I was asked last week about what essential supplies I travel with, and I what I have with me as must-haves right now. Well, the truth is, luggage was so tight when we returned from Australia, and I had to sacrifice most of what I wanted to bring. So I thought I would share my travel sketch kit which is pretty much all I have right now. This is also the kit I keep with me ALL the time, and have traveled with for many years.
It's amazing how far just a few supplies can take you. Learning to let go of endless tool options helps me focus in on the sketchbook page and the art of capturing what is around me, or even what's in my heart. In my current sketch-kit, I don't have a lot, but I do have the best quality tools I can afford.
Every artist is different, especially when it comes to a travel kit, and having the essentials with you ALL THE TIME, no matter what is a crucial to maintaining an artful life.
The most essential tool for me is a high-quality sketchbook, and it's no secret that I favor the Stillman & Birn books. I usually always have a "Zeta" Series, which is my favorite, but I also love the "Beta". I favor the 5.5" x 8.5" hardbound book because it's small enough to fit into my bag, and still gives me a double page spread for larger sketches. The binding holds up beautifully to travel, but the paper is what makes it. Beautiful, high quality, super heavy weight paper...unbeatable.
When I left Australia, I had the "Zeta" which has since been filled, so now I am working in a "Beta", I have two spreads left then it's off to the art store to get another. (Me in an art store could be quite a dangerous thing).
The next most important element for me is my watercolor paint box. It's taken me a long time and a lot of money to find what I consider the perfect paints. Of course there is NO SUBSTITUTE for premium quality paints, so I recommend you choose a collection of basic colors from a high-quality manufacturer and focus on building your skills with those. Forget low-quality, student-grade paints.
My watercolor tin contains Sennelier Honey-Based Premium Artists Watercolors. Sennelier is a French brand and are one of the oldest fine art paint and pastel makers in the world. They are based in Paris and their products are unsurpassed. Of course, like any good supplier, they are not cheap, but these beautiful liquid jewels will take you such a long long way. Honey based watercolors are the very best you can buy, the pigment is strong and vibrant, the consistency is luscious, and the light-fastness is amazing. In my opinion, there simply is no better watercolor paint on the market today.
This is my basic 14-color palette that I love. I have a much larger color palette for my studio, but this collection works perfectly for travel sketching. Each of the colors is beautiful in its own right, and they all mix well to create a huge selection of extended colors.
I buy them in the tubes and squeeze them into the empty 1/2 pans. The tin is by Schmincke. You can buy these empty watercolor tins in a variety of sizes. The one I am using is a 12 pan tin, but as you can see I can fit 14 1/2 pan colors easily, with room for a small brush. The inner section the holds the pans can be pulled out and you could fill the entire tin with another row of 7 1/2 pan colors if you like.
Selecting my basic kit for drawing was a little harder. I have a vast range of pens, pencils, brushes, and markers and I am never sure if I have exactly what I need. But I did manage to get it down to this small selection that covers pretty much every situation for me.
First and foremost, I chose a selection of three paintbrushes. I have tried lots of brands, and for the price, Rosemary & Co are some of the best brushes I've used. They have a lovely selection of travel brushes which are beautiful and reliable. I have the #10, #8, and #6 rounds. You could always cut out the #8 and go for an even finer brush is you wanted.
The only drawback is that there is no marking on the outside of the brush casing, so it's difficult to know which one is which when the caps are on the brushes. To solve this, I simply stuck some masking tape around the cap and labelled each one.
In addition to my brushes I have the Lamy Safari Fountain Pen in Extra Fine. I use the Lamy black ink cartridge which is not waterproof. There are other great pens around and the main thing to consider is how well the pen will hold up to air travel. I actually prefer the Rapidograph Technical Pens by Koh-i-Nor, but I find that they often leak with the pressurized cabin so I packed the Lamy instead.
I also have the Staedtler Mars-780 Mechanical Pencil with a 200-H lead. When I'm traveling, a mechanical pencil is a must have. It saves trying to sharpen the pencil and disposing of the shavings when you're on the go. I've used this pencil for years and years and although it's not cheap, the one you see here is the same one I purchased over 20 years ago, so it's held up well. I also like the Sanford Peel-Off Magic Rub Eraser Pencil because it fits into the kit easily and I can erase fine details with the narrow tip.
There are often times when I don't have water, so I carry the Niji Water-Brush in a fine head. This is always a good one to have on hand and I find I use it a lot more than I expected.
Finally, I have the Molotow White Paint Pen in Extra Fine. I've found most of the big brand white pens simply don't work well over watercolor, or they dry out really quickly. The Molotow seems to always be reliable and is narrow enough to fit into my kit easily.
One of the best finds of my life was this little travel nylon book cover. I picked it up at REI in the US about 10-15 years ago. It is made by a company called Warp Corp, and when I Googled it today, I couldn't actually find it. But most outdoor and camping stores stock accessories that are similar. Go online and search for something durable, with good quality zips and lots of closures.
The left side has a netted zip pocket where I keep all my pens, paints, and brushes. I also have a small collapsible water container that fits in there (not shown). Under the net pocket is a sleeve where I keep a bunch of folded paper towels and any tickets, brochures, or keepsakes I find along my travels.
On the left side is another sleeve designed to slide the back cover of your book into. This secures the book in place neatly. It also has a tag for marking your page. There is plenty of room in the over all design for extra expansion.
As you can see, everything fits perfectly inside the case, with room for more, plus it doesn't take up much room in my carry-on.
It has a solid handle on the spine for carrying, plus a loop and a clip (not shown) for clipping it onto your backpack or the like.
You can see how compact the entire thing is.
So this is what I am living with right now. It's the perfect collection for all the travels I've been doing, and is serving me well as I settle back into life in the mid-west USA. But I am excited to get my hands on the rest of my art supplies, especially my Twinkling h2O's. These are due to arrive in another month or two.
What's in your travel sketch kid?? Leave a comment and let me know.
Happy sketching, and thanks for checking in. xx