Art Toolkit Unboxing and Review on The Nature Journal Show

In this week’s video, Marley tests out a new field kit from Art Toolkit, a supplies company created by Maria Coryell-Martin.  Marley previously interviewed Maria on the Nature Journal Show about her expeditionary art.

Checking Out the New Tools

After looking through his knife collection and selecting a huge cleaver, Marley opens the package.  Inside is the art toolkit containing: a sturdy zippable nylon kit pouch, pocket mister, Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, fine-tip Sharpie marker, medium waterbrush, binder clips, ruler, and waterbrush refill syringe.  Some of the tools are a bit different from what Marley normally uses, but he is open to experimentation.  Being flexible that way is a great practice for any nature journaler to have.

Marley examines the Art Toolkit he received in the mail.

Testing a New Palette

Next, Marley decides to test out a free palette Art Toolkit sent him.  The palette contains some watercolors Marley has not used before, as well as some old standbys.  Maria uses a revolutionary system of magnetic pans, meaning you can easily switch out one paint pan with another, whether for custom field trips or different pan sizes, and ultimately control the layout of your palette. When you are testing out a new palette, remember the following tips:

  • Always start a new palette by making a full color chart.  By doing this, you will know your supplies and be more comfortable with what they can do – before you go into the field.
  • Be honest about the colors you don’t love.  They are taking up valuable palette space and can be vacated for other preferred colors.
  • Test the full range of each color.  When you are painting a swatch, start on one end with the color at full strength.  Then, clean off your brush a bit and continue painting the same swatch, so you can see what the color looks like when it is diluted.
  • List or label your colors.  Better yet: keep them on the same page as your chart.  Know what you have!
  • Keep notes on what you observe.  Does this paint lift out?  Does it granulate? How does it compare to other paints in your palette, in hue, constitution etc.?
  • Experiment!!
Marley does a color chart of his palette; it is important for nature journalers to know their palettes before they go in the field.

Color chart done, Marley heads to dinner.  When he comes back, he might be able to see other changes in his swatches that will give him even more information.  As naturalists, it’s important to continually evaluate our field kits.

Want to try this kit out yourself?

You can try this art toolkit without even buying one for yourself. (Which is good because sometimes we buy something to test it out and then realize it is not the best for us anyways.) Guess what? Members of the Nature Journal Show Patreon get access to this community kit as it gets mailed from one member to the next! You can find out more about the other benefits of supporting Marley’s work on the Nature Journal Show Patreon page.

Are you completely new to nature journaling?

If so, then this post has the basics : How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you need help choosing nature journaling supplies? In that case check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

Best Watercolor Palette

A good watercolor palette is one of the best art investments you can make so I am going to show you my favorite palette and four reasons why it is the best!

When you are nature journaling or even urban sketching you can produce more compelling sketches faster if you have watercolor. As it turns out there are tons of watercolor and palette options out there. However, finding a good portable palette and choosing watercolors that work well is a daunting task. You could spend all your time looking for the right supplies and not have any time left over for making art! Therefore, I’m gonna help you avoid that problem by showing you the best watercolor palette I have found. Let’s get into it. Cue the drum roll!

The best watercolor palette for nature sketching and journaling is the customized palette by John Muir Laws!

You can buy one of these palettes on his website here. But be warned, these palettes are hand made and often run out of stuck so be sure to get yours first. Or you can even make your own from John Muir Laws’ instructions because he is such an amazing and generous guys (more details on how to make your own palette below).

Using the JML watercolor palette in the field
Me using the John Muir Laws watercolor palette for nature journaling.

4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette

  1. You are going to save so much money! Because this one art tool can eliminate the need for hundreds and hundreds of dollars of other art supplies. You can make so many combinations with the 32 watercolors included in this palette. Also, watercolors are so concentrated they will last a long time.
  2. Excellent Color Choices! Because a professional illustrator and naturalist has carefully chosen all 32 colors you can avoid the guesswork. Therefore you can focus on making the art and learning how to use the colors in your paintings. Most of the colors come from Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors, a small company based in the US that still cares about quality art supplies.
  3. So Organized and Compact! From the arrangement of the colors to the clear labeling on the outside this watercolor kit is dialed in! There are also mixing areas in all the right places. You don’t have to experiment over and over again to find a system because John Muir Laws has done it for you. The kit is also compact enough to fit in your purse or back pocket. That’s a lot of art power in your pocket!
  4.  Field-Tested and Child Approved! Finally, this watercolor palette has been tested by many artists in some of the most challenging field painting conditions! John Muir Laws and myself have both used this palette in places such as British Columbia, the Amazon Jungle, the Serengeti, Rwanda, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Ecuadorean Cloud Forest. This palette is tough and has stood the test of time.

Ok, One More Reason To get this Watercolor Kit

Last but certainly not least. This watercolor palette is the best because John Muir Laws shares the entire process of how to make it for FREE on his website! Just follow this link. That proves that he believes in this palette so much he would rather share how to make it than just try to make money. What a great guy!

Look at all the colors you can make with this kit! Here is a chart that I made showing all the combinations.

What about a watercolor palette for the studio?

If you want to get some more ideas about what would work good for the studio check out this video

But what paper should I use?

Now that you know the best palette for nature journaling you might want help choosing the best sketchbook. Check out this post where I share all the criteria you need to know to choose the best sketchbook for you!

Best Brush Pens: Follow Up Review

Have you experimented with brush pens? Do you have time to sort through all the different types as well as their confusing names? In this video I review several types of brush pen that I have been using for nature sketches and nature journaling.

When I first started nature journaling I had a limited number of drawing tools that I used. However, I went through a stage where I experimented with a lot of different art supplies. Have you ever gone through stages like that? It can be fun to experiment with different media and it can help us grow as artists. Experimenting with different art materials can also be an excuse to buy a lot of stuff and get the pleasure release from shopping instead of the pleasure of actually making art.

After several years of experimentation I have narrowed down my “quiver” of brush pens. Having a limited number of tools is empowering for me, it builds confidence, familiarity and skill. It also makes it easier for me in the field when I reach for an art tool and I don’t have to think twice.

Here are the ones that I have found most useful…(this is not an exhaustive list but if you are just starting out or just need a good pen it covers the bases)

Best Brush Pens For Nature Sketching

Pens With Actual Brush Bristles:

    1. Pentel Color Brush Pen Black: while the name is a little confusing this pen is just like a brush that you would use for calligraphy but it has a cartridge full of black ink. It comes in fine point and medium point and the ink is supposed to be waterproof. Even though it is more waterproof than the one mentioned below, I would not do watercolor on top of it and sometimes it smudges on your hand or the opposite page in a journal. Pentel Brush PenDespite being a fun art tool I rarely carry this in my field kit but use it in the studio for gestural drawings, titles, dramatic silhouettes and the like. It puts down a rich heavy black. “Pigment based ink” is keyword for it is more water proof.
    2. Pentel Fude Brush Pen: this one looks just like the one above but the ink Pentel Fude Brush Penis less water soluble. If you want to experiment with washes or wet on wet techniques in ink this could be fun. Otherwise, I see no benefit to this one and once I tried it I have never gotten it again. I do not recommend this one for nature journaling or watercolor.
    3. Pentel Color Brush Pen Gray: this is a newer version of one that I have used in the past. I like gray ink for a lot of purposes however it seems like the Pentel gray inks are usually less waterproof. Gray ink can be really useful for under-drawings.

      Brush Pens with Felt Tip Type Points:

      1. Tombow Dual Brush Pens: I have used these pens a lot in my journal Tombow Dual Brush Penfor creating frames, borders, titles, and under-drawings. They come in a wide variety of colors including some very pale ones which I really like. However, they are not waterproof and I have had whole pages ruined when I was exposed to a little mist in the field. For nature journaling this is unacceptable. I rarely use these tombow pens anymore.
      2. Zebra Brush Pens: These come in 3 tip widths and a gray ink version. zebra brushpens come in 3 size tipsThey are waterproof and John Muir Laws has been recommending them and selling them for several years on his website. I have tried them and they are pretty good. You can get a lot of line variation and once they dry they are pretty resistant to watercolor washes on top.
      3. Last but not least, the Pilot Futayaku Brush Pen: this pen is currently my favorite drawing tool, especially the one that has a gray tip and a black tip on the same pen! The ink is waterproof but the gray might fade a little bit. You can also get a lot of line variation. I love the gray ink. If you want to see how I use this pen in my landscape painting process check out this post here.Pilot Brush Pen with a Heart on it

If I could only have one item of clothing…

I can’t wait to share with you some of the stories from my latest nature journaling adventure. But before I do, I wanted to show you a product that helped me keep smoke out of my face and sleep soundly at night while I was at the prescribed burn training program last weekend.

My Favorite Journal for Everything

Do you want to know what journal to use for nature journaling, sketching,  and mindset journaling? In this video I describe my choice and why I have used this same sketchbook for my last 34 journals! I also give you the important criteria in choosing a book so that you can make your own decision.

The Quest for the Ultimate Nature Journaling Bag Continues!

In August I asked Tom Bihn Bags to send me one of their products to test for nature journaling and to use on my Tanzania trip. I already did an unboxing and first impressions review of “The Maker’s Bag” and this is my follow up in the field.

Check out the product description here: The Maker’s bag

Tom Bihn Bags is a company based in Seattle, Washington. They focus on functional design, ethical production, and high standards.