An Art Material Addicts Guide to becoming a Minimalist Sketcher

urban sketching in Florence

Hi, my name is Will and I am an art material addict.

When the new season art catalogue arrives, I prepare a large cafetiere of coffee, find a comfy chair and indulge in a little bit of window shopping.

If I spot a new ‘innovative ink system’, it’s hard to imagine how my drawings can exist without it.

And if a magazine states ‘Free Pen (RRP £30) when you spend £50 or more on drawing products’ I’d be a fool to miss out!

But the reality is, when I take my sketches out of the studio into the city or countryside, there is a recurring theme.

Most of the new materials I buy are left behind in my growing number of art supply boxes and I find myself grabbing the same few trusted pens that work well together – again and again.

In fact, to create a huge variety of styles, it’s probably less than 10 materials and that includes different ink colours.

So this week I want to introduce you to my Top #4 Minimalist City Slicker combination sets that I actually use when I’m out sketching on location…

will kemp in Florence

What! No Pencils?

For most of my quick location sketches, I use pens.

For me, they’re a halfway house between a pencil and a paintbrush. Pens give me speed but can also block-in tones.

They’re easier to see in bright sunlight, you don’t need to sharpen them and with some of the inks, you can add water to create an impromptu watercolour effect.

They’ve got a bold and direct feel – welcome to the eraser-free zone!

Before I decide on the pens I’m going to take out with me, I think about the location, time of day and how my choice of materials can best match my subject.

Am I going for a stark black & white drawing or colour? Do I want a rough sketch or a more sensitive study? Am I going to be standing to do this sketch or is there somewhere comfy for me to sit down?

Then I can change the combination of pens I’m using to best capture the scene, depending on all of these different factors.

The kits below are the real essentials that easily fit in my pocket, satchel or backpack. A combination of thick and thin lines, smudgy washes and colour – pens that work well together to produce simple, effective sketches – speedily, when I’m out and about.

Set #1 –  A Tonal Pen Kit for Quick & Simple Clean Sketches

  • Black Fine Line Pen
  • Black Brush Pen
  • A Warm Grey Fibre Tip Pen


Moleskine sketchbook with Muji 0.5mm Permanent fine line pen, Pentel Black brushpen and a Faber Castell PITT artist pen Warm Grey III

This set is my constant companion and I always have either a Muji or the brush pen in my front pocket.
With these pens, I can create a clean and simple sketch that gets down the framework, dark accents and tonal shadows of a scene in a super speedy time.

I can work on thin, thick or lined paper – anything that I’ve got on me.

muji-0.5-black pen

  • Muji 0.5mm – Permanent fine line pen

The fine line Muji pen usually doubles up as the pen I’m writing with, the ink lasts for ages and if I’m working in a sketchbook on the flat or holding the sketchbook vertically (standing sketching in the street) I can still be sure of a constant even line, so it’s convenient, quick and simple.

brushpen on table
  • Pentel Black brush pen – Permanent pen with a nylon brush tip

The inclusion of the Brush pen to this set gives a lot of extra range and speed to your sketches because you can block in darks very quickly and the flexibility of the nylon tip means you can get a broken line effect that is similar to the line of a paintbrush.

This can be especially handy if planning a painting back at the studio, often the key thing I’m looking for is where and how the light is falling and I find the brush pen works best for getting shadow shapes down.

When I’m scouting for subjects for my paintings this is my go-to set. The brush pen is a real joy to use and the flow of the ink is always nice, you don’t need to shake it or squeeze the pen, it just flows.

Faber-PITT-warm-grey pens
  • Faber-Castell PITT artist pen – Shades of grey fibre tip pens

The Grey pen acts as a tonal wash, like having a coloured ground on your canvas.

Once I’ve introduced the darks with the black brush pen, the grey pen adds blocks of midtones into the line drawing that help to shape the composition.

It can stop you focusing too much on the detail too soon.

Set #2 – A Fountain Pen Kit for Expressive & Atmospheric Sketches

  • Fountain Pen with Water Soluble Ink
  • Water Brush Pen


Seawhites of Brighton sketchbook with LAMY Safari fountain pen (F – fine nib) using non-permanent ink (LAMY Black ink) and a Pentel Aquash water brush pen.

When I’ve got a bit more time on my hands maybe sitting down in a restaurant or cafe, I reach for one of my Lamy fountain pens. These are great sketching pens that come in a variety of nib widths.

LAMY Steel Nib – Extra Fine – EF

LAMY Steel Nib – Fine – F

LAMY Steel Nib – Medium- M

LAMY Steel Nib – Broad – B

I tend to favour the Extra Fine (EF) nibs for quicker, smaller sketches and the Fine (F) nib for sketches when I know I’m going to be using a water brush pen to manipulate the ink around the page. The slightly thicker line stays wetter for longer on the paper surface.

Pro tip: Nibs are generally split into Steel (stiff and less expensive) and 14 or 16 Carat Gold (flexible and more expensive) Gold nibs are softer so often have a more fluid flow to them. As a general rule, the finer the nib the scratchier the pen.

If I’m working in a sketchpad with thicker paper, I can utilise a technique that creates a more expressive, atmospheric sketch, that has a mix of fine lines and smudgy watery washes and I find the Lamy water soluble ink is perfect for this method.

best-urban-sketching Lamy pen
  • LAMY Safari fountain pen Fine Nib (F) – non-permanent water-soluble ink (Black or Blue)

I can take my time to enjoy the process with a leisurely approach and I’m not looking to develop the sketch into anything further, I’m just enjoying sketching.

  • Pentel Aquash water brush pen

What’s great about working with this technique, is that you’re looking for areas of dark that you can ‘load up’ with the ink knowing that you’re going to be adding water to those areas in the sketch later on, it’s fun!

It’s a combination of sketchy fine lines, blobs of heavier ink, then the introduction of water with the water brush pen.

Blending the ink into other areas of the sketch to create the mid tone, bringing it all together by breaking the edges with the water adds spontaneity to the drawing.


  • Pentel Aquash water brush pen

Set #3 – A Personalised Fountain Pen Kit for Luminous Colour & Subtle Shades

  • Fountain Pen with Water Soluble Coloured Ink
  • Water Brush Pen


LAMY Safari fountain pen Fine Nib – non-permanent water-soluble ink blue ink, also used permanent black ink Muji 0.5mm

If I’m out and I get inspired by a subject that might later make a good painting, creating a single colour sketch can capture the mood of the piece perfectly.

Using coloured ink can introduce a luminous sketch with subtle shifts of a single hue.

With fountain pens, you have the advantage over fine line pens because you can personalise the colour of the ink.

  • Diamine Burnt Sienna Ink, Lamy (F) nib, Lamy Z24 Ink Convertor

This technique is very similar to the first blocking in stages of a painting where you would just use a single paint pigment.

Alongside the fountain pen, I might use one of the Pentel Sepia brush pens so that I can block in large areas of tone. The coloured brush pens from Pentel don’t have the same flow as the black Pentel pen used in Set #1 but can still be good for adding a brush texture effect to your drawings.


  • Pentel Sepia brush pen – Water Based pen with a nylon brush tip

Pro tip: A word of warning to would be material addicts, the world of fountain pens can be a slippery slope into obsessive research and testing! The pens I use in this set are very affordable and a really good way to see if you like the fountain pen feel for your sketches. You can also get dip pens that have more flexibility or 18 Carat gold nibs that are softer and have more flex but the cost rises, now where did I put that Mont Blanc Catalogue!

Set #4 – A Compact Colour Study Kit

  • Pen with Permanent Ink
  • Water Colour Marker Pen
  • Water Brush Pen
  • Brush Pen

first lunch

Seawhites of Brighton sketchbook with Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen using permanent ink, Pentel Black brushpen, Winsor & Newton water colour markers and a Pentel Aquash water brush pen.

I tend to bring the watercolour pens out with me when I just want a slight blush of colour over the top of a pen sketch.

An Art Material Addicts Guide to becoming a Minimalist Sketcher
  • Winsor & Newton Water Colour Marker – Water colour pen with a fine point and a flexible brush nib

They’re an alternative to the Faber castell PITT tonal grey pens but with vibrant colour. The convenience of having them in your pocket means you’re much more likely to add colour to a sketch if out on location.

It can be particularly handy when you’re standing up sketching, It’s a quick way of getting a few key colour notes down onto the drawing.

For these style of studies, I work alongside a black permanent ink pen.

carbon black fountain pen
  • Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen -permanent black ink

This is a great affordable sketching fountain pen that has a lovely permanent ink. It also has a very fine nib similar to the EF Lamy pen. You could also use any permanent fibre tip pen for this technique as well, like the Muji 0.5 mm from Set #1.

nibcloseup-skethcing pens
Top: Lamy Safari – EF
Middle: Lamy Safari – F
Bottom: Platinum Carbon Black

Using a permanent ink means I can just wash water over the drawing later on with coloured pigment and the black ink won’t move but the pigment colour from the watercolour marker easily blends to create soft and vibrant watercolour washes.

watercolourmarkers dry
Water colour pen blocked in dry

When I’m sitting in a more comfortable space I can use the water pen to move the pigment around the page. It doesn’t matter if its a few hours later than the original sketch, the ink will still flow like watercolour.

watercolourmarkers wet
 Adding water with the Pentel Aquash water brush pen

They work best on a heavier watercolour paper, Saunders Waterford, Bockingford or Archers are all good watercolour paper brands.

I’m not going for super subtle washes like a painting, it’s more just like adding blocks and indication of colours to enhance the sketch.

If you like to add heavier water washes you need to get a sketchbook that has a good weight of watercolour paper. If the paper is too thin it can easily buckle when you add too much water.

I’ve found the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks have a great weight of paper for washes.


Every accomplished sketcher was a beginner once, and every artist I know has boxes and draws full of unused or unopened art materials, so don’t be hard on yourself if you try a new pen and it doesn’t seem to fit.

The first step is to try a few pens and find the one that suits you and I hope this guide gives you an insight into some useful starter sets.

Then you’ll find the materials will take a step back and your sketches will begin to flow, leaving you time to enjoy some of life’s other pleasures…


Tiramisu Mousse (think Marshmallow texture), Cherry Cheesecake and Pistachio Gelato from La Carraia, Florence, Italy

Testing 20 different ice cream flavours in 2 weeks isn’t an addiction, right?

This Post Has 146 Comments

  1. Just returning from two weeks in Italy, and don’t believe such a thing as too much gelato. Enjoyed it for lunch on several days. Loved the Rosemary Raspberry in Sienna.

    I so enjoy your art and your site. Wonderful and inspiring!

    1. Well I must agree, Rosemary Raspberry sounds epic, hope you had a great time, Sienna is really lovely.

  2. I never realized it before but obviously you are an evil man Mr. Will Kemp. First you tempt me with art supplies and then you throw salt in the wound with amazingly luscious gelato. My day will be filled with unfulfilled longings now!!!

    Thank you for another interesting and as always helpful article Will. With the price’s of supplies being what they are it’s always helpful to have a good starting point.

    1. Ha, ha, pleased you enjoyed the article David, and hope you can track down some Gelato!

      1. Thank you Will. You have a great way of being so generous with your knowledge. xxoo I’m totally inspired to go out and give sketching a go. An order will follow just after you send me some gelato. (Great sketches….for sure.)

        1. You’re welcome Susan, pleased you’re feeling inspired to get sketching. I do agree, Gelato before and after sketching does seem to greatly improve my sketches!

          1. Will K: I thought I couldn’t draw but you have demonstrated how pure this minimalist drawing is…nothing too precise but flawless clarity. Neat, really neat. Got me a sketchpad already and will be drawing my heart out…………thanks to your encouraging way. For sure.

          2. Great to hear it Susan, you’re spot on, not too precise but trying to capture the essence of a space, pleased you’re feeling inspired.

  3. I really enjoyed this piece on sketching Will !
    Appreciate you sharing an amazing talent….

    1. Thanks Christina, pleased you enjoyed it.

  4. Thank you but I already have and use nearly everything you have recorded. All I can do is endorse all you have said.

    1. Good one Jack, pleased you’ve been enjoying the pens.

  5. Well done Will!
    This is right on the money, very sound advice.
    Dozens of boxes of unopened gear, ‘must have’ stuff I have never used.
    Discipline (in a good way) and practice is my mantra now instead of endless procrastination seeking the ‘right’ stuff. Decided that I am going to donate a load of stuff to a local charity that runs art and craft classes.
    If it’s any consolation I understand Barbara Hepworth suggested all artists should have an obsession; I could think of worse ones than ice-cream!

    1. Hi Robert, sounds like a fantastic idea for the local art and craft charity, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  6. Thanks Will for your information. When I’m sketching I often find the Lamy safari nibs a bit too stiff; I like the variation in thickness of lines. This is the reason I bought the Lamy calligraphy pen and I’m in the testing-period but have the impression it has also a rather unflexible nib. Maybe look for an other pen…addiction?
    p.s. Ice isn’t addiction; it’s a necessity

    1. Hi Gerda, I haven’t tried the Lamy Calligraphy pen nib, if you’re after a flexible steel nib the Noodlers Konrad can be a good choice to give you a bit more flex but still work well for drawing.


  7. Thank you Will for this fun email. The drawings are so fresh and loose. That’s sometimes hard to achieve when you get bogged down by detail. I think the ice cream is yummier, all my favourites in one!

    1. Thanks Colleen, so pleased you enjoyed it, moving away from heavily detailed and creating that looser flow can come when you’re standing, or drawing moving figures. Look for the movement in the subject and it will come through in your drawings.

  8. I hope that this is what kind of comment you seek, I thank you for this information. I am trying to improve my sketching skills, besides observation it is so nice to find the rights pens to use to get some kind of different effects. Thanks so much

    1. My pleasure Elinor, so pleased you found the information of interest to your sketches.

  9. Hi Will,
    You are amazing! Thanks for sharing this. You keep us excited and work towards our success. I have some of these pens, and can’t wait to pick-up a tonal set and brush pen. What you do in your practice is really helping me develop mine. Thank you!

    1. Pleased to hear it Carolyn, glad you’re feeling inspired, enjoy the brushpen.

  10. Thank you Will for another great post! And you’ve helped me to stop beating myself up with my “over indulgence” and I thought I was the only one! Ha!! Your selection echoes what I carry, (plus tons more stashed away!) but I’ve also discovered my favourite is my SAILOR 55 pen with its bent nib, it’s wonderful for sketching with its thick n thin calligraphy lines and add a waterpen I hardly need anything else! I’ve tried Sailor 40 and a couple of others but the 55 suits me fine, oh and Tombow double ended pens sometimes!

    1. Hi Joy, mmm, sounds like a tempting new pen! Does the Sailor 55 have a calligraphy nib?

      1. Yes it does, at a strange but lovely to use angle, like the nibs been bent! It my favourite for writing and drawing …… Google it, it’s green from china I think. I’ve tried the Sailor Hero but unimpressed but Sailor 55 is WONDERFUL !!! I think I have posted a pic on Instagram a while back. Love your blog! Cheers

  11. Dear Will,
    You are so generous with your advice and knowledge. Very interesting piece thank you.
    Yes I identify with you… materials to me are like being a kid in a sweet shop!! Just want to try everything.
    Love your talent.

    1. Thanks Barbara, pleased you enjoyed it.

  12. I see more pens in your future Will. Steady man. :)

    1. Ha ha, you’re right Jim, I need to take a deep breath and think calming thoughts!

  13. Hi Will,
    Thanks for the information on sketching materials.
    I am trying to decide where to sketch next (short winter break) and which would be the best selection of materials for each place – Ponte Veccio Florence, Piazza Navone Rome ( including vast quantities of Gelato) or Granada and it’s wonderful Alhambra Palace and the nearby Teterias of the Caldereria Nueva, the street lined with Arab tea houses, Moorish craft shops and stalls.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi Jean, well, what a short list they all sound brilliant. I’ve been to the first two locations but not the third, those Arab tea houses sound like a great subject. Rome has some great subjects, the Colosseum is spectacular, so many ‘views within views’ through the windows of the buildings. Florence has fab colours and good street views but it’s harder to get distance like you can in Rome.
      Hope you have a great time.

  14. The drawings are beautiful, very fluid and professional. I like them! Saludos from Madrid.

  15. Will…..thank you for discussing sketching with pens…never thought to use them….always liked the easy flow of lead on paper….and the ability to correct…sometimes, obsessively so…..will give it a try, though….
    And yes, there is nothing better than gelato in Italy, along with the food and culture..truly my favorite destination….keep up the great work!!!….Joe

    1. You’re welcome Joe, yes it’s always worth giving the pens a try to see if they suit your style, they can add a freshness to your drawings because you can’t go back and correct.

  16. Thank you so much
    Great tips on the tools. Very Helpful as always. This might sound silly. But can I know if the brush pen nibs are replaceable ? or is the colour on the brush nib washable?


    1. Hi Nelly, for the black brushpen I think it’s integral to the pen, for the Pentel Aquash Water Brush Pens there are different interchangeable tips that can swapped, for the Pentel coloured inks you can swap the inks and wash through the colours.

      Hope this helps,


  17. Oops sorry Will…..but almost too much information. I don’t know where to start, all the options sound good. But I will make a choice and look forward to following your advice. Thanks…..

    1. Hi Billie, if you look at the style of drawing you like first and then go for the pens that match that, you don’t need to start with all the pens.

  18. What a useful, interesting post! You’ve probably tried everything once (pens, that is, and ice creams), but I love my new Tombow Gray Scale pens, a set of 6 shades of grey, which are great for tonal sketches in town or country and of course have the fine end and brush pen end, AND are a little bit water-soluble. Thank you for all the detailed information, Will. I had thought those watercolour pens were a bit garish, but seeing how nicely they work in moderation, I now have to get some!

    1. Pleased you found it of interest Caroline, yes Tombow do some nice pens, enjoy experimenting with the markers.

  19. Thanks, Will. I always appreciate tips about materials. While a trip to the art supply store is exciting, it can be overwhelming. Gelato and ice cream….nature’s perfect food.

    1. My pleasure Oksanna, pleased you enjoyed it.

  20. Dear Will ,
    Thank you for all these very helpfull tips .although i have painted and sketched for all of my adult life I have only ever used cheap materials but
    In the very near future i’ll have the funds to go shopping for materials so your email is very timely .thats how i found you site, looking for what type of paint to buy .I love you open nature . Thank you Will ☺

    1. You’re more than welcome Christine, hope you’ve been finding the articles of help. Enjoy the next material catalogue!


  21. Thank you for this sketch supply list–really appreciate all the research (well about the gelato too). I go to life drawing on Saturday mornings, and I’m getting tired of the same old charcoal-and-pencil rut. This gives me a ‘new lease’ on drawing. Many thanks. Love your emails.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Alex, yes some pen figure sketches can look great, hope your experimentations go well at your life drawing class.

  22. Great article and very timely! thank you!

    1. Thanks Sarah, hope you’re well.

  23. Enjoying, as well as learning from you. anymore info you can give me on the nibs. Thank you on your words of wisdom Will.

    1. Hi Diane, there is a whole world of variety in nibs from the length, angle and alignment to having a ‘high shoulder’ or ‘low shoulder’ nib. The main things to consider are the stiffness/flexibility and thickness/thinness and how that would relate to your own drawing style.

  24. Hello Will,

    I love your posts, wish I had more time to draw, I forward your post to my son
    he is in his foundation year at MICA in Baltimore, his major is Illustration,
    it will help him to get a better knowledge of the tools to use.

    Thank you,

    1. Thanks Tali, hope he finds it of interest.

  25. Hi Will…How informative and useful. I am at a stalled point in my painting and have never tried a brush pen. I am excited to do more sketching that will get me out of my slump. I am between acrylic and oil painting with walnut oil paints (getting away from linseed oil with fumes that bother me). Thank you so much for giving me something to look forward to trying. Cheers.

    1. Hi Barb, great to hear it, yes having a ‘sketching refresh’ between paintings can often be a great way of inspiring new works. The inspiration comes from within the process and sketching is such a direct medium you can take it with you and it can really help to inform your other works.

  26. Will, what a great idea! You’re right, it’s so easy to believe I’ve GOT to have every bit of equipment that tempts. Thanks for sharing. Pru

  27. Thank you for another excellent post Will, which I have found very helpful. I didn’t know that water colour pens existed, thanks to you I now know. Looking forward to buying the tonal set of pens + the water colours too.

    PS… love the colourful ‘lunch’ drawing. More please!


    1. Hi Sylvia, yes the watercolour markers are fairly new out, but I find they can be really handy. When you have more time for a painting they can also be intermixed with traditional watercolours, glad you liked the sketches.

  28. I very much enjoyed reading this, Will. Because I am a pen addict myself mostly in fountain pens. I was particularly pleased to see you had a fountain pen among your drawing arsenal – the Lamy Safari. I tend to use cheap pens so that I can use permanent ink in my pens without worrying about whether they are going to damage the pen. I was using Diamine Registrars Ink (Iron gall) but now I have switched to DeAtramentis Document Ink. I have some expensive pens but now I use the black Lamy Safari and the Lamy Logo.

    You were the one I first turned to into learning about painting. I loved your common sense and down-to-earth method of teaching and the expert knowledge you have.

    Something inside me told me to take up art. I began my first painting at the beginning of the year 2015. I am 59 years of age and I haven’t done any painting or drawing since I was at my school art class in the year of 1974 – that was 41 years ago!

    It was your lesson “How to paint a warm & cool still life painting (using only 2 colours)” that made me begin my journey back into art.

    I have to thank you for that lesson you did with that brown jug.

    I grabbed a coffee pot and white cup and began the torture and hell into how to make the colours and tone to work. I had zero idea on how to do colours and tone and knew nothing about acrylics. But your lesson with that jug helped me to work it out. That was truly my crucial moment. If I failed in doing that painting, I was going to give up my attempt back to art for ever. That was why it was such an agony for me because I knew nothing about acrylics, knew nothing about mixing paint and literally that painting took me weeks to work out. At one point I nearly gave up. Then one day it “clicked”.

    Here was the result of my first attempt in completing the painting:

    When it comes to drawing, my main agony of guilt is knowing that for the moment when I do a portrait, I used the proportional divider, for the simple reason I am not skilled enough to get all the proportions right in freehand drawing. That is my big guilt! Because I don’t want to do a portrait, especially if someone will eventually pay for it, they are gong to be disappointed if the proportions are not accurate enough! At the moment, I can practice on my own time doing freehand portrait drawing, but when it comes to doing it for a person to give or sell to them, I dare NOT risk doing the portrait freehand but I am stuck at using proportional dividers, and THAT gives me such a guilt trip!

    Anyway, drawing is what I find I need to focus on more if I want my paintings to become good. I thank you for your lesson on painting that jug in warm and cool colours that began my return to art. I was always good at art at school but gave it up when I went to university and Life took over, until now.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      Great to hear from you and thanks so much for sharing your story, I remember seeing your silver coffee pot and thinking it was a real success incorporating the techniques into a fresh composition. DeAtramentis inks are nice, they do a lovely waterproof brown. I wouldn’t feel too guilty using the proportion dividers to check your portraits, you’ll often see artist holding out string/paint brushes/knitting needles etc for measuring and checking. Just try to get into the process of making your best guess first and then checking with the proportional divider, then go freehand, then check again.

      Thanks again Dennis,

  29. Well, it seems good in theory, but I never get things in the right place the first time, so altering things will get messy. I suppose it must mean more practice is necessary. So if things are not going right you have to start again. I absolutely love your sketches. To me sketches seem more personal than finished paintings.

    1. Hi Jill, yes, pen only sketches can get a bit messy! try drawing with a super fine line to start with, as you would with a pencil and then work over a thicker pen on top. This way the viewer will see the thicker pen as the main drawing but you can practice sketching just with pens.


      1. That, my friend, is a really good “tip”!

  30. What brilliant timing! I’m off to London tomorrow and have a couple of hours to spare, so what better way to use the time than to shop for a new sketching pen – and a new sketch pad – and, and …
    Thank you so much for the information. I get fed up with having to throw away fine liners that dry up quickly, but haven’t had any luck finding a fountain pen that suits. I will now try your suggestions.
    You are a star, Will Kemp!

    1. Oh perfect timing Jackie, hope you enjoy your search for a new sketching fountain pen! have a lovely trip.

  31. I’ve begun to use watercolor pencils. They too are a pleasure. I’ve used kits so far. They help. What do you think of colored pencils with sharp points?

    1. Hi Larry, watercolour pencils can give a softer effect, I find for me the markers mean I can get down blocks of more pigmented colours down quicker and then adjust the intensity with a water wash.

  32. Great materials for sketching! Will, have you tried vine charcoal and a waterbrush pen? I’m wondering if that wouldn’t also be a workable combo. Also: do you sketch your gelatos first?

    1. Hi David,
      Charcoal and the water brush pen don’t mix very well because the charcoal will just clog up the brush pen and go into a thick chalky texture, charcoal is best kept dry. I’m afraid the pens don’t stand a chance against the speed of me eating Gelato!

  33. Thanks Will for you generous recommendations.
    I am a constant sketcher and really enjoy fountain pen drawing and I also find it hard to resist the advertisements.I have never used Muji pens but delighted to see that 0.5 mm is good,as 0.5 is my favour line width;so it will go on my Christmas list,in readiness for my January plein aire trip to Cornwall.
    I agree with your comments in respect of Pentel and Faber-Castell stuff.
    Now off to the freezer for some Cornish ice cream as a substitute for your Gelato,fallen again for pretty picture – oh temptation!
    Best wishes

    1. My pleasure Seamus, hope you enjoy trying the Muji, they also come in 0.38mm if you ever want a super fine line. Enjoy the Cornish Ice-cream and excellent substitution!


  34. Dear Will

    Thank you once again for your terrific input into teaching us what tools are out there and how to use them. I just sold a painting and have some dollars to spend …Yippee. Off on a trip shortly and last night was deciding what to take…traveling light so a few useful pens and my sketchbook will be very important. Love your sketches best wishes Lynne

    1. Thanks very much Lynette, pleased you enjoyed it and congratulations on your painting sale! enjoy your trip and hope you get some great sketches.

  35. Thanks Will, enjoyed reading your post – I have a beautiful Lamy fountain pen and will now use it for sketching as well. I might head in to my favourite pen shop in the QVB Sydney to see if they have some of the pens and nibs you mention above. You certainly have inspired me and yes, I’m a Gelato lover too :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Jenni, there are some lovely Lamy fountain pens out there, enjoy perusing the pen shop!

  36. Hi Will, thanks for the advice on the permanent ink pen (Carbon ink). My local art supplier didn’t think you could put permanent ink through a drawing pen because it would clog the nib! He thought India Ink and a dip in pen was the only option (difficult to use on location). I use soluble ink in a Rotring Art Pen and a Pentel water brush but wanted to have the option of non soluble ink in a pen, rather than a marker, to be able to add watercolour tints now and again. I now know what to look for now! Cheers!

    1. Hi John, yes, permanent ink can be a bit tricky into Fountain pens but have found the carbon ink really nice. Some other good permanent black inks are the DeAtramentis Ink that Dennis mentioned, and for dip pens the Higgins Black Magic is good.

  37. Thank you for the very informative sketching materials that you like to use.
    As far as Italy and gelato that’s the first thing I tried while there a couple of years ago.

    1. You’re more than welcome Camille, really pleased you enjoyed it and a memory of an Italian Gelato can never be a bad thing!

  38. Thank you so much. Your article is very useful and interesting. I really love all your art sharings.
    Thanks again.

    1. Glad you liked it Mercedes, pleased you found the post helpful.

  39. I have enjoyed all the comments regarding pens and liners. I have had to throw more than my fill of the latest fad out because it dried up. I am going to the art store this weekend to replenish my old pens.. Its their time to shine.


    1. Good one Mike, have a great shopping trip!

  40. Will,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve taken all of your acrylic painting courses on Art Tutor and also completed your bicycle drawing exercise described in one of your earlier posts. As Dennis indicated, some of us come to the world of art later in our journey. After a career in science (teaching), at age 74, I started drawing and now in my youth at age 75, I’m trying to paint. Your courses have been not only inspirational, but wonderfully presented.

    I admit that I’ve become an art materials junkie. Your advise on sketching will be very helpful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and couraging those of us just beginning.


    1. Hi Jack,
      Great to hear from you and really pleased you’ve been enjoying the tutorials and finding them helpful in your artistic journey, enjoy experimenting with the new pens.

  41. Thanks Will, I can now go on our extended holidays without the bulk of paint etc. and still come home able to interpret sketches onto canvases. This will, I’m sure, lessen the disruption caused by finding places to store paints etc. in our VW camper van.

    1. Good one Jackie, hope it helps for a mores streamlined trip!

  42. Hi Will, great stuff. I’m teaching a drawing class and we are just experimenting with continuous line sketching using pens. I’ve just sent my students a link to your blog. Keep up the great work! I’m looking forward to trying some of the pens you like.
    Cheers, Mike

    1. Hey Mike, nice to hear from you and thanks for the link for your students, much appreciated. Hope they get some great sketches. the brushpen can be particularly nice for continuous line work because you can vary the pressure and angle to get a wide variety of marks, yet the inks still flows at a constant rate.


  43. Hi Will, thanks for the email, enjoyed this article very much. I am just beginning to delve into watercolor sketch, coming from a mixed media background. It’s always interesting seeing tools and supplies that cross over between genres. I’ve long used the Pitts, I use Tombow and Ranger Distress markers, and I just recently purchased a Platinum Carbon as it is said it writes well over dry acrylics. India inks are so fun to smudge before they dry waterproof. I wanted to tell you that among the mixed media and art journaling crowd, the Stillman & Birn users love the 180# paper sketchbooks, which are the Beta and Zeta series, (the others – Alpha, Delta, Epsilon, Gamma – being 100# in varying Goldilocks pressings hot cold justright). So, do you think 180# is overkill for a wc sketcher who wants to get wet without buckling? Whenever I’ve used 90# it buckles so I’m dubious of paper just 10# better. Which S&B do you use? Thanks!

    1. Hi Aimeslee, pleased you enjoyed the article, for the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks if you’re doing light washes and just smudging in inks (like using the watersoluble fountain pen ink) the Alpha or Epsilon series are a good choice, the Epsilon is smoother so better if you’re predominetly using pens. For heavy washes and working wet into wet I would go for the Beta series. It will remain buckle free even if you apply the water quite liberally. Here is a guide from the Stillman & Birn website.

      Hope this helps,


  44. Hello Will,
    Many thanks once again for such clear and practical advice. I have a well used file of your guides, which are so useful for a leisure artist like me. (I use the term artist with some caution!!)

    All the best,
    Peter B.

    1. You’re more than welcome Peter, hope you find it of help.

  45. This was very informative. I love your sketches. I have been very curious about using a fountain pen. I’ve enjoyed using a dip pen, I really like the variation you can get with the line. I would imagine a fountain pen would be similar, but without the need to “dip.” As a result of your encouraging article, I will give it a try.

    1. Thanks Greg, pleased you enjoyed it, to get the same dip pen effect with a fountain pen I would look for a flexible nib like the Noodlers Konrad pen. The Lamy and Platinum carbon black have a fixed width to the pen so are good for an even line.

  46. With your help, I am on my way to overcoming my fear of sketching. I use watercolor and acrylic mostly, and very little drawing. You are extremely helpful. I am enjoying your travels and the ice-cream, which is my favorite food. I look forward to your messages. Thanks again.

    1. Pleased to hear it Shirley, always happy to help a fellow ice-cream devote!

  47. Thanks will for the generous recommendation.
    I will now try your suggestions
    best wishes

    1. You’re welcome Fatema, enjoy experimenting with the sketching pens.

  48. Hello Will,

    By a strange coincidence, I recently bought a Lamy Safari fountain pen but to use for writing notes and letters (and improve my handwriting hopefully). I hadn’t thought of using it for drawing, but now I might give it a go sometime!

    Cheers, Alastair

    1. Perfect timing Alastair! what a coincidence. Your inner artist must have been honing into that pen!

  49. I will have to give this a try, at least with SET #1. Unfortunately my hand tremors don’t allow grace and flow at the best of times. I suspect I would have to practice quite a lot, making error in the process to see what would work best for me. I get tired of graphite pencils smudging and really not that easy to control – I get home and tones have “shifted” etc…

    1. Hi Cathy, hope you enjoy experimenting with the pens, the tonal grey pens can help to get those even tones that stay on the page.

  50. Thanks so much

  51. Hi Will, I love receiving your emails, everything you show us is really helpful and interesting, the problem I have is I can’t sketch, or draw, I try but I often end up wondering what it is I’ve drawn, I’ve watched lessons, etc, I’ve tried going quicker to be looser but it ends up looking like a child’s scribbling. When I’m painting in oils or water colours I’ve been told , my paintings look like the photograph I’m using for reference, which is pointless because you already have a photograph, and that’s kind of put me off. Hence I haven’t picked anything arty up for a couple of months, it’s not stopped me from buying in the hope it will all come back, which sorry this is the point of this, I want to paint what I sketch, oh dear even I’m confused, I need some ice cream oops gellato lol.

    1. Hi Gill, yes, Gelato first then drawing is always the best recipe for a clear decision-making process!

  52. Hi Will. Once again, thanks for sharing. Just last night I was assembling my groups of sketching tools in the zippered carriers I use and lamenting over the things I have purchased and don’t use. Not now, you gave me absolution with your comment about most artists having similar boxes and drawers of unused tools. Great idea from Robert about donating unused materials. Something I can’t seem to get away from is the pencil. One of my sketching kits contains a variety of pencils and a little pocket knife for shrpening. Weird, sometimes when I’m out I will spend time whitling away at my pencils and I find that soothing, too. I suppose that’s my obsession. Thanks, Will.

    1. Hi Will, I do agree, sharpening a pencil with a knife is another one of those simple pleasures, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  53. Hi Will, thanks for sending info on pens. I have most because I took your sketching course and you give some detail in there. I would recommend that course to any one, like me, who was frightened to sketch outdoors. What happened to my professional Art Teacher was horrific, When sketching views of Lake District Hills from Morecambe bay He had his pen removed from his hand and a man drew on his sketch, then walked off! Probably just as well?

    1. Hi Alan, pleased you enjoyed the landscape sketching course, I’ve never come across a sketch-and-run before! Hope the drawing turned out okay!

  54. Thanks for great advice and such lovely photos of my favorite things in the world: pens & art material. I will include a link to this post in my next link up at the end of the month. :)

    1. You’re welcome iHanna, pleased you enjoyed the photos and article. Thanks for including a link on your site, much appreciated.

  55. Hi Will,

    Nice to meet you and glad to receive your email. Recently, I just get start to sketch around my town city-Hong Kong. I usually use 0.38 uni permanent ink pen for sketch.
    Sometimes, I will focus the details to often. Thanks for reminder. Now, I will start to try with my pen together with grey tone pen and black bush pen. I hope can be better.
    Actually, I also have a box set of Winsor & Newton Water Colour pigment. I am standing quite often so it is seldom to use. Just read your article, i can try the colour marker and do some highlight on the sketch. Thanks so much for the explanation with the nice sketch. It is clear and attractive ^^.

    1. Pleased to hear it Melody, hope you enjoy experimenting with the paints and markers in your sketches.

  56. Thank you Will. You are very encouraging and inspiring to a REAL beginner. I must admit that not being able to rub things out is little daunting, but worth trying!!

    1. You’re welcome Sue, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  57. Hello will
    thank you so much.

  58. Oh, Will, Will, you and I have so much in common! Painting and ice cream. My two food groups are ice cream and bread, and I’ll bet you fancy bread too!

    Haven’t been painting, because of illness, but am going to start sketching, as you suggest. I used to sketch people but maybe I’ll start with landscapes or lunch tables.

    You and I would be fast friends if you weren’t across the pond. Besides which, I adore red heads with freckles, like my mom had. Cheers!

    1. Hi Constance, yes, I must admit it, bread is my other weakness. I did get into a habit of baking fresh bread weekly but couldn’t seem to resist eating the whole loaf with Irish butter in one! hope you enjoy your sketching.

  59. Hi, just found your great blog. I am finding, (after buying a lot of watercolor paint) that what I enjoy the most is the drawing, but using color to highlight the drawing. Maybe the watercolor markers might be more useful for what I like to do. What colors would you start out with and how would you approach adding color? Thanks!

    1. Hi Cathy, the colours depend on the palette you’re after and the feel of the painting, but for many of my quick sketches I just use a few earth colours and then a couple of brighter pigments so I can add colour notes to the piece. I would just start with a blue, red, brown, yellow and a green. If you check through the main watercolours you’ve been using at the moment and then just get the same colours in the markers would be a good start.

      1. Thanks for your help Will!

  60. Hi there-
    Many thanks for your suggestions on pens. It’s been ages since I’ve used fountain pens, and I ordered one of the carbon pens.

    ANd some burnt sienna ink (to use with a different pen)……

    I’ve two questions: What purpose does the ink converter serve?
    Can you change the nib on the carbon pen?

    Many thanks for your thoughtful suggestions!

    1. Hi Quinne, the ink converter means you can purchase a larger bottle of ink and then refill when you need so it’s more economical in the long run and it also enable you to use different colours and brands of ink that might not be available from one manufacturer. I think the carbon pen just comes in the EF extra fine nib, its super nice and fine.

  61. Hello Will,
    With painting and drawing I find I feel so much pressure to do the best I can, that I put it off and off and rarely get up the courage for it. It’s hard for me to paint just for practice(which is of course the only way to get over my anxiety). By contrast, I’ve found sketching to be less formal and much easier to do just for fun. So thanks for providing some good advice on materials because there is an awful lot out there!

    1. Hi Justin, really pleased you found it helpful and hope you enjoy your sketches.

  62. Thank you so much for the recommendation especially on the pens. I had seen other artist using the pen for sketching. Been wondering , too, what pens did they used.
    Now , I know. :))))

    1. Oh that’s great to hear Bahitieva, a couple of sketching pens that feel right for you can really make a difference.

  63. I returned to this post yet again, to reinforce the notion that satisfying and beautiful art can be made on location with a minimum of materials. My motivation is so much higher if I have fewer tools, and less weight to carry around! It is sometimes so hard for me to overcome the hurdle of thinking that it will somehow be “more fun” to have a big assortment of tools with me. It’s a paradox, but the more stuff I have with me, the less likely I am to want to stop and really sketch. Off I go now with a pen and water brush….thanks for the tips.

    1. That’s so great to hear Jennifer, yes it really can become the paradox of choice, going minimal will really help you to focus on the essential elements of a scene and work within the constraints of the materials. Hope you enjoy experimenting with the water brush.

      1. Have you tried rotoring calligraphy pens for sketching?

        I’m going on a coach holiday which of your sketching outfit’s would you recommend

        A cheaper option to the Pental brush pen is a sakuma brush pen excellent pen for the money ebay
        Cheer’s Will

        1. Hi Steve, I haven’t used the Rotring calligraphy pens for sketching but they did used to make a Rotring art pen which was great.

          For a simple kit, using either a fine line and a brush pen or a water-soluble fountain pen and water brush pen can work great.

          Pleased you’ve been getting good results with the sakuma pens


  64. “I’m an art supply junky”- first step is admitting the problem!
    Will- I do suggest one item I just discovered and really love for many reasons. Artgraf watersoluble graphite; comes in a tiny tin that travels well and only requires an aquabrush & sketchbook. It’s pencil meets watercolor and allows for nice tonal values. I’m obsessed with it!
    Thanks for keeping us inspired.

    1. Ha, ha, you’re right there Cindy. Thanks for the tip on the Artgraf, it looks epic!

  65. Dear Will Kemp
    I really have been enjoying all of your tutorials during many years and also this inspiring one sketching, looking forward to everything you allow me to get of insight from you.

    1. So pleased you’ve been enjoying the tutorials Vibeke, great that you’ve been inspired!

  66. Once again, Will, my thanks for your generous sharing of time and talent. I’ve found your tutorials and courses most helpful and inspiring. And I do appreciate the comforting words about my own drawers full of art supplies. I feel a bit less like a hoarder.

    Kindly… John

    1. Ha, ha, my pleasure John, glad you’ve been finding the courses helpful!

      1. Will I think you need to see a councillor regarding your art materials !! Addiction ? You will have to go private as the N.H.S has run out of money ? Was there a magpie attendance some where down the family tree ?
        Regards Steve

          1. Will your a great guy ? Love your article’s keep up the good work ? Your a scholar and a gentleman. regards Steve

  67. Hi,this is a great read. is it ok to use lamy medium nib pen when sketching?

    1. Sure is Melvin, they work really well for sketching.

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