Art Tools of Jorge Royan

By some stroke of luck, I got to see some of Jorge Royan's sketches on facebook and knew I had to interview him for the Art Tools and Gears series.

He's an architect, photographer and sketcher from Argentina. Man of many talents.

His sketches have a strong architectural rendering style with the form mixed with details and nice composition. You can see more of his sketches at and other works at

Alright, let's see what are his drawing tools.

Qn: Let's talk about your pens first since I notice that most of the sketches you have on your blog are ink and watercolour sketches. I recognise the Lamy fountain pens. What's the difference between those three that you have?

I've tried a couple pens. Hero, Montblanc, Parker. But (as what one might expect) German pens are the most precise. What I like more about Lamys is that all Lamy nibs fit any Lamy body. There are MANY Lamy nibs and you can change them very easily.

Sample of LAMY nibs available in the market

I have quite a few: M (Medium) F (Fine) and EF (Extrafine). Also I have the three calligraphy nibs (1.1, 1,6 and 1,9). And I have a B nib, meaning 'broad'. Now I carry three nibs: EF, B and Calligraphic 1,1 (The thinner one). Combined, these three give me all the widths and variations I want for.

I don't use M and F anymore, and neither the two broader calligraphic 1.5 and 1.9.

Now how do I choose among these three (EF, B and Calligraphic 1,1)? It depends on the subject and the time available.

The B is is the one I use less. It has a rough, broad trace that's specially good for cartoonish imagination sketches (Moleskine classic). I draw in ink and finish in Prismacolor pencil and white marker, no watercolor or wet media added.

The Cal 1.1 is very expressive, but it does not deliver good detail work. I mostly use it for my watercolor moleskine. Some drawings I do only with it, but mostly I finish it with the EF. I seldom do bigger work in the 24x17 sheets with it. It's more for faster work.

The EF is very precise, and if you turn it 180º delivers a really thin line. I tested it against a 0.1 pen and its not far. maybe between a 0.1 and a 0.2. Used in a normal position it gives you a 0.3 or 0.4 mm line. I do all my 17x24 work with it, but also do the hatching (I do a lot of it) in my Moleskine. I use this pen in any position possible, and try my best to squeeze its worth out of it.

Lately what I like best is to begin a sketch there with the Cal 1.1 and finish hatching and details with the EF. That gives me a really wide range of lined widths to play with.

On watercolor paper I use Noodler's black bulletproof ink. It needs some care because it takes some 5 min to dry, and has to be erased with a kneaded eraser to remain really black.

Noodler's ink does not relate well to the classic yellowish Moleskine paper, so there I need to use normal black ink.

So, to answer that question, I carry 6 Lamys, three with Noodler's and three with Black Lamy ink.

Qn: What are those 4 tools on the left? Brush pens? How are they different from one another?

I use four brush pens when I work outside and four standard round brushes #4 at home. If I'm applying watercolor, I change from brush to brush between colors, so one is for greens, other for blues and so on. It's faster that way.

These on the photo are two kinds. The greenish are fine tipped and the greyish medium. But now I'm using 4 medium and the greenish fine tipped are stored away.

Qn: Did you combine the colour pencils together? Why do you do that? And how do you do that?

Color pencils get shortened up to a stub difficult to hold and store. With a standard Starbucks straw you can join two short pencil stubs.

When I use this I hold all the pencils on my left hand and I want to see the color tips together to make a choice. So I combined them like this so if I'm using blue I can have all the blues together facing me, or the reds, etc. So having, say, a pencil with two blues or two reds would give no benefit.

Qn: I don't see a lot of colour pencil works on your blog, or maybe I missed them. When do you use coloured pencils?

Color pencils have concentrated color in a way difficult to achieve with watercolor.

Click for a larger view

You've chosen here a sketch of a french square by me. if you have a closer look you'll see a lot of color lines and points on the sky, the lamp, a red and green sign and in the texture of the walls. it's subtle but it makes a difference.

Qn: What's this set? A pencil case and watercolour box two-in-one?

Yes, exactly that. I'd say a pencil case and watercolor box, plus a mixing palette. Three-in-one.

I just came my last trip to Vietnam, where all I did was on a 13x21 cm Moleskine. I seldom had more that 60-90 min to work (I was with my teen daughter) and my bigger size (17x24cm) sketches take average 3 hours.

There I realized that when one is on a busy Saigon (or Buenos Aires) street, keeping the equipment handy and small is paramount. Very seldom I've had the chance to spread around paper, watercolor box, pen box, piece of cloth, whatever. Instead I discovered if I have the chance to sit in my Coleman stool (below), I have two hands left. One to hold the paper and the other to pick a pencil or a pen.

Coleman stool with modified fabric

Up to here, great. I have right hand and left hand. TWO. But if I need to PAINT, things get messy. Too much stuff to hold or put in your knees.

If I use the W&N Field box I have a notebook, field-box and tools in another box. THREE.

Something has to go to have 2-2.

So I planned to have all in one pack. And this, to be the same size of a Moleskine noteboox: 13,2 x 21, 22 mm thick, so I can slip both in an envelope (the pouch below) and I'm ready.

All of it is made out of very easily cut 1 mm high impact plastic and glued with plastic model glue. It has some reinforcements here and there.

The box has 4 spaces. A (130 x 32 mm), B (90 x 25 mm) C (178 x 39 mm), D (152 x 90 mm).

  • Space A: the 14 watercolor 'Godets' I had before in my W&N field box, 28 color in total. Some Montval strips for WC color sampling are stored over this, as there is room left over the Godets.
  • Space B: A cotton cloth to clean the brushes. Below the cloth there is a W&N detail brush (Just in case) and spare pencil 7 mm HB leads
  • Space C: I store here 10 double tipped Prismacolor sets. 20 colors in total. That's enough for the use I give them. If the pencils are not new (long!), I can store a kneaded eraser too, with a rubber divider to also protect pencil tips
  • Space D: 2 Lamys, 1 pencil, 4 waterbrushes. All I need. Below them (separated by a piece of plastic sheet) is the palette mixer. It has the same structure as the one I use at home: 5 x 2. When I have to mix color, the brushes are always out, so I keep the Lamys and the pencil on my pocket and I'm ready to go.

Qn: What's the pouch for?

If you are going to throw your sketch gear in a backpack among cameras, a chess board, food and whatnot, you want to protect not only the — somewhat fragile if you hit it — but also the notebook. I don't like battered Moleskine covers. And if you carry a water bottle, there is always the chance of a loose bottle lid, and of spilled water ruining the notebook you love that much.

I prefer protecting the whole thing with a pouch and If I go out and I'm riding a bike just a mile to sit somewhere, I can hang this pouch from my shoulder, and that's it. I need nothing else.

This is custom made in a heavy duty fabric, with a Velcro strip. The rings, to slip a shoulder strap.

Qn: How do you use the chart on the right? Why is there a list names of the paint on the right?

It's not a chart. you have 4 borders with scales on them, two long, two short.

If you want to gauge proportions on a far away subject you can use the scales in the same manner as the Da Vinci Frame I showed you, or the way an old fashioned artist sees through his pencil at arm's length. And divide the subject accordingly.

Sometimes you need thirds to set important points in a subject and translate them to paper. Other times, halves. There is a scale divided by thirds and another by halves. Of both, there is a short and a long one.

About the names, it's the 28 watercolors in the box. Sometimes I forget if that paint there is Olive green or Phtalo green. Paint can be very dark when dry. It's very easy confounding Indigo with Payne's Grey, or Ivory Black with Neutral Tint. When in doubt, I can look at that lid.

The graded scale of values looks nice, but has no purpose whatsoever other than looking good and avoid having a white lid easily dirty.

There are two rubber bands. This way, when I take the lid off, I can use its borders to gauge distances and proportions of the subjects in front of me.

Qn: You seem to have a few watercolour sets. Is the one above your main set? I see that you have made some modifications to the pans. Can you explain?

I am using two sets. one at home and the other on the road.

This Winsor & Newton travel set I used up to a while ago set has 14 'godets'. But if you pay attention, most of its surface is white empty plastic. Only half of this is really useful, and I hate to carry too much stuff. As you noticed, I try to limit my equipment as much as possible, and to make it small.

The way I use watercolor, I don't need so much paint for a sketch, just a touch. So I took out the original 'godets' or plastic trays (with which all W&N watercolor paint cubes come), and divided each one with a small plastic 1 mm piece. Nothing fancy.

I refilled them with W&N Artist plus some Rembrandt tube paint, combining similar colors, so if there is a water spill it does not affect the other half. It works quite well.

Lately, when I made a new box, I took all the godets and placed them there. It took quite less space, and I have the same mixing surface. See below.

Qn: These two watercolour boxes look like they are custom made. How did you make them?

I'm a tinkerer, so I like building stuff. I have many tools and I like to use them. I made this two boxes a couple years ago when I began sketching.

The bigger Altoids box is made with a 1 cm thick rubber foam, cut with the plastic tubes.The small tubes in the perimeter are cut off Starbucks straws, and the 14 bigger ones are made with the plastic tube that comes to protect the tip of bigger round paintbrushes. Any art store has these, and usually they throw them away as there's no use for them after the brush is sold, so if you ask they'll save them for you.

Holding this Altoids box was not that easy, and the mixing surface was too limited. A friend gave me the W&N Fieldbox as a gift and now this one comes along only as a backup.

The smaller one is built with a Starbucks mint box. The divisions are made out of 1 mm high impact plastic. It was supposed to be used to carry paint in my pocket. I wanted to carry only this, a pen and a paintbrush, and it worked. Mixing was made in the saucer that comes with an expresso in any cafe in Buenos Aires worth its name.

And about buying them, these boxes carry far more colors than anything you can buy. And they are more fun.

Qn: This watercolour box looks really small. Why do you have such a small set? Isn't it inconvenient to use it, such as the mixing area that looks too small.

Again, it was the pleasure of building it and the idea of carrying only this, a pen and a paintbrush. Mixing is made on a saucer or a table top.

It has 8 colors. The 4 neuters I use most (Sepia, Indigo, Payne's gray and Neutral Tint) and 4 saturated: a basic blue, red, green and yellow.

Qn: What is this? Looks interesting.

When I work at home, I use these 4 classic round brushes #4, not 'water brushes'. I don't like to have much stuff around. I try to limit my tools at a minimum, and then try to get the best out of them.

The standard scheme when one works in a desk is 1) paint box and 2) mixing palette. Unless one keeps on mixing in the watercolor box, but that mixing space is always limited. So I decided to have all together, and set 10 color areas, with the paint I use to get there real close around each 'mixing well'.

The whole setup measures 45 x 21, and each mixing well is 8 x 8 cm, which is all I need.

It's all built in high impact plastic 2 mm thick, with a transparent cover. I added some plastic pieces here and there so the round brushes don't roll freely and fall in the mixing wells.One of the wells is only for Noodler's ink, as I use that for shadows quite.

Qn: What's the circular thing at the bottom left, and the stuff in the container at the top left?

The circular thing is a box with 4 extra hues I use and have to mix every time (Bronze, Skin, etc). I prefer having it premixed.

Qn: What do you use the dropper and pocket knife for?

The pocket knife is needed to tear out pages off the homemade blocks of 17x24 Canson Montval I work with. This 17x24 paper is the biggest I use. I want to jump to A4, but have not made it yet.

The dropper is for me very important, as the technique I use with watercolor entails using just a drop of water. When I'm on the road I do the same with the water brushes: I only put a brush in the water to clean it, not to bring water to the mix.

Also, my first pass is VERY watery, so I need to have a diluted paint. Also, I try not to put a brush that has paint on it in water, as I lose paint. So I bring water in the palette with the eye dropper instead. That keeps the water clean, and the water supply quite controlled.

I put a drop of clear water on the mixer. With the tip of the brush I pick just a touch of that water and get the surface of the paint wet. And this I carry back to the mixing palette to begin getting a hue.

Qn: What's that pen at the top?

It is a white marker. I only use it for the yellowish 13x21 classic Moleskine, as it brings points of pure white to the sketch and makes it lively, since the paper is not white at all.

Qn: What are the brushes that you use?

Four round watercolor #4 brushes when on my desk, or four water brushes if I'm on the road.

Qn: What equipment is that at the top?

This is a heat gun. It heats up with a standard lighter inside. I use it to quicken watercolor paint get dry. When the weather is cold or damp it can take forever between passes. Watercolor demands to WAIT until it's wet before the next pass, at least the way I like it.

Qn: Is that a viewfinder at the bottom? Did you make it yourself? Do you find it useful?

This is a Da Vinci frame. I view everything as through a viewfinder, as I've spent many years doing photo work. I need to render 3D into 2D. Then, after that, create again a 3D impression with some tricks.

This frame helps me find some strategic points in a scene, that I can translate to my paper. I use it with my 17x24cm sketches, not with a Moleskine

Qn: What sketchbooks and paper do you use? I suppose the paper size must be quite big for the type of detailed sketches you draw?

I use three different papers:

On one hand, two Moleskine notebooks same size (13x21 cm). One for watercolor and the other a classic yellowish one. Both are to be used on the street. I use the watercolor Moleskine to work from life. And the classic to draw from imagination.

Besides, when I work at home — and when there's time, when I travel — I use home made blocks of Canson Montval 300g Watercolor paper. I buy the paper in rolls (10 x 1,50 m) and cut them into 24x17 sheets after a long process of flattening it back.

Then I glue the sides leaving a free corner (above) to tear the sheet out free. I use that knife for this.

Working in this kind of 'blockish' paper has many advantages. It's hard as wood. You can turn it around freely, using the borders as guides to make straight lines, and shortly after it gets wet with watercolor it gets back 10% to the original shape if you allow it to dry properly.

That's why I don't have gutters. I prefer by far working on this paper, but sometimes it's too big — for my sketching style — to make a fast drawing, and then I jump to the Moleskines.

Also, Moleskines are not sold in Argentina, while these Montval 300g rolls do.

Qn: When you're using sketchbooks, do you draw across the gutter? I don't see a lot of sketchbook pages on your blog or maybe there are but I don't know that.

I abhor having the gutter in the middle of a sketch. I see most people act as it's not there, but for me it's like 'the emperor's new clothes'. The gutter is there, and it sucks.


  • In my 17 x 24 cm Home made Montval blocks there are no gutters.
  • In the Watercolor 13x21 Moleskine I use for life sketches I work only one page at a time, since the format is, in my eyes, a marketing mistake. Not many people do panoramas or want to do a sketch measuring 13 x 42 with a 1:3 proportion. Me, I use separate pages and never cross along the gutter.
  • In the classic 13x21 yellowish Moleskine there is a gutter, but as I use it to draw from imagination anywhere I have to wait, I prefer doing smaller sketches (as this one here). This is 13 x 21. I don't need double that space. 26 x 21 is too big for this kind of 'on the go' things I can leave halfway and retake later in another doctor or bank line.

Qn: Which other artists do you think should be featured next?

Nina Johansson, Paul Heaston and Miguel Herranz

Click for a larger view

Thanks. That's all from Jorge Royan.

Check out his work at and other works at

Check out other artist interviewees at

Items mentioned may be available at and


1 Comment

Add new comment