"hugh's portable studio"

This is everything I use to make my trademark “Cartoons Drawn On The Back of Business Cards”. Clockwise from left:

1. The Marfa bag. A small, military surplus bag I bought at the Marfa Book Co. about a year ago. Lots of pockets. Nice and sturdy.

2. Vinyl business card wallet. Where I keep the drawings after I’ve completed them. Ten dollars or so from Staples.

3. Aluminium business card holder. Holds about fifty blank cards. Bought it at Muji in London circa 2006. All the cards are cut from Strathmore Bristol 300 Series.

4. Silver Ipod Shuffle & headphones. Good for blocking out unwanted noise etc. Bought that from the Miami Apple Store on Lincoln Road. Current playlist consists of mainly Steve Reich and Mice Parade.

5. Moleskine blank sketchbook. Don’t use it too much, but it comes in handy for scribbling stuff down on occasion.

6. A tin of Peppermint Altoids. Always lovely to have.

7. Small X-Acto cutting mat. I don’t use it for cutting; I use it as a portable drawing surface. Not too big so it’s good for drawing on small cafe tables and whatnot.

8. Koh-I-Noor Universal India Ink. Highly permanent. One small bottle lasts for months.

9. My pens. Bundled with an elastic band. Four Kohinoor Rapidographs [0.3mm & 0.35mm], One Papermate “Tuff Stuff” Eraser Stick [good for cleaning smudges etc].

10. Large plastic box of blank business cards. About 250 of them for backup.

And that’s it. Nothing else goes into the Marfa bag- I like to keep it as pared down as possible. I see the bag as a sort of “portable studio”, which travels with me everywhere I go. Sure, I use other things in my office- a Motion digital tablet etc- but what fits into the Marfa bag is THE cornerstone. This is where the adventure starts; this is how it has always done so for the last decade or so.

Thanks and Godspeed.


  1. Hello Mr MacL,

    I always love this sort of run down – appeals to the stationery geek in me. I’m curious, though, about your ‘non-portable’ workstuff too – do you ever use a scanner, by any chance? And if so, have you any stellar recommendations?

    Thanks for the inspiration – it has given me the boost I needed to go off and do a little bit of scribbling of my own.

    big smooch,
    Alexia xxxx

  2. I don’t do business card sketches, but I do do postcard sketches. Currently using Sharpies, because I figured they’d stand the mail better than traditional ink.

    What do you think? Is the india ink permanent? Does it run?

    I used to use Rapidographs, way way back, it would be fun to go back to them.

  3. I love the minimalistic approach that is almost zen like. I’m a huge fan of Noodler’s Bulletproof black ink – won’t run or bleed on coarse papers, it’s self lubricating, and is almost impossible to remove. In fact they have a world forger’s challenge to see if anyone can remove it from paper :-)

    Love your setup!

  4. Very nice indeed! It’s always an inspiration to see the tools other artists use.

    In my second book I added a tidbit or two to my illustrations with my father’s quill pen which is at least 50 years old. He’s long gone now so this adds a nice sentiment to the work.

    Jackson Dunes
    Author of Pug At The Beach, An island dog’s reflections on life

  5. What the hell happened? I went away a couple years ago pissed ad disappointed that you announced you were taking the blog private. It must have been your Tribe exploration? (Elitism in New media proves just as douchy as Old to me.)

    Thank goodness you returned to public. It’s the point really, isn’t it.

  6. […] Hugh MacLeod shares the equipment he takes out with him when drawing his trademark cartoons on the back of business cards – ‘Hugh’s Portable Studio’. […]

  7. We don’t have Altoids over here. Are they for treating the kind of problem you get when sitting too long on a hard seat in an airport departure lounge?

  8. […] be fun on the site – Tools of the Trade. I was inspired by Hugh’s recent post on his portable studio which got thinking about what I carry around every day – what are the tools of my trade? […]

  9. […] He’s great.  Inspiring without false encouragement.  He draws on business cards, often out by himself at dinner.  Here is his portable workspace: […]

  10. […] through the internet and was interested to see that Hugh MacLeod had recently posted a piece on his “portable studio.” Clearly, he also travels […]

  11. just one question though..
    how do u transform this cartoons into digital image(specially with high quality)??
    scanning or photograph or???

  12. I haven’t checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I’ll add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend :)

  13. Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.