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4 ideas for your minimalist artist travel kit

The tiny lady on top of that rocky cliff in the picture, is me :). I was in Malta on the wonderful Dingli Cliff, sketching in watercolour the amazing mediterranean landscape.



I’m a travel addict. Travels is where I get all my art inspirations from. Travelling for me means to be able to interact with colours, textures and shapes on spot, wherever I am.


There is nothing better than grabbing, capturing and transforming what you see in front of you in that exact moment, under that exact light. It’s a process that makes you feel alive, creatively wakes you up and makes you develop your visual sensitivity.


Taking a picture of a place and then reproducing that image once back in my studio, doesn’t really work for me. Our naked eye captures shades, tridimensionality and atmosphere that no camera can truly reproduce. Besides being a record of colours, painting on site also makes the experience of the place get under your skin, it gets imprinted deeply in your memory. And the process of how your brain elaborates and memorise what you see and feel is exactly what you need to make your painting unique and recognisable as truly yours.


Besides my addiction to travel, I have to say in general I’m a minimalist. I don’t like to bring lots of stuff and carry useless weights. For this reason I carefully consider every single object I put in my luggage.

Some preliminary useful questions for you

Presuming you are not going on an art retreat ;) but you are travelling simply to visit a place, perhaps with your family or friends, before getting your art-on-the-go kit ready, I would suggest you answer some questions that can help you choose the minimal kit to bring with you:

  1. How many days are you travelling for?

  2. How often will you move from one place to another?

  3. Will you have the chance to be still in one place for at least a couple of hours almost every day?

  4. Will the people travelling with you be engaged in activities you won’t be engaged into? Realistically, will you have time just for yourself while they are busy doing their stuff?

  5. Are you travelling just with a backpack?

  6. Are you travelling by flight, train or car or bike?

  7. Can you easily bring liquids with you?

  8. How much weight can you handle to carry on your shoulders not only while you reach your destination, but also once you are there walking around? Are you fit enough?

  9. Which medium are you more comfortable with?

  10. Which medium do you feel can be a good practical choice to bring along for the kind of trip you are going to start?

In my experience (I’m a watercolour and a mixed media painter) the following four options are the most practical types of minimalist-art-travel-kit to bring with me, and I choose one or the others depending on how I’m travelling, who with, where I’m going and how long for.


My favorite choice of sketchbooks

In general, whatever is the kind of travel, i use Moleskine sketchbooks. I love their paper, I love the quality and that little pocket in the back cover where you can fit in your travel memorabilia.

When you choose your Moleskine sketchbook be careful in choosing the right weight of paper. There are skechbooks in 120gsm called “Sketch” Pad or Album and others in 200gsm “Watercolour” Album. I use 120gsm when I just want to sketch with pencils and pens. If I know I’m going to paint then I go for 200gsm. Bear in mind pencils don’t really have a great result on 200gsm.

Regarding the size, I go from Pocket (14x9cm) to Large (21x13cm) to A4 (21x29cm)


Option 1 - Minimal Sketching kit

When travelling light, possibly just with a backpack, less than a week and perhaps not alone.


Of course you want to explore the place but it’s kind of tricky to really stop for a long while stop and put on paper all the visual inspirations you are getting. In this case I already know that I won’t have much time for my art as I want explore the place as well as enjoy the people I am with. I find that simply sketching is the ideal and perhaps I just add to my kit some watercolour pencils to quickly bring up to life with a water brush.

This is the full content of my kit:

  1. A small sketchbook 120gms Moleskine Pocket Art Plus Cahier Sketch Album

  2. Set of Faber-Castell – Castell 9000 Art Set of 6 Pencils

  3. Set of waterproof ink pens Pigma Micron 6 Fineliners

  4. A set (optional) of 12 Derwent Inktense Watercolour Pencils with a Pentel refillable water brush

  5. And of course a sharpener and some bulldog clips for those windy days


Option 2 - Minimal Watercolour Kit

When travelling light, maybe with a backpack, from 1 to 2 weeks and perhaps not alone


Similar to the one above, you just need to add some material for watercolour. I use this kit when I travel at least 1 week and I’m sleeping in a couple of different places. It means the pace of my travels is slower and I can have a few bunches of long hours to dedicate to sketching… In my experience making sketches is ideal because it is pretty hard to do finished pieces when you are on the move both because I don’t like to have that pressure “I have to do it” and because I like to get a good balance of “enjoy the place, enjoy the people, make some arty records of my journeys”. That’s all. In this case, in my kit will have:

  1. 2 watercolour Moleskine pad. In this case the thickness of the paper is 200gsm. (Why two sketchbooks? because I don’t want to wait between a sketch and another while the first one is drying especially when I’m painting with limited time available 🙂 )

  2. 1 travel watercolours set. I find Winsor&Newton set of 12 more than enough

  3. 1 squirrel mop brush number 8

  4. 3 sable brushes

  5. a Pentel refillable water brush

  6. 1 Faber-Castell pencil F

  7. Set of waterproof ink pens Pigma Micron 6 Fineliners

  8. A couple of rolls of 8mm washi tape

  9. This fantastic Faber-Castell foldable water cup

  10. bulldog clips for en plein air windy days


Option 3 - Minimal sketching and collage kit

when you travel light, with baggage on hold, from 1 to 2 weeks


To keep your collage kit at minimum bring

  1. 1 watercolour Moleskine pad

  2. 1 glue in stick

  3. 1 pair of small scissors

  4. some of the materials listed in option 1 (sketching) and in option (2) watercolour.

  5. A couple of rolls of 8mm washi tape

  6. bulldog clips for en plein air windy days


Regarding the sizes of the Moleskine, the large version of watercolour sketchbook is 21x13cm, the pocket version is 9x14cm. Bear in mind that to bring with you scissors or any cutting tool you’ll need to put them in the baggage on hold if travelling by plane or in other restricted conditions. Otherwise, bring some pre-cut shapes based on the format of the paper you will be using.

Option 4 - Minimal acrylic or gouache kit

when you can travel heavier, with baggage on hold and for longer time


When a journey is quite long from almost a month to over a month and I know I’m going to stop for 4/5 days minimum in every place I then may bring acrylics or gouache rather than watercolour.

Usually, when bringing tubes, the reaction I get is “Oh my god!! Do you bring so many colours with you”? Well, nope 🙂 You just need 5 colours! Or if you want to get really crazy then 8, and from these little number you can make so many colours! My full kit is:

  1. If I bring acrylics: 5 small tubes of acrylic paint (my fav choices are Titanium White, Ivory Black, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow.). In alternative I also love this practical set of Winsor&Newton weighting 300gr in all and it’s got both cold and warm range of main colours.

  2. Same thing in case I bring gouache (which is easier to clean up compared to acrylic as it doesn’t contain glue but it is similar to acrylic for its capacity to cover up completely without transparency): 5 small individual tubes (see list of colours above) or this Winsor&Newton set of 10.

  3. 2 moleskine watercolour sketchbook (a4) 21x30cm

  4. Set of waterproof ink pens Pigma Micron 6 Fineliners

  5. A couple of rolls of 8mm washi tape

  6. 3 or 4 synthetic round brushes in the small range as they are relative to the size of the sketchbook I’m using. So I go for size 1, 2, 4 and 5 Winsor&Newton series 2

  7. A couple of flat brushes (1 inch and a quarter of an inch) for bigger areas in your sketch

  8. A black sharpie

  9. An exacto knife which is useful to cut things to stick in your sketchbook, sharpen your pencils and scrape your sketch to get some texture.

  10. A couple of pencils: F and HB

  11. bulldog clips for en plein air windy days

  12. It may also be useful to add a pair of scissors and some glue to have fun with collage and mixed media.


Conclusion

These above are just some ideas to inspire and encourage you to hunt for inspirations while wandering in our wonderful world. These materials will allow you to maintain your art practice while you are on the go. You can do a mix a match of what i’ve listed and choose your own, based on your personal needs. In any case there are never excuses for not painting when travelling… 🙂

The ideas that you create and collect in your sketchbook will be the seeds for making larger paintings once you are back home.

I would love to hear what you think and if you have other solutions of art kits when travelling minimal? Leave me your comments below!

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