James Gurney: What’s in my bag
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James Gurney is the author and illustrator of the Dinotopia book series . His most recent books are called Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist (2009) and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (2010). In 2008, he traveled with writer Alan Dean Foster to North Africa on a watercolor expedition, painting portraits of wild macaques in Gibraltar, Berbers in Moroccan casbahs, and Arab guards in the alleyways of Fez. But he’s just as happy sketching in American laundromats and old diners. Follow his blog, Gurney Journey.
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This is my most compact bag, which I bring just about everywhere. It’s got everything I need for pencil, pen, or watercolor sketching. (Click here for full-size photo.)
Waist Pack. A Black Diamond waist pack adorned with Dinotopia enamel pins. The zippers are quiet, an important factor when I’m opening the bag in places like funeral parlors or classical concerts. But the zippers stayed closed when I was hustled by Barbary apes.
Brushes. (Left to right): Sable travel brush; Winsor & Newton Series 995 1/2″ flat; Three Yasutomo Niji water brushes. The first is filled with water, the next with a 50% gray wash, and the last with pure black Higgins Eternal ink. The last one is an Escoda brand Kolinsky sable round. Link to blog post.
Colored Pencils. (Left to right): Caran d’Ache Supracolor brand water-soluble colored pencils (#171, 009, 067, 070, 059, and 049). They dissolve into a smooth tone with application of water. The last one is a sanguine Caran d’Ache Neocolor painting crayon. Link to blog post.
Cup and Clip. Nalgene water cup (60 mL) for watercolor painting. The top screws down securely and never leaks. The binder clip is for holding the watercolor set to the open sketchbook. Link to blog post.
Erasers. A Staedtler Mars plastic eraser cut down in size. It’s good because it doesn’t leave oil before watercoloring; Design brand kneaded eraser, which is non-abrasive and good for blending.
Pencil Box. A Japanese metal box with an Apple logo that I painted on with a Sharpie enamel paint marker. Link to blog post.
LED Light. I bought this at a dollar store. The packaging says it’s supposed to have 300 days worth of run time on the three watch batteries. I clip it to the brim of my cap to shine on my book for night sketching.
North Africa Sketchbook. This drawing book is 3.5 x 5.5 inches, small enough to fit in a pocket. The U.S. State Department did the Arabic translation of my bio when they displayed some of my paintings in the embassy in Yemen. The glue stick is handy for pasting tickets and other scraps into the endpapers. Link to blog post.
Origami Cranes. These were a gift of a young Dinotopia fan. I store them in a lens filter case, and leave them behind, one at a time, tucked away in bookstores and coffee shops to brighten someone’s day. Link to blog post.
Paint Rag. I use scraps of old flannel sheets and cotton t-shirts. The watercolor stains wash out, so I can keep reusing them on long trips.
Pencil Sharpener. The Maped brand has the all-important crumb catcher and two different sized pencil holes, but all sharpeners seem to leak shavings into the bag.
Pencils, Pens, Knife. Faber Castell graphite pencils, 2B and HB. Waterman fountain pen with spare cartridge (which I refill with a hypodermic syringe). I like the soluble ink, which dissolves under the water brush. Victorinox Swiss Army knife. Link to blog post.
Pocket Watch. When my wristwatch battery went dead a while ago, I revived my railroad watch. I like the feeling of winding it and the sound of its ticking.
Watercolor Book. A Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, decorated on the front with gold, red, and yellow Sharpie paint markers. The idea of the “Report from Planet Earth” is to pretend that I’ve just arrived from another planet. My job is to carefully document what I see so that the alien minds back home can understand this weird world. Link to blog post.
Watercolor Set. A Schmincke set of half pans, with a few pans swapped out for full pans. The big ones are raw sienna and sepia. In the space between the rows of pans is a piece of paper with test swatches so I can see the colors better in dim light. Link to blog post.