108: SKETCH: Art on the Trail

Show Notes: Episode 108

Today on the First 40 Miles, SKETCH: Art on the Trail.  If you’re inspired by purple mountains majesty, we’ll give you a few reasons why you should take the time to sketch what you see.  Plus, on today’s Top 5 List we’ve put together a two ounce packing list for your artistic adventures.  On the SUMMIT Gear Review, an ultralight way to liven up your plein air sketches with vibrant watercolors.  Then on the Backpack Hack of the Week, an entire watercolor palette that weighs less than the toothpaste you put on your toothbrush this morning.


  • This whole idea started with a book we found called “Art Before Breakfast” by Danny Gregory.
  • A Zillion Ways to be Creative…
  • Started incorporating art into our outdoor adventures
  • Art with a small a not a capital A
  • What does art do on the trail? Why is it important?
  • Slows down time, makes you truly see things, you don’t take things for granted, you get to know your trail, a sketch or painting immediately takes you back to that exact moment—you can see smell, feel, EXACTLY what you were experiencing when you stopped to make that sketch.

Top 5 Tools for Artists on the Trail

Mix media sketch book

  • Canson XL Mix Media Spiral Bound Notebook 98 lb notebook
  • Cut the paper down to the size you need/want
  • Heavyweight, fine texture
  • For wet or dry media—very versatile
  • 5″ x 8.5″ sheet size

Pencil or pen

  • Pen: Heather uses Sakura Micron pens when sketching
  • Just started using the Sakura brush pen for my sketches because the variable line width is so fun!
  • Note: Pens can run out of ink, but pencils never do…
  • Pencil…can be sharpened with a pocketknife


  • A waterbrush is a painbrush with a well of water inside
  • Usually when you use watercolors, you have a brush and a cup of water to clean off the brush when you’re done with that color
  • But with a water brush, it’s perfect for painting while you’re out backpacking because you don’t need a cup of water, the paintbrush has water inside it!  So to wet the watercolors, you just need to dab the waterbrush in the ink and it will wet the paint.  If you squeeze the brush it will let out more water.
  • To clean it, simple wipe the brush off on a piece of tissue or a cotton bandana


  • Peerless water colors with a little cotton pad or piece of paper towel or toilet paper to wipe off the watercolor
  • Koi makes a pocket field sketch box (4 ounces). Comes with a waterbrush


  • This can be as simple as a quart Ziploc bag
  • You can also have a dedicated art bag that you take out on day hikes
  • Mindshift makes some really great bags that can accommodate various hobbies on the trail—we talked about Mindshift packs on our photography episode.
  • Mindshift pack for artist’ s gear…the TrailScape 18L


#6 Another tool specific to acrylic or oil painters is a pochade box

Has drying racks, easel, storage, palettes, and fold up neatly while protecting your paintings.

SUMMIT Gear Review™: Peerless Watercolors

  • Peerless Water Color Complete Edition Book
  • We heard about peerless watercolors from an art podcast
  • Peerless Watercolors were first published in book form in 1902 by Charles Nicholson. It comes with the original text from over 100 years ago with no changes to that original text!  These books are handmade and were originally created for photo tinting!
  • The text is charming! For example: “Lack of decision usually ends in failure”
  • Booklet has some tips for outdoor painting and color blending
  • NEW! ROYGBIV Naturals


  • 15 colors: brilliant yellow, deep yellow, orange yellow, flesh tint, geranium pink, japonica scarlet, royal crimson, mahogany brown, sepia brown, light green, dark green, sky blue, deep blue, wistaria violet, pearl gray
  • Hand cut
  • Designs on film leaflets are wild and inspiring
  • Highly concentrated pure color of intense strength and absolute solubility.
  • The color is coated on one side of a special paper fabric or “film leaflets”
  • The moment your brush touches the film, you pick up a super saturated–yet totally transparent color


  • So simple to use!
  • Self-blending colors because they are transparent
  • These watercolors are rich but transparent, so no need to blend the colors before you paint
  • The watercolors come in a book, so take them out, cut the size you want and put together your own little palette
  • Color of the paint is no the color you see on the front of the film. Look on the back, and that’s a better representation.  It might be helpful to do a color swatch of each color so you can have a reference card to remember what each one looks like.


  • The entire book weighs around 3 ounces—but because these water colors are on a paperish material, you can cut them to the size you want and glue them onto a piece of cardstock
  • In today’s Backpack Hack of the Week, we’ll show you how to carry a full palette of colors that weighs only 3 grams!
  • Each color film leaflet measures about 2 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches


  • Keep the color films dry and protected when not in use just like you would any watercolor…
  • Store them in a Ziploc bag so they stay protected from the rain while you’re hiking


  • $15 for the basic set of 15 colors


  • These are rich colors—a little goes a long way
  • You’ll be able to tell when the color is running out because you’ll be able to see the film underneath.
  • NEW! ROYGBIV Naturals: Blood red, chrome orange, yellow ochre, olive green, alice blue, peacock blue, mixed berry
  • Peerless watercolors are portable, compact, lightweight, vibrant, blendable, long lasting, and are rich in tradition.

Backpack Hack of the Week™:  Ultralight Watercolor Palette (using Peerless Watercolors)

  • Peerless Palette
  • Take a 3×5 card and cut out swatches of the Peerless colors that are just under 1 inch each. There are 15 colors so you’ll have 5 rows of 3 colors each.
  • Kind of ends up looking like an Eric Carle book!
  • Great for small paintings, weekend trips, little sketches by the stream, when you just want to add a touch of color to something.
  • Weighs only 3 grams!! If you add the ROYGBIV Naturals new color collection, you’ve got all the colors you need for your artistic endeavors for just under 6 grams.
  • Stores perfectly in a snack size ziptop bag (which weighs 2 grams)

Trail Wisdom

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

-Vincent van Gogh