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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Research 3.0

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Building a Tool Kit

I feel as though I am still trying to work out what the right tool kit is for me, and even now, after putting together what I thought would be a really useful selection of tools and having made a start on the other exercises in this section, I find myself rewriting and adding to this part.

So with it being at the start, I personally looked at this research task as the ultimate goal throughout Part 3. Researching what tools work for you, how easy is it to use them when faced with limited time, limited space and limited comfort. The tool kit being right for you is super important, which I've yet to master! I hate having too many things in my hand, too many things to carry, too many things to think about when you have no idea what conditions you might be facing. I want my tool kit to be minimalist. I know what will annoy me, what seems like a good idea and what I will end up using because it is just far more easier to grab - my trusted blue or red pencil for example. In honesty, I can leave the house with just those and it will be more than enough. So what else will I find useful to build a kit?

I recently took part in another OCA and 2B Or not 2B life drawing session where I decided to stick with using charcoal. Of course being in the comfort of my own home made using charcoal sticks easier, however the struggle to keep it from spreading everywhere remains a challenge, and it is with this I can determine the challenges I would meet if using them on the move.

Considering the characteristics of charcoal, and how great they are for moving around a page quickly, with an ability to smudge for shade or to soften harsh lines! I wondered what would be a good alternative which would leave less mess on the page and perhaps more suitable for transport.

Aaron Blaise

Aaron Blaise, a superb artist, draws live almost every week, sharing his knowledge, experience and stories whilst drawing whatever he feels or what people request (it's mostly based around animals). When not working digitally, he is seen using a 4B graphite stick in a mechanical holder, marker pens and biros.

Having never used one of the mechanical lead holders myself, I wondered if this might perform in a similar way as charcoal, without the mess of course. It looks like it could be manipulated easy to create a similar variety in thickness and hardness as charcoal, I also liked the idea that it could be held the same way.

It wasn't quite how I imagined when testing the lead and holder. When holding it as I would charcoal, the lines came out fine, or difficult to manage the consistency, while holding it as I would a pencil gave me the thicker lines. With this weighted holder, I imagined it would be great to treat it like a charcoal stick, but it's quite the contrary. Interesting that the thickness of lead didn't necessarily mean the variety of thickness in lines came easily, I think you really need to work into the lead before it gives the results you hope for, like making a pencil slightly blunt.

Thinking of the nature of the kit and what it was going to be used, I know that something complicated would just be unnecessary. Coloured pencils made sense, a thick pencil seemed appropriate, and then I feel what is needed is ink. The blackness of the ink represents confidence, it means you have to keep moving forward regardless of what happens. It's an assertive tool that doesn't leave time for correction. For illustrating on location, I think this is useful. I the idea of dealing with what happens on the day, not being able to erase can be a benefit when considering self reflection. Personally I can flip through a sketchbook and see when was a good day for creating, and when it wasn't such a successful day. Pen forces you to deal with it, something that means accepting all results which I believe has been the lesson through this course, and why we use sketchbooks in our artistic practise.

The first attempt

By now I had been out and tested my first kit. I put a few things together that I thought would give variety, would allow me to work fast (not having to wait for drying time), and in all feel somewhat minimalist. Though the minimalist selection I thought I created, didn't work as planned. I realised the oil pastels were difficult to work with once applied. Perfect for getting blocks of colour and an endless consistent line, but if looking to use mix media, the oil pastels are limiting for what can be applied on top. It's as if you need to use them as the last tool, not a base to working from. An order I didn't intend, but might be useful depending on the use.

My first setup up looked a little like this:

I was thinking oil pastels for quick application of colour, shape and just general use. However, the top two tools in kit were the red and blue pencil, which had me wondering... what if I was actually more comfortable using colour pencils. A tool that seems underrated and perhaps too basic, actually packs quite a versatile use. It doesn't need drying time and if needed, pen can easily be applied on top. To make my kit the minimalist kit I hoped for, perhaps just a few more useful colouring pencils would do the trick? Perhaps what I could do, is have a very limited colour palette. This could maybe result in design choices that may bring another element in to the sketchbook. Acting on themes for example.

Tom Haugomat

An artist that comes to mind when thinking of limited colour palettes is Tom Haugomat. Tom's illustrations are a beautiful example of using limited colour. Working in markers when using sketchbooks, Tom creates very American 1950's - 1960's inspired drawings of nature or big cities. His sketchbook pages are extremely satisfying in that the layout is very clean, precise and much like a designer.

Tom Haugomat, Instagram post.

A very different style to the direction I was finding myself going in, but never the less it is interesting to get a look at the different techniques in filling the sketchbook, and working from life. For me, if I were to find myself working in the style of Tom, the pressure of trying to create perfection on location would be overwhelming, to the point I probably wouldn't even start. The reason to include such artists in this section is to open my awareness of other techniques, even if they are not something I will be involved in.

At this stage, I didn't want to keep buying new tools just so I could see whether they worked for me. I had made a purchase for the lead holder which came with a 2B lead. This felt enough for now, and so decided to try the things I did have which wouldn't normally have been my first option. The coloured pencils aren't super expensive but they're available and work well, plus they can actually be used with water if needed, double purpose - minimalist means being smart!

Now, after much testing and debating, I landed at this being my new kit. In terms of dry tools, or quick drying, these felt to bring a good variety. I have found myself using coloured pencils more often, though mixing them with pens has become a fun favourite.

Through out Part 3, you will see my journey through researching in this task. I begin tied to a basic mechanical pencil with a very fine lead inside, I go out and come back with one drawing here and one drawing there - not really feeling the most comfortable or confident. I mixed up my kit and tested different tools to see what worked. I made several trips, which overall made this part drag out longer than needed, though needed it was.

Ultimately, I think the kit needs to be flexible to suit the purpose and should change often. I don't want to carry everything, but I do want to be smart about it.



Some great work in this research task and a very interesting read. You are clearly keen to establish a functional kit which gives you room to explore things visually and it’s great that you see this as something that will evolve over time. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your red and blue pencils as a daily backup if you don’t want to carry any more, but it’s good to see you considering your other options for a minimalist kit so carefully. It will be interesting to see how this changes as you go through the course. It would have been good to see what research you did on other artists for this, I can see that you have but you haven't shared much of the research here.

This was certainly going to be an area that I would return to after receiving feedback from my tutor. Now that I have all 5 parts completed and I am now preparing for assessment, I wanted to bring this little gem of a research task with me as a starting block to my journey.

It felt as though this task had left an impression on me. I really want to feel inspired to draw or even paint on location, and getting the kit right I hoped would encourage the inspiration. In a way this is true, I am inspired and I am now extremely pleased with the journey it has taken to reach the stage of being happy with my setup and approach to working outside. I have since required more tools to cover all occasions, and although it is still ongoing as I continue to practise working outside, it works.

Through each exercise after completing this, I would often refer back to this research task and reflect on the tools I would use, and the practicality of them whilst travelling. Perhaps I was over thinking the entire thing, and each time felt I needed to make improvements, when really the simplicity of taking some paint and brushes or a few pens and pencils out with a sketchbook is more than enough. What made me think deeper is how each trip will be different, each sketchbook session will be of a different subject, a different atmosphere and other. Did I need to carry everything or did I need to know what I was going to do before each trip? But how can you predict?

Plein Air, though I feel silly to admit, was not something I was familiar with. The French term for essentially painting in open air found me through an Instagram hashtag,#walktosee. Here you will discover thousands of images taken by artists alike of their open sketchbook pages filled with paintings from the great outdoors. What is interesting to see through this hashtag, is the number of different sketchbooks used to capture the essence of the landscape or scenes being witnessed. You see the different mediums that people use and their styles, plus a sneaky insight to how people generally fill their books.

I had only encountered few artists painting in open air in real life, with an easel setup and the palette of an artist in a studio. I always thought it was brave and extremely cool to see people painting life on a busy high street right there before them. It just never dawned on me that I could do this, or be confident to do it myself. I also didn't think of it being an art style/subject I was interested in. The course itself, played a huge part on building myself up to a level I felt capable. For example, assignment 5 became the breakthrough I was hoping for when taking on this course. I found inspiration in nature, and have since looked to bring this into my standard practise.

My first Plein Air experience in Wales, 11.09.21

Justin Worsley

An artist I became a fan of through #walktosee is Justin Worsley, a toy designer based in the UK. You will find hundreds of incredible paintings on his Instagram covering portraits of "people off the telly" as he titles them, to moody looking landscapes. I was instantly drawn to Justin's work for the loose impression and almost caricature style, they are fun and at the same time spot on! The landscapes feel utterly British, with the muddy mixture of greys and browns, with a splash of painted wall or door colours in rows along the streets. Whilst I have always aimed to achieve an almost lifelike "realistic" visual representation within my own work, I felt an opportunity within his work that encourages me to experiment in mark making rather than focus on detail.

It is most valuable when an artist shares a photo of their setup on location. Above image by Justin is a great view of how he travels and how he works. It brings a relaxed and approachable sense to Plein Air that is possible for anyone. Admiring his style, I was happy to set up anywhere without feeling I needed more to start. Just pack what you have an make art!

My first ever painting on location! So pleased with the result, but mostly pleased with having done it with confidence. Prepared with a blanket for seating, I was comfortable with my setup and very much enjoyed the process of painting within nature. A couple of things I could work on for future but otherwise, it was very simple and not too much effort to carry/setup.

Elena Klimova

Artist Elena Klimova is someone else I had discovered through Plein Air on instagram. Based in Hong Kong, Elena creates beautiful paintings on location. Each study captures a softness and a strong sense of place. There's a great understanding of colour theory in Elena's work which is really evident through the accuracy in matching what she is painting.

It makes me wonder how many paints are carried at any one time, so that achieving the right tones is easy. How do they know what they will use? For me, I took around 6 tubes of paint with me. I lacked a few needed colours to add a contrast in the tonal values, but hadn't thought about needing more variety in colours in order to better paint them accurately. What does Elena's paint bag look like? Does she always carry the same colours everywhere she goes, or researches locations before arriving and then decide the colours? Looking at my own attempt, even with a pile of different colours, I tend to limit the palette to the same colours, which are the ones I carried with me. They cover a good selection to get warm and cool tones, and mix nice to get the in between values.

Beside the beautiful work, another element to catch my eye whilst following Elena is the field easel used. This ultra slimline easel looks to be the perfect companion for painting on location. Comparing the styles available to purchase, this particular design looks to be the dream minimalist easel I would love have. Unable to find anything here in the UK that is remotely similar, and isn't going to cost me a fortune, I couldn't resist and had to reach out to Elena with the burning question of where could they be found. Elena kindly replied to my question and to my sadness they can't be bought for it is a hand made easel by her father. Sadness aside, such respect to her for the reply, and a huge pleasure in following her work, especially those she is currently creating for an online challenge by Strada! A 30 day challenge painting Plein Air. It inspires me to want to challenge myself to do the same as practise.

I believe the final piece to be added will be a field easel. I think I would like to make more than just sketchbook studies when on location, and having an easel will give me the stability to work on different surfaces.


I have officially got the bug to do more Plein Air works. I'm so happy to have had this journey and breakthrough in my personal work. Building a kit that best fits my needs has been so much fun, and it has truly opened doors for me and the way I work, and wish to work in the future!

Not only do I carry a pencil case of dry tools, I am now also carrying a little bag of acrylic paints and a few paint brushes. I no longer feel scared to start a page in my sketchbook with paints only, and no longer rely on just one tool, but now open to reacting to a situation, a feeling or mood as and when necessary. Undertaking this research task with an open mind allowed me to take my time in testing each bag of tools I would decide on per trip, and in the end lead me to not only a big selection of tools that I enjoy using outside my indoor creative space, but also to a whole new way of working with nature. My interest has shifted through building my kit as well as completing this course. I'm totally inspired and excited to see what work I will create from here onwards.



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