Budget travel – brush test

I have heard some sad stories of favourite pens and brushes rolling down foreign drains and off jetties and into the water. So I understand why a lot of people seriously think about what brushes they will take when they are travelling. Discussions generally end by deciding to cut off the end of regular brushes so they can fit into their bags or investing in special travel brushes. But is there a third option?

If you live near a certain Swedish store, then this might be an option.

In the children’s section you can find a set of six small brushes which might suit your needs. They are synthetic brushes, with lightweight wooden handles. All 6 together weigh 41 grams so they would be good for those travelling light. I got these for just under $6, so you certainly won’t break the bank buying a set.

Here are some test sheets made using the three round brushes. To give you and idea of brush size, the middle size brush is similar in size to a round No. 10 brush. However I don’t think these pages tell you much except that all the brushes maintain a fine point and hold a reasonable amount of paint.

To give them a ‘proper’ test I decided that I should use them to sketch a building on my regular paper. I pulled out an old photo from a trip to Germany to sketch.


For this sketch I used the middle and small round brushes and the medium size square brush. I wasn’t overwhelmed with the results, but I was painting quite fast so that probably effected the outcome. It shouldn’t be a surprise when I say that these brushes don’t really compare to good quality watercolour brushes.

What I did find was that the brushes made paint harder to control. I think this was due mainly to the shape of the brush. You could do a fine line, but the fast angle change to the wide section of the brush often resulted in too much paint coming onto the page.

The most useful brush was the square brush, which easily gave an even coverage for painting the sky. I also discovered that this brush could give a lovely fine feathered edge if it was used fairly dry. Here is a detail showing that effect.

In summary these brushes are good for:

  • People who just want to add some simple colour to sketches
  • Those people who don’t want to worry at all about taking good brushes on holiday, and
  • People who are packing for extremely light travel.

BEST OPTION: consider packing the medium or large square brushes if you need a brush for adding your skies.

DON’T BOTHER: if you plan to focus on painting serious watercolours. My advice would be lash out and buy a travel version of your favourite brush.


National Arboretum Canberra

Today we had a large group of sketchers meet at the National Arboretum, which has some of the best views over the city of Canberra. The shape of the central building on the site is leaf-shaped from above, and the curve of the roofline echoes the nearby hills.

I worked on capturing the curve of the most prominent part of the building along with the view across to the telecommunications tower on the nearby Black Mountain.

I prepared my page with splashes of paint before sketching.

Everyday practice

Here are some sketches from my current ‘handbag’ sketchbook. I am trying to use up one of the myriad sketchbooks that seem to spontaneously generate in my spare room. This book isn’t too good with wet media so I mainly try and sketch in pencil. The pencils I am using are a Palomino Blackwing 530 and my el cheapo multicolour pencil I got in Japan at Sekkaido.

In rough date order …

Trying to get some more interesting perspectives into these ‘regular’ events.

From the car in a roof top carpark.

Sketching graffiti from a roof top carpark.

This is a work in progress. I do a bit more every time I stop here to collect the mail.

Again, trying to enliven a cafe sketch. It gets very busy at our local cafe on Saturday morning. There are lots of parents and kids relaxing after the kids football matches.

Face Painting

Here are some more watercolour sketches of faces of people in cafes.


My first sketch, which also included some pen and ink (note to self I find the ink lines rather distracting, even though they give ‘definition’)

As part of my ongoing strategy to disrupt lazy habits I decided to use only a Daniel Smith test palette for my colours. This palette includes a number of colours that I don’t have in my paint selection. The other benefit using this card is that it’s a lot easier to carry if you are traveling light.


The John Orlando Birt colour palette for Daniel Smith

I was happier with my results when I ditched my pen and just stuck to the watercolours.


Man in a puffa jacket, 26 June 2017, watercolour

I think that this head of a small boy was the most successful on the day.


26 June 2017, small boy, watercolour

Another day and another cafe, same watercolour palette. Three people who were sitting at the same table.


Three portrait sketches, 4 July 2017, watercolour

Drawing the exhibition: Porosity Kabari

Porosity Kabari (Nishi Gallery, New Acton, Canberra) is a collaboration between Trent Jansen, Richard Goodwin and Ishan Khosla. The trio “investigates the cycle of use, re-use (and further re-use) – and how we can, simply, use one thing to make another thing.” Using only materials and skills sourced from the ‘Chor Bazaar’ (Thieves Market) and the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, the outcome is a series of objects that fascinated me with their detail and juxtapositions, and showed an enjoyable lack of concern for ‘perfect’ functionality.

My first sketch was of Trent Jansen’s ‘Dropping a Kumbhar Wala Matka Vessel’, 2016. This work is composed of three photographs of the potter Abbas Galwani dropping ones of his pots on the ground, along with a number dropped pots that have subsequently been fired with all their distortions and cracks. Jansen’s work is a riff on Ai Wei Wei’s 1995 work ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’. (Ai Wei Wei’s work gives me the same squirmy sensation as fingernails scraping on a blackboard). But Jansen is drawing a different observation on ‘value’. These pots are in widespread use but their makers gets little respect for their skills and only minimal financial returns for their labour.


Dropped Jugs, from Dropping a Kumbhar Wala Matka Vessel’, 2016. by Trent Jansen. My sketch, pen and ink, coloured pencil and watercolour

The second sketch is of one of Ishan Khosla’s ‘Constructed-Deconstructed-Constructed’ series, 2016. These works are made from scavenged wood and odd bits of old furniture. Either a stool or a table, take your pick, these pieces have their own aesthetic which Khosla calls “do first think later”‘


‘Constructed-Deconstructed-Constructed’ , 2016, by Ishan Khosla. My sketch pen and ink

Two sketches was as much as I could manage while standing up to draw, (no stools were available). So I will finish off with photos of two pieces that I really responded to by Richard Goodwin.Twin Charpai Exoskeleton for Mumbai, 2016, Richard Goodwin

This final piece really spoke to my own explorations of stitch, and I always enjoy a good wrapped object!

Klein Chair, 2016, Richard Goodwin

The exhibition finishes on 9 July, at the Nishi Gallery, New Acton, Canberra.