6 Must-Have Tools for Pocket Sketching

Sketching on location is definitely one of the most powerful sources of information, joy and inspiration for an artist. At least for me.

I love to paint cityscapes–the buildings, roads, cars and people. To collect ideas for my paintings, I just walk around seeking nice views, great light and interesting compositions. And, I carry a small and simple set of tools that allow me to make quick sketches in minutes.

The six tools I take along when I am sketching outdoors.

My set of tools consists just of six key items:

  • Plastic box with watercolor
  • Moleskine classic pocket sketchbook (3.5 x 5.5 inches)
  • Pen with waterproof ink
  • Waterbrush
  • Piece of paper napkin
  • Clip

The Benefits of Tiny but Mighty Tool Sets

A small tool set is absolutely sufficient for quick sketching. Clip your palette and a small paper napkin (if watercolor sketching) to your sketchbook and keep all this in one hand, while keeping your other hand free to hold your brush, pencil or pen (whatever you work with).

With this minimal amount of equipment, you can stand or sit almost anywhere comfortably and sketch; this means there’s no need for an easel or any other heavy supplies.

Here's how it all looks working together for when I'm out sketching.
Here’s how it all looks working together for when I’m out sketching.

Quick Sketch Examples

Here are a few sketches I made on location; every sketch took less than 10 minutes. Eventually, some of these sketches became important starters for paintings I created later in my home studio.

Quick watercolor painting sketch.

Quick watercolor painting sketch.

Quick watercolor painting sketch.

Quick watercolor painting sketch.

I take reference photos as well, in addition to sketching! I find they are important for details if you want to complete your painting in the studio as I often do.

However, nothing can replace the impression and “feeling” you get while exploring, rendering and sketching a place you like.

Leave a comment, and let me know if you have any advice or questions!

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Vladimir Tuporshin

About Vladimir Tuporshin

My name is Vladimir Tuporshin. I live in Moscow, Russia. I think drawing and watercolor painting is the best way of meditation that fills my life with sense and pleasure :)

14 thoughts on “6 Must-Have Tools for Pocket Sketching

  1. very beautiful work. this encourages me in spontaneous pocket painting which has never really worked out for me, given the basic preparation and tools always needed to be at hand. Tell me, a naive question, what is a ‘waterbrush,’? I can guess that it is just a brush container water. Does it eliminate the need to have a bucket of water available to clean the brush before plunging into an another color? Whatever the case, I appreciate this helpful discussion.

  2. Waterbrush – yes, it has a small container; enough water for 2-3 sketches of this size.

    Where to buy Moleskine and small watercolor paint set? It’s easy to find in the internet; better to google for just these words, e.g. “moleskine sketchbook” and “watercolor paint set” 🙂

    PS: I tried to post this comment with links to potential vendors, but my comment this not show up in this blog, probably was banned because of those links?…

  3. I recognise the watercolour box as it is sold here in the UK, as a Cotman pocket palette. I have two of these (not sure how that happened!).
    Had never thought of using one in the way you show here. I usually use pastels or charcoal outdoors for sketching and am forever losing bits in the grass. Your set-up here gives a fresh approach and although I don’t primarily do watercolour, I have to say it’s the quickest thing for getting an impression of landscape.
    It’s so compact, too and simple. You’ve got me thinking!

  4. The box is one of the many Winsor Newton mini WC kits. This particular one may or may not be currently available ( I got a couple some years ago). They used to be available at ACMOORE and may still be. There are other delightful mini palette kits made by WN. You can also get other 1/2 pan holders ( there are some lovely little ones) and then fill them with 1/2 pan refills of your choice. If you want to really restrict your colors, You can also use a small, “6 pack” white plastic vitamin box with a single lid that covers all compartments ( which will hold your napkin or tissue) and fill the compartments from tubes of WC.

    Moleskine books are available at many art suppliers. Try Blick. AC Moore carries some, although not specifically for WC. Aquabee brand sketchbooks are a bit larger, but have excellent paper for dealing with WC.

    Hunt around on the internet to check out the possibilities, you may find something a bit different that works perfectly well.

  5. I ordered 2 of the Moleskine classic pocket sketchbooks from Amazon. I think they were $11.00 each. I purchased a Cotman “The Compact Set” at Michaels. If you Google Cotman “The Compact Set” you get a lot of results. HobbyLobby.com has them. utrechtart.com/ has them too but are backordered. Looks like they are very popular

  6. I’m new to this kind of sketching and I was wondering in what order you work. Do you first draw with pen and then use watercolor, the other way around or do you alternate?


  7. Maria, this is a good question!

    It may look natural to make a pen drawing first and washes after that. And this is the way these sketches (above) were made.

    But! Sometimes you may get more interesting result making washed (even very abstract) first and then add lines to signify shapes and edges.

  8. This was so eye opening. Thank you! I take watercolor pencils on the the
    Road and aqua pen. However I do not like the hard lines of the pencils. Plus it never “dawned on me” to clip it all together like you have. I normally take several aqua brushes so that I can change colors quickly without having to clean but it is not necessary since a blended color makes it look better.

  9. Wow, thank you! Love your pocket sketches. I have signed up for a plein air day, and this post was so timely as I’ve been looking for tips today! What an inspiration you are!

  10. Great idea. Thanks.

    I used gaffa tape to make ‘pockets I could put the aqua pen and a propelling pencil inside the cover of a small sketchbook. [ and the the Cotman watercolour box inside the cover it Roll the gaffa tape around the pencil with the sticky side out and then stick some more over]

    It all gets held together with a rubber band – ready to go