Traveling soon? Pro tips to be creative while traveling.

I encourage you to take art tools with you on your upcoming travels. And, yes, your phone definitely counts as an important tool for photography and to accentuate your creativity. 


Whether doing photography, sketching, painting or participating in any visual art when I travel--even just plein air in my neighborhood-- my key pro tips are:

  1. Allow myself to be creative: look at the world in a new way.
  2. Pack light. After I have everything laid out, put half of it away.
  3. Bring a few of extra bags and some tape for "MacGyvering."
  4. Connect with your inner child. Have fun!


I’ll discuss each of these in more detail below.


What to to bring with you?

Since I’m mainly a watercolor artist, I’ll start with that.



Watercolor paint: Keep a limited palette for travel. I use a travel palette, like my Schmincke. Six or eight hues is all you need. Keep in mind you can usually change the little squares of paint (called “pans”) in your field palettes.



Watercolor paper: I prefer Arches #140, Cold Pressed. It comes in many formats. For travel, sketchbooks, pads, and small blocks, are good.

My second favorite paper, and less expensive, is American Journey by Cheap Joes Art Stuff, North Carolina.


Paintbrushes: Two or three brushes is plenty. Don’t take your best or favorite. I can’t tell you how many times a brush has fallen into a stream, or rolled off a rock. (See image above.) Bring moderate quality, but inexpensive, brushes and paper, for children who stop by and want to paint.



Palette: A field palette typically has a good, albeit small, mixing area. I often need more space for mixing. A random “Tupperware” lid that has lost its container, work well.


Water containers: A small plastic or glass jar that I've recycled works well. I fill it at home unless I'm traveling by plane, and then I fill it when i get there. I change my water frequently since my vessel is small. You may have a source of water nearby, like a water fountain. Or I always have at least one container of water to drink and I may use some of that.

Paper towels or clean rag: They are needed frequently to remove excess water from your brush, paper or palette. Five or six standard-size paper towels are usually plenty.


Tape and Plastic Bags: Painters’ tape or duct tape. Away from home, you will need tape. Usually my taping involves keeping things from tipping over or blowing away. I might tape my palette to a sketchpad so it doesn’t blow away. I might tape my brushes to my palette so they don’t slide down a hill. It’s surprising how many times I have to MacGyver some solution that requires the tape that OF COURSE I have in my art bag.

Regarding plastic bags, I often have to put wet brushes, a wet palette, or even trash in a bag. Or, I put a plastic bag down on the ground where I’m going to sit. If I am out with my camera, I make a tent out of a bag or wrap it around my camera to keep it dry--and I will need my tape for that. I put wet trash in one bag. I can save newfound pinecones, feathers, and rocks. I suppose I could twist one into a rope and use it as a tourniquet to stop bleeding if need be. :-) Endless possibilities.


Pencil and eraser: I bring watercolor pencils, too.


Spray bottle: Not required, but I bring a spray bottle filled with water to keep my paint in my palette most, sometimes to spray my face because I am hot, sometimes to create certain patterns that I love in my paintings. It’s also a small extra source of clean water, if needed.


Traveling with Children? Take an extra mini-set of everything. Sometimes a mini-set for each child.




Sketching supplies are a snap:

First start with some of the things from the above list:

  1. Tape and extra plastic bags.
  2. Pencil and eraser: I bring watercolor pencils, too.

In addition, you'll want:

Paper: I usually take a couple of sketchbooks, with heavier paper. (Often branded for “mixed media.”) Because I often sketch with watercolor pencils or watercolor crayons, I use water on my paper, so it’s needs to be more substantial than the cheapest sketchpads offer.



Mark makers: This is a fancy terms that artists sometimes use for anything that makes a mark. Take whatever stimulates your creativity and feels right in your hand. Pencils, crayons, pastels, markets, Sharpies, etc. Whatever is comfortable. Whatever is an extension of your creativity. I once painted a drew with a stick because I had forgotten my brushes and pencils (I did have my palette, so I dipped it in paint.) it was surprisingly successful.



Pencil sharpener: You may or may not need one. I sometimes use my pocket knife in a pinch. (Of course, that means you have to pack a pocket knife. LOL.)


Traveling with children? Definitely take the tools they prefer like crayons or markers. Take coloring books or coloring pages. If they want to color a unicorn while you are photographing Yosemite, that’s perfectly fine!t

I have a short blog post, "Are We There Yet?" which provides ideas for a traveling art kit to bring with you when traveling with kids.




This will vary considerably on the sophistication of your photography practice. If you are taking more than your cellphone and one additional camera per person, you probably already have a checklist of what you need to take with you.


But thinking of a light, spontaneous trip, here is what I recommend.

From the lists from above:

  1. Tape and extra plastic bags.
  2. Water bottle (for drinking or for spritzing some water drops on a leaf or bloom).

In addition, you'll want:

Camera (whether a smart phone or digital camera, or both).


Backup source of power. Charger cable for phone, probably a car charger, or new batteries for the camera. You may want an additional storage option, like a spare memory card, for the camera. If you need to, clear some the photos off your phone before your set out.

Possibly a tripod, a battery powered additional light, and a piece of white mat-board to reflect light.


Traveling with children? Small, inexpensive digital cameras are available that work great with kids. They are under $30 and the images can be transferred to your laptop or PC. The possibilities are endless.





I recommend you take time for art on your trips so you can spread your creative wings and enjoy your travels with an extra layer of richness.

Now, you’ve got your gear collected, so what’s your goal?

  • To support your internal artistic urges?
  • To document your travels?
  • To get various points of view, since each traveling companion will have their own “set of gear”?
  • To practice skills, like observing or sketching?
  • To capture your gratitude?


Let's circle back to the start of this post and consider my "Key Pro Tips":

Allow yourself to be creative: look at the world in a new way. Find a new point of view like sitting on the forest floor, or climb a tree to get your shot or start a sketch.


Pack light. And, yet, as you've seen, anticipate a friend or a child wanting to do art with you. Have extra supplies for sharing.



Connect with your inner child. Have fun! Avoiding judging your efforts harshly. Typically, when I am at a new location, my first work there will be quite amateurish; quite awkward. My eyes haven’t acclimated yet to what I'm looking at. There is too much information. No worries.

Explore and have fun! Cut yourself some slack to just play.






Capture your own artistic point of view as a memento of your travels.

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