If you create art while traveling, you are the best artist in the world. That’s right. However, packing art supplies can be challenging. Of course, it is more convenient to work in a studio with all the paint, equipment, and tools you need instead of sitting on a park bench with a pencil you retrieved from a miniature golf course-but in terms of impact, passion, and capturing the spirit of a place or a moment, art in transit is superior.
The Art of Travel
My room is filled with old Moleskine journals filled with sketches, doodles, words and impromptu English-French poetry. Even though I hope those poems never make it to the world’s attention, and my many sketches of Notre Dame probably belong at the bottom of a lake, I would rescue that stack of journals in the event of a fire.
A page is a creative time capsule that instantly transports me back to the moment and place when it was created. If you can physically recreate the feeling of travel, you’ll never forget it. Travel is an exciting time of flux, transition, and inspiration. Honestly. When you’re on the road, you’re a different person, and that time and place are worth capturing.
Unfortunately, traveling with art supplies isn’t easy. To get you back on the road to creativity, here are some great carry-on packing tips, tricks, and hacks from some great traveling artists. Did you catch that? That’s art, baby.
How to Pack Art Supplies: Carry On Only
I don’t think I need to say it, but this is a carry-on only artist packing list. Don’t check a bag full of art supplies. Your brushes, sketchpads, and watercolors don’t need to be tossed around as you’re shoved under a plane.
TSA’s 3-1-1 Rule encompasses more than tiny shampoo bottles. The rule applies to all liquids, including oil and acrylic paints. Because 3.4 ounces isn’t enough to paint with – especially for mixing colors – and since you probably already filled your one clear plastic bag with actual shampoo, let us assume you cannot bring liquid paints.
It’s a bummer, I know, but great art is about exceeding one’s limitations with the resources available. I am already feeling inspired. So, if paints are out, what are your travel art supply options?
Pencils, watercolor, & Moleskine
It’s practically impossible to travel without a Moleskine journal. You can’t enter a café in Spain without hearing the snap of an elastic band and the drawing of a pencil furiously sketching a stranger who isn’t aware they’re a subject. A moleskine and a pencil, or pen, are often all you need to create amazing art work on these small canvas pages.
The name in the travel journal game for the last 20 years, Moleskine’s extensive line of sketchbook options includes:
- Moleskine Sketchbook Pocket (3.5” x 5.5”) — $13.95
- Moleskine Sketchbook Large (5” x 8.25”) — $19.95
- 2.95 for an A4 Sketchbook (8.25” x 11.69” – this one is metric) — $29.95
- A3 Sketchbook (11.69” x 16.5”) — $39.95
For decades, these journals have been the go-to choice for artists, travelers, and doodlers alike thanks to their high-quality paper, thread binding, bookmarks, inner pockets, and iconic covers. Nevertheless, the days of keeping a travel journal in a traditional sketchbook might be numbered. Moleskine is embracing digital media with its partnership with Evernote Sketchbook.
The journal comes with a 3-month trial subscription to Evernote, along with all the analog you can handle. Moreover, because the page layout is optimized for Evernote, all you need to do is snap a picture of what you’ve sketched and it will be instantly available for you to save, search, or share. If you don’t think 3 months of Evernote is enough, you can get one more month for free by clicking this link.
Travel Watercolor Kits: Make a Splash on Instagram
It is extremely difficult to paint with watercolors… but, damn, it is beautiful. When it comes to creating vibrant art on the go, watercolor is an excellent option for traveling artists.
Since watercolor paint isn’t a liquid (you have to wet it first), it can be transported in carry-on bags. The advantage is that you can wet the paint multiple times without ruining it (unlike leaving the cap off your acrylic paint for five minutes), and you need very little paint compared to oil paintings.
A watercolor brush is adorably itsy bitsy. However, the best part about watercolor has to be how easy it is to clean and use. Watercolor brushes don’t have to be cleaned immediately after use, unlike other paints. When you get a chance, run the brush under water and boom, it’s good to go.
You can upgrade to a small flat brush if you have a brush fetish and find that the smaller watercolor brushes that come with most kits aren’t enough for you. If you are painting with gouache paint, such as James Gurney, then you will need a flat brush. You should totally try gouache paint. James Gurney is awesome. Hali Karla recommends this watercolor setup for traveling:
- Moleskines Watercolor Notebook ($18) – The heavy-duty 200gsm paper is designed for watercolors
- The Koi 24-Color Watercolor Field Kit ($20) comes with a brush
- and 4ml of Koi Watercolor Paint ($8)
- Pencil: Pilot Point Ultra Fine Black ($11) (for those neat outlines)
- One small bottle of white acrylic paint (for corrections).
- Watercolor paint in Payne’s Grey from Winsor & Newton ($11)
- (1) quart-sized bag of opaque watercolor paint (Gouache)
From Candace Rose Rardon, National Geographic contributor:
- Winsor & Newton watercolor brushes (sizes 2 and 4)
Newton’s watercolor compact
- (round, size 6) Mimik synthetic squirrel hair brush for only $3!
- Watercolor pads by Canson Montval (various sizes) are only $3!
- The PITT Artist pens ($3 each) by Faber-Castell
My favorite watercolor set is the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Compact ($68). There is space for 14 colors and a brush, and it is sealed securely in a neat container, so you can take it with you wherever you go.
If you are seeking a smaller alternative to the Winsor & Newton case, I recommend the use of a pair of binder clips which can help you organize and contain your travel-sized palette when working outdoors or on the go. If you clip the watercolor palette to your moleskine, you will be able to create some fantastic works of art.
Pencils, Charcoal, & Graphite: Sketch of a Travel Artist
Colored pencils, graphite, and pens make good travel art supplies for those who cannot handle the subtle complexities of watercolor (it’s truly extremely difficult). Watercolor pencils are a hybrid option. Megan Van Groll, from Travel, Paint, Repeat, says she makes art on the go using pencils and preparation consists of hyper realistic colored pencil drawings.
When I do choose to make art on the road, it’s usually small works on paper using graphite or colored pencil. I will sketch my piece before leaving, secure it with archival artist tape to a piece of masonite or very hard cardboard, cover it with another protective piece of board or cardboard, and pack it flat in my hard-sided carry-on luggage. It’s not necessary to worry about flammable materials or liquids with pencils, because they are so easy to transport.”
Prismacolor, Faber-Castell, and Derwent are three of the most popular colored pencil manufacturers. They all make great color pencils, but what you need depends on how you draw.
- Prismacolor, Faber-Castell, and Derwent are three of the biggest brands of colored pencils. Break easily
- Faber-Castell’s Polychromous Set ($40) is smooth as butter, but doesn’t keep a sharp point
- If you care about hexagonal grips, Derwent Studio Color Pencils ($45) are an excellent choice
choice, though it really depends on how you sketch. You don’t always need to use the full set of pencils to make great art. Pick and choose a few of your favorite hues from the 72-pack and see what happens.
Don’t be afraid to take along some old stubby pencils from around your workspace, since a pencil nub is perfect for traveling. Here are some other non-traditional pencil options (plus an erasure eraser, since we are not perfect).
- The Derwent Charcoal pencils ($11) come with a case and a pencil sharpener in a convenient six-pack.
- For sketching on pretty much any surface, white Stabilo marking pencils (1 x $4) are perfect. The water-soluble, highly erasable pencil is perfect for sketching and erasing.
- White Pearl Erasures (three for $3) are great… even if you never make a mistake.
Digital Art Alternatives
It would be remiss of me if I did not mention some of the fascinating new digital tools available to traveling artists today. Styleuses and digital canvases have finally upgraded to the standards that working artists demand, and are intuitive enough (and affordable) for your average backpacker with a vision in their heart and some time to kill before their next flight.
Artists and travelers are increasingly sharing their work immediately from the road in today’s digital sharing economy, pushing them away from traditional sketchpads and pencils. In this digital art revolution, Fifty-Three leads the way with their Paper drawing app. With their remarkably intuitive “Pencil” digital stylus, 53 literally takes creativity to the cloud.
In addition to a variety of color options, palette blending, sketch tools, digital watercolor, markers, and pens, the app also has handy list and note functions. Now that the software has been updated, you can upload your own photos and images to the app, where you can edit, sketch, and doodle on top of them. What an exciting prospect.
The stylus itself is pretty cool. I have taken it on several trips with great results. A single battery charge lasts me weeks of sketching, and it’s USB rechargable, so I simply plug it in when I have free time to ensure it’s charged. I also like how it functions.
The stylus tip is pressure-sensitive and responsive-it actually draws what I want-which is impressive. Furthermore, the digital eraser on the top of the stylus is a huge plus for me. Like a real pencil, it works by flipping over, erasing, and flipping back to continue. Sometimes I forget it’s not graphite.
Organisation is key.
Get rid of fancy paint, large brushes, and 300 gsm quality paper. The real tools of the traveling artist’s trade are TSA regulations, packing cubes, and ziploc bags. Before you sketch a single line, decide how you’ll transport your tools safely, cleanly, and effectively. Now that you know what to pack, how will you organize your supplies and keep your t-shirts clean?
With a lot of different options for storing your art supplies on the go, Alvin is a trusted name in the art supply industry. The double-pocket mesh bags are a good choice for me since I don’t store many messy items, and the additional pocket helps keep everything organized.
To keep your messier supplies away from your clothes, the Alvin Prestige Deluxe Mesh Bags ($17-$42) come with clear reinforced vinyl and a zipper.
Art supply company Alvin offers a variety of options for storing your art supplies on the go.
Travel photos capture the harsh reality of your travels—the people, places, and things-but sketches, drawings, collages, and paintings capture something so much more vivid and memorable than even the best DSLR. Art makes the best souvenir.
- Choose from dozens of customizable sizes for your Moleskines.
- Painting is tough, but worth it.
- Check it out: Gouache
- ‘The 53 Pencil Stylus’
- Colored Pencils are TSA approved, and a must-have accessory.
What Luggage Is Best for San Francisco?
I have three factors I consider when choosing luggage for a trip to San Francisco.
First, whenever possible, I prefer to avoid the hassle and delay associated with checking a bag. I am looking forward to getting out on the streets of San Francisco as soon as possible after landing. The best way to avoid baggage claim is to pack a carry-on-sized travel backpack.
My second requirement is that my travel backpack be as spacious and well organized as possible. It is not uncommon for the weather in San Francisco to change rapidly, so you must be as prepared for the sudden arrival of chilly fog as you are for sweating in the sun.
I also look for a backpack that is comfortable enough to wear for hours on end, if necessary. You tend to walk a lot in San Francisco, so you need a bag that won’t leave you with sore back and shoulders after a long day.
The Tortuga Outbreaker Travel Backpack exceeded my expectations on every level. This travel backpack is unmatched in its capacity and organization, its outstanding levels of comfort thanks to its fully adjustable harness, and its carry-on regulation size. Its superior design and durability ensure you can rely on it to travel with you for years to come.