In this article are recommendations of supplies for mixed media art and urban sketching. I've been using the tools and supplies mentioned below for years and I'll share with you the pros and cons for each media.
This article is written for art beginners and urban sketchers. Many of the tools and supplies are picked for their portability, ease of use or setup.
My first recommendation is don't bring too many tools and art supplies out. The more you bring, the heavier your bag will be and that will tire you out fast. And it's not like you're going to use everything.
Second recommendation is for watercolour users. Use a limited colour palette even if you have many colours. It's easier to achieve colour harmony and you can learn more about colour mixing, and overall less overwhelming for beginner urban sketchers.
Third recommendation is to get lightfast supplies that are archival and do not fade when exposed to light. Check the lightfast quality, and get supplies created with pigments, the physical particles that actually make the colour. If no information is mentioned on the packaging, research online.
How to choose? What to choose?
I recommend you choose the art supplies based on the effect you want to create.
If you want textures or textured effects, go with dry media and textured paper. Pencils, coloured pencils and crayons are great for creating textures. Wet media can be used to create textures too when paired with textured paper, e.g. coldpress watercolour paper or coarse grain paper.
If you want your colours to last, choose supplies made with lightfast pigments. Pigments are physical particles. Lightfast quality is how quickly a colour can fade when exposed to light for prolong periods of time. E.g. Colours from pigmented paint markers will last and colours from dye-based ink markers will fade faster.
When it comes to mixed media, some tools and supplies will work better together than others. So it's best to experiment to see which tools work best together.
Pencils are extremely useful for beginners but they are not considered essentials after you've more experience with outdoor sketching.
Pencils can be used to mark out the composition to ensure everything can fit on the page, and to see at a glance whether your subjects have the accurate proportions.
Creating a draft or a preliminary sketch can help identify challenging or problematic areas. When you make mistakes, you can always erase. Making mistakes during the penciling stage is better than during the inking stage.
Nowadays I don't bring pencils out for urban sketching. I've gained enough experience to be able to draw straight with ink. If I do use pencils, I use mechanical pencils that do not require sharpening.
Coloured pencils and crayons
I love coloured pencils because they are versatile, fun to use and easy to bring around.
Coloured pencils can be used to draw lines or fill shapes. Crayons can fill shapes faster. These two media are great for creating textures. The sketch above were created with coloured pencils and watercolour. I find coloured pencils more useful than crayons because they can draw details more easily.
Water-soluble coloured pencils and crayons can be used to create washes or wet effects. Downside is when used with watercolour, you can dissolve the dry marks unintentionally. I enjoy using non-water-soluble coloured pencils to create lines and watercolour for washes.
Good coloured pencils can be expensive (US $2-3 each) but they can last quite long and are worth the money. I would consider coloured pencils to be an essential buy.
Watercolour and gouache
Watercolour is expressive, limitless colour mixing possibilities and are great and fast for covering large areas. Transparent watercolour is best for showing off line art for pen, ink and watercolour sketches.
Opaque watercolour or gouache can be used for their covering strength and can create effects.
Watercolour can come in many form, e.g. tube, pans, liquid, water-soluble coloured pencils, crayons and markers. Each form has its own pros and cons and you can learn more from this article.
Watercolour is extremely versatile for colour mixing. With just three primary colours, you can create countless mixes, and with more water added you can create different values. You don't need to have many colours with watercolour, you just need to have the right colours. Here are some recommendations for beginner watercolour sets.
Back when I was just a beginner learning art, I started with markers and that was a big mistake. Markers have limited colour mixing possibilities, so having more colours is better but that means spending more money because each marker is expensive and ink gets used up fast.
A 12-half pan watercolour set is great for beginners. Even though there are 12 colours to choose from, I highly recommend using a limited palette of 3 to 6 primary colours out of the 12 to learn more about colour mixing. In other words, don't buy too many colours when you're starting out.
As for which brand to get, just get the brand that you can find easily in your country. Some brands you can check out are Daniel Smith, QoR, Roman Szmal, Winsor Newton, Schmincke, Rembrandt, etc. Check out my watercolour reviews.
This video has more information on what to look out for when choosing watercolour.
Watercolour is great for beginners, more so over coloured pencils. If you have the budget, coloured pencils and watercolour make a great pair.
A pocket watercolour brush will be more portable and hence convenient compared to traditional wood handle brushes. The hair that's used by watercolour brushes will affect water carrying capacity, how water is released and the type of details or effects you can create. Generally speaking, the round brush is the most versatile brush shape.
Brands of pocket watercolour brushes you can check out are Escoda, Da Vinci, Rosemary, Holbein, Jackson's.
I prefer Da Vinci pocket brushes because they have screw-on bodies which are more sturdy. And Da Vinci makes quality brushes so you can't go wrong with them.
A water bottle is essential regardless of whether you use watercolour. I'm using the flat water bottle (shown above) which for some reason has many negative reviews but it worked fine for me.
This is not an essential item but is useful for wetting your dry watercolour pans before painting. There are ones small enough to fit inside a watercolour box.
Instead of a water mister, I use my watercolour brush to put drops of water on the dry pans.
Clips are useful. I use them to clip my sketchbook pages and my Micro Portable Painter Palette to my sketchbook.
Coloured inks and pens
You can apply coloured inks from pens or ink bottles. Coloured ink pens are more convenient and some are refillable.
For mixed media use, make sure the ink is pigmented and waterproof when dry. It's good to buy pens that are easy to replace. When you buy a set of colours, make sure the individual colours are available for sale.
Pens can come with different tips, e.g. needle point, felt tip, rollerball. Metal tips are more durable and while felt tips can wear out. Felt tip pens used on rougher paper can wear out before the ink is even used up.
I personally use fountain pens because they are refillable. And since I use watercolour on top of ink, the inks I use are waterproof when dry. If you want to use fountain pens, make sure to get inks that are safe for use in fountain pens, and these are my recommended inks.
Inks can be used on top or below (better) watercolour. Just make sure the watercolour is completely dry before you use the pens otherwise the tip may be clogged by paint.
Inks create solid lines. Coloured pencils create textured links. Some pens can create ink blots which can work for or against you.
The coloured ink pens I recommend are those from the Uniball Signo or Eye/Vision series because the pen tips are metal and inks are pigmented. The ink blots in the sketch above are from the Derwent Line Painters.
Here's a video on 3 types of pens that are great for beginners
And here's a video on my favourite pens for drawing
Markers can be paint, alcohol or water-based. Each type of marker has its pros and cons.
- Paint - Opaque, pigmented, smells, doesn't bleed through paper
- Alcohol - Transparent, quick drying, non-lightfast, smells, bleeds through paper
- Water - Opaque, pigmented, doesn't bleed through paper
Opaque paint and opaque water-based markers are quite similar.Paint markers, usually acrylic-based, to be slightly more opaque compared to water-based markers. Water-based markers seem to have slightly better ink flow.
Markers can come with fine, medium, broad or chisel tips. There are markers with1-inch tips.
I usually use opaque markers for adding details on top of watercolour, and for filling colours that I've missed out with watercolour. Markers can be used for drawing and filling large areas but the ink can get used up fast.
Alcohol markers are transparent and dry fast. They are usually available in more colours compared to paint markers. The selling point is the ink dries fast and the downside is inks are dye-based and can fade when exposed to light for extended periods of time.
With markers, if you need more colours, you have to buy more colours and markers are expensive and hence aren't friendly to wallets. Markers are extremely convenient, but for beginners I recommend getting watercolours over markers because they are more budget friendly and you can learn more about colour mixing.
Buying markers in a box set is more worth the money than buying each marker individually.
When I started urban sketching, I actually had many markers but I eventually sold most of them due to the cost of maintaining them with buying new ones and refilling.
While markers are portable and convenient, they still take up more space compared to other media if you bring many markers out. And you always have to remember to cap the markers after use which you don't have to when using watercolour or coloured pencils. I find it quite tedious to switch colours continuously while sketching outdoors.
Paper or sketchbooks
Choose the paper that suits the media you're using. If you use watercolour, get watercolour paper.
Watercolour paper also happens to be the most versatile paper that can be used with most media except for oil paint.
You can either get watercolour paper as pads or as sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are more convenient since you can flip through the pages easily.
Quality of paper matters. Watercolour paper can be made with cellulose or cotton. Thickness or weight of the paper ranges from 150gsm to 600gsm. Watercolour pads are usually 200 or 300gsm (good). Sketchbooks usually use 200gsm. The most important thing that affects watercolour paper quality is actually the sizing, which is how the paper is treated to handle water.
Watercolour sketchbooks are better than mixed media sketchbooks for creating mixed media art. Watercolour paper is sized with gelatin to handle water but mixed media paper is not. Water or watercolour can move freely on (good) watercolour paper and will soak or sink with mixed media paper. Watercolour effects and techniques are easier to create on cotton watercolour paper.
Before buying watercolour paper, I recommend you do research. Watercolour paper can be expensive so it's best not to buy the wrong one.
Whether to get cotton or non-cotton watercolour paper is a difficult question for me to answer. Non-cotton watercolour paper is better for those with limited budget. But if you're serious about your art and want to indulge and appreciate quality, 100% cotton watercolour paper is the way to go. There are too many brands of watercolour paper for me to recommend. The good ones are Arches and Fabriano.
Pen and ink
I use fountain pens for drawing because they are refillable. Good fountain pens can be bought for less than US $20. My main sketching pen is the Pelikan M200. To see all fountain pens I've reviewed, visit this page.
I don't really have any particular fountain pen or brand to recommend. The same nib (F, M, B) on different pens will produce the same lines. If you want an interesting fountain pen for drawing, consider fountain pens with fude nibs.
As for fountain pen inks, just make sure to get pigmented waterproof-when-dry inks that mention specifically that they are safe for use in fountain pens. Check out this page for waterproof fountain pen inks.
Creating mixed media art is fun. With mixed media, you have more possibilities for creating colour mixes, styles and effects that's just not possible with a single medium.
Some wonderful mixed media artists you can check out are Santi Salles, Swasky, Inma Serrano, Maru Godas, Adolfo Serra, Felix Scheinberger and in the books The Art of Urban Sketching and The World of Urban Sketching.