Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Watercolor in the Wild Materials

(Link to video excerpt)

Here's a complete list of materials and a buyer's guide for plein-air watercolor painting.
This is a supplement to my instructional video "Watercolor in the Wild."

I carry these art supplies practically everywhere. The basic elements are pretty simple: a sketchbook, a paint box, a few brushes, watercolor pencils, a rag, and some water. They're all listed in detail below.

Watercolor Sketchbook
• I have often used the Moleskine Watercolor Album (5 x 8.25 inches)  I like the fact that it opens flat and I like the horizontal (landscape) format. It has 36 pages—72 if you paint on the facing pages. It has a fake leather hardbound cover, an elastic strap, and a pocket in the back. The paper is 90-pound weight, which is rather lightweight for very wet watercolors, but it's OK if you're doing mostly drawings rather than juicy paintings.

• I also recommend the Pentalic Aqua Journal (5 x 8 inch), which is priced about the same as the Moleskine but has better paper — 140 lb (300gsm) cold press, acid-free paper. [Edit: I inquired directly with Pentalic to find out the fiber content of the paper, and heard back from the factory that it is indeed 100% cotton rag, which is excellent quality.] With the heavier paper, it has just 24 pages. But they'll hold up to wet washes or even light impasto, such as with casein. It has generous extras, such as an elastic strap, a back pocket, an elastic brush-holding sleeve, and a placeholder ribbon.

• The Global Art Materials Watercolor Book (5-1/4 by 8-1/4 inch) is another alternative with a linen cover. The linen cover is attractive if you want to do a little acrylic or oil painting on the cover.

• The Stillman and Birn Beta Hardbound Sketchbook (5.5 x 8.5 inches) is a vertical book with 26 pages of cold press 180lb. archival paper. The paper is substantial, but it doesn't open flat easily [Edit: unless you work to press open the binding, which doesn't hurt the book]. It can be held flat with clips. If you're thinking of working in casein, the heavier paper reduces the chance of impastos cracking.

• The Pentalic Watercolor Field Book (7 x 10 inches), is well suited those who prefer a spiral binding. It's bigger, so check to make sure it will fit in your belt pouch or purse.

• One other option: There's a Kickstarter campaign by Erwin Lian Cherngzhi going on for the next nine days to build "The Perfect Sketchbook," with 60 pages of 100% cotton paper at a pocket size of 3.5 x 5.5 inches, with a grayscale and and 18% photo gray built in.

To decorate the cover, I use the oil-based One-Shot Sign Painter's Lettering Enamel, which is very opaque. Paint markers also cover fairly well, but they tend to wear off faster. I usually title the sketchbook with a phrase taken from the first page of the sketchbook.

Watercolor Sets

Quality Metal Pan Sets
Rublev natural watercolor pigment basic set (12 full pans of historical colors)

Custom Sets Made from Empty Pans
You can get exactly the colors you want by buying an empty metal box and filling it with colors that you choose. When the colors run low, you can refill the pans with tube colors.

Large size empty box. In my videos, I'm using an old Talens box from the 1960s. You can get a similar large empty metal watercolor box, which holds 24 half pan colors or 12 full pans. This box opens up to 9 x 8 x 1 inches. You can combine half pans and full pans in the same box, using full pans for colors you use more often. Sometimes I put in two pans of the same color if I use them a lot.

Small size empty box (left). The smaller empty metal watercolor box opens up to about 5 x 8 inches, which fits the left side of a Moleskine or Pentalic sketchbook. This box will hold 12 half pans or six full pans.

Empty half pans. The most economical route is to buy plastic empty half pans and fill them with tube colors. The empty pans cost only 34 cents each. For students or anyone on a tight budget, you can get the 12 Tubes of Student Grade Winsor and Newton Watercolor Tubes for just $30.00. If you have dried up watercolor tubes, don't throw them out; cut them open and scrape out the tar-like pigment to fill empty half pans. Even if they're dried hard you can reactivate them with water once you cut the tube open.

Alternately, you can fill your box with factory-filled pans.

Colors--Here's a basic set of 12 half pans. These are really all you need.
Payne's grey (a bluish black)

Eight more classic colors if you have room for them.

The smaller the set, the more likely you'll have harmonious color. I've been reworking my own small metal box to limit it to just nine colors. Here's what I've got in it at the moment.

Economical options

If you're looking for a super-compact pocket rig, or if you're a student, a first-timer, or on a budget, I recommend the Winsor and Newton pocket watercolor set with 12 colors, which you can get for around $15.00. This has a plastic box containing Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cobalt Blue Hue, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Hue, and Chinese White. That's a pretty good assortment, and the quality of the paint is OK. Note that when it says "hue," they're replacing an expensive pigment with a cheaper pigment of a similar hue.
A lot of field artists and urban sketchers love the Sakura Koy 12-Color Field Set with Water Brush, which is under $20. It includes the brush and fits in your pocket. The case is made of plastic, so you can't use magnets on it, but the lid has mixing wells, which helps if you're laying down larger washes. Two cautions: the lid doesn't open all the way flat, and when the colors are wet they can spill over into each other.

There's kind of an arms race for small sets. Some of the smallest watercolor sets are the size of a business card, and easily fit into a pocket. At left is the Pocket Palette by Expeditionary Art. The metal pans can be filled with tube colors, and they're held in place by a magnetic backing inside the case. The flip-up metal lid has a white surface for mixing colors. The downsides are: 1. The lack of mixing wells to hold wet washes, 2. The reflective metal, which can be blinding on bright days, and 3. The overlapping flange on the left side that covers part of the pans.

At lower right is a 30-year-old Winsor and Newton "Bijou Box," which they no longer make. It has an enameled steel case with 18 colors and a tiny travel brush. The pans are tiny, and I think there are more colors than necessary. I'd rather see 6 or 8 for a box this size. The lid has four mixing wells, which is a big plus. If you can find one of these used for a good price, grab it, but a comparable super-mini set that you can get in USA is the Winsor and Newton Cotman Water Color Mini, or you can make your own equivalent of the Bijou with an old Altoid tin, some spray enamel paint, and some extra half pans.

The brushes shown above are the Niji Short Handled Water Brush, a small travel brush, and a sawed off brush. The book is the Moleskine Pocket Watercolor Book, 3½" × 5½" (9 × 14cm)

For more on these micro kits, check out my YouTube video "Ultra Compact Watercolor Kits," part of the "Watercolor in the Wild: Bonus Features" video.

Water Cup and Rags
I use a Nalgene 2-Ounce Jar with three 1/4 x 1/16 inch Neodymium Magnets, held on with Magic Sculpt Epoxy Clay. You could also use a generic epoxy plumber's putty instead of the Magic Sculpt. The magnets are powerful, so keep them away from your credit card and phone.

I keep a second jar with clear water handy, and often just a regular drinking water bottle, and I use an old plastic "Tupperware" basin or yogurt cup for a brush cleaning bucket when I'm painting with the tripod easel.

I cut up old cotton T-shirts for paint rags, or use paper restaurant napkins or paper towels.

Here's a good inexpensive starter set of brushes: Richeson Sable Hair Watercolor Brush Set/5

I like sable flat brushes, such as:
1/2-Inch Sable Brush
3/4-Inch Sable Brush

I also use a 1/4-Inch Synthetic Watercolor Flat Brush, which work well for architectural detail.

For laying bigger washes and wetting the paper, a Cat's Tongue Wash Brush is a good tool. It has a flattened ferrule similar to a filbert brush.

Round Kolinsky sables (note: some brands may become discontinued in the U.S. as the Kolinsky ban exhausts stock on hand):
Winsor and Newton Series 7 
Richeson Siberian Kolinsky brushes
Escoda Optimo Kolinsky
Da Vinci Maestro Series Kolinsky Red 

If you have a very compact kit and can't carry a box of brushes, you might want to use a Sable Round Travel Brush, which safely stows the brush tip inside the handle.

Water Brushes
I always try to carry four Niji Water Brushes with large round tips. They're the best brand I've found, and stand up to a lot of hard use. For info about filling them with ink, please scroll farther down this post.

I also carry a tube of white gouache, such as Holbein Permanent White GouacheWinsor and Newton is also good. Sometimes I bring a whole set of gouache colors to supplement the transparent watercolors, but gouache will be the topic of future posts.

Plastic clamps
Here's a 2-Inch Plastic Clamp and a 3.75-inch Clamp. Of all the clips and clamps that I've tried, these seem to be the most versatile for holding the book open or clipping the watercolor box to the easel.

I use a Kum Pencil Sharpener, which not only catches the shavings, but also has a little flap that covers the hole, so the shavings don't leak out and pollute the pages of the sketchbook. 

I carry two erasers, a Kneaded Eraser and a White Latex-Free Eraser.

Water-Soluble Colored Pencils
These add a lot of options and variations to traditional watercolors. I recommend trying a few test pencils from several different brands to see which ones you like. My favorite brand is Caran D'ache Supracolor, but I also like Derwent Inktense Pencils for rich, saturated colors.

I started with a Caran d'Ache Supracolor Set of 18. Over the years I have added and subtracted individual colors from the standard set. Below are the colors I take with me most often. It emphasizes warm colors that I like for portraits and animal drawing.

Caran d'Ache Supracolor watercolor pencils
#001 White
#003 Light Grey
#009 Black

You can also get woodless watercolor pigment sticks or crayons. Derwent makes Aquatone Woodless Pencils, which are like pencils made of solid pigment, and they also make square pigment sticks called Derwent Inktense Blocks. Another company is Lyra, which makes pigment sticks that have the feel of wax crayons.

Caran d'Ache makes round water-soluble pigment sticks called Neocolor Pastels (shown above)
They're all a good value because you get a lot of pigment for the price, and I do use them occasionally for creating rough textures.

I also often use a Graphite Drawing Pencil(HB, B, or 2B) for the initial drawing.

Pencil Box
The pencil box I use was customized by armorer Tony Swatton. It began as a metal box I bought at a Japanese bookstore called Kinokuniya in Los Angeles. (I painted the Apple logo as a gag.)

Tony then added the hammered brass piece with rivets and I aged it with paint.

Waist Pack / Fanny Pouch / Belt Bag
I use a Black Diamond Spring '03 Waist Bag (Unfortunately it's 11 years old and discontinued, so the photo is for comparison.)
[The Explorers] Multi-Purposes Fanny Pack looks pretty similar. I recommend that you buy the pack at an outdoor store after you select the contents to make sure everything fits. A quiet zipper and minimal Velcro is a consideration if you plan to sketch in quiet places where you don't want to attract attention.

I use a Velbon CX 444 tripod because it's lightweight, folds small, and reaches up to a reasonable standing height when fully extended. Unfortunately, that model has been discontinued, but a similar replacement that I've used is the AmazonBasics 60-Inch Tripod. The square quick release plate matches the Velbon quick release plate, so the two are compatable. You can get extra generic Velbon size plates to attach to any cameras, easels, or sliders that you want to attach to a tripod to aid quick setup.

Three-legged stool
Tripod Stool is something I carry in the car or in a backpack when I plan to sit. Sometimes I bring an extra to use as a field taboret for art gear. If you want a very compact folding stool that fits in your backpack, and you're lighter than 175 pounds, you might prefer the Coleman Event Stool. I'm too heavy for those, and one of them gave out on me once in a museum, but my wife sat happily with no problems, laughing at my misfortune.

Sketchbook Pochade 
The simplest sketchbook holder is a piece of 1/4 inch or 5/16 inch thick plywood cut to the dimensions of the sketchbook opened up flat. I call it a "sketchbook pochade." I drill a hole in the back of the panel and insert a 1/4-20 Tee Nut which will attach to the tripod and securely hold the plywood. The sketchbook attaches to the plywood base with rubber bands or plastic clamps.

Homemade Easel
I made this device, which I call a Sketchbook Pochade Easel to hold the paint set, the water, and the sketchbook. I also use this for gouache and casein. The diffuser frame attaches to the top, and it uses White Rip-Stop Nylon Fabric that I sewed onto an old aluminum Pendaflex file folder frame, a holdover from the dinosaur era.

Here's a clearer shot of the sketchbook pochade. It attaches to the tripod with a Tee Nut, and uses a Southco SC-773 Adjustable Torque Hinge and a furniture slider to hold the parts at the proper angle. The "camera bar" for holding the video camera swings out from the front, held at a constant position by a piece of brass furniture hardware called a Friction Lid Support.

The palette area is made from the lid from a pencil box, primed and then spray-painted with white enamel, and held on with Velcro. That way it can be removed for cleaning, especially when I use it for casein or gouache.

EDIT: Aug 16--
Here's another view of the camera bar extended, with a Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 Digital Camera (Black) held on with an adustable Mini Ball Head Bracket I'm holding a Mighty Bright HammerHead LED Book Light, which clips onto the bar for night sketching.

My workhorse video camera is the Canon VIXIA series camcorder, which is small and light and full-featured. I also use a Canon EOS Rebel T5i Digital SLR with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. For time lapse, I use a GoPro HERO3 with a free time lapse program called "Time Lapse Assembler."

Refilling Water Brushes and Fountain Pens

Water Brushes 
I've tried several brands, but none seem as reliable as Niji Water Brushes. I recommend the ones with round tips, but you can also get them with a 12mm Flat Tip. I normally carry between three and five water brushes. One is filled with water, which fills easily under a normal faucet by unscrewing the handle and squeezing the barrel.

The others are filled with blue, black, brown, and gray. I mix the gray myself, put it in an empty bottle, and mark the bottle. To identify which water brush is which, I paint the back end tips with acrylic (see lower left of photo above).

The ink in a brush pen should be water-soluble so that it doesn't clog the brush fibers. I use Higgins Eternal Ink(black), and an old bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Ink. The color in my 30-year-old bottle is mellow blue-black, which I believe is no longer available. The Waterman Fountain Pen Blue Bottled Ink is a bolder blue. For a brown color, I use either the Higgins Sepia Fountain Pen Ink or the Waterman Brown Ink, the latter of which has a redder cast. If you mix two colors of ink, you should mix the same brands.

Refill Tool
Several different tools will work for refilling water brushes. My favorite is a Syringe with a Blunt Tip Fill Needle. You can also use a Syringe with a Tapered Plastic Tip (center of photo above). A Glass Eyedropper doesn't always work as well because the tip isn't small enough to fit inside the chamber of an empty fountain pen cartridge or water brush.

Fountain Pens
I use a relatively inexpensive Waterman Phileas Fine Point Fountain Pen (top) for written notes. In the USA, you can buy refill cartridges in black and blue, but it's not easy to find brown or gray or other colors. As with the water brushes, you can refill them with your favorite color. The pen comes with a piston converter insert, but if you don't have one of those, you can refill empty cartridges with the syringe.

When I need to use waterproof ink for my line work, I like Micron Pens and brushpens. They come in many colors, and give a constant indelible line, similar to the classic Rapidograph pens. For a brush-style tip, I've used the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, a waterproof brush-tip pen with replacement cartridges. A caution about the Pentel: the ink can bleed through some thinner paper.
For a PDF version of this list and buyer's guide, check out the extras of gum.co/watercolor.

To learn more about the 72-minute video "Watercolor in the Wild":
HD download: (Credit Card) 
HD download: (Paypal) buy
DVD: (NTSC, Region 1) 
Feel free to bookmark and share this info, and please let me know of any corrections or suggestions in the comments.


Mark S. said...

James, this brings me a lot of joy.
Inventing tools to make things easier is the most fascinating part of it.
I love the magnets and the small swatches of color near the pans. So helpful!
Thanks for all you do.

- Mark Shasha

Beth said...

This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously.

MG said...

James, you mentioned that your paper was sized with gelatin. Is this something that you do yourself, or do all water color papers come pre-made like this?

James Gurney said...

MG, to quote the website Handprint, "Nearly all watercolor papers come from the manufacturer with a coating or sizing of gelatin, starch or rarely Aquapel (a synthetic glue normally used as internal sizing). This coating can be thin to moderately heavy. If you paint directly onto this dry surface, the paint vehicle primarily bonds to the sizing rind rather than the cellulose fibers of the paper, and this effect is greater in papers with heavier sizing."

Jacob A Stevens said...

Hi James,
Thanks so much for the very complete writeup of your kit! I've already ordered the DVD copy and can't wait to see the whole thing.

We've got a new puppy that chews anything it can find, so lately I've been concerned with the use of toxic pigments. I know that it's very difficult to replicate the vibrancy of pigments like cadmium red, but I'd think one would one to be cautious in sensitive areas like zoos and where children are around.

Do you have a procedure for keeping your cadmium and other colors from contaminating the locales where you paint?


James Gurney said...

Good question, Jacob. I think about this too when I paint in casein at the farm, because the milk in the casein sometimes attracts goats and horses to lick my palette. So I try not to use cadmiums there, and use pyrroles or earth colors (like English or light red). It's hard to replace a cadmium yellow light, but if you look for anything called "cadmium yellow hue" it should be another less toxic and less costly pigment. Definitely stay away from white lead (or flake white) oil if you're around kids or animals who might get into it or if you lick your brushes. Titanium is fine--they use it in cottage cheese.

Aaron Deery said...

Hello! I bought the video around 24 hours ago from Sellfy and I still have not received an email link or a response to an email I sent them about my problem. The transaction is listed as complete on PayPal, so do you think there is a problem?
Sorry to bother you

Carmen Cerezo said...

I have already purchased the video by sellfy but then I realized about the buyer guide, is there any way to get it without having to pay for the video again? thank you.

Jacob A Stevens said...

Thanks! Do you do anything special with your rinse water?

Irene Nelson said...

James, if you or anyone else is interested, Derwent Inktense also comes in blocks rather than pencils, which I at least find delightful. Drawing with them is similar to drawing with compressed charcoal, but it comes in many colors and is first water-soluble, then permanent. They're a fantastic deal, in my opinion, because they can be used as ink pans as well.

You can also buy the colors individually at Dick Blick.

Maria said...

This is such a great resource, thank you for sharing your complete kit! I appreciate your feedback about the Pocket Palette, too. It's been great fun to develop and I'm trying to make it the best compact watercolor tool possible. Thank you for the great work you do. Cheers, Maria

larry said...

Great post, James. I just bought the video.

I'm writing about your comment that Stillman & Birn sketchbooks don't lie flat. This is a true statement when one shucks the book from its wrapper but it's not a permanent condition.

These sketchbooksare double-stitched. They absolutely will not come apart but, on the shelf, the stitching is too tight to fold flat. This is 'fixed' by simply over-bending them, a few pages at a time, working either from the inside out or the outside in. Doesn't really make any difference. You can take these books and bend them back so far that the two covers touch one another and they will not bend or break. Here's an example of a 9x6 Alpha series book, laying flat as can be. http://www.larrydmarshall.com/images/S&B_lies_flat.jpg

And no, I don't work for S&B :-)

Cheers --- Larry

James Gurney said...

Carmen and other Sellfy customers, I was able to add the PDF of the Materials List /Buyer's Guide to a Dropbox folder. You should be able to download it from Dropbox if you just follow this link.

Irene, thanks for that. I also have a handful of Caran d'Ache's water soluble pigment sticks and like them, especially for giving rough textures. Those open up a lot more possibilities.

Aaron, I would suggest contacting their customer service again, and I will too from my end. If that still doesn't work, email me and we'll figure something out.

Jacob, nothing special, but I try to keep one water cup clean and the other for cleaning brushes.

Thanks, Maria, the best products are developed by artists for artists!

Larry, thanks for that. My wife uses S&B sketchbooks (she prefers vertical format), and she tells me she has been conditioning her books the way you describe with no ill effects.

Carmen Cerezo said...

Thank you James, but I'm afraid the link only leads to the list and not to the buyer's guide. Sorry for bothering you so much!

monbaum said...

What a wealth of info on your materials! I remember the time when I scoured the interwebs for interviews where you'd mention your tools of the trade just to understand what it took to make such marks on paper. Now it's all in one place :-D
Thank you for being so generous!

krystal said...

Dang Gurney..you fooled me on the brass piece; that paint looks like a patina!

James Gurney said...

Krystal, the brass "footprint" is real hammered and riveted, but the box is painted.

Monbaum, I was glad to put all those thoughts in one place, and I'm glad it's helpful to you.

Carmen, the "materials list" and "buyer's guide" are one in the same. In fact, it's the same as this blog post. I didn't want to just call it a list, because it's not like required gear for a workshop; everyone will figure out what works for them.

David King said...

I bought the download via Sellfy and watched it last night. I have to say this is something I've been hoping you'd do for a long time, it was worth the wait! Thank you so much for putting this video out!

patricia castelao said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing.

Karen Robinson said...

Thank you so much - I really enjoyed this post.
It is a sad fact that sometimes I enjoy thinking about materials, choosing materials, buying materials, and touching materials almost as much as I enjoy painting.
How many mini sets of watercolours does one person need? I found a mini set by Pebeo - 12 or 24 half pans - in a round metal tin with wells for mixing in the middle + you can use the lid as a palette; Fab.
Thought I might buy that one to add to the collection…

James Gurney said...

David, thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I'm working on "Gouache in the Wild," "Casein in the Wild," and "Oil in the Wild" next!

Karen, I know what you mean! I keep working on new ways of rigging my art gear (and my video gear), but I keep coming back to certain standbys that work well.

Aaron, glad it all worked out. Both Sellfy and Gumroad have really good customer service people, and I recommend them to artists who want to distribute digital content. (Thanks, Steve at Gumroad and Matthew at Sellfy.)

Alain Vaes said...

Thank you , James, for sharing this, I found it very useful. Working in the Wild is so intimidating...

Warren Beattie said...

I bought the download on the day. Excellent! Watching the layers build up before my eyes, well, opened my eyes to a lot of things.
An hour never passed so quickly, and I'm champing at the bit to try some of the materials and techniques featured in the video and this blog entry. I have a few pencils, but I checked out my local art supply shop for calligraphy ink (mostly Winsor & Newton, but also a couple of bottles of Higgins which I didn't expect) and extra water brushes (Derwent, which seem different to the older, bulb-shaped Pentel style). Although I was distracted at the last moment by the shiny new W&N watercolour marker display...

James Gurney said...

Thanks--glad you enjoyed the presentation. And you sound like a kid in a candy shop at the art store. Jeanette and I had a similar fun time at our local store, discovering all sorts of materials that we had never heard of before.

Thanks, Alain. Pleased to know the list helped sort it all out. Your work is magnificent, by the way.

Alain Vaes said...

I'm honored you feel that way. I have always admired your work... your imagination and your mastery of the watercolor and oil techniques.
When I feel blocked it's always a pleasure to visit your site for inspiration.

Susan said...


I really enjoyed this post. I'm so excited about bolstering my illustration work with taking a more serious approach to painting in the wild. In fact, I'm headed off-grid this weekend to do just that and stopped in to double check my supplies list!

Two items that might be on interest:

This Carbon Pen http://www.jetpens.com/Platinum-Carbon-Desk-Fountain-Pen-Super-Fine-1-Carbon-Ink-Cartridge/pd/3851 that a fellow illustrator let me try about two weeks ago at a conference. A little pricey, but sooo nice. I need to see if cartridges come in other colors, though.

Item two is a seat I found at a sporting goods/camp store. I don't have a link for it, but if you check in hunting and fishing sections, you might find a stool that opens square and the entire underside is a storage pouch! It's just the thing in a place that might be a bit crowded (the animal pens at the state fair), as you can keep items not in active use tucked away underneath and out of traffic. It has an adjustable shoulder strap and not ferociously bulky. The only drawback is that mine is camo print. I may have to paint it one of these days.

Thank you for these posts. They and the videos, which I plan to get, are the next best thing to studying alongside you.


James Gurney said...

Susan, great ideas, thanks. Those chairs with the zip bag underneath also might be good when you're working in places that might be theft-prone. The carbon pen looks intriguing. Is the ink water-soluble?

Susan said...

The ink is water-proof, so perfect for those who like to ink their drawings and then apply color or tonal washes.

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Fábio Rodrigues said...

Oh my god, thanks a lot! Will you make a gouache video with materials and explaining how to paint in the wild as you did with watercolor? Please, please :) Thanks :)

James Gurney said...

Fábio, yes, Gouache in the Wild will come, probably in 2015. I have a couple segments of it shot already.

Anonymous said...


Such a great resource, thank you.

You mention using Higgins Eternal Black in your Niji but my bottle of HEB says it's a "waterproof" ink. I'm concerned that if it dried in the brush it would clog the feed. Thought I might use Higgins Fountain Pen ink (non-waterproof) instead.
On the Platnium pens mentioned by Susan, I have a couple each with different nib (F, EF). They are specifically designed for the heavily pigmented waterproof carbon ink that Platnium sells. I can say from experience they do not clog easily and the waterproof ink (I use the Sepia, but noted I didn't see that color for sale anymore) is great for use under my watercolor and sepia washes. But, if you forget to clean one out and the ink dries in the feed (it may take a couple months) you've got a job ahead cleaning it out.

James Gurney said...

Lou, that's weird. I checked my bottles of HEB, and none of them says waterproof. Maybe they changed the formula, or there is a variant type. My bottles of HEB say "permanent," but that means lightfast, not waterproof. Best thing is to put a swatch of it on watercolor paper (or let some dry on a plate) and see if it can be rewet and dissolved after it dries hard. If so, it might endanger the brush pen. But I have heard from several folks that they have used true waterproof inks in brush pens with no ill effects as long as you keep them capped. Fortunately they're not too expensive, so if you do ruin one, it's not the end of the world.

Anonymous said...


Youch! You are so correct, looking at the Higgins website the HEB clearly is non-waterproof. Um, can I seek redemption in that neither box nor bottle has non-waterproof on them? No, didn't think so!
Any insight of how you mix your gray would be appreciated. The gray I use is made from diluted Payne's Gray watercolor with brush but I like the concept of using a Niji with pre-mixed gray.
I would so like to have the capability to lay down a waterproof sepia wash when working in my travel sketchbook (I do most of my sketchbook stuff from photos on plane trips) I will have to try the Niji with a waterproof sepia. I'll make sure to keep it capped and empty/clean if it will sit unused for more than a month or so.

Corrected Lou

James Gurney said...

Lou, no problem, it's not you. Everyone, including me, gets the terms permanent, lightfast, and waterproof mixed up, and manufacturers often use the terms misleadingly. For example, "permanent" is often used in markers to really mean waterproof, but to suggest lightfastness, even though they may not be lightfast at all.

Anyway, it's a great idea to fill one of your water brushes with gray, brown, or "shadow blue." Those are great convenience colors for subway sketching, etc. I would suggest that you start with a fountain pen ink because the particle size of the pigment is generally smaller and less likely to clog the water brush, than watercolor might be. You might try mixing a little amount of ink into a few teaspoons of water in a glass bowl until you get the gray or brown you want and then use a syringe or eyedropper to transfer it into your water brush.

Connie Nobbe said...

James, I have noticed that you have tried various video cameras with videotaping your demos. In this post you so the Canon Powershot, but in others you have used GoPro. Maybe you have tried others. Is the Canon Powershot your favorite as of right now?

James Gurney said...

My workhorse video camera is the Canon VIXIA series camcorder, which is small and light and full-featured. I also use a Canon EOS Rebel T5i Digital SLR with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. And yes, I love the GoPro for time lapse. I have the new GoPro black and it takes high-rez stills with a built in timer. I've added links to the post.

Paige Pittman said...

I have been looking for a Bijou box like yours in this post with 18 wells. Would you be willing to sell yours? I can't find one anywhere. Thanks!!

Lynn McMorrow said...

This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing your outdoor kit. A thought on inks/pens. I use Lamy pens with Walnut ink. It does not clog and it is a lovely brown. It can be used for washes or fine line work.
Lynn McMorrow

Diedrich said...

The basic elements are pretty simple: a sketchbook, a paint box, a few ... iboxenstaender.blogspot.de

James Gurney said...

Paige, thanks for your interest in purchasing the Bijou. I'll keep you in mind if I ever do sell it, but for now I'll hang onto it. --JG

S Green said...

I'm interested in private painting lessons as well as a commission
Many thanks

Awais SEO said...

James, this presents to me a great deal of delight.

Designing apparatuses to make things simpler is the most interesting piece of it.

I adore the magnets and the little swatches of shading close to the dish. So accommodating!

A debt of gratitude is in order regarding everything you do.

Ник said...

(Please, excuse me for my bad grammar and for rudeness (if it will be there))Mr. Gurney, could I paint in all pages of the sketchbook you are showing in the video? Because in your sketchbook there are one page blank and the other has a painting. Could it affect the painting or it is because it's uncomfortable to keep a set of watercolors on a sketchbook? (In some of your videos you are holding a sketchbook in the left side of the sketchbook). And are you going to make informational videos about oils, casein, gouache? And last - would you try acrylic paints in action? It would be very interesting. Thank you.

Ник said...

Thank you so much for the list!

Ник said...

James, will you do a video where you paint with enamel on the sketchbook cover? Do you do pencil lines first?

James Gurney said...

HNK, Good idea for a video. Yes, I do pencil lines first with a white water-soluble colored pencil, then paint right over that with "One-Shot" enamel paint, which is super durable and opaque. When the enamel is completely dry in a day or so, I use a damp paper towel to remove the guidelines.

James Gurney said...

HNK, sorry for the delay in responding to your questions. (I had to switch the blog over to moderated comments for posts older than a week old because of spams, but I'm just now discovering where the unmoderated comments are, and I'm working through them.)

But yes, you can certainly paint on both sides of the sketchbook pages in either a Moleskine or Pentalic sketchbook, and a lot of people do, especially if they're doing a big panorama. Sometimes with watercolor pencils, you have to be careful it doesn't rub off on the facing pages, but otherwise it's OK.

Carlos said...

Hi James. I've just finished watching Watercolor in the Wild and have a few questions regarding materials as it's really hard to get some of them where I live. The only watercolor brands from your list that I've found are the Schmincke (Akademie, not Horadam) and Winsor & Newton (Cotman, not artist). I think the quality is not the same as the professional versions and was wondering if you've tried them.

As for paper, the best I've found is Schoellershammer esparto. Havent't tried it yet, but their drawing paper is really good.

I appreciate a any alternative brands you can recommend. Thanks.

Carlos said...

Hi James. I've just finished watching Watercolor in the Wild and have a few questions regarding materials as it's really hard to get some of them where I live. The only watercolor brands from your list that I've found are the Schmincke (Akademie, not Horadam) and Winsor & Newton (Cotman, not artist). I think the quality is not the same as the professional versions and was wondering if you've tried them.

As for paper, the best I've found is Schoellershammer esparto. Havent't tried it yet, but their drawing paper is really good.

I appreciate a any alternative brands you can recommend. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Hi, Carlos, I don't know which brands are available in your area. I've used Lucas watercolor sets, and they're pretty good. M. Graham and Holbein are good, but they don't distribute everywhere. Cotman and Akademie are still pretty good quality, just not the rarer pigments. For paper, you can't go wrong with Moleskine, Pentalic, Fabriano or Arches. Watch out for Chinese brands, which unfortunately aren't very good, either for the paper, watercolor pencils, or the paints.

Carlos said...

Thank you James. I think that Fabriano and Arches are sold in my area, so I'll try to buy one of those. I'm a total rookie with watercolors and already loving the medium. Besides your video (super helpful) and a ton of practice, are there any other videos or books you can recommend?

I was also wondering if there are any plans of releasing your Color and Light book in e-book format and and if there's Gouache in the wild video coming any time soon.

My past experience is with acrylics but I'm not totally comfortable with them, so I'm looking for new mediums to try.

Carlos said...

James, I also wonder if you can fill an empty pan with watercolor from a tube whenever a color isn't available as a pan. Thanks

Rachel*Kaja said...

Hi James, sorry i if missed it somewhere and its been answered already but what is that larger paint box you use that looks like it had large half pan shaped pans? Thanks

James Gurney said...

Rachel, that's an old Talens box, with larger pans.
Carlos, yes, you can definitely add tube color to fill empty pans. You can even buy the pans empty and fill them yourself.

Kirstin said...

I'm curious what you used to paint the "Air Bus" on the Moleskine cover. Love your blog, just stumbled on it from a youtube video and am watching the download of "watercolor in the wild" now. Paused to come read the detailed materials post :)

James Gurney said...

Kirstin, Welcome, glad you're visiting. The lettering on the cover is done with "One-Shot" enamel. It's the paint used by sign painters, comes in bright colors in small cans, and is VERY opaque and durable.

Kirstin said...

Thank you!

Carlos said...

James, I'd like to learn more about color harmony and how to choose a proper color scheme. Can you please recommend good readings on this topic and any particular color wheel? I think I've seen some on the wall of your studio. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Carlos, Yes, I'd recommend Walter Sargent's book "The Enjoyment and Use of Color," and the color section of Andrew Loomis's "Creative Illustration." Sargent's book was one of the inspirations for my treatment of gamut mapping in "Color and Light."

Carlos said...

Hi James. I've found some Montlanc fountain pens at a really good price (I think), and I was wondering if it might be a good substitute for the Waterman pen you use in your videos. Thanks!

James Gurney said...

Carlos, yes, the Montblanc pens are excellent. It's still watersoluble ink, though, which I love, but it's not for everybody.

Unknown said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much for all of this great information! --Jane

Carlos said...

James, have you tried Derwent's water-soluble pencils? If so, how do they compare to Caran d'Ache? I'm currently using the Derwent Inktense that I discovered thanks to you and I really like them for saturated bold colors. I'm saving up for a regular water-soluble box now, but I'm on a tight budget and can either go for an 18 Caran d'Ache Supracolor or a 24 Derwent at a similar price. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Carlos, Derwent and Caran d'Ache are my two favorite brands. Derwent is better if you like saturated colors, Caran d'Ache if you like a versatile mid-range tool. Derwent also makes a Graphitint line that's got a graphite look, a little gray and shiny like regular pencils, but water-soluble.

Everett James said...

Great run down on the options, great article so thank you for your time to post!

We have a range of different artists using a few different products that from the range you have listed, I suppose it also comes down to how the artist feels using it. Thanks again!

In The Picture Art Creations

Ravenous Artist said...

Thank you for sharing all your information in such great detail! I look forward to returning to plein air after a 30 year hiatus.

Catagonia7 said...

James, I just finished Watercolor in the Wild and have a question about your 9 palette set of colors. Would you tell me the brand, and are they pre-filled pans-not from tubes? Great video, I will watch it over and over I'm sure to see something new each time! I appreciate your time and energy on this blog and very approachable videos for us novices!

Catagonia7 said...

James, I just finished Watercolor in the Wild and have a question about your 9 palette set of colors. Would you tell me the brand, and are they pre-filled pans-not from tubes? Great video, I will watch it over and over I'm sure to see something new each time! I appreciate your time and energy on this blog and very approachable videos for us novices!

James Gurney said...

Catagonia, I'm using a variety of manufacturers, some in prepared full pans, and some squeezed out of tubes. There's Winsor&Newton, Lukas, and several other makers. I'm always experimenting with new combinations and new brands, so my palette may change from month to month.

Catagonia7 said...

Thank you!

Robb said...

Hey Jim!

I've been trying your limited palette of 9 colors for a while now and am really enjoying the harmonies it's been bringing to my watercolor paintings. I was wondering if you could answer a few things about your color selection now that I've given it a few runs –

1.) Why the 3 reds? I can see the alizarin and cad red light being a warm and cool red, but then how does indian red factor into the equation?

2.) Am I right to think of Payne's Gray and Sepia as my warm and cool neutrals for creating quick desaturated hues? Do you tend to reach for these two before trying to mix a neutral with complimentaries?

3.) Have you been pleased with the greens this palette is able to produce?

4.) Do you have a brand preference? I've been reaching for Schmincke half pans unless they don't make a color like permanent alizarin crimson.

Thanks, as always, for all the knowledge and inspiration!!!


Robb said...

oops one more.... Do you ever miss a desaturated red like burnt sienna or burnt umber? Thanks again!

James Gurney said...

Robb, glad you're having fun —

1.) Why the 3 reds? I can see the alizarin and cad red light being a warm and cool red, but then how does indian red factor into the equation?
Indian (or other iron red) has unique properties, very opaque and robust, and excellent in limited palettes. Aliz or other cool red is really nice when you need it, and cad red is the highest chroma.

2.) Am I right to think of Payne's Gray and Sepia as my warm and cool neutrals for creating quick desaturated hues? Do you tend to reach for these two before trying to mix a neutral with complementaries?
Yes, exactly. And you can mix your own Payne's gray if you want. The formulations vary from various manufacturers.

3.) Have you been pleased with the greens this palette is able to produce?
Yes, and I rarely need a lot of chroma in the greens. I'm usually looking more for variety.

4.) Do you have a brand preference? I've been reaching for Schmincke half pans unless they don't make a color like permanent alizarin crimson.
You can't go wrong with any of the major brands — W/N, Schmincke, etc. I usually have a mix of brands.

Robb said...

Jim – 

Thanks so much for the response. Your explanation for Indian Red's use has me realizing I know little about my palette's opaque or staining properties.

For colors like Indian Red, does the opaque quality allow you to lay it on thick at the end? Or how will you leverage the opaque property to be useful in a (often) transparent medium like watercolor?

Thanks again for everything.


James Gurney said...

Robb, a lot of the inorganic watercolor pigments are somewhat opaque. That includes the earth pigments and cerulean blue. Indian red is quite opaque, and I like that quality, particularly at the end or when you need a flat color. And yes, I like the desaturated earth reds, too.

Carlos said...

James, do you have any comments on the type of paper and what to expect of it, whether is cold press or hot press? Besides the drying time, and the texture, the end result seems to be quite different.
Some say you get richer colors with hot pressed, but I think it also depends on the paper's brand. For instance, I've gotten far more duller looking results in a hot pressed Canson paper and a more rich and vivid painting in a Schoellershammer cold pressed one.

May I ask which one you prefer and why?

Best, Carlos

James Gurney said...

Carlos, Most of my watercolors are in watercolor sketchbooks, and I've mainly worked in Moleskine and Pentalic. The Moleskine paper is a little smoother, a bit better for using the watercolor pencils. But the Pentalic paper is 100 lb, with good sizing and a little more texture, and I like the way it handles a flat wash if you need a flat wash.

Donna Stroop said...

I love this tutorial. Gumroad has an app that I have been able to watch Watercolor in the Wild on either my phone or iPad. This has truly inspired me to pare down my materials. I have the hardest time taking too much stuff into the field and some places are not conducive to spread out, so this materials list and how you carry it is extremely helpful! One question: is that a brush holder one can buy in an art store or something you have repurposed. I used to carry my brushes in my pencil tin with everything else but they get a bit beat up that way. As I start to invest in better quality artist brushes, I want to protect them better carrying them about. (BTW, Rosebud is my favorite segment. What a little sweetheart and you knew her behavior signals and how long you would have to paint her timed perfectly.)

Jayson Mondala said...

HI James, do you have a recommendation on the enamel spray paint used to create your mixing surface? I tried spray-painting an old mints tin, but my gouache stains the enamel itself if I leave paint on it longer than a day.

James Gurney said...

Jayson, I use a primer and then an appliance enamel spray. Remember that the pigments can be the culprit, too. Phthalo and other strong organic pigments tend to stain more than inorganic pigments.

Jess Marrero said...

Hi guys. I used to do watercolour as a hobby and left it for a while.
This blog is fantastic. Thanks James Gurney. Thank you so much! After discovering this blog i am determined to take my watercolours and paint!!!
You were talking about Bijou watercolour box and i have Three spare ones. They are not stamped Windsor and Newton but they are exactly the same model and made by the same company that supplied them to Windsor and Newton ( I have a Windsor and Newton Bijou box and there is no difference, its the same box... even come with the small travel brush and this is stamped Windsor and Newton). The boxes are empty, no pans, so they can be filled with any colours you want. Unused and in mint condition.
This model is the one with two mixing wells on the lid.
I am in Ireland and if anyone is interested please let me know. I know they are difficult to find.
Thanks guys!
Jess Marrero

Robb said...

Hey Jim!
Just wanted to ask for specifics about what you mix to get you custom gray color in your niji? Is it black with some blue? Or just black with some water? Thanks so much! -Robb

James Gurney said...

Robb, I've tried watering down Higgins Eternal black ink, and I've also tried mixing brown and blue fountain pen inks. Both have nice qualities, but for convenience, I've most often just watered down black ink to make a gray.

Andrew Bernal said...

Hello James!

I had a question regarding the ink for water brushes.

When you say " I use Higgins Eternal Ink(black), and an old bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Ink", What do you mean? You mix both of those with water to create the black water brush?

James Gurney said...

Andrew, no, I use them separately, in separate water brushes. You can use any fountain pen ink, as long as it's water soluble. If you want to mix colors, it's probably best to use the same brands.

bernicky said...

I was re-watching Watercolor in the Wild and thought to mention that if you ever have the time or find yourself in Barre, Vermont you really must take the time to visit Hope Cemetery. The cemetery is also known as The Stone Cutters Cemetery because the majority of the grave markers were designed by the stone cutters who reside beneath them. It is one of the most beautifully organized and spectacular cemeteries you will ever see.

A said...

I have a bunch of regular Prismacolor colored pencils, and hate to buy a bunch of water-soluble ones, too. Is there a significant difference in effect if I use the regular vs. watersouble colored pencils with watercolor? (for details, as you do)

Also, could raw umber be used in place of sepia? They seem very close to the same hue in M.Graham line. (I also have burnt sienna on my palette, too.)

Thank you!

James Gurney said...

A, yes, you could use regular colored pencils with watercolor, but of course they won't dissolve in water the way the soluble pencils will. I would just get a black water-soluble pencil and try that next to a black Prismacolor and see how they compare under washes of clear water and gray washes.