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Art Toolkit


Sketching with Barbara Luel

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Barbara Luel (@barbaraluel) is an architect and artist committed to sharing her love of making art with as many people as possible. After setting aside her art practice to focus on her career, she returned to it, rediscovering her passion for seeing the world through art. Barbara’s lively watercolors have a fresh spaciousness that speaks to her joyful love of architecture and urban sketching.⁠

Barbara and I played with color and form and talked about how freeing it can be to create. In her own words, “Everybody is creative, is an artist and can draw and paint! And the more you do it, the better it feels, and the better your art will look.”

The ballpoint pen Barbara uses is a Mark’s Tokyo Edge.

Learn more about Barbara on her website.

Max Romey

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I never tire of learning about inspiring artists using Art Toolkit supplies! Max Romey is an artist, videographer, and trail runner now sketching his way through Alaska. Read on about Max in his own words below.

Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

Max Romey:

Growing up dyslexic, I always questioned why I continuously fell further and further behind my classmates and why reading and spelling seemed to take me so long. Watercolors and sketching became my refuge and a way to share an idea without someone telling me I misspelled it. I had always dreamed of creating and sharing stories, and my sketchbook and camera became a way I could do that.

I have always looked up to my Grandmother, a painter who traveled worldwide with a little pallet and sketchbook. She would sketch everywhere she went, Norway, France, Indiana, Cape Cod, Antarctica, the Galapagos. As a little kid, I remember flipping through these sketchbooks for hours and soaking up these unforgettable watercolor impressions that brought these places to life. Not just the big scenes, but the little things only an artist would notice and add, like the spiral of a hermit crab or pages and pages of seal studies with the occasional mermaid. I liked the masters like Leonardo Davinci well enough, but I knew my Grandmother's sketches were my favorite paintings in the world from a really young age.

Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

My Grandmother had pretty severe dementia toward the end of her life, and I have been taking a ton of solace in her sketchbooks. Now that I know how lines and washes go down, I feel like we share this whole language. I wish I could go back and sketch and ask her a million questions, but flipping through her sketchbooks is the next best thing. The lines and crosshatches don't make words, but they speak volumes.

Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

For the most part, my process is simple. Make an outline with a pen and fill it in with watercolor. It gets more complicated, depending on where you are and how hard the weather wants to make it. Painting in rain, dust, mosquitoes, winter, boats, and occasionally helicopters provide their own challenges and make each painting unique. I am slowly learning little tricks like adding vodka in the water to keep it from freezing in Alaska’s nine-month winter.

Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

My favorite tools

  • A small sketchbook. If I were a dragon, I would not hoard gold; I would hoard paper. I am mostly looking for something little enough to take anywhere and durable enough to survive the trip when it comes to sketchbooks. I have been really impressed with my kit; it has survived to freeze at -40f, being bounced down mountains, being plunged (with me) into rivers, getting lost in the snow, buried by scree avalanches, being carried in my mouth, and lightly being burnt.
  • My Pocket Palette. I used to think pallets had to be colossal teardrop wooden shields you carried, but modern pallets are portable enough that I rarely go out without one. It is something so simple, but having color at your fingertips is pure magic.
  • A waterbrush. When combined with one of the pans as rinse water, a single aqua brush fill can make a shocking amount of paintings.
  • A simple pen. A fine point Sharpie or something waterproof works fine. I am not too picky.
  • Music. It might seem like a strange tool, but I often get petrified when trying to make the first stroke on a bright white piece of paper. Some pump up music in my ears is usually all I need to work up the bravery to start.
Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

Learn more about Max Romey on: his website and on Instagram at @trailboundsketches.

Ultimate Sketching Palette with Jane Blundell

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In this recording of an Instagram Live from August 28th, 2020, Jane Blundell and share the Ultimate Sketching Palette, our latest collaboration. This compact, travel-ready palette includes two useful triads (each with a red, yellow, and blue).

The primary triad of Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, and Ultramarine Blue provides bold, bright colors, while the earth triad of Goethite, Indian Red, and Cerulean Blue Chromium mixes a range of subtle textured hues.

Rounding out the palette is a set of colors perfect for sketching on the go. Quinacridone Gold is a warm yellow, Burnt Sienna is a ready-to-go brown, and Perylene and Sap Greens are excellent for foliage. Finally, Jane's Grey is useful for dark shadows, and Buff Titanium brings subtle color to sand, marble, and stones.

Learn more about Jane on her website.

Sketching Architecture with Liz Steel

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Liz has developed a fast and spontaneous approach to watercolor sketching that feels personal and immediate. She brings passion and dedication to her sketch practice that she generously documents and shares via her inspiring blog, books, and workshops.⁠

We talked about her book, 5 Minute Architecture, and used some of the techniques she's developed to sketch the Villa di Maser Palladio building in Italy.

Learn more about Liz Steel:

Mixing Palette

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Sometimes you need just a little extra space to make precisely the shade you need. I carry a Mixing Palette to take my colors a little further, keeping the pans free from paint with the exception of adding a fun color or two in the smaller standard pans, like white gouache, and a black or neutral tint.

My palettes usually look this messy! Mixing colors is just so fun, putting together a little of this and a little of that. When it's time to go, I usually just close the lid and move on.

Coming back, the colors on my palette can be a starting point, often "palette grey." If I need some fresh space, I'll wipe them with a wet brush and towel.

Studio Tour

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See my workspace, favorite tools, and sketches from various expeditions. I also answer questions about the Art Toolkit supplies and reflect on developing a creative practice.

White Gouache

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White gouache can be a fantastic tool for adding final highlights to sketches. It can make cat whiskers, snow, or sailboats pop right off the page, and I especially love working with it on toned paper.

Since watercolor and gouache are both water-based paints, you can mix them to create more opaque pastels. I like to add them to earth-tones for a range of sandstone and beach hues.

I've recently started experimenting with a white gel pen, too. It's perfect for creating really fine details, like the ribs on a very small feather. Drawing in those final brights feels a bit magical!

Sketching Birds with John Muir Laws

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This is a recording of a live Instagram demo with nature journaling aficionado John (Jack) Muir Laws.

Jack is a naturalist, educator, and author, who helps people forge a deeper and more personal connection with nature through keeping illustrated journals and understanding science. His work intersects science, art, and mindfulness. In addition to Jack's artistic rigor and discipline, he also has a great sense of play and humor!

We sketched explored the structure and details of hummingbirds using this image as inspiration.

Learn more about Jack's work and his weekly events:

Brush Pen Sketching with Che Lopez

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My friend Che Lopez and I explore the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen! This pen has a flexible bristle tip that comes to a beautiful fine point. It creates elegant calligraphic and dry-brush marks with rich black waterproof ink. The pen is refillable and includes two ink cartridges and is available now in our shop.

Che first introduced me to this pen years ago (I had to run out to get my own as soon I saw it 😆). In this demo, we tour some of our sketchbooks and explore the range of marks possible with this versatile tool.⁠⠀

I especially love Che's tips for sketching faces, describing shadows "falling down faces like water down a waterfall." His enthusiasm and bold approach to art are inspiring: "Just make your mark!"⁠⠀

Learn more about Che Lopez at: www.artofche.com and @artofche.

Summer Reading List: <i>Local Color</i>

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We have summer reading on our minds! We'll be sharing inspiration from our bookshelf over the next few months and would love your recommendations.

Local Color by Mimi Robinson is a beautiful book that focuses on developing a sensitivity to the color of different environments. Her palettes explore the subtle variations in hue and temperature around the world and through the seasons. ⁠

Her book resonates with my experiences of traveling and painting as an expeditionary artist. Everywhere I paint, I strive to discover my “palette of place,” a unique vocabulary of color, climate, and experiences.

⁠There's something meditative, too, about focusing on mixing color without concern of composition. ⁠

This practice of attention is what Lorene Edwards Forkner embraces with her captivating color explorations of her garden, and is the inspiration for our latest palette of place: the Garden in Bloom Palette.⁠

Botanical Illustrator Lara Gastinger

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Lara Call Gastinger is the chief illustrator for the published Flora of Virginia, a botanical reference manual containing 1300 of her original illustrations. I love how she manages to create paintings expressing her love for these plants with a high level of detail.⁠

She shared her favorite tools and techniques with us while we explored painting the textures and colors of salad greens.

Learn more about Lara on her website and on Instagram.

Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled

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This live demo from Friday, June 12th is with Russ Roca from @pathlesspedaled! Russ creates vibrant, loose watercolors that capture a sense of the freedom felt riding a bike. We explored how our adventures (big and small) informed our studio art and painted a watercolor postcard together.⁠

Russ Roca is a bicycling YouTuber who focuses on the non-competitive side of cycling and combines his many interests from watercolors to fly-fishing with riding a bike. What began as a way to have a digital break from the monotony of editing videos all day, watercolor has become a passion that he now incorporates into his bike tours.⁠⠀

Learn more about Russ and his work: https://pathlesspedaled.bigcartel.com/.

A few links:

Live Demo with Chelsea Ward

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Chelsea is an artist and plant-lover who creates colorful and whimsical sketches and stationery. In our live demo, Chelsea shared ideas and techniques for painting sunflowers, as well as her approach to lettering.

A few links:

Live Demo with Che Lopez

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This is a recording of an Instagram Live Demo with artist Che Lopez from May 22nd. Learn more about Che's work art: https://www.artofche.com/ and @artofche.

Che's specialties are watercolor and acrylics, where he often draws inspiration from his Chicano heritage to create bold, colorful work. His humor and discipline as an artist (and talent as a teacher!) also reflect his experience as a USA boxing coach—he owned a gym for ten years before closing to focus on painting and teaching!

In our demo, Che walks through his process as well as shares his favorite sketching tools.

Live Demo with Suhita Shirodkar

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This is a recording of our @ArtToolkit Live Demo with Suhita Shirodkar from May 15th, 2020. Learn more about Suhita's work at: suhitasketch.com and on Instagram @suhitasketch.

Live Demo with Symi Jackson

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Recording of a Live Instagram Demo with Symi Jackson of Rosemary & Co Brushes.

Live Demo with Paul Wang

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This is a recording of a live Instagram demo with artist Paul Wang. Learn more about Paul on his website.

Nature Pigments with Jess Greenleaf

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Recording of a Live Instagram Demo with Jess Greenleaf, founder of Greenleaf & Blueberry.

Exploring Triads with Jane Blundell

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This is a recording of a live Instagram demo exploring watercolor triads with Jane Blundell.

Tiny Paintings with Katharina Stoll

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Explore creating tiny paintings with Seattle-based artist Katharina Stoll.

Atmospheric Landscapes Online Class

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Join me Saturday, April 18, from 10am-Noon PST to explore creating atmospheric paintings with a limited palette in my first-ever live online class! I'll be sharing techniques for painting minimal landscapes with dramatic skies, mist, and layered color. All levels are welcome! Space is limited.

As a preview, check out this demo I did last October:

Live Demo with Samantha Dion Baker

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This is a recording of a live Instagram demo with Samantha Dion Baker from April 3, 2020. Learn more about Samantha's work at sdionbaker.com and on Instagram at @sdionbakerdesign.

Live Demo Series

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One unexpected benefit of our current stay-at-home lifestyle is the number of artists who have started sharing their work online in real-time. The idea of painting live on video has been intimidating to me–I like to plan ahead! However, last week, I painted live on Instagram with both Nikki Frumkin (@drawntohighplaces), and Claire Giordano (@claireswanderings), two artists who I share a kinship in painting in the wild. It was so much fun painting together in real-time, and answering questions from everyone who was watching.

I’ve been inspired to start a series of live demos, and I hope you can join in! The Art Toolkit Live Demo Series will be on Instagram Live (for now at least), and I’ll be hosting artists who will share their favorite tools and techniques. Today, Friday, at 11am Pacific, 2pm Eastern, we’ll be joined by New York illustrator Samantha Dion Baker (@sdionbakerdesign). Samantha creates illustrated journals filled with vibrant sketches and paintings of her everyday life. She’s also the author of the beautiful book, Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal.

We’ll be aiming to do a live video every Friday, but keep an eye on the Art Toolkit Instagram (@arttoolkit) for details on upcoming events. Paint along with us!

Maria Coryell-Martin sketching on the sea ice in Greenland.

Sustainable Packaging

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“There is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere.”

– Annie Leonard, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA

It’s been nearly a year since we ditched plastic in our packaging to move to more eco-conscious materials, and we haven’t looked back. We’re proud to say we are now using 100% recyclable shipping materials, including GreenWrap, a fantastic combination of specialty cut kraft paper and tissue that is Sustainable Forestry Initiative-certified, recyclable, and biodegradable.

We are working with our suppliers to ensure that the materials we use to build our products are packaged in sustainable materials wherever possible. When plastic shows up at the shop, we do our best to reuse it. Many shipping centers accept donations of packing materials as well, including the ubiquitous bubble-wrap and air pillows.

Moving toward a sustainable future is a process, and we would love to have you join us on the journey!


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Adventures to the far corners of the earth can be exciting and romantic, but aren’t necessarily something you can fit into a typical weekend, much less an afternoon! There are lots of ways to find smaller adventures if you’re willing to look for them. Lately I’ve been inspired by the concept of microadventures.

A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing, and rewarding.

Alastair Humphreys

I plan to start sharing prompts to inspire you to explore your corner of the world, wherever you are, whenever you have the time. We’ll begin with some inspiration from a recent outing to Fort Worden with my daughter on a sunny winter afternoon. We built a driftwood fort and played with our paints.

What can you build and sketch this weekend?