Ultimate Gift Guide for Urban Sketchers 2020


Well, its that time of year again. 2020 has gone by in a whirlwind of insanity. To bring a little order to the back end of the year, today I am providing you with the ultimate guide to gifts for the artist in your life, that includes you too!

This gift guide is aimed specifically at urban sketchers, travel sketchers, sketching on location and those who enjoy sketching with watercolour and ink predominantly. I shall split the guide into handy sections so you skip to whichever part seems most applicable.

These gifts are handpicked by myself as I either own them and think they are fantastic or because they are fantastic and I want to own them.

Pay close attention to final section where I share some of the most interesting products I have discovered from independent makers across the world.

For ease of navigation around this gift guide, I have provided some handy jump links:

  1. Pen & Ink
  2. Watercolour Sets
  3. Sketchbooks
  4. Brushes
  5. Alternative Mediums: Gouache, Markers, Watercolour Pencils
  6. Independent Makers
  7. Books

Pen & Ink

Fountain Pens

I’m fairly certain any urban sketcher you know, or any artist you know that enjoys sketching with ink, would love a fountain pen. Even if they already have a fountain pen, I’m certain another fountain pen would be exceptionally well received. Especially if it’s a fountain pen with a little twist, like a ‘fude nib’. That’s a nib that is bent and you can achieve varying line weights with depending which angle you use it. 

If you’d like to read more in-depth about sketching with a fountain pen, check out this post.

Duke 551 Confucius Fude Nib Fountain Pen

This is a gorgeous pen made with bamboo and metal the overall design commemorates the legendary philosopher, Confucius. This pen is capable of very broad strokes down to a medium depending ont he angle you use it. You can even flip it over and use it with the nib backwards to get a finer line.

The pen comes with a converter so you can refill it from bottled ink (see below for recommendations on ink) but it accepts standard cartridges too.

This is a very hefty pen so if the person you are buying for has dainty hands then this may not be the pen to purchase.

Sailor Fude De Mannen

If you want something a bit more low key and a little cheaper, but still want to give the gift of a fountain pen with a fude nub then this is the pen to get. I have this pen and I know many other urban sketchers do too. It’s a fantastic entry-level pen so you can experiment with a fude nib without breaking the bank.

The green pen with the 55 degree angle nib seems to be the most popular choice (rather than then black version with 40 degree nib) but I think its down to personal preference. If you’re feeling particularly generous, get both!

You will need to purchase the converter separately which will allow you to fill this pen from a bottle of ink. You can get the converter from Amazon here.

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

If your sketchy loved one doesn’t own a fountain pen at all then you absolutely cannot go wrong with giving them a Lamy Safari. Nearly every urban sketcher or illustrator that uses a fountain pen will own one of these, I guarantee it.

They come with varying nib sizes. You could play it safe and opt for a pen with a medium nib but I think choosing a fine nib is a good option too. The pens come in a really cool selection of colours to choose from and are available at a great price.

Don’t foget to buy the converter (which is sold separately) if you wish to fill it from an ink bottle.

North American folks – check out Dick Blick’s range of Lamy Safari fountain pens here

UK/European folks – you can check out the range here 

Ink

For those drawing in ink and adding a wet media on top, such as watercolour, permanent waterproof ink needs to be used. The ink provided in cartridges with fountain pens are not waterproof and will smear as soon as water is used on top.

Some people will tell you that you can’t use permanent waterproof ink in fountain pens as it will block up the pen and make it unusable. However, if you use the correct ink, this will not happen.

Here are my recommendations:

Platinum Carbon Ink

This is the only ink I use. Mainly because its the one I seem to be able to get hold of but also because it works perfectly. It is waterproof and very black, flows through the pen nicely without clogging and is a great price for a bottle which will last for absolutely ages (depending on how much you use your pen of course). I would say it will last for a year and much longer if you’re only using your pen once or twice a week.

Available to purchase on Amazon here

Pelikan Fount India Fountain Pen Drawing Ink

I have not tried this ink personally but Pelikan is a highly regarded fountain pen brand, the ink is described as an India ink that you can use in a fountain pen (you cannot use normal India ink in a fountain pen – please do not try this!) as well as being water-resistant and a deep black colour. Best of all, it is super affordable to try out.

For North American folks you can get a bottle here at Dick Blick.

Watercolour Sets

If you would like to get your loved one a travel set of watercolours then these are the sets I would recommend.

Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolor Field Box Set – Set of 12 Assorted Colors, Half Pans

This set is just so cool! It comes with everything you need in this impossibly compact little set. It contains two spaces to mix colours, a water container, a water bottle, sponge, travel brush and 12 half pan colours. Its the perfect size and functionality for a watercolour sketcher on the go. The only thing I would say is that the travel brush isn’t really that great and the kit is a bit pricey.

North American customers check out the set here.

UK & European customers can check it out here.

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolor Travel Set – Assorted Colors, Set of 8, Half Pans

This is a similar style set to the Winsor & Newton box above where the tin has a water container attached and the body of the set is actually a water bottle. Such a beautifully compact design. The set comes with 8 half pans but there is space to add 4 extra half pans in the middle or, if your prefer, a travel brush. The set does not come with one though. See below for my recommendations on travel brushes.

North American folks can check out the set here.

UK & European folks can check it out here.

Jacksons Art has some excellent deals on Schmincke watercolour sets (at the time of writing) which you can check out here.

Watercolor Palette by Portable Painter

This is such a cool design you can teel was created by a fellow travel watercolour sketcher. The palette folds out from a case the same size as a smartphone. The case becommes detachable water containers that are connected either end of the palette to create a sturdy painting station. 

The palette comes with 12 empty half pans so you can fill them with the watercolour paint of your choice as well as a double ended travel brush. This is such a cool gadget and the perfect solution for watercolour painters on the move.

North American folks, check out the Portable Painter here

UK & European folks, check out the Portable Painter here

St Petersburg White Nights Watercolour Sets

If any of you have been around Urban Sketching World for long you’ll know that I’m a pretty big fan of White Nights watercolours. The quality of these paints for the price you can buy them is just insane. They’re so vibrant too, so if you prefer you watercolours bright and bold rather than delicate and quiet, these are the paints for you.

They come in a range of different sizes and amounts, as well as pans and tubes. To keep things nice and portable I would recommend the 12 pan set. I just don’t think you can get better paints than these for the price.

North American folks, check out the 12 pan set here on Amazon

UK & European folks, check out the 12 pan set here on Amazon or here on Jacksons Art

If you want some more in-depth information about the best watercolour sets for urban sketching, check out my whole post on the subject.

Sketchbooks

The Pink Pig

If you are in the UK and you want a handmade yet affordable sketchbook available in a range of colours and sizes please check out The Pink Pig.

These sketchbooks are available in a lot of art stores around the UK but to get the exact book you want, i.e. size, colour and even paper, visit their website. You won’t believe the price and again, they are handmade! Support an independent company.

I have an A4 wire-bound sketchbook and I love it. The paper is Bockingford and is fantastic but I’m not so precious about it that I don’t use it. The hardback cover makes it perfect to use on the move as there’s always something to lean on.


The company ships globally to 45+ countries so check out their website here to see if they are available where you live.

Pink Pig Web Banner

Stillman & Birn 

Stillman & Birn is my absolute favourite brand of sketchbook. They have various ranges depending on your requirements. For full information about the different series of sketchbooks they offer, check out my post here. You can choose your paper, size and whether you want softcover, hardcover or ring bound.

I am currently loving the Beta series, however, I am keen to ket my hands on the toned paper of the Nova series.

North American folks can shop the range here.

UK & European folks can find them on Amazon here or Jacksons Art here.

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolour Art Journals

I have not tried thes sketchbooks out but I know they are a very popular choice among urban sketchers and ink & watercolour artists.

They are beautifully made and come in a range of sizes as well as toned paper (tan or grey) which handles watercolour too. 

North American folks can find them here.

UK & European folks can find them on either Amazon here or Jacksons Art here

If you would like to read more on my thoughts about the best sketchbooks for urban sketching, you can check out my post here.

Watercolour Brushes

Pentel Aquash Water Brush

Water brushes are a fantastic invention that are perfect fo rurban sketchers who want to capture something quickly on the move without the hassle of carrying a water container, getting out and balancing it precariously before even attempting to get some paint on the page.

The brush has a hollow handle where the water is stored and supplied to the nylon brush tip with a bit of a squeeze. While this brush may not entirely replace standard watercolour brushes, its a fantastic alternative when need to travel with a super minimal set up.

North American folks can buy them here

UK & European folks can get them here

Travel Brushes

Raphaël Le Voyageur Travel Brush Wallet Set – this looks like a great set of travel brushes

Escoda Watercolour Travel Brushes – I have a set of 3 from the Reserva range which I absolutely love. I have not tried any from the other ranges but I don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with Escoda brushes

Da Vinci Watercolour Travel Brushes – these are also extremely highly regarded brushes

Rosemary & Co – one of my favourite brushes is the small dagger travel brush, it’s so versatile, I love it.

For more detailed information about watercolour brushes for urban sketchers, check out my post here.

Alternative Mediums

Gouache

I’m really enjoying using gouache at the moment. It bridges the gap between watercolour and acrylic paint. It can be translucent like watercolour but also opaque like acrylic and therefore you can add lighter colours over the top of darker ones. They’re a perfect accompaniment to watercolour paint as you can use them side by side.

North America folks:

UK/European folks:

For more information on urban sketching with gouache, check out my post here.

Markers

Markers are super fun to use, I have tried both alcohol markers and watercolour markers but I think my favourite pens at the moment are the Faber Castell Pitt Artist pens. They are filled with India ink so they are waterproof but they do not smell or bleed through the page as alcohol markers do.

However, alcohol markers are also super fun (make sure you have thick paper) and so are watercolour markers, so below are a range of options to investigate:

Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens: North America | UK/Europe

Winsor & Newton Watercolour Markers: North America | UK/Europe

Winsor & Newton ProMarkers: North America | UK/Europe

Copic Ciao Markers: North America | UK/Europe

For more information on using markers, check out this post.

Watercolour Pencils

I never much liked watercolour pencils but since buying some Derwent Inktense pencils and doing some experimentation, I’m a convert!

If you want some guidance on using watercolour pencils, check out my post here.

If you want super bold vibrant watercolour pencils then definitely check out the Derwent Inktense pencils. They’re not traditional watercolour pencils and they’re not for the faint-hearted.

North America | UK/Europe

If you’d prefer something a little more traditional then you cannot go far wrong with Lyra Rembrandt watercolour pencils. They are artist grade pencils at reasonable price point.

North America | UK/Europe

Awesome Gift Ideas from Independent Makers

I think one of the best moves you can make this year is support small independent businesses. It’s been a very tough year for all of us in multiple ways. Many people have lost their source of income, either temporarily during lockdown or permanently as their job or even company no longer exists.

As a result though, I think I have seen more and more people step back and think about what they can create and put out into the world to create their own livelihood, which is fantastic. This is exactly why we should support people now more than ever. Amazon does not need anymore of our hard earned pennies (or cents).

Art Life Hack

I recently came across this company on Instagram and the uniqueness of their designs blew me away. Wife and husband team from Russia, Art Life Hack make astoundingly beautiful products that have been designed for and by artists on the move.

Check out the palette that attaches to your arm with a gorgeous scarf or the beautiful organisers and carry pouches.

Urban Sketchers Gift Guide

Ordering from these guys will take a little more time and patience than hitting the buy button on Amazon but it is so much more worthwhile. You are ordering highly designed, extremely well made products from an independent company who pour their heart and soul into every item. 

These are high-quality art tools and supplies that will last a lifetime. And the good news is they ship worldwide!

Check out the website here to order. It’s in Russian but you can use the translate function if you are using Google Chrome browser. Maria told me an English language site is coming soon. You can also direct message the company on Instagram if you are having difficulties with ordering, they are very responsive. 

Etchr

I’m sure you’ve probably already heard of Etchr. They are doing fantastic things and seem to have expanded rapidly in 2020 in terms of the products they offer and the content they are putting out, both free (on youtube and their podcast) as well as paid (short courses with awesome teachers).

Etchr’s main claim to fame is the range of sketchbooks they create. The sketchbooks feature 100% cotton paper (which can be pretty tricky to find from other brands) and come in a range of sizes. Each year they bring out a limited run of special edition sketchbooks called the Signature Series which tend to sell out fast.

Their range now includes brush sets, palettes, field easels and bags as well watercolour sets. They offer worldwide shipping as well. I very much encourage you to go and check out their wonderful range of products. They also offer FREE international shipping…so what’s stopping you?!

Art Toolkit

Art Toolkit not only provide products for sketchers on the go but sketchers on expeditions! Maria Coryell-Martin has developed her products through years of experience of sketching during wilderness adventures, such as scrambling through the sand to sketch walruses in Greenland!

As such her field kits and magnetic palettes have evolved to become sturdy practical tools capable of weathering any kind of adventure – from the urban environment to the wilderness.

As well as Maria’s own inventions, Art Toolkit stock Rosemary & Co brushes too, which is great news for US customers who want to purchase these brushes that are handmade in the UK.

Books

I have kept this section deliberately concise with presenting two books, both of which were released this year (2020). I have highly anticipated getting my hands on each of them.

Urban Drawing – Phil Dean

I have met Phil (a.k.a Shoreditch Sketcher) personally and he is a wonderful dude and I love his artwork, so to have an entire book of his instruction his certainly a fantastic gift. If you have not done so already check Phil’s work out on Instagram.

The Addictive Sketcher – Adebanji Alade

This book is by Adebanji Alade who is an incredibly talented oil painter but more relevant to me (and, I would guess, you too) is his insatiable enthusiasm for sketching on the move. I have followed Adebanji’s work for years and I particularly love his sketchbooks chronicling those that dwell on London’s public transport system.

For more of my favourite books about urban sketching, check out the full post here.

Did you know I just released a book?

The 60 page PDF ebook contains over 130 of my ink and watercolour illustrations from the last 3 years of my travels through 15 countries across 4 continents!

Sketch Adventures Around The World ebook

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Those would be my favourite gifts this season.

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