Tips for the Traveling Artist

I love drawing when I’m on the road. Even when I’m lugging around a decent digital camera, nothing beats recreating impressions, scenes, objects, and people with your hand. For me, drawing feels more intimate because you get to notice details that are often overlooked when taking a photograph.

But carrying around a full set of paints and brushes is contradictory to my practice of traveling light. Usually, I just take a pencil, a kneaded eraser, and three gel pens in different line weights. I stick to drawing in ink because it’s more portable.

For trips where I’d prefer to paint, I’ll take a very small sketchbook and watercolors. There are many reasons why I prefer to bring watercolors as opposed to oil or acrylic paints when traveling. First of all, they can come in either tubes or dried cakes, with the latter being easier to pack when they come in a set. When watercolors get too dry, all you have to do is add a bit of water and you can use them again. Also, since watercolors require a lot of water, small quantities can last very long on the road.

If you want to take a more exciting and challenging approach, you can use readily-available materials. Some artists I know use coffee, tea, and natural dyes from plants. While these materials might not last as long as synthesized paints or inks, you can always coat them with a layer of transparent acrylic latex, fixative, or a preserving spray when you return home.

Do you draw or paint during your trips? If you do, please share your experiences with us in the comments.

Image by CaroFarion from

Posted by | Comments (5)  | May 21, 2009
Category: Simplicity, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life, Working Abroad

5 Responses to “Tips for the Traveling Artist”

  1. Susan Fox Says:

    I’m a nature artist who has traveled quite a bit to collect reference for my paintings, so this was a fun post to find. I blog about my art and travels at My paintings can be seen on my website at I even write a leetle.

    I’ll be heading out for my fourth trip to Mongolia in July to study/photograph and hopefully, sketch, argali sheep, thanks to a $5000 grant from Artists for Conservation. I am in the process of tweaking my gear, both what I take to carry it and what art supplies I’ll want. I’ve blogged in the past about the fieldwork gear I use.

    Got here because I’m reading Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, am thoroughly enjoying it and decided to check out the website. I’ve done some of what I think of as “sane” adventure travel and really appreciate people like Rolf, Tim Cahill and Redmond O’Hanlon, who do the seriously crazy stuff so the rest of us don’t have to. ;0)

    I love the idea of using what’s locally available for media. Soot from a ger stove and milk tea come to mind.

  2. Surf’s Up: Top Creativity Links for June 4, 2009 « Creative Liberty Says:

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  3. Todd Says:

    I just returned from making lots of art on a ’round-the-world trip (see ).

    Watercolor kits can be very portable, but watercolor’s not really my thing. I use acrylic at home because I like to layer, and cover up mistakes.

    I brought a set of colored markers (a mix of different brands, brush types and fine point), white out pens, some colored pencils, a glues stick, brushes, an 8″ x 10″ notebook, 4″x6″ watercolor boards for postcards and a moleskine notebook. I find I can layer white-out and markers to get a lot of subtlety and a painterly effect.

    Watercolors can be very portable to carry a long journey, but there not necessarily handy to carry out on a day-to-day basis to whip out and use when you see something pretty. With my markers and moleskine, I can ready to capture a moment with a drawing in a few seconds.

    The moleskine is impressive – the paper is very durable while still being very thin. I got a steno-style book which I found easiest to draw in.

    Early in the trip I picked up a jar of acrylic medium. I should have put some in a smaller container at home. I used this along with colored pencils to create a sort of acrylic paint effect on paper and also to ‘fix’ the pencils so that they wouldn’t get smeared while the pages rubbed around in my bag.

    The glue stick is handy so that you can incorporate some ephemera from your trip into the art.

    Whatever materials you choose, I suggest practicing with them before you leave on your trip so that you’re ready when you’ve got half-an-hour to spend drawing on location.

  4. Nathan Markham Says:

    I take 3-4 small (12 x 18) peices of unprimed canvas cut and rolled or folded, watercolor pencils, one brush and a bottlecap for water. The drawings begin to overlap and bleed together by the end of my trip. When I get home in the studio I use them as underpaintings after I stretch them.

  5. Peter Says:

    I love the idea of using what’s locally available for media. I blog about travels at