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.
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.