SketchBox January 2023

Why am I writing about an art materials subscription box from six months ago? Well, waiting two weeks for the April one to arrive had me feeling a bit twitchy and impatient, so I figured if I ordered one of the previous boxes it would arrive right at the start of May, and distract me from the wait for May’s one.

Best laid plans, as they say. According the the tracking, the extra box didn’t ship until after the May one did, and yet the two arrived together mid May. So I decided to save the January one for the start of June, to keep me entertained until the June box arrived. Of course, the June box arrived two days after I opened the January one. By then I was pretty busy, so I waited another week before opening that one.

January’s box is all about Inktense products: pencils and paint pans that are water soluble when you apply but permanent when dry. It’s an appealing idea, especially for making a wash that, once dry, doesn’t shift when you overpaint it. Though I’ve done this with the acrylic inks that came with the Paletteful Packs box, bottles aren’t as portable as little paint pans.

I have to admit to being sucked into the internet culture surrounding these boxes, from watching YouTube videos of unboxings and testing to trying to take nice photos of the contents and the art I made and posting them on Instagram.

But by doing so, I’m learning about art materials that I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise. The Inktense pans came up quite dark in my swatch and yet when I used them on the background of the bird painting they dried paler than I expected. The Inktense pencils, however, laid down intense pigment that stayed so when water was painted over them. I wound up layering pencil over paint. Which was a faster way to fill the background than colouring it all in with pencil then painting over it.

The paper buckled with use, but then watercolour paper does that if not pre-stretched. I didn’t like the brush – not even for the background – so only used it for the backgrounds. I tried applying masking fluid for the white spots on the mushrooms and was pretty happy with the result.

I can see myself using these products again, probably for laying down backgrounds in watercolour sketches. Maybe also for initial water-soluble guidelines, and when I need to quickly intensify colour in an area. Definitely worth adding to my travel sketching kit.