How to Paint on the Go: Our Travel Tips & Techniques
'Windmill' by Kim Whitby, Semi-Finalist of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016
Packing light is every artist’s nightmare. Whether you’re painting in plein air or planning an urban sketching tour, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to narrowing down the essentials for a trip. With your studio host to hundreds of materials at your fingertips, where do you begin? We asked our staff artists about their must have materials and their top tips and techniques for taking your practice on the go.
LIMIT YOUR PALETTE
Reducing your palette is first trick to travelling light. A core range of colours can be used to create a spectrum of different shades. Try limiting your choice of palette to six essential pigments, such Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Yellow, Terre Verde or Sap Green, Ultramarine and Titanium White. Using an artist quality paint loaded with pigment will ensure the colours don’t muddy, and your hand-mixed shades will remain bold and rich in colour.
Whether you’re painting or drawing on the move, most brands offer sets tailored to plein air, landscape or portraiture themes, helping you limit your colours to just the essentials. Michael Harding Plein Air Set offers a selection perfect for outdoor painters whilst the Sennelier Landscape Set offers oil pastel artists a selection of earthy pigments.
If you’re looking to capture a portrait on the move, Unison Soft Pastel Portrait Set offers a selection of light pinks to rich browns, whilst Winsor & Newton Skin Tones Set offers a blendable range of colours to help you achieve the perfect skin tone.
Daniel Smith Watercolour Dot Card - Featuring 88 colours from the core range, from super-rare pigments to exclusive colours
CREATE COLOUR SWATCHES
A little goes a long way where watercolour is concerned, so why take the whole tube? Squeeze a small blob of watercolour paint directly onto a piece of thick cartridge paper or a disposable palette. Once completely dry, you can re-wet the colour again and again. Leave the palette in the sun to dry so it can be reused or simply throw it away when you’re finished. This is also common practice when creating your own dot card. Some brands, such as Daniel Smith, also offer readymade dot cards, featuring a selection of super rare and exclusive pigments for you to try before purchasing the larger tubes.
Use luggage tags to create disposable swatches of custom colours, for a quick and simple palette idea
Watercolour pencils can often be tricky to transport without breaking. Create a colour swatch as a mini, portable palette. You can use luggage tags, off cuts of cartridge paper or the backs of old business cards to create your swatches. Just ensure the surface has a rough tooth and is durable, to withstand the application of water and pressure when laying down the colour.
Press firmly to lay down as much pigment as possible and use a water brush pen to activate the colour on the go. Once dry, it can be used again and again, and when one tag runs out, simply throw it away. You can combine and layer different colours to create new shades and custom palettes. Cass Art Watercolour Pastels are a bold selection of colours perfect for combining and mixing shades.
Watercolour markers can also be used to create a temporary colour palette. Using a sheet of acetate, apply a generous amount to the sheet, applying more colour as each layer dries. When applying water, the colour lifts from the sheet, allowing you to mix and lift colour directly onto your work with a brush.
OUR STAFF ARTIST’S ADVICE
“I was in Bologna and kicked myself for not taking the Rembrandt Retractable Brushes!” says Heather from Soho. “Small and affordable, they were perfect for painting on the go – especially if you prefer to paint with a natural hair rather than the synthetic brushes.”
“Also, I like to use the Staedtler Pigment Liners for drawing out the architecture under the watercolour because they’re super-fast drying and permanent so they don’t smudge when I paint over the top.”
Winsor & Newton Pigment Liners on acetate
‘You can create a swatch with Winsor & Newton Pigment Markers on a sheet of acetate and then reactive and pick up the colour with one of their blenders.” says Katie in Manchester. “A little goes a long way and all you need to carry is two blenders, maybe even one, to reuse the colours. Both the white blender and colourless blender are the perfect tool.”
“This year I am going to South Italy and Israel. For both destinations I need to take a flight so lightweight and portable art materials are my thing.” says Aurora in Soho. “For the past two years I have been travelling with a standard size watercolour set and I have always noticed how much heavier my overall luggage is because of my full size equipment. This year, I bought the Cass Art Watercolour Quarter Pan Set with sketchbook bundle, and I am absolutely amazed at the quality of the paint!
The quality choice of pigments such as Cadmiums, Cobalt, Viridian and Quinacridone and the little brush make it a must have for me. I can already feel the bliss of being with my friend by the River Jordan, holding my slim watercolour set under the sun.”
"Plus, there are a range of sets that combine everything you need. The Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Field Box has everything you need to set up a mini watercolour studio on-the-go."
YOUR TRAVEL TOOLKIT
Winsor & Newton offer a diverse range of watercolour markers and watercolour sticks as a great alternative for taking artist quality pigments on the go. Plus, these will not register as liquids when passing through airport security, so are perfect addition for those trips abroad.
Derwent Pencil Wrap
Pen wraps make organising your essential materials a simple process, whilst saving space in your bag. The elastic tags expand to fit an array of different materials, from brushes and pens to pastels and charcoal. The range of different compartments lets you take the vital parts of your studio away with you, whilst keeping your colours separate. As the wrap tightly holds your materials, it also reduces the risk of breakage in transport.
Jullian easels on the go
Painting in plein air can be a challenge, especially when the comforts of your studio are left behind. The Jullian Sketch Box Travel Easel is light and easily dismantled, with a free carry bag to make transporting from A to B a smoother ride. The Jakar Easel with Telescopic Legs lets you adjust your easel to suit your surroundings. Whether you’re on rocky moors or a sandy hilltop, this easel can adjust to suit any situation.
Water brush pens are perfect for on the go watercolour and ink work. Fill up the handle with a small amount of water and apply directly to your palette or drawing. No more balancing pots of water. You can create washes by gently squeezing more water through the brush.
Pentel offer a wide range of single brushes for you to create a personalised collection. If you’re looking to get started, Derwent offer a pack of three with a range of different nibs for you to experiment with.
Moleskine Smart Writing Paper Tablet & Pen
When it comes to sketchbooks, Moleskine offer a breadth of paper types in a wide range of sizes, perfect for tucking into your pocket or rucksack. Plus, the Moleskine Smart Writing Paper Tablet & Pen combines the art of sketching with technology. The app smoothly transfers your notes and drawings into a digital version, which can be edited and shared whilst on the move.
TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING LIGHT
Try soaking a small cloth with some turps and sealing it in a zip lock bag to clean your brushes on the go. This will remove the majority of the paint until you get home, saving your brushes from being ruined by dried paint.
Consider taking preparatory sketches and drawings to revisit when you return home.
Ask yourself, do I really need it? Can this be worked in more detail when I get home? Chances are the essentials will be enough to help you capture your scenes on the go.
Winner Richard Allen on set of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016
BE AIRPORT SAVVY
There is nothing worse than having hundreds of pounds worth of art materials confiscated at the airport security desks. Explore our top tips for taking your materials abroad and make security a stress free experience.
1) If you’re travelling hand luggage only at the airport, remember that all liquids in your hand luggage must be below 100ml and in a clear, zip lock bag. This includes all toiletries, creams and gels and is limited to a maximum of 15 items per person. Tubes of paint, inks, mediums and gels all count towards this restriction.
2) If you're planning a big painting trip, artist paints are permitted, providing they are not lead based. To be on the safe side, check a bag into the hold to avoid disappointment when travelling through security.
3) Be mindful of the materials you are packing. Hazardous or flammable liquids are not allowed, so leave your brush cleaners and turps at home.
4) It may not seem like a dangerous item, but some materials can fall under the sharps and tools category. Ensure all lino cutting tools, palette knives, scalpels and scissors are all checked into your hold luggage to ensure they aren’t disposed of at security.
PREPARE WITH ARTIST TIPS
“My tip is to pack all three basic colours and then maybe three more that you really like, which should be enough to start with (especially since it also means they can be mixed).”
Artist, illustrator and designer Felix Scheinberger challenges you to take your watercolours on-the-go and refresh your approach to capturing urban scenes. 'Urban Watercolour Sketching' offers tips and techniques to help you capture the moments around you with colour confidence. Find out more about Felix’s approach to watercolour in our exclusive interview: Storytelling in Colour: with Felix Scheinberger.
“I have a very tiny box of half pan watercolour paints which I use for everything - even quite large works, and I keep the same colours in my watercolour and oil selection which is very tight - two blues, two reds, two yellows, golden ochre, burnt umber and cadmium orange.”
Kim Whitby, Semi-Finalist of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 uses her Moleskine sketchbooks to capture on-the-go watercolours, before bringing them back to the studio to experiment with scale. Explore more about her practice and how she prepared for painting on-set outside for LAOTY in her exclusive interview.