With spring on its way, we're rounding up some of the best tools to take your art outdoors. There are a load of cool new books that focus on nature drawing. We've had a look at titles that teach you how to draw birds, trees, plants and woodland animals (our pick of the bunch, however, is Tom Kidd's firey monograph on how to draw a dragon).
We've also picked out our favourite posh pencils: one brand that's earned a cult following among artists and writers and another that's been called the Rolls Royce of coloured pencils. Plus, we look at the coolest pencil sharpener you've ever seen. And, to keep them all in, a smart bag for 'urban creatives'. It looks much better than it sounds.
01. Drawing birds
A recent study found watching birds is a good way to de-stress. Andrew Forkner's new book has step-by-step guides on how to capture them in your artwork, focusing on anatomy before working all the way up to birds in flight. Chapters are split into the various families of birds. Instead of colour, Forkner uses shapes, patterns, and shading to make his work pop.
Geoff Kersey's new book is a good excuse to take your art outdoors. It offers artists – at any level – 30 exercises that teach how to paint woodlands and trees. Each exercises takes about 30 minutes and focuses on a specific subject or technique, including outline drawings on tracing paper for absolute beginner. The British watercolorist Geoff Kersey is your teacher.
Woodland trees tend to be more willing subjects than woodland animals. In artist and art historian Susie Hodge's new book, step-by-step lessons teach you how to capture all kinds of creatures. She starts off explaining how to draw basic shapes, which she develops into everything from birds and rabbits to badgers and chipmunks. Good luck trying to get a chipmunk to sit for a portrait.
Spring is when indoor plants come back to life too, and Penny Brown's book shows you how to master the traditional art of botanical drawing. The book starts with simple line drawings and works up to more complex compositions. It also teaches botany for beginners and the history of botanical drawing. Finally, you can learn how to immortalise your favourite monstera with its very own portrait.
The dragon is not, strictly speaking, a traditional harbinger of spring, but nonetheless, Tom Kidd's new book is a must for fantasy artists. Kidd breaks down the basic outlines and features of dragon anatomy – scales, wings, talons, teeth – then book becomes a kind of sketchbook-journal in which you record the development of your dragon designs.
Leda isn't as well known as some of its competitors, but the brand stakes a good claim for making the best sketchbook around. It comes with 160 tear and bleed-resistant pages of 120-gram paper, which will work well with pencil, pen, and ink, but also pastel, charcoal, and a light watercolour wash. It's stitch-thread bound too, so it lies flat when open.
Blackwing is to pencils what Moleskine is to notebooks: they have a cult following. Famous fans include writer John Steinbeck, composer Leonard Bernstein, and Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones. They're pretty much the best pencils ever made. The pearl is most recent edition to the range (read our review here). It's all an-rounder, perfect for sketching and laying down lines, but good for writing too.
You might be reluctant to drop $11 (or £14) on a pencil sharpener. But, as with all the Blackwing stuff, this isn't your average bit of stationery. It has a "two-step sharpening process" (the first sharpens the pencil's wood case, the second the graphite core) and comes with two replacement blades. It gives noticeably longer, sharper point than most sharpeners. And, this being Blackwing, it looks dead cool.
One reviewer called Caran d'Ache "the Rolls Royce of pencils." They usually carry a Rolls Royce price tag too, but this range is reasonably priced. You get 40 pencils in a mental tin, and they have a smooth feel and blend well. Materials come from responsible sources and everything's made the to Swiss brand's usually high standards.
Bellroy makes smart, practical bags for the artists and designers. This 16-litre backpack has loads of nice features: padded laptop pocket, internal storage to keep your art supplies or gadgets safe and secure, and a two-panel construction that means there are no seams running down the sides and the rain can't damage anything inside. It can be expanded too. One of the nicest work bags around … in spite of the brand using the term "urban creative".