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Traveling Artists and Packing Light - what do you carry?

Hi all!
I love packing light! I really really hate lugging a lot of stuff, as I am sure many of you agree. And it doesnt help that I am a shorty, so lifting and carrying a big bag is just not fun.

I am a watercolor painter and I like to carry art supplies with me when I travel. Typically even on a day out around my hometown I'll carry a small sketchbook, pens and a mini box of paints.

However I am currently facing a challenge on longer trips (1+ month adventures) when I want to carry more paints, more paper, more supplies. It starts to fill half my bag and weighs a lot! Also, after I have done the paintings I then must carry them around with me when moving from place to place. It adds up and starts to get ridiculous.

I am wondering what other artists do on longer trips. What do you carry? What do you do with finished sketches and paintings? Do you scan them and destroy them? Do you mail them home?

In addition to painting I also do digital illustration so I carry stuff for that as well as my DSLR. Let's just say I wear the same thing every day as I dont bring any clothes :)

Of course if I am on a short trip I will not bring all this gear, as I will spend my time exploring rather than working - but on a longer trip I need to work as well. I'm curious if any other artists have ideas - and what you carry when you travel?

Posted by
4148 posts

If it were me , I would bring a sketchbook and my DSLR . Upon return , if you run your snaps into a high definition TV via an HDMI cable , you will get very nearly the color , light , and resolution , that you would see live ( maybe not exact , but it beats hauling a lot of gear ) . After all , since the early 20th century , many artists have used this technique . I understand that it's not plein air , but I'm certain your imagination and critical eye would compensate . Here is a wonderful example of an artist ( watercolor ) who created wonderful art in a hostile environment ,with very minimal equipment and supplies -

Posted by
3428 posts

I love to work with colored pencil and chalk pastel pencil. When I travel on longer trips, I usually take a medium size sketch book and sometimes also a small one (3" x 5"). I carry the smaller one around during the day along with a couple of sketching pencils (usually a 2B and a 4H sometimes just an HB)- all in a quart size baggie in my day bag. I also take a small number of colored pencils and chalk pastel pencils, a sharpener and an eraser. At night I'll sketch or do actual 'pictures' in the room. Everything fits into a gallon Ziploc bag in my carryon. I'd save the watercolors for when you get back and just take a sketch dap or two and some pencils (or pens). As suggested earlier you can use your pictures to help you remember the lighting and colors when you get home.

Posted by
5 posts

Hunting backpack. Very roomy for Luggage. Gear backpacks designed to carry in long journeys in extreme conditions. For young people it is also possible to pick up something.

Posted by
23418 posts

Remember any and all art supplies that you might need is obtainable in Europe.

Posted by
139 posts

I'm a writer, not an artist. But I love a small (3x5) hardcover Moleskine for a travel journal. They open flat, and I can write all the way across 2 pages if I need a bigger format. Sometimes I sketch architectural details (badly) or quick site maps. Love the pocket in back for storing tickets or memorabilia and a spare $20. I prefer to write in a 5x8 notebook, but finally adapted to the smaller size. I keep a notebook for each trip, spine labeled, ready for the writing process at home. I consult these little books again and again.

But if I were traveling for a much longer timeframe, I'd have a dilemma. Go with the bigger format and deal with the extra bulk? Or start with a small notebook, and when it's full, do what Rick does when he runs out of toothpaste: go to a local shop and find something that might be a good notebook? I used to take glue stick and a tiny pack of Inktense pencils and water pen with me, until I realized all I really used was a roller ball pen. I spent the spare minutes taking in sights or jotting impressions.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks for all of your insights so far! I very often paint from my photos - great suggestion!

I live in Europe actually so I buy nearly all my supplies here, I know what brands are available. And I do like to buy art supplies when I travel although I try to control myself! :)

My question is more about what to do on longer trips (more than one month) where I am moving around from place to place. I am curious what others do. Yes I can buy a new sketchbook, I am not concerned so much about that. It is more that now I have to carry that new sketchbook and the old one - or mail it home... that can get expensive as well.

I am thinking about transitioning more to digital painting, that way I dont need to carry paper and paints. Or at least working in greyscale and coloring digitally, then I would only need to carry one bottle of black ink, a few brushes and pens.

I am very interested in what others do, thank you so much for sharing your ideas! :)

Posted by
720 posts

I am an artist and art teacher, but I find that I generally don't have the time or space for serious art work while traveling. I generally take a small selection of small, loose sheets of paper --- a couple of sheets of 140 lb watercolor paper, maybe a few sheets of Arches Cover or Rives BFK, and a few sheets of decent drawing paper. In addition, I take a small piece of foam core for support, and I may take a few small tubes of paint (yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue) as well as a pen, pencil, a few brushes, and an eraser. On my last trip to Italy I also took a took a small tin of ArtGraf graphite.

Sometimes I just take paper, a pen and a pencil and leave the paint at home.

These days I am more inclined to take my iPad Pro, which to me is like having a whole art studio at my fingertips.

I take lots of pictures on my trip, and do the big studio pieces when I get home.

Posted by
650 posts

I too watercolor, but traveling to Europe I take very limited supplies.

  1. Camera
  2. Tablet on which to view photos.
  3. Wet dry sketchbook about 6 x 8 inches.
  4. Solid graphite pencil (no wood) and sharpener.
  5. Fine point black waterproof marker
  6. 4 inch travel pan watercolor set of primary mixing colors.
  7. My favorite brush.
  8. A gallon bag for items 3-7

The sketch book becomes both a reference and a souvenir.