Field Sketching Kits: Expeditionary Art Pocket Art Toolkit (review)

I watch a lot of art channels on YouTube and recently one of them – Mind of Watercolour – had a review of the Expeditionary Art Toolkit, along with an interview with its creator, Maria Coryell-Martin. I’m always looking for nice and compact painting sets but so far have mostly had to rely on shoving a Cotman box or Derwent Inktense pan set into my uni bag along with a sketchbook and hoping it doesn’t get jostled around to damaged, so when I saw the Expeditionary Art Toolkit, it seemed to be just the thing I wanted. Steve Mitchell also had a discount coupon for the box, so I decided to get one.

There are two sizes of these kits available: the standard one, which measures roughly 25cm X 16cm, and the pocket one, which measures about 19cm X 13cm. You can get them in all all black or black with blue trim, or grey with purple trim. I chose the Pocket Art Toolkit in grey with purple trim.

All of the Art Toolkits come with a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (in the closest size to whichever Toolkit you buy), a waterbrush, a clear plastic ruler, a black Sharpie pen (waterproof black ink), a plastic syringe for refilling the waterbrush and a Pocket Palette (which you can have in silver or black; I got a black one) with a little cloth bag, as well as a small pamphlet that includes some sketching tips. The full sized one has an additional pocket on each side and also comes with a greylead pencil and a little spray bottle.

The Pocket Palette itself comes with 14 full pans, as you can see in my first photo. However you can buy different sized pans, as well as any of the other components of the Art Toolkit, separately. When I ordered my Pocket Art Toolkit I also bought some different sized pans (half, double and a large mixing pan with a white enamel finish) and a spray bottle.

After a lot of tinkering, I eventually settled on what colours I wanted, and rearranged the various pans accordingly (including the large mixing pan, as I like lots of space for mixing). The colours I used are as follows:

  • Winsor & Newton Winsor Lemon
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold (genuine)
  • Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre
  • Daniel Smith Pyrrol Orange
  • Winsor & Newton Winsor Red Deep
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose
  • Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Daniel Smith Transparent Red Oxide
  • Daniel Smith French Ultramarine
  • Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue
  • Winsor & Newton Cerulean Blue
  • Daniel Smith Cobalt Teal Blue
  • Rembrandt Vidirian (this colour seems quite weak and I’ve already used up a large chunk of it, so I’ll probably replace it with a Phthalo Green)
  • Art Spectrum Neutral Tint
  • Daniel Smith Buff Titanium

The Pocket Palette itself is tiny; at only 7mm thick and with the surface area of a business card, it weighs almost nothing. The beauty of the Pocket Palette is that it’s so easy to rearrange the pans, which are held in by the magnetic base of the Pocket Palette itself. For colours I use a lot of, I have a full pan, and for those I don’t use much of but still like to have, I just use the little quarter pans. I did buy some of the square pans that are the size of two full pans next to each other but so far haven’t used them.

My Pocket Palette filled with watercolour, closely guarded by my trusty studio supervisor, Rosco.

The case itself is pretty sturdy, so it protects all the contents even if it gets shoved into a backpack, bounced around and squashed by other heavy stuff (as mine did). Though the Pocket Art Toolkit includes less stuff than the full-sized version, there’s enough room in the pockets that you can still add extra tools (I ended up putting in a greylead, eraser, sharpener and the spray bottle). The little plastic ruler included feels pretty flimsy, but it’s handy if you like to put borders around your sketches. The syringe is handy for refilling the waterbrush, and the spray bottle makes it easy to wet the whole page at once or create interesting wet-in-wet effects, and the spray is fine and even, unlike some spray bottles that spit out big ugly blobs of water.

The waterbrush itself (which I believe is a Pentel Aquash) is also of good quality; some waterbrushes I’ve had are difficult to regulate how much water comes out through the bristles (ie. you either get no water or a flood, with nothing in between), but this one responds well to varying pressure. The brush point is a medium size, I think, but it still comes to a good point. I like that the barrel is large, as most of the other pocket painting kits I have only included a waterbrush with a small barrel, which means I usually run out of water after one painting.

The Sharpie pen serves as a useful black ink fineliner, though if you’re an artist who draws in pencil, then goes over it in fineliner and then erases the pencil, you may run into issues, as this pen seems to be less resistant to being erased than the Sakura Pigma Micron or Faber-Castell PITT pens I normally use. It’s still perfectly serviceable, and if you just draw straight on the page with ink, it won’t bother you.

As I mentioned in my review, I wasn’t overly fond of the Moleskine, even though a lot of other artists love them. Mostly I just find the paper too flimsy for the way I like to paint and sketch; when I lay down a dense wash of colour for a sky, for example, the paper curls up into the foetal position. I’ll keep the Moleskine aside and use it for things like character sketches and illustrations, and I’ll replace it in the Art Toolkit with a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. I do like that the Art Toolkit has a pouch for the sketchbook, as I’ve often had sketchbook pages get damaged in the past by being in my backpack unprotected.

It should be mentioned at this point that the Art Toolkit is not cheap; for the case including the Pocket Palette and starting accessories, it’s $115 AUD, not including postage; by the time I added postage and the few extra accessories, it cost me close to $150 AUD, and that was with the discount code from Steve Mitchell’s YouTube channel. You could probably find a case of a similar size and put your own accessories in it, and just buy the Pocket Palette to save money, but I liked how the Art Toolkit has tidy compartments for everything, to prevent your tools from bouncing around (I’ve had a number of pen lids get knocked off and pencil lead points snap when I’ve put them in a regular pencil case). Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t mind paying more to get something that was basically exactly what I wanted, rather than trying to cobble together a solution that I wasn’t really happy with.

Here are a couple of sketches I did with my Expeditionary Art Toolkit, in the Moleskine included in the set.

Even though it’s pricey, the Expeditionary Art Toolkit is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to have a more portable sketching kit to encourage them to go out and paint in the field. Even if you just buy the Pocket Palette on its own and a water brush, you’ll have a nice compact painting kit you can take anywhere. The ability to easily mix and match the colours in your tin by simply swapping out the pans is another plus. I keep my Toolkit in my bag when I go to uni and I love being able to just take it out and start painting, without having to dig through my bag or a pencil case to look for my pens or pencils.

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Sketchbooks: Stillman & Birn Beta Series Softcover Sketchbook (review)

Since I often don’t get much time to sketch when I’m out and about, I prefer to work in small sketchbooks when I do have the opportunity. As I’ve mentioned previously, I found that the Moleskine sketchbooks – even the ones supposedly designed for watercolour – don’t really stand up to more than a very light wash, which is not ideal for me as I prefer to sketch in watercolour rather than other media like inks and pencils (though I do use pencils in some sketches).

A while ago I saw that Jackson’s in the UK had a gift set of six Stillman & Birn pocket-sized softcover sketchbooks on sale, so I thought it was a cheap way to try all their different papers at once. The first book I tried was the Beta series, with the blue cover.

Of the six types of paper, three of them are called “Heavyweight” at 150gsm, while three are “Extra Heavyweight” at 270gsm. Most are white but there are a few ivory papers, and there’s a range of surfaces from smooth to medium grain to cold press. The Beta series paper is Extra Heavyweight white paper with a cold press surface. The Heavyweight sketchbooks seem to have nearly twice as many sheets as the Extra Heavyweight (46 sheets versus 26 sheets) but of course the trade-off is that the paper is not as thick or sturdy. The ones in the pack I got were all portrait orientation but you can get landscape ones as well. Also, it seems Stillman & Birn have recently brought out a Nova Trio book that has three colours (black, grey and beige) in one sketchbook, though sadly these seem to be hard to find in stores anywhere (which is a shame as I’d like to get one). You can buy these colours in separate sketchbooks, though.

The first time I took my Beta sketchbook out, with the intention of using watercolour pencil and washes, I accidentally left my waterbrush at home. However I figured it was still a good opportunity to test how the paper handled dry media. Given that it’s a cold press paper (the ‘roughest’ of the Stillman & Birn sketchbook papers), there was some nice broken texture that resulted from using the pencils dry, though I was able to smooth it out by pressing down harder. That being said, it’s not as textured as a regular cold press watercolour paper, so you are somewhat limited to how many layers of pencil you can put down (in some places in the drawing below, I did find myself running out of tooth so the paper wouldn’t take more layers). This wasn’t a big deal as I usually only do a large number of layers on proper finished pieces, whereas sketchbooks are a few layers at most due to time constraints/general laziness etc.

“Sunlit Leaves”. Based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

At a point in time, I did a sketch of the beach while on a research retreat, using watercolour pencils and watercolours. I had coloured the blue areas of the sky in with a pencil and then washed over it with a waterbrush, but it did take a little scrubbing with the brush to remove the visible strokes from sky. The paper did start to pill a bit, but I still think it did well to stand up to as much abuse as it did before it started to pill (the book also got dropped in the sand and stood on by a dog and came through unscathed).

“Mount Eliza beach.” Sketched on location.

The sketchbook is so small it fits easily in my school bag or even my pocket, so I’ve got into the habit of taking it to uni, along with a small box of paints (lately I’ve been enjoying my Derwent Inktense paint pan travel set). When my students have a class where they just work on their assignment (and therefore there are no tutorial activities for me to run), it gives me time to do some sketches.

“Royal”. Sketched from imagination.

I’ve done a few sketches in this book now, and I’m happy to say the paper is pretty resilient when it comes to washes. Even for paintings where I covered the whole page and washed several layers of colour over the background, the paper buckled very little, and even then, only really on one edge when I’d inadvertently drenched the paper by squeezing my waterbrush too hard. As I mentioned above, it will pill a bit if you scrub at it too much, but as long as you’re careful with the brush, you can put down several layers of watercolour (or probably ink as well) quite easily. Another thing I liked about it is that, unlike with normal watercolour paper, I was able to use a rubber eraser to make corrections without affecting the surface paper; I find that when I use watercolour paper, I need to use a kneadable eraser or it damages the texture.

In terms of price, these sketchbooks are in the low to middle of the range as far as buying a book of a similar size goes, but this doesn’t take into account the type of paper. Yes, some other sketchbooks are cheaper, but they also use thinner paper, so it’s worth paying a few dollars extra for a Stillman & Birn Beta; in fact, some of the more expensive ones still used inferior paper that would only be suitable for drawing, not for any water media.

Here are some other sketches I’ve done in the Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.

“Indigo”. Based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

“Grace, sketch”. Based on a photo by Lesley Charlesworth.

I haven’t had a chance to try the other Stillman & Birn sketchbooks yet, but so far I’ve been very happy with the Beta series sketchbook. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a durable paper for sketching out in the field, especially anyone who may have been somewhat disappointed with the Moleskin. With the variety of sizes available, you’ll be able to find one that fits in your sketching kit, and you won’t have to worry about the paper curling up like a pretzel if you use watercolour.

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Watercolours: Da Vinci Artist’s Watercolours (review)

I thought it was time to review the other American watercolour paints my parents brought back from their overseas holiday, so I finally dug the tubes out of my drawer, where they’ve been languishing for the last few years.

I wanted to get a red or a magenta but unfortunately the one I’d written down for my parents to buy was out of stock in the art shop they visited, so I don’t have as wide a range of colours here to test as I’d like.

EDIT: I just remembered that some time last year, I discovered I could order a dot set from Da Vinci’s site, which I did, but then promptly shoved it in a drawer and forgot about it because I was busy with uni when it arrived.

I’ve just dug it out and painted another chart with the 24 colours in the dot set and the two tube colours I had that weren’t included.

In terms of pigment concentration, they’re up there with other reputable watercolour brands, although perhaps at the lower end of the artist grade scale. They rewet reasonably well (I found the Cobalt Blue Deep was sometimes a little reluctant to budge but nowhere near as stubborn as Winsor & Newton colours after they’ve dried out), and the colours I tried were generally easy to lift off the paper without leaving much of a stain. They also seem to be slightly less ‘active’ when used wet-in-wet than other brands I’ve tried. What I mean by this is that when you drop a Da Vinci colour into a wet area of another colour, it spreads a little, but not as far or as quickly as my Golden QoR or my Daniel Smith paints. If you’ve used Holbein watercolours, the Da Vinci ones behave in a somewhat similar manner to those, though slightly more active. This may be good or bad depending on how you like to use wet-in-wet techniques.

While there are quite a few multi-pigment mixes in the range of just over 100 colours, there are still a decent number of single-pigment colours as well.

If you live in America, Da Vinci watercolours are among the cheapest brands available (for example, a 15ml tube of genuine Cobalts or Cadmiums will cost about $16AUD), but otherwise the currency conversion and postage costs mean you’re better off buying a brand that’s available locally.

Here’s a painting I did with the Da Vinci watercolours (and a few Blick watercolours). For a step-by-step demonstration of this painting, click here.

The price and difficulty of obtaining them outside the US means that Da Vinci watercolours probably won’t be viable for a lot of people, but if you can get them, they’re a solid performer, and they’ll happily fit in with whatever other paints you have on your palette.

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Watercolours: Hot Air Balloon (demonstration)

I was supposed to be testing the final version of the system I need for my PhD’s data collection, but somehow in the process of being moved from my office to a new open floor office, my computer went missing! Along with the software and peripherals I need to run the tests! Since I didn’t have anything else to do but rock back and forth under my desk crying, I figured I’d do another art demonstration.

I wanted to do a review of some more of the watercolours my parents brought back from their trip to America a couple of years ago, and I decided to paint a hot air balloon. I felt it would make a good project for a beginner, so I turned it into a demo. You could use a reference photo if you have one, but since it was a fairly simple subject, I just drew it from imagination.

Da Vinci Watercolours
-Cadmium Yellow Medium
-Cobalt Blue Deep
-Viridian Green

Blick Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow
-Cerulean Blue

Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Silver Black Velvet Round size 8
Silver Black Velvet Quill size 100

Masking Tape

Arches Rough Press Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (260X360mm)

Step 1
After drawing the hot air balloon and a rough outline of the cloud shape, lay in a strong wash of Cerulean Blue for the sky area. Before this dries, add some Cobalt Blue Deep to the top right corner of the sky and along some parts of the edge of the cloud. Using a tissue, gently drag out some faint rays of light from behind the large section of the cloud at the top left (as you can see in my progress shot below, I probably left it a little late to do this, as the streaks aren’t all that visible). Another good thing to try would be to moisten the edges of the cloud with a spray bottle of clean water and dab it slightly in some areas (while the sky is still wet) to create a few lost edges, rather than having all the hard edges like I do.

For the cloud itself, create a fairly strong wash of Cobalt Blue Deep and a pale orange mix of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Magenta, in addition to another wash of Cerulean Blue if you need to. Lay in some Cerulean Blue to cover most of the cloud except the highlighted edges, and then darken some sections with the Cobalt Blue Deep. For the really dark greyish areas, add some of your orange mix to the Cobalt Blue Deep and drop this in as well to create a variation of shades within the clouds. Don’t worry if some orange-ish areas remain visible in the clouds; this creates the look of reflected sunlight. I also dabbed at some sections with a tissue to increase the fluffy texture of the cloud.

Step 2
It’s time to start colouring the balloon. Starting with Lemon Yellow, colour the main section of the balloon and let this dry. Go over the right edge of each panel with Cadmium Yellow Medium. Leave more of the Lemon Yellow showing on the left of the balloon, and as you move towards the right, cover more of the panels with Cadmium Yellow Medium, as the light in this picture is coming from the left of the balloon (behind the cloud). Paint the bottom rim of the balloon with Cadmium Yellow Medium as well.

Paint every second pattern on the balloon with straight Viridian Green. Wait for this to dry, and then make a darker red mixture of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Magenta to colour in the remaining patterns on the balloon (don’t forget the part inside the balloon at the bottom, and the scoop, which can be any colour you want but ideally should be a colour that matches another part of the balloon; I chose to make it red). Wait for this to dry, then take some of your red mixture and add some Cobalt Blue Deep to make a dark and dull purple. Add a glaze of this to the inside of the balloon, over the red, green and yellow, to create the shadow.

Step 3
Now it’s time to shade the red and green parts of the panels to match the shaded yellow sections. For the green bits, mix Viridian Green with a little Cobalt Blue Deep and Magenta for a dark purplish green. Lay in a reasonably dark line of this down the right side of the green sections, then wash your brush and get most of the moisture out of it (by dabbing it on a tissue) and lay in a stripe of clean water right beside the dark stripe. The dark colour will gradually blend over into the clean water, but you may want to feather it with your brush to avoid any hard lines forming. I’d suggest working one panel at a time (rather than doing all the dark stripes, then doing all the clean water stripes etc) so the shading doesn’t dry before you’ve blended it. The stripes on the right should be almost completely in shadow, while those on the left will be mostly light. Repeat the same procedure with the red stripes, adding a bit of Viridian Green and a little Cobalt Blue Deep to make a dark, dull purple for the shading. Add a glaze of this over the area visible inside the balloon (including on the yellow rim), and on the outside of the scoop on the right. Add a more watered down version of this glaze to the yellow rim outside the balloon.

Given the strong sunlight on the hot air balloon, the shading in the yellow areas also needs to be made stronger. Using a combination of Cadmium Yellow Medium, Magenta and Cobalt Blue Deep to create a dull, more brownish purple than what you used to shade the red and green parts of the panels. Repeat the technique used above, laying in a stripe of this dull brownish purple along the right of each panel and feathering it out with your brush and some clean water. The right side of the balloon should be almost entirely in shadow.

Now it’s time to paint the basket. Shade the underside and right hand side with a light-medium glaze of Cerulean Blue and let this dry. Make a pale orange-yellow (should be mostly yellow) and wash this over the whole basket. You may want to go back and add a tiny glaze of Cobalt Blue Deep to the right side of the basket. To paint the figures in the basket, make a dark grey-black mixture (I think I used a bit of everything that was on my palette up til this point, but Viridian, Magenta, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Cobalt Blue Deep mixed together should give you a good dark colour). With a small round brush (I used a size 1), draw in the people; given the lighting and the scale of the picture, they will be little more than silhouettes anyway. Also draw in a few cables going from the basket and connecting to the scooop. Now all that’s left to do is sign your name; I used a mix of Cobalt Blue Deep and the dark grey mixture.

I hope you enjoyed this watercolour demo. As always, you don’t have to use the exact colours I have used; whatever equivalent colours you already have in your own supplies will be fine.

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Brush Care: Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap (review)

A few years ago, I reviewed The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. It’s a good brush cleaner, but it is slightly abrasive (so I’m reluctant to use it on watercolour brushes with natural hair). Also, I found that if I had to use it more than once within the space of a day or so (which I did sometimes), it dried and irritated the skin on my hands, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for a gentler alternative. A little while ago I was looking for a new paint palette or something on one of the online websites and stumbled across Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap.

It was about $10, but I’ve paid that much for fancy scented shower soaps in the past as a self-indulgent treat, so I thought I might as well try it.

Last weekend, I attended a watercolour workshop by Alvaro Castagnet (I’m hoping to post about it soon). In the interests of trying to reduce the size and weight of the gear I was lugging to and from the workshop all weekend, I took a small empty tea jar for use as a water container, instead of the big Vegemite Jar I usually use at home. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t really have enough room to wash my big brushes properly, as I couldn’t swish them around. I’m also lazy, so the dirty brushes continued to sit in my brush case until today.

The Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap works much the same as other brush soaps and cleaners, as you’d expect. Wet the brush, swish it on the soap, lather it in your hand. Rinse and repeat. Unlike the Masters Brush Cleaner (which has a mild but still noticeable citrus smell), this soap has almost no odour. It also doesn’t have any abrasives in it, so it’s much gentler on the brush, and on your hands. I’ve spent the last two days (on and off) washing some of my brushes, and so far I’ve suffered no skin irritation. It also seems to be just as effective at cleaning the brushes as the Masters Brush Cleaner was; before using the soap, I rinsed the brushes out with plain water, squeezing and rinsing until the water ran clear, but then when I used the soap, I got even more colour out of them.

If you’re looking for a brush cleaner or artist soap that will be gentle on brushes and won’t irritate your skin, Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap is worth checking out.

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Skyscape Baubles: Stormy Sea

I haven’t done much painting for a while, but I finally got around to painting another Skyscape Bauble. I’d had the idea for this one for a while, but it kept getting pushed back by academic commitments.

Stormy Sea
My fourth Skyscape Bauble is Stormy Sea. I had originally planned to paint a moonlit ocean, but as I fiddled with the composition I wanted, I figured it would be hard to convey the full range of colours in the waves with only the distant moon as a light source. I decided to make the sky stormy instead, with rain falling in the distance. The waves were painted with varying shades of Cobalt Green Turquoise and Paynes Grey, while white gouache was used to create the foam. A barely noticeable wash of Raw Sienna was applied over the sky area before the clouds were painted in, as I find this helps it look less flat than just having to cover up white.

“Stormy Sea”. Schmincke and Winsor & Newton watercolours and Art Spectrum gouache.

I’m not sure how many more of these Skyscape Baubles I’ll paint. I did have an idea for another one but haven’t been able to work out a composition OR colour scheme that I like and that accurately shows the subject, so I’ve kind of lost interest in it. I still have a few pieces of the handmade watercolour paper I’ve used for the series though, so if I do come up with another idea, I’ll paint a fifth Skyscape Bauble.

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Inks: Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Travel Set (review)

Some time ago I reviewed the Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks. I quite liked them but even though most of the colours were listed as lightfast, the fact a number of other artists had reported issues with fading even in supposedly permanent colours made me hesitant to pick up the Inktense pan set when it was released, even though I really wanted to try them (that, and the fact I already have enough watercolour paint boxes to sink the Titanic).

Recently, my friend who works in an art supply shop in Italy kindly sent me an Inktense Paint Pan Travel set as an early Christmas gift. (if any of my readers are in Torino, drop by Bianco & Marzano to look at their wonderful selection of art products)

Here’s the colour chart for the set:

The white plastic box is compact (though it is a bit bigger than the Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Sketch Box I have) and feels sturdy. It seems quite similar to the Sakura Koi watercolour sketchboxes, though my Sakura box is larger and more bulky. The lid has five little sections and doubles as a mixing palette, while the base holds the pans of colour, as well as a water brush (with space to include a pencil stub and an eraser) and a sponge for cleaning your brush. The brush doesn’t come with a lid like most waterbrushes do, which is disappointing, as I worry that it could get damaged or bent if it moves around in the box too much. However, I was happy to discover that the waterbrush itself was a good quality one; many I’ve bought over the years have had faulty valves (meaning a slight squeeze empties half the barrel of water through your bristles) or leak, so that instead of water coming through the bristles, it emerges from above the ‘ferrule’ (or whatever the plastic bit that holds the bristles is called). This brush responded well to pressure and was easy to control, allowing me to produce a thick wash or just a few drops without too much hassle. It does have a small reservoir, though, so you would need to carry a little bottle of water so you can refill it if you’re going to be painting anything bigger than postcard size, otherwise you’ll likely use up all the water in the barrel.

The colours are held in place by two plastic inserts (each holding six pans), and these inserts have a gap in the bottom, making it easy to pop out the pans as required. As for the pans themselves, they are a little bit smaller than standard watercolour half pans, so if you intend to buy this box and replace them with your Winsor & Newton or Sennelier etc half pans, you won’t be able to, unless you remove the inserts as well (and even then, you’ll have to glue them in or use double-sided tape to keep them in place). Derwent has listed individual Inktense pans for sale on their site but so far they don’t seem to be available anywhere else, even in stores that sell the set itself. The price of the set itself varies wildly according to supplier; Jacksons in the UK, where I normally buy art supplies, has it for $30AUD, but I’ve seen it for as much as $50 on other sites. This is comparable to a set of student grade watercolours of about the same size.

The set comes with a reasonably good selection of colours, though I’d have liked to see another blue instead of one of the greens (I find the inclusion of the light green kind of pointless as you can easily mix it with Teal Green and Sun Yellow). That being said, for people who paint a lot of landscapes, it’s probably a good thing that there are three greens as it would save you from having to mix them all the time and use up other colours in the process. Unfortunately there’s no white, but it’s easy enough to break off part of a white Inktense Block and stick it in at one end of the compartment where the waterbrush goes, as there’s plenty of room. Otherwise, you can mix pretty much any colour you want with this set; Mid Ultramarine looks more like Cobalt Blue, but if you mix it with a bit of Bright Blue, you can get a good match with regular Ultramarine. You can also mix a good grey with Natural Brown and Bright Blue (for a really dark grey) or Mid Ultramarine (for a softer, lighter grey). The pigment concentration in the colours is high, so much so that it almost feels like painting with artist grade watercolours.

Most of these colours are semi-opaque, though some lean more towards the opaque side (especially Mid Ultramarine and Natural Brown). They also dissolve quite quickly when you wet them, so it feels just like using a normal set of watercolour pans. The only difference is that, being ink, these colours generally won’t rewet or activate again once they’ve dried. This gives you the option of laying down heavy colour in one go or slowly building up layers of colour without having to worry about the previous one coming up and muddying the colour. The colours didn’t seem to be 100% permanent; while I was able to lay a wash over one colour without it coming up and mixing with the other colour, they did still lift a little when I scrubbed at it with the brush after it had been dried for a few minutes. It was a lot harder to lift colour once it had been dried for half an hour or so, and some colours were more stubborn than others; for example, the yellows and blues lifted noticeably, while the reds and black only budged very slightly.

One of the problems I had with the Inktense pencils and blocks was that sometimes, if I had applied colour by scribbling on the paper and then wetting it with a brush, there would be bits of pigment that I hadn’t dissolved properly the first time round, so when I put another layer over it, that pigment would get into my mixture when I didn’t want it to. This isn’t an issue with the pans, since all the pigment is essentially ‘dissolved’ before you even put it on the paper, and since you really do have to scrub at it to lift the Inktense pan paint, it mostly stays put. Also, unlike the pencils and blocks, which have a few fugitive colours, all the colours in this set are rated 8 on the Blue Wool lightfastness scale (the highest rating). I haven’t tested them myself yet, but this is promising for those who might want to display or sell work they create with them.

Here’s a small quick sketch I did from imagination with the Derwent Inktense Pan Set while I was watching TV.

For anyone who loves working with Ink but doesn’t want to lug around big tins of pencils or fragile bottles of ink, the Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Travel Set would be a wonderful addition to your field sketching supplies. The compact and sturdy box houses a good selection of strong and mostly permanent colours, along with a waterbrush, so as long as you also bring a little waterbottle for refilling your brush, you’ll have everything you need to sketch on the go.

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