My complete minimalist watercolor supply collection

As you read this, I’m en route on my cross-continent, international move from Boston to Vancouver. Rather than paying thousands for a moving truck and storage for months (while we live in a furnished sublet), my partner and I elected to sell or give away nearly everything we own, keeping only what fits in a few suitcases. So, I had to make massive cuts to my art supplies. Below, I’ll share everything I kept – that is to say, as of now, every art supply I own in the world. What made the cut??

Thoughts on reducing

What surprised me about this whole getting-rid-of-everything practice is how much I don’t miss my stuff, including things that I thought untouchable, and that I originally planned to ship or pack. With every reduction, I felt lighter. So many things that I no longer have to remember, move, clean, maintain, store, find room for… Everything I own is now something I truly need and want, and it’s a small enough amount that I feel I can keep track of it all.

Of course, I’m sure it’s temporary. We will need to re-buy furniture and kitchen stuff next time we move into an unfurnished place. Being without certain conveniences will certainly get old. And we will just begin to re-accumulate those odds & ends that you don’t exactly want but doesn’t seem worth it to get rid of. But for now, it’s refreshing to be so light and mobile.

Watercolor brings me joy, obviously, so it was definitely important to me to keep the supplies that allow me to paint comfortably and freely. Luckily, many of them are compact already, because they’re optimized for plein air/watercolor’s inherently pretty small/I tend not to paint large. I also frequently audit my art supplies for things I don’t actually enjoy using, and have a network of local artists who I like to trade and give things to (which I’ll have to start over!) So I did not think I would have much to reduce, but I decided to give it a look anyway.

My former art supply collection

I kept my art supplies in a modified Ikea Kallax 2×2 which I had gotten to the perfect state.

I used the wine rack attachment (no longer sold) to divided one cube into nine miniature cubbies, and found 4″x4″x14.5″ fridge drawers that were the perfect size to provide a little clear drawer for each one. The drawers easily slide in and out or can be removed and placed on your desk, and are the perfect size for small items such as paint tubes, brushes, pens, pencils, markers, which can also be organized by color or theme. My Art Toolkit Pocket & Folio palettes fit neatly, as did my Sugarhouse 4″x10″ ceramic palette and all my odds & ends.

Below this, the 5-shelf attachments was the perfect organizer for all my 9×12″ or smaller paper pads, as well as other long things like Art Toolkit cases, clipboards, rulers, and larger palettes. The drawers and fabric cube could be used for bulkier items.

It was perfect. While I was still planning to move by truck, I was sure I’d keep it. And even after we decided to move by luggage, I thought, “Maybe I’ll take out the wine rack and drawers and ship them or pack them in my luggage so I can recreate it with a new Kallax.”

But then I began to go through my art supplies. And even though I had thought I already kept it trim and had exactly the right amount, I found things to give away… and then nearly all of my drawers were empty. Granted, some of these are temporary reductions; for example, I usually keep a couple of paper pads in reserve so I’m never in a paper emergency, but because I knew I’m moving, I worked my way through the backlog. But most of the reductions are things I don’t miss. And I thought, “Hey… Maybe I do not actually need this much space and organization for the amount of art supplies I actually use.”

What I gave away

  • I reduced every collection quite a lot through the radical act of keeping only my favorites.
  • As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to get out of the gouache game entirely. This meant I could drop gouache paint, my larger gouache palette, and a bunch of subpar brushes & paper that I kept even though I didn’t like them for watercolor because “it’s fine for gouache.”
  • My annual goal was to give masking fluid another try, and I did give it a shot… but I didn’t like it enough to hang onto the supplies. The bottom line is that ammonia-free masking fluid solves the odor problem, but I still don’t enjoy the process or result of using masking fluid most of the time. Deciding to drop it entirely meant I could give away my masking fluid and every implement I’d tried to apply it (color blenders, embossing tool, low-quality brushes).
  • As long as I was giving away a big bag of supplies, I threw in weird odds & ends I rarely/never use, like white crayons/pencils, binder clips, misting spray bottles, the water syringe Art Toolkit provides for you to refill your water brush, etc.
  • Some grotty old rags have finally been retired, while “too nice to use” ones have been pressed into service.

Every art supply I now own

The complete kit, when packed, now fits into a space the size of one of the drawers of my previous shelving unit.

Let’s take some of these items category-by-category.

Plein air kit

I’ve shared my plein air kit before, such as in my Nova Scotia Travel Sketches. This is what I take with me in my backpack/tote bag/waist pack when I’m out and about looking to paint, including when traveling, hiking, or just going to the park.

It is a Pocket Art Toolkit loaded with:

  • Moleskine travel watercolor album
  • Pentel Aquash medium water brush and Kuretake compact medium water brush (less dribbly for details)
  • Deleter Neopiko waterproof felt tip pen (size 05)
  • cleaning cloth
  • Cari Sketchbook Easel

I of course usually have paints in there, either my Pocket or Folio Toolkit (see Paints below).


I hung onto 20 brushes, which is under half of my original collection. All are short-handled, which is not only better for traveling/storage but also my personal preference, and the handle colors are varied enough that I can quickly differential styles. See also My Most & Least Used Brushes for Watercolor & Gouache, the post I wrote while I was decluttering.

  • 2 oval wash: Isabey 6254 Petit Gris size 4 (1/2″) is my favorite, and Rosemary Sienna 1/2″ is a nearly-as-good backup.
  • 7 natural/soft/nice round: Rosemary Series 99 Pure Sable (black handle) #2 and #8; Rosemary Series 401 Sable Blend (polished wood handle) #2, #4, and #8 (x2); Escoda Reserva Kolinsky Sable (carved wood handle) #2
  • 7 synthetic/beater/swatching round: Princeton Velvetouch (synthetic, dark red handle) #4, #6 (x2), and #8; Rosemary 201 (synthetic, hot pink handle) #8, #10, #12
  • 1 liner: Grumbacher Goldenedge (Golden Taklon synthetic, red handle) #2 liner
  • 3 flats: Winsor & Newton series 995 (Golden Taklon synthetic, clear handle) flats in 3/4″ and 1/2″. Also a black-handled flat marked “Merry Christmas 2023 from Rosemary & Co” that I like quite a lot and don’t really know what it is (my best guess is 3/8″ short flat from Red Dot series?) I originally got the WNs for gouache but found I liked them for watercolor, especially while experimenting with flats in Poppy Balser’s class.


In my luggage I just have a Saunders Waterford 9×12 pad (and the aforementioned Moleskine in plein air kit). Paper’s heavy, so I worked my way down before moving. Likely any future storage solution will need to account for more paper than I currently have on hand. That said, living near an art store might help me to hoard less – if I know I can go to the store for a “paper emergency” and not wait 7-10 business days for it to arrive.


  • Mixing: Sugarhouse Ceramics travel palette + case
  • Paint storage: 4 Art Toolkit Pocket Palettes and 1 Folio Palette. I don’t need this many Pocket Palettes but I have snagged limited edition colors every time they have been available so far. I just love the colored ones! I should probably stop doing this, but as far as things to have a collection of, this is pretty compact.

Drawing Implements (Pens, Pencils, Erasers)

  • 1 2mm lead holder and some extra leads
  • 2 plastic erasers
  • 1 kneadable eraser
  • 3 Blackwing pencils
  • 3 Deleter Neopiko waterproof felt tip pens – 2x size 05, 1x size 2
  • 3 Zebra Zensations waterproof brush pens – 2x medium, 1x large

Misc Accessories

  • Cheap Joe’s handheld paper cutter – lets me easily cut 9×12 paper to 6×9 and much easier to pack than one of those swing-arm or slidey paper cutters.
  • Several rolls of Holbein Soft Tape. They don’t sell this at Opus Vancouver, so I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out!
  • 2 clipboards (standard letter size) – I don’t actually use the clip, but these are convenient backboards to tape paper onto, which prevents me from getting paint on my desk and allows me to set aside one while it dries and move onto another. Clipboards are the key to me working multiple paintings at once. But the standard letter size only really works up to about 7×10 painting size. I am not sure what I will do when I start wanting to work bigger. Masonite drawing boards?

Plein Air Expansion

There are actually 5 items on here that I have never used. While I tried hard to eliminate items that I don’t use frequently, I also feel it’s important to have areas in which to expand or explore. For me, that area is plein air with regular brushes (not water brushes). I just found it too intimidating in early stages to think about how to handle a water cup, so I was happy to land on the easy solution of water brushes. But of course water brushes don’t look as good, so sometime when I have the bandwidth, I’d like to give a real shot to plein air with regular brushes. So I hung onto the following items to enable that exploration:

  • 3 Rosemary travel brushes
  • Sea to Summit X-Shot collapsible shot cup
  • Nalgene 1 ounce straight-sided jar

Typically I erred on the side of getting rid of aspirational or rarely-used items, but these were small enough to easily pack and would be surprisingly difficult to replace (the Rosemary brushes need to be imported and are expensive, and the Sea to Summit X-Shot is no longer being made). Both of these water containers fit in the hole of the Cari Sketchbook Easel, which I already use purely for the convenience of having a shelf for my palette. The X-Shot is a better fit (the easel was made for it), and it’s easier to pack empty, but the Nalgene has the advantage of having a lid to pack in/pack out water.


In future, I think I will need a bit more space to keep paper in stock. Brushes can always be used (even if worn out) until it’s convenient to get more, and if I run out of a paint color, I use another color; but if I run out of paper, I can’t paint.

But overall watercolor stuff doesn’t need to take up a ton of space. With the exception of the sturm und drang I always feel when deciding which paint color to use, I’m happy with my selections. I feel they give me a lot of scope to focus on what I truly love – watercolor – as well as explore more avenues in the realm of plein air. Removing items that I didn’t use often makes it easier for me to find and focus on the things I love.