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Area 52 Brand Sketchbook Assignments


Sketchbook Assignments

Submitted by: Amanda Linn,
Harmony Grove High School


[ Sketchbook ideas K- 8 | Sketchbook Advocacy | Sketchbook Labels ]
Lesson Plans: Make a Sketchbook (6-12) | Sketch book Choices and Ideas | H.S. Sketchbook Ideas


From Amanda Linn: I thought these might be useful to others. I am sometimes stumped for meaningful sketchbook ideas. Many of these are ideas I have "sponged" and modified from other people. Others were designed to prepare my students for specific art experiences we will have in the future or to support themes and ideas we are exploring.


· Select an above or below point of view in a specific area (your room, kitchen, bathroom, outside, in a car, etc. Complete this drawing paying attention to details. You may complete the drawing in pencil, colored pencil, pen, etc.

· Choose a portion of a magazine or newspaper picture. Glue that picture on a page in your sketchbook. Create a drawing that incorporates that picture into a story. You may use more than one magazine or newspaper image BUT the artwork should be made mainly from your added drawings. This artwork should span 2 pages. You may use color or shading. OR you could use a color scheme (monochromatic, etc.)


· Choose an enclosed space- a kitchen cabinet, a television, an oven, a refrigerator, in a drawer or closet. What human qualities do the objects in the enclosed space assume when no one is watching? Do the mustard bottles dance? Do the socks play cards? This can be one page with details…be sure and show the interior of the space as well as the objects.


· Over 2 pages show the gradual transformation of a pair of scissors into another object- example: scissors into a shark- DON"T USE THIS EXAMPLE- it was my idea. Details are needed in the drawing- color is optional.

· If you got a holiday card from one of these artists what would it look like?

  • Pablo Picasso

  • Berthe Morisot

  • Salvador Dali

  • Georgia O’Keefe

  • Vincent Van Gogh

  • Frida Kahlo

· Arrange three related objects (3 kitchen items, 3 shoes, sports equipment, etc.) into a composition. Draw on one page using a light source and shading

· Create an image using only found images (from magazines, newspapers, worksheets, etc.) The image should communicate a message or tell a story

· Practice drawing anything from observation- the most common things are good practice

· Look at yourself in a spoon- draw the distorted image

· What happens when a 6-foot tall squirrel shows up in your yard?

· Identify an object that relates to your identity. Create an artwork that uses the image of that object (or the actual object) as the SINGLE FOCUS of the artwork. Open media.

· Fill in the blank… "I am a _________ in this world." Use the text of the completed sentence to inform the artwork. Open Media. This should be a 2 page spread

· Answer these questions with an image:

At age six I was ________

At age twelve I was _______

Now I am ________

At age 25 I will be ______

At age 75 I will be ______

Arrange these images in a composition that communicates your identity. Open media. Should span at least 4 pages in some order that communicates the answers to the questions.

· Illustrate a dream you have had using only 5 symbols (single images that communicate ideas) This may take one or two pages. You may use color or black and white to complete the image.  Consider what you know about composition, emphasis, etc. as you build the images.

· Make a detailed drawing of your hand holding something related to the fall season OR related to school. Make the drawing large enough that it touches all the edges of the page. You may add color or use shading

· Your choice- create a one or two page drawing that demonstrates several of your strongest art skills. This is your chance to create your own assignment as many of you have requested,

· What does the holiday season really mean to you? Your image can be abstract or realistic; you may choose the media. AVOID common images- meaning if you choose to show holiday gifts- SHOW THEM IN A CREATIVE WAY! I

· Create a design using elements from magazine or newspaper images. Cut and paste the images onto the page in your sketchbook to create the design.

· Practice observational drawing skills by drawing from the following list:

  • Shoes

  • Corner of a room in your house

  • Create an arrangement of objects, use a lamp or other light to make dramatic shadows,

  • Your pet

  • Creative views of your car, bicycle, skateboard, etc.

  • Make the image reach all the way to the edges of the page. Demonstrate what you know about point of view, emphasis, composition, positive and negative space, etc.

· Practice drawing from your imagination by drawing from the following list:

  • What would you see if you grew wings and flew over our town?

  • What if your big toe became its own person?

  • What if you suddenly became very very small?

Advanced Placement Sketchbook Ideas

Submitted by Robert Teslow:

Appropriate an image from magazine/newspaper/web-image that illustrates/demonstrates an unusual point of view of common objects, space/place, architecture, or group of things/people, other.

Draw a same size line drawing from your image.

Draw an enlarged scale version based on your same size line drawing (don’t be concerned about some changes in image… current drawing compared to a previous one).

Use oil pastels to enhance enlarged line drawing. Select among the following color relationships to be a guide to using color for expression and emphasis.

  • Warm hues with cool accents

  • Cool hues with warm accents

  • Monochromatic

  • Complimentary

  • Analogous

Submitted by Heidi Praff:

Homework assignment: Shadows as Connectors

This assignment will also be done in your sketchbook.

You may draw from a HIGH CONTRAST photos, or from direct observation, harshly lit.

DO NOT use any magazine photos of models, which are meant mainly to showcase makeup.

Draw the face, at least twice, summarizing it into shapes of shadows and light.

Observe and record how the shadows connect features.

Media: Your choice of Graphite Sticks, Oil Pastels, Charcoal, or any media you feel will give you the high contrast you are seeking.

At least 2 faces. If it is your own, you can just change pose or lighting.

Date all entries.


Homework Assignment - #3 The Eye:

This assignment is to be done in your sketchbook.

It involves drawing your eye twice in two very different ways. Both are from direct observation, though.


Please read the directions carefully. As always, date your entries.

  1. Make a DETAILED drawing of your eye and the area around it. Include everything you see when observing closely in clear, even lighting.

  2. For the second drawing, make a drawing in HARSH lighting, showing the shapes of the shadows only. SUMMARIZE, don’t itemize. This drawing will not contain detail, but will accurately represent the shapes of light and shadow on and around your eye area.

Submitted by Ken Schwab:

Sketchbook for A.P. Art #1

You will be keeping a sketchbook for the entire year. This sketchbook will be a series of drawings and mixed media pieces that you will use for your portfolio. Each one should be considered a complete art piece. This means that composition and principles of good design can and should be utilized.

These are the sketchbook requirements for your first grading period. They can be in any media unless specifically designated. These 4 drawings will be due in 6 weeks and will be given 80 points, (20 for each one)

1. Draw a portrait using light and shadow. In order to achieve strong gradations and a sense of form, place a light from different angles than normal. These can be under the chin, behind the head or from the top. This can be in graphite pencil or colored pencil.

2. Study your feet and shoes. Create a strong thick and thin contour drawing of your shoes drawing from different angles. Include more than one drawing on the same page over lapping and filling the format. Pen or pencil

3. Draw a place around the outside of your home. This can be a plant, part of the building or objects on the porch. Use ink and watercolor to create a strong contrast between the color and the ink. Crosshatching as a style is suggested but not required.

4. Draw bottles and cans. Have them crunched up for details in the reflections and folds of the metal. Include lots of detail and only show a small area instead of the whole can or cans. If it is a bottle, find an area that shows off the reflections and surface quality of the bottle.

5. Create a series of positive and negative space designs. On your desk at home stack a few objects into a pile. With a light shinning from the back look at the space that is white (light) and draw the shapes as a contour line shape. Use black paint or ink to fill in the spaces as a flat shape. The silhouette of the object should still be seen but new shapes created.

6. Draw a piece of furniture in your house. This can be in color or black and white. Sit in an area and observe the lines and shapes of the piece. Create a format around your observed area and look for textures, gradations, wood grain or interesting shapes and make a detailed study.


Submitted by Ken Schwab

Sketchbook for A.P. Art #2

This is the second round of sketchbook assignments. Choose 4 of these to use and have them completed before the next grading period. Remember to use good drawing skills and composition.

1. Pop some popcorn. Take a few kernels and look at the shapes and shades created. With pencil and smudge shading, study a few of the kernels and fill the page with them. This drawing should show a good sense of drawing skill and soft grays with a Tortillons or some blending device.

2. Draw or design a vehicle. This can be a car, spaceship, airplane, boat, motorcycle, bicycle or anything you want. Include details and make it big! Any media

3. Draw yourself using a strong light source on one side of your face. Use a mirror and try to have some expression. Focus on the strong shadows created by the light. Use pastel for blocking in large areas with a lesser amount of detail.

4. Using color (Cray-Pas) create an Impressionist Landscape drawing. Use Van Gogh, Manet, Seurat, Pissaro, Sisley, or Cezanne as your guide. Use the internet and look up these artists to observe their work. Find a landscape on the net as well and draw it as a n Impressionist.

5. Draw a series of animals in motion. Such as a cheetah running, a rabbit hopping, a bird flying. This can be in any media and you can use just three views or images in a row.

6. Divide the page into three areas with a ruler. Create a very involved contour drawing with pen of a small object of your choice and put it in one of the areas going outside the shape.  Next, in another area, draw the same object with pencil using good shading and proper proportion. For the last area, distort or abstract (like in cubism) the same object using three values or colors.


Submitted by Nicole Brisco

Ideas for the first day to engage creativity in any advanced class. I begin in Art 2.

1. Once I hand out Sketchbooks (or have students bring or make them) I have the students prepare the pages in a variety of creative ways, like paint washes on the pages, collaging, writing, cutting holes in some of the pages, creating patterns. This is just to alter the pages before we begin any sketchbook assignments/observational drawing... I know some people alter books and that is a great way also but I like the idea of the kids taking ownership of their sketchbook as a process oriented tool for thumb-nailing, drawing, doodling, writing, documenting, etc. It is a good first day activity especially if you give them a list that is open to interpretation, this challenges them to use their time wisely, be creative, use good craftsmanship, and follow directions. It is also a no pressure assignment that allows the kids to get to know each other. What I like about this is that it removes the white pages from the book and allows students to be more expressive with the drawings on the pages. It also make the sketchbook less intimidating and helps students to understand that every page does not need to be perfect and is more about learning and exploration. We look the sketchbooks of Wayne Jiang at http://www.waynejiang.com /sketchbooks/index.html


2. Another good idea is to print out a variety of sketchbook assignments on address labels and give them to the students. I have printed 30 different assignments on one page of sticker labels and printed one (each student receives the same problems) for each student, there is some initial cost for the labels but you will not have to give out another assignment sheet for the rest of the year. I created open ideas that instill good observational, creative, and compositional skills. Give each student the same printed page and they can chose what problem to tackle for their sketchbook for the week and stick the one they selected to the back of the page, or you can have them stick them to the prepared pages and they would be forced to move through the sketchbook in an unordered way. This gives the student options and allows them ownership in what they draw each week depending on their mood... but also keeps them focused on the skills they need to work on during the year. I have them staple the label page to the back of their sketchbook so that they do not lose it. I saw this idea and loved it and decided to adapt it to my art 2 and 3 classes and what kid does not like stickers?....even high school kids have a fascination. See list of ideas.


Here is a sample label file created by Gloria Rabinowitz


Suggestions from Ruth Wilson
• Draw a pile of shoes
• looking from an interior space to an exterior space (IE: a doorway)
• a figure drawn in an unusual perspective
• still life objects
• reflective objects
• self portraits with expression or mood
• pasting a piece of a magazine on paper and then drawing outward
• morphs
• painting or drawing in an artists style
• distorted reflections
• action
• anatomy
• shaded 3D forms showing strong contrast
• architectural drawing
• art history prints & Design elements
• draw on Mylar over an art history print with graphite to show the shapes, then another sheet of Mylar the directional lines, then the 3-5 local colors, and shading values

Suggestions from Donna Rodeghiero

A grouping of seashells
A single flower with all its leaves, etc.
A cluttered place close-up
A pile of dishes sitting on the sink
Your favorite food with the wrapper included, and product showing
A close up set of 3-5 pieces of popped popcorn
A close up of the various pieces from a game, the board, box, etc.
A set of keys and a couple other items from your pocket or purse
Your shoes or sandals (off your feet)
Your sunglasses and what they reflect
Your digital camera with the last image showing
Your computer from an angle you do not usually view it, cords and all
A view out a window of your choice (with motion or still) showing inside and out
A shiny Christmas ornament and the view it reflects
A magnifying glass and what it is magnifying as well as the space around it that is unmagnified
A grouping of photographs of you, your family or friends in collage form
Your school books positioned in an interesting manner
A single object of choice drawn from several views with significantly different light sources in each view
Something you view from a prone position looking up at whatever it is
Your pet or favorite object from 3 distinctly different views

Suggestions from Patty Knott

I like to give words or phrases for idea spawning. I don't grade sketchbooks. I believe they are personal places of exploration for not only practice but journaling and questioning and sometimes, even doodling, but especially creative thinking. I just always hope they will discover mixed meanings, irony, metaphor, and symbolism.... just how to get ideas. This summer I am going through 5 years worth of art , fine crafts and photo magazines that I subscribe to, and I am listing word, phrases, titles, media and techniques that catch my eye. I like to have the kids make arbitrary picks from the list ( pull from a hat, a spin wheel, etc.) and take a day a week that they do the sketchbook exploration without the pressure of projects and grades.

Here are just a few of words and phrases I am currently compiling: (I always have them mind map and web all the possibilities for all the words)

Conflict of interests
More than meets the Eye (I)
Me, myself, and I (eye)
Nightmares/Other worlds
Food .. You are what you eat (still, after 36 years, my most
biggest art challenge was the RISD portfolio requirement - Draw your
family at breakfast. )
Lonely -- L (one) ly inspired by the e.e.cummings poem "1(a"
The seasons
The End
I get around
Home is where...
All that glitters...
Pretty -- as a picture
Layer it on
So transparent
A touch of __________?
Messing around
Over the edge (this one led to a student doing his concentration on Robert DeNiro film roles)
The senses
It's my nature
Take cover
It's not easy being green
Color outside the lines
Hot and cold
Lemon Yellow
Black and White & red all over (so glad a student made red - read)
Forest floor.

A sketchbook should be a fun place, not a chore or another "have- to." If I judge and grade the sketchbook, then where do they go to make free ideas? If we all had i-pods and camera phones, I would include those too.

Suggestions from John Steiner

Where is Waldo? Students take one sketchbook page and fill it in with miniature drawings of everything that relates them and their lives… gum, braces, football jersey, soccer and footballs… etc and endless… the page must be filled, no blank space and all items are reduced to the same or nearly same size… could a 2D as well as drawing assignment... teachers complained that my students were drawing in their class!
They were fabulous!

Draw a chess set set-up and partially played - do the same with other board games- use your favorite game from childhood.

Take a page from the notebook for another class and draw over the notes

Draw on white Mat board, cover with several layers of gloss medium, cover this with oil paint- release the drawn image, the paint and the medium.

Landscapes with and without man-made structures.

Draw buildings and man-made structures with character- bridges- the interior of old churches or old theaters.

Fill bottles with colored water and use in a still-life.

Fill plastic bags with objects and draw - draw bags of candy or marshmallows.

Play the Password Game.  Divide the class into groups of five or six. Use one painting each group comes up with five descriptive words from the same work of art. The students share their words with the class and everyone must then take all the words and write a piece of poetry. The poetry must use all the words, words that are repeated must be used as often as they are repeated. Students then illustrate their poetry.

Draw small architectural, mechanical things tiny may be very small drawings only 3 or 4 inches

Contour drawings of insects like a bug collection... (or dead flies off the window sill)

The skeleton of a small animal or bird really small or really big.

Tape a pencil or marker to a yardstick or long dowel; use this to draw on papers attached to a large wall.

Every night for I week draw the same object in a different media on neutral ground paper

Botanical drawings especially pine or spruce twigs w/pinecones.

Wash drawings from real life

Wash drawings taken from paintings, esp. of groups of people

Use a slinky or tubes to demonstrate circles and ellipses in perspective

Five views of the same object or objects.

Rather than just drawing hands, draw the same hand rotating and changing with each view...

Draw on objects or surfaces not usually used to draw on... these may be primed with tempera paint.

Stretch an old pair of jeans or flannel shirt. Prime with tempera if necessary, use this as a drawing surface for chunk charcoal or graphite sticks.

Stain plaster with tea, coffee or other natural materials... let "dirty" snow balls melt on drawing papers... draw or 2D over the dried color

Use a small picture frame, 8 x 10" (20 x 25.5 cm) or 10 x 14" (25.5 x 35.5 cm), stretch dampened paper by gluing the edges with Elmer's Glue; it will shrink and tighten when dried. Use this as a drawing or 2D design surface. The surface is "soft" and will not allow much pressure and for sure no erasing!


[ Sketchbook ideas K- 8 | Sketchbook Advocacy | Sketchbook Labels ]
Lesson Plans: Make a Sketchbook (6-12) | Sketch book Choices and Ideas | H.S. Sketchbook Ideas

It seems that every drawing class requires a whole new list of things that you should get. Do not run out and buy everything on this list. It is expensive and unnecessary. You can get by just fine with a pencil and a sketchbook. I think it is better to get more experience using the mediums you enjoy the most. Consider this list as suggestions and thoughts about different items that you can bring with you and not a required shopping list. There are three guidelines to keep in mind when selecting field equipment: simple, light, and portable. Hold all your materials to this standard. Everyone has favorite tools so customize this list to meet your needs.


Sketchbook or drawing pad: There are two good ways to go on this, either a bound hardcover sketchbook or a Komtrak Inspiral notebook with removable pages. Hardcover sketchbooks with sewn in bindings will protect your work and stands up to field conditions.  You may need to reinforce the binding with duct tape as the book gets older.  I avoid the spiral bound books because the pages are able to rub against each other and smear your pencil work.  My favorite is the Canson Basic Sketch Book 8.5″ X11″.  It is acid free with 65 lb. paper and cost around $8.00.  It has a hard black cover and sewn in pages.  The paper has decent texture for pencil work and will accept a little watercolor (although you will have to live with some buckling of the paper and will not be able to do much lifting out).  There are other brands of look-alike sketchbooks but the smoother, whiter paper will immediately absorb watercolor, making it difficult to make a decent wash and the color bleeds through to the next page. If you do more watercolor in a sketchbook, get your hands on a Fabriano Venezia Book (ether the 9″x12″ or the 6″x9″). It has wonderful 90 pound (heavy weight) paper. The Komtrak Inspiral Notebook allows you to remove clasps at either end of the binding, remove the spiral binding, and insert or remove punched pages as you wish.  You can buy pre punched pages from Komtrak.  I like the “premium artists’ sketch paper” for general sketching.  You can also cut your own paper to a size you wish and get it punched at a photocopy/binding store such as Kinko’s.  I use this notebook when I am backpacking and need to keep my sketching kit light or when I want to have a variety of paper types.If you can not find Komtrak Inspiral notebooks at your local art supply store, you can call Komtrak at (516) 293-7170.

I have sampled many types of inexpensive commercially available paper for illustration. I buy the paper in bulk pre-cut to 8.5×11. I currently use Neenah Paper’s Classic Crest, solar white 80 weight cover stock with eggshell finish (item 16218). I get this punched with a comb binding for use in my Komtrak journal for field use. Toned Paper:  You can buy a few sheets of gray or brown toned paper at an art supply store, cut them to fit your sketchbook.  I like the Canson mi-tientes paper. I use colors that are a mid tone so that I  can both push darks with my pencil and pull lights with colored pencil or gouache. Try Oyster 340 (medium brown), Moonstone 426 (warm gray), Sky Blue 354 (blue-gray), and Flannel Gray 122 (flat gray). You get interesting effects with watercolor, gouache, or colored pencils. Use wet media lightly or the paper will buckle a little.  You may keep a few sheets at the back of your sketchbook and glue them in at appropriate places or get them cut and punched and added to your Inspiral notebook. Watercolor Postcards:  This is heavier stock paper that takes watercolor better than a sketchbook.  You can glue the cards into your book or mail them to a friend.

Drawing Tools

Prismacolor Col-erase Non-photo Blue Pencil: This is the essential tool for sketching in the posture, proportions and angles before you start a detailed drawing. Use it lightly and you do not even need to erase.

Mechanical Pencils: I use a 0.5 mm pencil for fast sketching. A soft lead makes rich dark lines but is more prone to smudging. I prefer HB lead. For detail work, switch to a 0.3 mm pencil. You will need to draw more slowly and precisely but it will give you a consistent, delicate line. I like the Pentel Twist Erase pencils. Here is a detailed review of different mechanical pencils by Olivier Jennes of Wonderstreet.

A Derwent water soluble pencil can be used to sketch like a regular pencil but you can add quick shadows with a damp brush.

You can sketch or add details with a hard tipped colored pencil such as Sanford Verithin or Prismacolor Col-erase. These pencils do not smudge as much as graphite. Try sketching with a dark brown pencil.

White Pencils: These can be used over dry watercolor to add or strengthen highlights or before applying watercolor to act as a resist that prevents watercolor for adhering to the paper. Prismacolor pencils work well.


A water-soluble fiber tipped pen lays down dark lines that can be blended into shadows with a damp brush. Try a Pilot razor point II pen (creates a cool gray wash when you add water with a brush) or a fine Espresso pen (creates a warm brown wash- but be careful, the ink from this pen can bleed through some sketchbook paper).

A dark gray Tombo brush pen lays down dark tones which can be overlaid to black. Some have a small nib on the other side of the pen for detail work. These pens are water-soluble.



Use a white jell pen to add white lines on top of dry watercolor. Useful for plant veins, primary edges, or eye highlights. Once it is dry, it can be tinted with a quick watercolor wash or lifted back out with a damp brush.

You can lighten your pencil by tapping it with a soft kneaded eraser. Stretch and pull the kneaded eraser like taffy before using it to warm it up. When it is soft, press it firmly over the pencil lines and it will lift the graphite without smearing like silly putty on newsprint. Use a soft white vinyl eraser to remove mistakes. This eraser does a good job of lifting graphite without tearing up the paper. The Tombow Mono Zero rectangle eraser is a super thin, pencil style eraser that you can use to “draw” slender erased lines into a graphite drawing.


A rolled paper blending tool (tortillon or stump) will smear graphite lines and blend shadows. Once the tip has picked up graphite, you can use it like a gray paintbrush, adding tone to background space. creating subtle shadows or mid vale patterns.

If you like soft pencils try the Design “Ebony” jet black extra smooth pencil or the Berol Prismacolor Warm Gray 90% pencil pencil sharpener protective pencil case A handy portable bag or soft case to hold all your sketching supplies that fits neatly into your backpack or (ideally) over your shoulder with a strap. medium sized plastic bag (to protect sketchbook in a downpour or collect trash on the way home) large rubber bands (to hold sketchbook pages down in the wind)

Media for Color

If you like colored pencils, you do not need every color in the jumbo box, especially if you are sketching in the field. The Prismacolor Premier (softer thick lead that gives more vibrant color) and Prismacolor Verithin (stronger thin lead that stays sharp longer) 36 color sets are good starters. You can also buy colors individually so make sure that your selection includes Process Red, True Blue, and Canary Yellow, and then add a few muddy grays, greens and browns. These muted colors will probably become your favorites. I also recommend Black Grape and Greyed Lavender, two muted purple gray pencils that make effective shadows. Consider a colorless blender if you like to smoothly blend colors together (not necessary). Though a little more expensive, I love Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils. They are less prone to breaking, are oil based so have no wax bloom, have great texture, are easily blended, and can be used in combination with Prismacolor (so I can still use my Black Grape and Grayed Lavender). If you get the 24 set you will need to supplement it with the Fuchsia and Violet pencils.

You may also be interested to try watercolor pencils.  Personally I have a lot of trouble with these because the colors change when you add the water but some people like them.  If you are not already comfortable with watercolor, go for colored pencils, they are much easier to use.

Dispense with the paper or metal box that the pencils come in and bundle your pencils together with elastic bands. Make one bundle for warm yellows and reds, one for blues and purples, one for earth tones and greens. This will make it easier to grab the pencil you need in the field. Store the pencil bundles in a box or bag that will help prevent the tips from breaking off. You can put a piece of crumpled up tissue at the end of the box with all the points so that they do not bang around and chip.

If you use watercolor, find a small set of colors, portable brush (see below), and small, tightly sealed water bottle (such as Nalgine). I use a collapsible plastic palette that I can recharge with colors from paint from tubes when I need to.  I let the paint dry for a couple of days before closing the palette and heading back out into the field. I use a Holbein 24 well folding plastic palette that is 3-3/4″ wide by 10-1/4 inches long.  It is lightweight and has five separate mixing areas (and a sixth that folds out).  This is the best palette that I have found for watercolor in the field.  You can order them through Vermont Art Supply 800-790-2552.  Ask for item number 10243000, the “3-3/4″ x 10-1/4″ quality folding plastic palette”- cost is $7.17 plus shipping.  They also sell a smaller 18 well palette if you use a smaller number pf paints (item # 10242000 Folding Plastic Palette 3-3/4″ x 8-1/4″). Each artist their own favorite colors and personal preferences will change over time. Some artists carry very few colors and mix everything else. I find that it is easier in the field to have more of a selection. Maria Coryell-Martin makes a great little pocket palette that you can fill with your favorite 14 tube colors. If you are just starting, try the Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box (12 color set). See my blog, Pimp my Palette for ideas about customizing this palette. See my blog, Watercolor Choices for a full list and description of the colors on the palette I use in the field and in my studio.

Waterbrush If you are using watercolor or watercolor pencils, consider this terrific sketching tool.   It is a brush that holds water in the handle so you do not need to dip it into water to paint.  It takes some getting used to but it is very handy for quick sketching especially under difficult conditions.  Brushes come in several sizes.  I recommend the broad tip (18mm).  These brushes are made by several companies. The Pentel Aquash waterbrush with a fatter handle and slightly longer, stiffer bristles is by far my favorite. They are sold at University Art in San Francisco. They can also be ordered from Art Essentials 1-800-736-7772, ask for the pointed Aquash Waterbursh from Pentel with the broad tip. If you use a waterbrush, carry a rag to wipe the brush clean to change colors.  If you use this brush, you can also dispense with bringing the tightly sealed water bottle for painting. I know this sounds like a gimmick but once you try it, you may never go back to traditional (and more expensive) brushes for your field work.  I now use a pentel brush almost exclusively even for my studio work.


Binoculars: I use and recommend the Pentax Papilio 8.5×21 Binoculars. They can focus on a bug on a flower a foot and a half in front of your face and are great for things that are far away as well.  The close focus feature will open up whole new worlds for you. They are inexpensive too! (I do not receive a commission for this plug).

Spotting scope: These can be expensive but allow hands free sketching. For about $200, the Konus Konuspot-80 20-60x80mm is a real bargain. There are better scopes out there but they cost orders of magnitude more. The scope comes with a little tripod that is not very useful so you will need to get a better one with the money you save.

Naturalist Tools

Optional Equipment

  • lightweight stool or sitting pad
  • sunscreen
  • lunch
  • drinking water
  • day pack
  • seasonaly appropriate clothing. Dress in layers. Avoid bright colors as these may alert birds to your presence. In deer hunting season, a blaze orange hat or jacket is a great idea.
  • rain gear
  • sun hat (with a big brim in the back so that it shades the back of your neck when you look down to draw)
  • comfortable walking shoes
  • hand lens or small magnifying glass
  • bug box with a magnifying glass in the lid
  • field guides
  • 2 or 3 ziplock bags
  • pocket knife
  • small ruler (should include metric measurements)
  • portable measuring tape (good lightweight tapes are sold for sewing kits)
  • baseline goniometer (prefered) or protractor to measure angles
  • watch with stopwatch or second hand
  • small compass

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