the opportunity to add a little colour to my drawings without breaking out the ink all the time. So took a little Koh-I-Noor plastic holder with their coloured ‘leads’ within- these waxy leads come in black, brown, blue, green, red and yellow (16g, total weight). These are Koh-I-Noors longer 120mm leads and required shortening slightly for use. 2mm coloured leads can be difficult to find and I wish I could locate a wider selection of colours.
One last item I took along in my 22g Derwent pencil wrap was a 7g highlighter. This bright orange ink pen is made by Muji and features a thin nib at one end and a broader nib at the other. I use this for highlighting notes in my journal and for marking routes on maps. I notice that the design of these has changed since I purchased mine.
I am fairly content with the selection of artists materials I took. My kit was light without considerable bulk. I had opportunity to experiment with mediums unfamiliar to me yet also fall back on quick and easy materials where necessary. I had intended to include another pencil in my armoury, this was to be a Prismacolor Col-Erase 200028 Copy Not Non-Photo Light Blue. This produces a very light mark that I use for initial lines on drawings. However, discovering I had none in the house, a frantic order was placed which failed to turn up in time for my trip. Having turned up today, a week after my return, I have yet to use them but I note that production has been switched from the USA to Mexico, some have reported on a fall in quality in the pencil as a result.
Much that I enjoyed using inks on some drawings, I found they simply didn’t work for me as an ‘on location’ medium. I will definitely use these again at home, but I found them unsuitable for use en plein air. I much preferred to compose a picture, a rough sketch perhaps, in the field, and spread the inks out for use across a table in a hotel room later. If I had ever attempted to use these within the confines of a tent for instance, I would now be the disgruntled possessor of a multi-coloured ground sheet. My biggest problem though was the extent to which they bleed through the lightweight paper of my notebook. These inks really needed my taking a small Moleskine watercolour album with its far heavier 200g/m2 cold pressed paper.
As I said at the start of this post, I am no great shakes as an artist. This is one reason why I am not sharing more than a handful of my artistic efforts in this post. However I do get much enjoyment from my sketches, no matter how poor. So I shall continue to not only strive to improve my technique and renditions, but will also work on refining the type of materials that I cart along with me in a lightweight set-up. I may follow up with a further report should I develop my travel kit to any great extent.
A good combination of sketches and photos. I remember reading the poem by W H Davies when I was in a stressful job. How right he is.
Thanks for your comment Colin. I am not over familiar with the work of WH Davies, but did find myself mentally reciting what I could remember of this particular poem on one stiff climb in the Madonie. Though perhaps, in 38 degree heat, I was looking for a reason for an extended pause and ‘time to stand and stare’!
Colin, thanks for the artical. I enjoyed it very much. I am putting together my own light weight travel journal/art tools and your examples helps to give me ideas. Thanks again.
thanks for your comment. Always fun putting together a kit. I have been working on my own recently and will be doing a (probably) five part piece on the various elements. Watch this space!