Whether you’re globe trotting and taking your art supplies with you, or you need a great setup to take to your favourite local beauty spot, these travel art supplies will make sure everything packs away compactly. It’ll also make your process feel smoother if you decide to paint outdoors.
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The best easels for travelling
If you plan on taking your oil paints, acrylic paints or oil pastels away with you, a lightweight pochade box easel is a great choice, as it packs away small.
The most portable plein air easel is the New Wave u.go plein air anywhere pochade box. It’s made from baltic birch, with an aluminium frame. They are compatible with ¼” tripod mounts. Side trays can be attached with magnets, so you can hold brushes and other tools. It can hold surfaces up to 14”.
Pack away some pencils for your trip
Sketch on the go—it’s mess-free and pencils are easy to pack away. They’re also lightweight and require minimal extra supplies to get started with making art.
The good news is that there are numerous different mediums available in the pencil format. Each pencil behaves differently depending on your medium choice and style.
Classic graphite pencils are accessible, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Anyone can take a few different graphite pencils, an eraser and sketchbook out with them to start drawing their surroundings. I would advise to get softer pencils like 5B or 6B, so that you can achieve a range of tonal values.
For oil painters, oil or wax pencils are made from oily and wax binders that can appear painterly on the paper, and feel buttery in texture. With the oil pencil medium, use a paper that has a slight surface tooth like Pastelmat for the best effects. Wax pencils are usually slightly softer and cheaper compared to oil pencils, use techniques such as blending and burnishing to achieve striking effects.
Watercolour pencils are wonderfully versatile, they can be used as regular pencils or activated with water. They also work brilliantly for detailed areas of a watercolour painting. Watercolour pencils would be suitable for watercolour painters that want to travel with a medium that is easier to clean.
Watercolour pans for travelling
Travelling with dry watercolour pans that can be wetted is a great alternative to carrying liquid tubes. Firstly, they won’t count towards your liquid travel allowance if you’re taking a flight, plus they’re a more compact option. All you need is a brush, paper and a cup of water and you can start painting. Use the pan tray to mix colours.
Watercolour travel brushes
Travel brushes made by Da Vinci are professional quality and made with synthetic hair. The handles can be removed and used as a lid, to protect the bristles whilst travelling and take up less room in your case.
Another cheaper option is these water brushes, they come with a water well in the handle, that you can squeeze to wet the bristles while painting. These brushes have synthetic hairs, so they’re stiffer than sable. They are much more affordable than sable brushes, however.
Gouache paints for travelling
Gouache is a fantastic medium to travel with. The paints are easy to set up and clean away. It’s also water soluble and fast drying, as it’s made from the same ingredients as watercolour. The main difference between the two is that gouache is an opaque medium, so artists can build opaque layers with effects that emulate matte acrylics.
Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache is a beginner friendly option, that is made from quality materials and suitable for professionals. Use it alongside watercolour or on its own.
Gouache is great option for quick sketches, studies, painting en plein air and on the go. Use the same brushes and paper that you would with watercolour and clean up in the same way. It’s a fantastic low maintenance choice that bridges a gap for artists who prefer mediums like oil or acrylic, but want paints that are easy to clean and travel with. It’s a versatile medium too, that feels intuitive to use if you have experience painting with watercolour, acrylic or oil. Create washes, blends, or dry brush to create texture.
Travel art sketchbooks
This Visual Journal sketchbook by Strathmore has thick pages and comes in multiple varieties, suitable for watercolour and mixed media. This book is the perfect size to pack away and the spiral binding means you can choose to fold it out flat or fold it back on itself for ease of drawing or painting when you’re on the go. The best watercolour sketchbooks have thick paper, look for paper with 200gsm thickness or higher.
If you’re painting plein air and you need to transport a wet canvas or panel, this wet panel box by Richeson can hold 9 x 12” and 8 x 10” panels. The box is lightweight and can hold multiple panels at one time.
Organise your travel art supplies
Keep your art materials in one place with practical storage solutions. By organising your supplies, you can preserve the condition of the art materials as well as being able to find them more easily when you unpack.
Organise pencils and brushes with a pencil roll
Pencil rolls are a compact way to keep pencils and brushes safe. Some rolls will have compartments for sharpeners, erasers and even sketchbooks too.
If you already have tubes or pans of watercolours and would like to organise them into your own portable travel box, get an empty watercolour tin and fill it up yourself. These empty pans are completely customisable, compact and water tight. Plus, they have fold out side palettes for mixing colours.
It’s not just your supplies you have to store when you’re travelling, it’s your artwork too! Make sure you protect your artwork to prevent it getting damaged. A canvas box would work perfectly if you’re an oil painter. If you’re storing paper or flat panels, a portfolio or storage bag would work well.
Travel light: Use a limited palette
The trickiest thing about packing for a trip is deciding what to leave behind. If you’re an oil or acrylic painter, reducing your palette to around 6 tubes or fewer can really save some space and weight in your bag. Consider taking a limited palette of colours: a red, blue, yellow, one white and one darker colour for mixing shadows. From versions of the primaries, white and a dark pigment, you can mix a large chromatic and tonal range.
Art supplies for travelling abroad
Liquids in carry on bags are limited to 100ml containers. Solvents such as turpentine have a flashpoint below 65 celsius, so they should be left behind.
When taking oil paints, or even acrylics, take a safety data sheet that includes information about the materials, like the flashpoint and contents of the liquids. Michael Harding and Gamblin provide safety data sheets that you can print off and take with you. Even when taking a safety data sheet with you, there’s still no guarantee the paints will be let on the flight, it’s at the discretion of the airport security. If in doubt about what you can take with you, check with your airline first.
Painting plein air
Painting plein air while travelling is a wonderfully fun thing to do. You’ll need some slightly different supplies for plein air watercolour painting, compared to oil and acrylic, such as aluminium easels and watercolour brushes. There are supplies you can get which makes the process, transportation and clean up feel smoother like viewfinders and easel umbrellas.
Travel art supplies: Final tips
When travelling, it’s best to pack as light as you can. Make sure everything is wrapped up, especially anything that has the potential to leak. Protecting your final artworks is just as important as organising and protecting your supplies. Another good tip is to keep some pencils and a sketchbook in your bag so you’re ready to start creating wherever you are.
Art isn’t just for the studio. I always feel more inspired when I’m travelling and away from home. The urge to create is always higher when you’re in a completely new destination, being inspired by new sights. If you want to pack light, you could create some composition sketches in a sketchbook, then take them back to the studio to make into larger final pieces. It’s always best to get your ideas down when the memories are fresh, or even better, paint en plein air to capture the atmosphere of the scene on location.
For impromptu trips, you could prepare a case of your favourite travel art supplies. This way they’re always ready to pop into your bag for last minute getaways.
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