“I’m an organized person by nature,” says Brenda Swenson, “and the idea of having everything I need tidy and easily available to me delights me to no end. I keep my sketch bag packed and when I get a chance to sketch, I grab the bag and go. No need to worry about forgotten items.

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Watercolor sketching setup

“Over the years, I have refined the setup, and now it suits me perfectly. I use a Canvas Riggers Bag from Harbor Freight Tools. I’ve made a few alterations to the original bag. I took out some stitching to open up the pockets on the sides, put cardboard in the bottom for added support and attached a shoulder strap. Now my pens, brushes, palette, and sketchbooks fit snuggly. You just can’t beat it!

“I have been carrying around this sketch bag for so long that my friends have nicknamed it the “Brenda Bag.” I use it when I travel across country and overseas. Before flying, I take everything out, roll up the bag and put it in my carry-on luggage. (Yes, I carry my palette on the plane. I simply leave it open for a couple days so the paint will harden and put it in a plastic bag.)

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Watercolor sketch bag supplies

“My sketch bag has become like a old friend. We have crisscrossed the United States countless times; been to Prague, Germany, France, Tuscany; traveled by car, plane, and train.

Sketch Bag Supply List

Palette: Palette Box by Craig Young or Heritage Folding Palette with 18 wells

Paint: Daniel Smith Watercolors

Brushes: Da Vinci, natural and synthetic hair, sizes 6-12, rounds and flats

Sketchbooks: 10×11-inch homemade (click here to learn about how she makes her own sketchbooks); Stillman & Birn: Beta, Delta and Zeta series, hard- and soft-bound

Pencils and Erasers: 2B or 4B pencil; kneaded or white eraser

Pens: I like everything from cheap disposable pens to pricey fountain pens. I equally like water-soluble and water-proof ink.

Sketching Chair: Roll-a-Chair by Camp Time—it’s lightweight, has four legs with a backrest, and is very comfortable.

Misc.: Water bottle, water bowl, sponge box, small spray bottle, bull clips, paper towels, sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and camera

Sketch Bag: Canvas Riggers Bag by Harbor Freight

“Join me as I unpack my sketch bag and show you everything I carry in the video above.

“Happy sketching!”

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Me (with my bag at my feet) and my students

For more helpful advice, be sure to follow Brenda’s blog.

Join Brenda Swenson and other top watercolor artists, including Joseph Zbukvic, Keiko Tanabe, and Dan Marshall, at the 2019 Plein Air Convention & Expo. 


  1. I loved the whole sketch bag demonstration, the how to carry water in a soft container, and how a “table” is “constructed” for being in the field, and all. The paintings within the sletchbooks were beautiful!!
    Thank you so much. God bless, C-Marie

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation.I recently started sketching again after several years break and I am determined not to carry unnecessary things with me and your bag and gear shows beautifully how to do that.I have most of what I need except the bag so now to search for one similar in Adelaide.Sth .Australia..Thank you so much.

  3. Brenda, when you go abroad, do you carry the roll a chair? I am wanting to take it, and also to pare down! Dilemma!

    Thank you,


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