Making it Easier – April

This was supposed to auto-post. Well, better late than never!

For the first third of the month it seemed like I was only making life more complicated. I volunteered to arrange the plein air/still life sessions while the organiser was on holidays, which wasn’t helped by sudden and inexplicable email problems, and the weather switched to winter mode so it was cool enough to do the weeding… at the rare moments it wasn’t raining.

Making things easier seems to require ongoing work. A while back I realised that if I always paint on the same sized canvas sheets I can just swap then around in inexpensive frames from IKEA or Kmart. But I’ve started participating in exhibitions where the art is on sale, and those works are supposed to hang from a string or wire. The cheap frames only have a ‘hook’ on the backing board, and the composite board the frame is made of is too weak to hold a screw and wire. I’ve found a framing shop that sells wooden frames that look the same. They’re more expensive, of course, but at least I can still switch art around.

We went away for a long weekend, which disrupted my sewing momentum and I came back in what my painting mentor used to call “right brain mode”. The wardrobe got a mild cull and that was made so much easier using Stylebook ap. I started preparing for the weaving guild’s yearly sale, which was a very tiny bit easier for having already culled a heap of rug yarn and some dyeing materials, then harder because I figured I ought to cull the rest of the stash and suddenly I had a LOT of items to tag and record on forms.

At that point I started seriously considering forgetting the Bazaar and having a big studio clear-out sale. It might just be less work overall.

A Year of SketchBoxes

The last SketchBox was waiting for me when we got home from King Island, and I had mixed feelings when I opened it. An echo of the thrill each box has generated, a touch of wistfulness that this was the last one, and acceptance that it was time to end the subscription. I knew what the contents would be, and I wasn’t excited because it contained mainly markers and “Anime” paper. I’m just not that into markers, it turns out. But I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t signed up.

Receiving a little box of art materials each month has been a wonderful way to try art supplies I would not normally have chosen to buy – or even been able to in Australia. I have some new favourites, and better versions of what were staples. There were a few duds, but they were few. Overall the contents have been good quality and lived up to expectations.

Together, they fill this small caddy. That’s a year’s worth of subscription boxes, and one earlier box I bought separately.

Which is a bit sobering when you consider this is the contents of 13 boxes costing about A$85 (for the box, postage and fees) per month. I don’t regret it, as it has been fun and educational.

Here’s an assessment of all the materials, divided into types rather than box contents:


The most useful aspect of the subscription was being able to test different types of paper, seeing what bled or warped, since to do that normally you have to buy an entire pad or package. I was very impressed with the Magnani 104 Pescia White paper, which did not warp at all despite full coverage with ink. The Hahnemuhle Landscape Watercolour Book was fantastic, taking watercolour and gouache on both sides without warping. I’m thinking that having a collection of sample pads to test out new art supplies on is something I need to have and built upon.


I would have liked to try more kinds of paint. I like everything I received. The little tubes of gouache are lovely and subtle, and the inktense colours are amazingly vivid. The signature paint set for urban sketching is light and slim – practical for urban sketching. Perhaps if I’d continued with the subscription there’d have been a box with oil, acrylic or even casein paint, and maybe little tubes of interesting watercolours like granulating kinds. All of these are keepers.

Ink, Liquid Watercolour & Liquid Graphite

This is the category of art material that was newest to me. The only kind I already had was acrylic ink, and I’d only just bought a set before I subscribed. All of these were fun to play with, though I’m a bit unsure what to do with some of them. The Hero Arts are the strangest, as they appear to be more regularly used for topping up stamp pads. The liquid graphite turned out to be one of my favourite supplies. Especially paired with the gold Hero Arts Glimmer Metallic Ink. I think I’m going to try using most of these as backgrounds under mixed media pieces.

Pastels & Charcoal

Pastels like me but I don’t like them. Whatever I draw seems to come out better than I expect, but dust they create isn’t great for my asthma and my skin doesn’t like the dryness. I did worry that we’d get lots of these kinds of art supply in the boxes, but they were only in two, and were the main supply type in just one. These will probably be given away to other artists.


A good range of types, including graphite, pastel, watersoluble, wax, and plain ol’ drawing pencils. I’ve been drawing with pencils more in recent years, so it was good to try a range of types. These will definitely be absorbed into my growing collection.

Pens & Markers

We seemed to get more of these than other categories, though that might just be because they take up more room than, say, pencils. There certainly was a broad variety of kinds. Two-thirds were alcohol-based, one third water-based. Three were white. Two were brush pens. Only four were fineliners. Several were double-ended. The range of colours skews warm, green-yellow-orange.

The Pantone box was my first subscription one and I did hope I’d got the dud box out of the way early! I was not a fan of the Graphix permanent markers for drawing, but they are excellent Sharpie replacements, especially being double-ended. The dot pens were fun but so peculiarly specific that I have no idea what I’ll do with them. I use black fineliners more than any other kind of pen and while we only got one, it introduced me to the Zebra Sarasa fineliner which may become my new favourite. Also, using pink, grey and olive Copic Multi Liners opened my mind to outlining sketches with something other than black.


We received a good variety over the year, but I would have liked to try more. I like the quality of the SketchBox signature brushes and they’re the one signature supply I’m tempted to order more of. The larger ones were always impractical for the small paper size, and were the supply I was most likely to swap out for something of my own. That said, they’ll be fine for larger pieces, so all the brushes will join my collection.

Other Tools

I like that we got a sharpener, eraser and water brush in different boxes over the year, building a set of practical tools. I was surprised there were no smudge sticks in the pastel themed box, and just used what had come with the Pan Pastel. The coolest tool was the Art Primo Hit-N-Go empty marker, which allowed me to make a custom pen colour. The two biggest duds of the year are in this category, however: the Faber-Castell Eraser Pencil which tore up the paper, and the Koala Tools Mini Ring Ruler which made wonky circles. If the eraser pencil works on wood without scratching, I’ll keep it in the garage. All but the ring ruler are keepers. Dunno what to do with it. Op shop?

I did an overall swatch of the supplies, on cartridge paper, and tried reactivating them with water:

And because I was a bit bored watching tv, I roughly counted up the numbers of items in colour categories:

Red & Pink: 13
Orange: 9
Yellow: 8
Green: 18
Blue: 12
Purple: 5
Grey: 16
Brown & Cream: 11
Black: 6
White: 8
Metallic: 3

Green dominated because the last box added six items to the category. Otherwise red, blue and green would have been close to equal.

Now for the award ceremony…

Most used art supply goes to:

The Hahnemühle Landscape Watercolour Book. It’s been the perfect size for travel sketching. It’s performed brilliantly with different mediums. I’ve nearly filled the sketchbook, which makes it the only supply that I’ve come close to using up.

Best new-to-me art supply goes to:

Liquid Graphite. Colour me surprised, but I made four artworks with this and three turned out really well. Since I don’t like dusty art supplies, having something I’d normally avoid available in a safe, liquid base is always nice. But the extra treat was that it behaves more like a watercolour, and dries shiny.

Most surprising art supply goes to:

Intense paint pans, because it turned out you can paint fabric and the result is permanent when dry!

Best value art supply goes to:

The urban sketching box. The SketchBox Signature watercolour palette is so practical, and the sketchbook such good quality. I’m not a fan of water brushes, but this one performs well. And the Copic Multiliner is a nice shade of grey. I’m using the old meaning for ‘value’ here, judging it on how likely I am to use the contents. Getting something cheap is not good value if you don’t use it.

Supply I most want to find an Australian supplier for goes to:

The Zebra Sarasa fineliner. I’ve heard their brush pens are good, too.

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A Week Down South

Last week I went to King Island for a week. The same sketchbook I used on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island came with me, and I painted in it every day. I was hoping to finish it, but I came four spreads short. I guess I’ll have to go on a long weekend trip to another island to finish it.

Though I did take a small watercolour set, it was a backup. My intention was to use acrylic gouache. In the two weeks leading up to the trip I painted with watercolours and then acrylic gouache at a plein air outing, to warm up and decide which to take. The latter won by a mile. Though I to like watercolour, I can’t escape the fact that working dark to light, and layering paint, suits me better.

My kit consisted of an A4 piece or thin corflute with a metal strip stuck to it. My water jar and bottle of drying retarder have little magnets from an old phone cover on their bases, so this keeps them from tipping over or blowing away (the latter was very relevant to King Island). Everything but the corflute fit into an old “bum-bag”: paint tubes, brushes (in a toothbrush container), clips, rags, pencil, pens, eraser and sharpener. I cut down the weight and bulk of them by using hat elastic to hold the sketchbook and palette to the corflute.

The palette was the main mid-holiday tweak. During the plein air session I testing the gouache at, my paints were drying too fast despite the retarder medium. One member suggested I create a “stay-wet” panel out of a plastic container, sponge and baking paper. I found a little container that fit into the front pocket of my bag perfectly, but it proved too small. So I found a sandwich box at a supermarket that proved to be a much better size.

I expected the spreads to take more than an hour to complete, but they usually came in under that.

Walking along the beach near our accommodation, I thought I would paint the waves and sand, but I was utterly charmed by the local copses of tea tree, with their pale trunks against the shadowy interior. The island was very dry, but as the week passed and rain fell overnight, a little green did start to return to the fields.

The Boathouse, also known as “The Restaurant With No Food”, at Currie Harbour. It contains tables set out with cutlary, etc. so you can BYO your own meal, and presumably wash up after. When we first visited a gathering was underway, which turned out to be a group of artists on a tour. The teacher and of the students were outside. The student was old, male, and talking to the teacher in a grunty way certain men have when they feel they are an expert. As I painted the building with the lighthouse in the background the other artists emerged and set up to paint, and he began moving about giving uninvited advice. Later, I mentioned this to a tour guide and she said “Oh, yes, I know the one.”

One of the artists sat down directly between me and the Boathouse, which I would have thought was the height of rudeness among plein air artists. Thankfully, I was nearly done.

Grassy Harbour. Penguins roost in that long jetty.

Cape Wickham Lighthouse from the road to the golf course.

Seal Rocks. It was so windy I gave up after doing the pencil outline. But as I stepped off the viewing platform I found myself in a sheltered spot with almost the same view. So I sat down and painted, doing the lower half mostly from memory. When I was done I compared the remembered bit with reality and was surprised to find it was fairly accurate. Maybe all this plein air painting is improving my memory. Well, my memory for scenes, not people’s names or where I put my phone.

Yellow Rocks River, where swans kept drifting past hoping to be included in the picture.

The one I did have to give up on doing in person. Because of march flies. Those little blighters are Nasty. I’d only encountered them once, the day before, when I was bitten on the knee through my pants. so I think I caught the very beginning of march fly season.

King Island is lovely and there were so many more views I wanted to paint. I’d love to return with a small groups of artists one day. Though it was early autumn and the weather was still warm, there were no crowds of tourists. The food was fabulous – it is best known for it’s beef, dairy and seafood – and the people friendly. I think I chatted to locals more than I ever have on a holiday before. The only down side was that there was a lack of reliable tourist information – and at one point we retreated from a road that was described as “an easy drive with caution” that turned out to be a 4wd track totally unsuitable for our hire care. Most attractions required driving on unsealed roads, some which might be dangerous in wet conditions. There are tour packages, but if you want to visit independently you’ll need to do a bit more work than usual and a bit of double-checking to be sure of the actual opening hours for the time you’re there.

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SketchBox March 2024

This month’s box was all about GREEN.

It was also a marker-based box. One thing I’ve learned from the thirteen boxes I’ve received, is that I’m just not into making art with markers. But I do like these Acrylograph pens. The ink is lovely and opaque, and though they tend to spatter a bit if you draw quickly, it does make for an interesting effect. Hairy lines, I am into you.

The theme was “succulent” but drawing plants seemed a little obvious, so I went for something sitting on something succulent.

What I found, though, was the lack of any other colour made the green less satisfying. It needed a pop of complementary colour. A dash of pink or crimson or a reddish ochre would have given the frog more oomph.

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SketchBox Catch Up – December, January & February

The last SketchBox post I wrote was published back in November, but I completely forgot to write about them since. Something must have happened in December and January to make me forget about them until now. I wonder what that could be?


Well, better late than never. Here’s my report on the December, January and February boxes.


I was expecting a Christmas-themed box of green and red so I was relieved when the colour range was broader. You could make a red/green dominant artwork using the pencils if you wanted to, but the blues freed you from seasonal overload.

The prompt was “snow globe” and, with the box arriving well after most recipients who are going to post or vlog about them, there were plenty of literal snow globe artworks already. I went for The Globe instead. Then some fruit so I could experiment with getting yellow by scribbling on the palette with the gold pen and painting with the residue. I like all the supplies, and the Stoneground Gouache – the hero of the box (according to vloggers) – is lovely to paint with.


It was winter over in the US, where SketchBox comes from, so the box was full of brown and orange shades. Here in Melbourne it was warm and humid. Maybe that’s why I thought of south to central American design terracotta pottery – I was longing for some dry heat. The prompt was ‘flame’. Pottery comes out of flame. Is that reaching too far?

I was expecting there to be a box with pastels eventually. I love and hate pastels. I have come to hate dust-producing art materials that set off my asthma. They seem to like me though – I get good results from them and am rather chuffed at how this came out.

This was definitely one of those boxes that seemed to have a smidge bit too much in it. The charcoal wasn’t really needed. The white pen is great, but the white pencil went better with the other supplies and the box didn’t need two whites. I think I’d have liked some smudging tools instead, or a kneadable eraser.


It’s easy to imagine these colours were inspired by a late-winter northern hemisphere longing for spring. But they are very garden-like regardless of season. At the moment my crepe myrtle is in bloom with magenta blossoms, despite (or perhaps because) I pruned all the branches off ready to dig it out of the ground because it had looked mostly dead. It doesn’t look this good, though! The prompt was ‘fantasy’, so this a fantasy of the crepe myrtle I wish I had!

This was the first time I redid a SketchBox artwork. The first piece became very muddy after I added another layer of watercolour and discovered the first one was not as dry as I thought. I also did a piece where I puddled, dropped and splattered the supplies, but didn’t like the result.

I think I had these false starts because there was quite a bit of scope for different methods and styles of artwork in this selection of art materials. The bleed-proof white made lovely opaque hues when the liquid watercolours were mixed in. The pencils added texture and interesting gradients when used under or over the watercolours. But I felt the vivid saturation of the three watercolours was the most exciting aspect of the box.

I have one more box to go to reach a year’s worth of SketchBoxes, and I’ve ended my subscription after that. That includes one I ordered separately, not as part of the subscription. It’s been a great deal of fun, and I’ve tried art materials I’d never have bought, or ones I use but different brands to what I usually buy. I’ve tried combining materials in new ways, too. There comes a point when the novelty wears off, though. There are only so many kinds of art supplies so eventually the types will start to repeat (and I certainly don’t fancy getting another box of markers!). I’m planning to do a summary of the twelve boxes after I receive the final one, choosing the most and least favourite materials, and reviewing the artwork I did.

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SketchBOX November 2023

I got my wish for a more interesting colour scheme with November’s box. In fact, there were lots of colours!

After watching the SketchBox instructional video, I felt the most intriguing part of the box was the circle-making device. But after I viewed a few YouTubers opening the box and testing its contents, my most anticipated art supply shifted to the dot pens. They looked very intriguing.

The box arrived a little earlier than usual. I did my usual swatching and testing. I drew a circle using the device as carefully as I could, then used a cup to trace an accurate circle close to the same size, and the first one was waaay out. Which is a shame, because it is a cool idea. The Faber Castell and Marabu markers bled easily on the paper, but I don’t know if that was the pens’ fault or the paper – and the paper is made by Marabu too so I can only assume their pens are meant to be used with it. I received a small pack of the Marabu markers from The Paletteful Pack I ordered early in the year and didn’t like them much for making art, and I didn’t change my mind on this second try. However, having two thicknesses of nib will make them handier than Sharpies around the house.

The theme for the box was mandalas, and the prompt was ‘intricate”. I figured I’d make lots of circles and try all the markers, similar to what’s in the SketchBox instructional video. After that, I took my favourite items from the box and drew a mandala, using my 40 year old school Math-o-Mat to draw out accurate base pencil line work.

It was fun, but overall just okay as a box. I’m not much of a marker user and the aesthetic was more ‘doodley’ than ‘arty’. But I also figure not every SketchBox is going to contain the sorts of art supplies that suit me. It’s all about trying new things, after all, and in this case the dot pens certainly fulfilled that promise.

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SketchBOX October 2023

This box arrived mid-afternoon of the day before I woke up with Covid symptoms. I was tempted to put is aside to open the next day, but decided I didn’t want to wait.

As someone who lives on the other side of the world to the company that creates these boxes, and who doesn’t care much for Halloween, the colour scheme of this box (and the previous one to be honest) have seemed a little ‘meh’. But when I looked around me for a subject to paint that was relevant to who and where I am, my eye was caught straight away by the nasturtiums sprawling through the garden with their bright orange petals, yellow and purple hearts, and green leaves. Perfect!

The acrylic ink was lovely to paint with, and the white ink is impressively opaque. The box came with a fillable pen for mixing up your own colour, so I decided to push it as far as possible and by making a mix that included the white. It worked, and is still working fine two weeks later – I was afraid it would dry up and clog the pen. The paper didn’t buckle and is nice and smooth. The brushes are easy to work with and since I probably wouldn’t have tried a dagger brush if it hadn’t come with the box I’ve learned something I wouldn’t have without the box.

The orange brush pen was both fascinating and a bit disappointing. The filament tip works just like using a paint brush, but – my only criticism – the ink seemed to get duller as it dried.

This is the eight box I’ve received and I’m still enjoying the experience. I’m hoping November will have an interesting colour scheme because I expect December to be predictably Christmassy.

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Norfolk Island

A few months back, when we were considering where to go for a week’s holiday, one place we looked into was Norfolk Island. While chose Lord Howe Island, the idea of going to Norfolk Island still appealed, but weren’t getting around to arranging a trip. Then one day I did a search for “artist holiday Norfolk Island” and the first link that came up was for a watercolour painting trip in October.

Almost everything was included in the package – I just had pay for one leg of the flights and organise insurance. It was nice not to have to do a lot of research and bookings, and assume that the artist would have vetoed the accommodation. Paul was okay with coming along on a holiday where I’d be painting a lot, since the teacher would know where all the nice views were that he could photograph, and he could take our car and go exploring if he wanted to.

The first day we went out painting, it started to rain. We retired to a function room at the accommodation to finish our paintings from photos. The subject was Bloody Bridge:

Despite the name, that isn’t gore in the creek but a water plant that had died due to lack of water, which seemed ironic considering why we had to abandon the spot.

The second location was St Barnabus’ Mission Chapel. It was a windy day, but less so there than in more open areas like the beach:

That night I did a sketch of one of the whale oil lamps in the chapel. It’s sideways here:

On the righthand page I painted a big, rusty buoy at the front of the accommodation.

The next location was Slaughter Bay. It was sunny but very windy, so we sought shelter within the penal colony walls. Rather than doing a painting on a board, which would catch the wind, I painted in my sketchbook.

However, the wind played a trick on me, flipping over a few pages without me realising before I slipped them open, which meant I was obliged to fill in three spreads before I left Norfolk Island.

We had an afternoon to spend at the agricultural show, which was fun but didn’t take up the rest of the day so I suggested to Paul that we go exploring. We found our way to Anson Bay, where I found a good, sheltered spot to work.

The water is mostly white because it was so rough it was nearly all foam.

That evening we had a BBQ at Emily Bay. I did a really quick sketch of the sun going down. It was very rushed, what with the light changing and the wind so strong it kept pushing my water cup across the park bench I was sitting on.

The next day, the location Belinda picked was… Anson bay. So to do something different, Paul and I walked down the steep track to the beach, and I painted in my sketchbook.

The following day we were back at Slaughter Bay, but this time to paint the rotting boat hulls on the shore.

I was seeing some rather peculiar colours – green shadows and lurid yellow grass anyone? As we headed home I realised I’d had my sunglasses on the whole time. Later, in our room, I over-painted with Ultramarine in the hope of alleviating the crazy green cast.

We had a tour and free afternoon the next day. I must have been sitting right over the back wheels on the bus, so ended up with a protesting back and a headache. After a bit of food and a rest, I felt better and decided I needed a walk to straighten things out. We went to do the walk at 100 Acres Reserve, and near the end stopped at a park bench so I could paint a different sort of scene to beaches and historical subjects.

That meant I’d filled the gap in my sketchbook. I could have stopped there, but I did add another spread later. Before then, we had our last painting session at Cemetery Bay:

My aim, other than having fun, was to get more familiar and confident with watercolours so I could do better sketchbook art, and I feel like those last two pieces show some success. I learned some new things about the medium and ways to apply it, like that some pigments are opaque and how that affects mixing, and that watercolour doesn’t have to be all about trying to get pigment to disperse in puddles of water in a pleasing way.

On the day we headed home we had several hours to fill, so I did these two vehicles from photos on my phone. The purple tractor was at a lavender farm, and the mini utes are everywhere on the island:

Overall it was a great trip, and so nice to hang out with a lovely group of fellow artists. Because I was painting so much, Paul and I didn’t get to see all of the island, so there’s more to experience should we ever go back.

I’m finding these week-long trips a nice length – enough for a change of scene but not being away from home very long. We both agreed that we wouldn’t do a package artist holiday together again, but Paul is fine with waiting while I do a spread in my sketchbook on a holiday we arrange and take together, and I am more confident that I could go on artist holidays on my own.

With that in mind I’ve started doing some research into the next island we want to visit. Already, I can see plenty of potential painting locations, as well as more attractions than I realised were on offer. And I’m tweaking my painting kit to take on Belinda’s advice, and a few changes that might make it lighter to carry and easier to use.

Making Watercolours

It’s a year since I did the Ink-Making workshop. Since then I’ve made several more inks – the main session six months after when acorns were in season and I used some of the leftovers from the Print & Paint with Natural Dyes workshop. One thing I had intended to try but hadn’t got around to was making watercolour paint.

A few weeks ago I finally gave it a try. I decided to use two commercial pigments intended for making paint (titanium white and carbon black), one earth pigment I’d sourced myself (yellow ochre), leftover indigo powder from ink-making and two extracts from the printing workshop (weld and madder).

First up I made some watercolour medium based on a recipe by the Dogwood Dyer. All the medium recipes I’d found used powdered gum Arabic, but I wasn’t able to find it for the ink-making course and I still had some stock solution from that workshop so I used that instead.

Then I got to making paint. The first one I tried was titanium white, which worked perfectly. So I was pretty confident starting out with carbon black. It mixed into a thick, dry paste so I added more medium until it was the right consistency. But even then, when I painted a bit onto some card it could be brushed off once it was dry, so I dug it out of the paint pan and added even more medium.

I was a bit nervous trying the ochre, but it worked out ok. The paint is a bit transparent and slightly gritty, so a little disappointing. The indigo was also ok – so intense that it really needs watering down to appear blue.

The weld had solidified in the jar, so I abandoned it. The madder was still ok, but mixed into a dark, oily brown rather than the red I was expecting. I consulted the Dogwood Dyer’s troubleshooting tips and added more gum Arabic to it, which improved the consistency.

Later I painted some dogs to try them out.

Overall, I found it rather uninspiring. I’m not sure if I was just in a bad mood or something, but I came away thinking making watercolours wasn’t fun or worth the effort. Making dyes was more enjoyable. I may try making watercolour paint again, just to see if it was bad beginner’s luck, but for now it’s just a box to tick on my Things To Try list.

SketchBOX September 2023

Lately I’ve been practising and experimenting with painting landscapes using watercolour, having used them while on holiday and wanting to be a bit more skilled with them. For references I’ve dug out an old tin of holiday snaps and reference photo rejects. So when the September sketchBOX arrived, with its Autumn theme and colourway, I simply flipped through the same tin for something suitable.

The box contained four gouache tubes, an acrylic paint pen, cream toned paper and a brush.

The first photo that used the colours provided was of chillies. Not sure if this is very Autumnal, but from what I recall of growing them, they were ready to pick around that time of year. The paint went on first then I outlined with the pen.

I wanted to see how well the paper held up to being almost completely covered in paint, so the second reference I picked was of Chinese lantern flowers. It only curled a bit – and I did remove the tape holding it to a board when it was just dry rather than waiting a few hours or overnight. This time I drew in the outlines with the pen before painting the gouache on top.

Everything in the box was good quality and great to work with, though the brush was a tad big for painting most subjects that would fit on the size of card. The size of the tubes would be great for a travel kit, but I’d want a bigger range of colours – or at least one blue.

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