Disasters involving art materials are nothing new to me after years of travelling and sketching in southern Africa.
My pretty collection of pastel sticks were pummeled into tiny pieces by drives through the thick sand of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Ambitious plans to paint large watercolours were scuppered by the dry heat and hot winds of Namibia, so tubes of paint and heavy pads of unused watercolour paper made the trek from one end of the country to the other without leaving my bag. Simple line drawings in charcoal returned home smudged to the point where they look like they may have actually been drawn by the giraffe I was sketching.
So, having learned some harsh, sandy, dusty lessons about field sketching materials, I recommend pens or pencils for sketching on Art Safaris, with some watercolor for use at camp. Sounds simple, right?
Not exactly, because the wide variety of pens and pencils available – greyscale; coloured; pastel; watercolor; biros; markers; water-soluble or permanent; brush-style or regular nib – can fill an entire suitcase. Even worse, and much heavier, is the astonishing array of papers available. Then there are watercolors and brushes.
So, although you might spend many happy hours in your local art supply store choosing materials, bringing too much with you on the Art Safari will mean you spend more time finding the right pencil than doing any sketching.
So here is my absolute essentials list:
♦ Pencils: 2H, HB, 2B – plus sharpener and pencil case.
♦ Pads of paper with hard covers (ring-bound), and at least 50 sheets in each, 11 x 14″ or 35 x 28cms.
Even if you leave everything else behind, you’ll be fine if you have these. Having enough sketching paper is especially important, as you will use a lot of it, and you only ever want to draw on one side of the paper – unless you want to create a masterpiece on both sides!
♦ Watercolour field box set containing a dozen solid half-pan colours.
♦ Small water container with screw-top lid.
♦ Three type of brushes: 3 round, 7 round, 14 round.
I have high praise for my Windsor & Newton field box set, which is so tiny and yet so easy to use and transport. The only thing I discard is the brush that comes with it – cute though it is. The box set could go in the essential materials list, but watercolour is not for everyone, so it remains in the optional list.
Incidentally, my first Windsor & Newton field box set was accidentally driven over and crushed in Botswana. But I think it would be a little unfair to blame this on the construction of the field box set, especially as my second box set has been faithfully recording scenes from around Africa with me for the last 18 years!
Now you have the essentials (and maybe some optional extras) you can think about any new materials you might want to experiment with on your Art Safari. Once again, less is more. If trying coloured pencils is your aim, don’t bring a lovely metal box with 200 colours laid out in meticulous order in two trays.
Instead bring 20-25 pencils in a range of colours and keep them in your pencil case. Believe me – you won’t have time to miss the things you didn’t bring, but you may regret carrying something you didn’t use.
Now you’ve done the hard work and finished reading, reward yourself by joining me and fellow artists on a 2018 Africa Geographic Art Safari in South Africa!