7 Essential Portable Art Materials

Are you an artist who loves to travel? In this post, I share with you 7 Essential Art Materials so you can be Art Prepared for your next trip. Whether you’re a hiker, a teacher, a commuter or a tourist, like to sketch indoors or out, if you’re planning a trip and don’t want to lose your creative mojo, this list will be a help to you.

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Spring seems to be struggling to get here in the Northeast, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about summer teaching trips, hiking and painting in the great outdoors. I love to travel and fortunately for me, I do a lot of it as a result of teaching workshops. As you have learned from many previous posts, especially the last two on artists hikes, my favorite way to experience new places is to hike them and paint as I go. It’s important to me to not only record what I’ve seen via photographs, but to also record the essence of the place through my own marks. Please understand that these are just sketches, not masterpieces, they help me to keep my artist brain in tune when I’m not in the studio and they serve as memorable references for larger paintings. While I’m teaching a workshop, it’s sometimes difficult for me to get out and hike, so my favorite thing to do to wind down is sit in my hotel room and sketch. All of the materials I’ve listed in this post are inexpensive, lightweight, and fit neatly into my backpack, carry on bag or suitcase with plenty of room to spare. They are also TSA friendly so you can take take them with you when flying. Whether you’re a hiker, a teacher, a commuter or a tourist, like to sketch indoors or out, if you’re planning a trip and don’t want to lose your creative mojo, this list will be a help to you. Additional product images, examples of my sketches and how I use these materials are below each product description. Again, my sketches are not masterpieces. Be kind. ; )

  1. Piccadilly Open Bound Sketchbookz-craft
    An essential for any traveling artist to take along on a trip is the sketchbook, of course. I was introduced to this wonderful book through a workshop student last summer. There are so many good qualities I love about this book, the most important being that it’s compact, lightweight and can accept a variety of media, including water. Also important to me is that due to it’s open-bound binding and with a little breaking in, it lays flat without that distracting spiral between the pages most sketchbooks have. It also has a handy pocket to hold postcards, plants or anything else I collect on my travels. It doesn’t have a closure like other field sketchbooks, but that is easily remedied by a homemade tie, mine being a lovely piece of raffia. I don’t really like the word ‘SKETCH’ on the front, but that is also easily remedied by a little camouflage. Unfortunately, this book has been discontinued by Barnes and Noble, where I purchased it, but you can still get copies of it through Marketplace sellers here.


     
  2. Koh-I-Noor Watercolor Wheel
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    I love watercolor for quick sketches and have purchased a few portable watercolor sets over the years, but this stackable set of 24 colors by Koh-I-Noor is definitely my favorite. I found it in a museum gift shop near the children’s art supplies so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality, but I was totally blown away by the color intensity when I did my first tests. If you’d like to see a more comprehensive comparison to better quality watercolor sets, watch this short video. I’m no watercolor expert and I’m sure I don’t need a whole 24 colors, but I love having them at my disposal if I want them. I’m used to working with gouache, so I’m always searching for white when working with watercolors and this set has white! It really doesn’t work the way gouache works, but I like having it there for that little bit of opacity I always seem to need. It also comes with a handy mixing tray that screws right on top. This set fits perfectly in my pack, but it might be a bit bulky for some, so just unscrew the stack and only bring the colors you need. The set is very inexpensive compared to most portable 24 color sets, so if you’re daring you can go for the mega 36 color set available here or the colossal 48 color set here. The 24 color set is sold by many online stores and you can compare prices if you Google, but if you’re in a hurry just click here.

  3. ArtGraf Water Soluble Graphite Disc
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    ArtGraf is simply brilliant for all that it offers in the way of water soluble products. I was first introduced to their products by way of their water soluble graphite pencils and sticks that I love. When I was in the art supply store purchasing more, I found that they also make water soluble graphite products that they call ‘discs’. The disc is more like a block, it’s shape inspired by tailor’s chalk and comes in many colors. I first purchased the Carbon Black disc, it’s rich velvety black almost simulates sketching in straight Sumi ink. I loved it so much, I bought the earth tone set and just love it for sketching the desert landscapes I gravitate toward when searching for hikes. The colors are so rich and complex, I can achieve a wide value range just by changing the amount of water I use. Although I would love to, I can’t take all of the colors with me, so I always have the dark brown disc in my pack. Its as rich as the black, but not as harsh and simulates the earth tones a bit better. Just like the black I can achieve a wide range of values and it’s great for simple sketches when I don’t have the time to break out my watercolor set. The discs are sold individually or in sets through many art supply stores, but for online convenience most of the products are sold by Amazon here.

  4. General’s Sketch and Wash Pencil
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    When I work in any medium, I’m always about adding the line, the mark and in my case, lines and marks add up to many tangled swirls. For me, working in watercolor is not about painting in detail, it’s broad, blended swaths of color that yearn for a little detail-and swirls, of course. This pencil allows me to add those details in lines ranging from very crisp to a thin wash. The pencil works like any other watercolor pencil by either adding water after drawing or dipping the pencil in water first, the latter being what I prefer. What sets this pencil apart from most other watercolor pencils is the rich black line I get when it’s wet. Most black watercolor pencils seem to start strong and then fade out when wet-this one does the exact opposite, starting out a lighter gray when dry and then getting more black when wet. Its the perfect tie together finish for a bright watercolor sketch. It’s available at most art supply stores, but I purchase mine here.

  5. Pentel Aquash Water Brush
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    What to do with all of these watercolor art supplies, you ask? The answer is, purchase a good water brush! I’m embarrassed to say that I purchased my first water brush in 2016 when yet another workshop student introduced me to these wonderful things. At the time, I had never heard of them and also had a difficult time finding them even online. Fortunately, they are pretty much everywhere now and come in a few brands which I have tried. My favorite is the Pentel brand because of it’s quality tip that I can’t kill no matter how hard I use it and I don’t have to hurt myself to get the water out of the brush. I purchased this set (not from this merchant), being wooed by a bigger pen with a variety of tips. Unfortunately, the tips soon fell apart, the water either came out in a waterfall or not at all and I had to squeeze the pen so hard to get the water out, it would break my painting rhythm. Although the Pentel brand is a bit pricier and looks smaller, the brushes last, they’re easy to use with an even water flow per squeeze and surprisingly hold more water than the larger brushes. My favorite, most versatile tip is the medium round, it gives me a broad stroke down to a fine line. I can’t do without this brush and carry one everywhere, even in my everyday purse. Just a side note-if you’re flying and taking this pen with you, make sure you have emptied it of all water or TSA will confiscate! Purchase both Pentel individual brushes and sets here.
  6. Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen
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    There are no limits to the love I have for this pen. It’s super black, versatile, comes in a variety of sizes and writes beautifully on any drawing or painting surface. When I’m out hiking, I use it to make quick sketches, write field notes, add depth to my pencil sketches and details to my watercolor sketches. I have the extra small, small and fine point pens and use them all in the studio, but always have the small size in my pack. Read this post for more about this pen and to see a series of drawings I did with it. These pens are sold individually at most art and craft stores and online, but I found a nice assorted nib 4 pen set here and a mega set with all kinds of interesting nibs here.
  7. Eberhard Faber Design Ebony Pencil 6325
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    I love drawing with pencil, I could do it for days. The problem is that it takes me about that long to draw anything because I use so many different kinds of pencils and leads, constantly switching around to get the right value. Unfortunately, I can’t bring them all with me in my pack, so this pencil is a great substitute for many of those pencils. It’s hard enough at the tip for fine line and soft enough to achieve a variety of values, from very dark to very light. The best part about it is it’s ultra velvety smoothness, I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it. The smoothness enables me to draw in many smooth layers without annoying skips and dark spots. It must be kept sharp to achieve fine line, so instead of ruining my pack with a messy sharpener that takes up space, I use my trusty pink pocket knife every hiker girl should have and the pencil elements go back to the earth from whence they came. Unfortunately, these pencils have been discontinued but they are available from a variety of Marketplace and Ebay sellers if you’re patient and search. I found a good article that mentions other alternatives to this awesome pencil-I haven’t used any of the pencils mentioned in the article but there are substantial reviews to read for most of them.

I hope that this article was helpful and introduced you to some products you may not have been aware of before reading. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. Please let me know what your favorite portable materials are, I’m always looking for new products to try.

Stay tuned for my next post which offers 3 Essential Questions to ask yourself when critiquing art, either your own or another artist’s work. When I was a professor at Tyler, these three questions helped simplify critique and went beyond the typical critique discussions to analyzing the overall impact of the work and what compels the viewer to respond to one work over another. Whether you are a professional artist or a beginner, this article will help you determine what makes an interesting work of art. See you soon.

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

6 thoughts on “7 Essential Portable Art Materials”

  1. I’ve been enjoying all your posts. With a 2 week vacation coming up, this traveling artist post has been extremely helpful. Looking forward to trying some of these art tools.

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  2. This was very helpful, thank you! I just got back from a twelve day trip where one of my goals was to get some drawing done each day. These items would have given me lots more versatility, and made it more fun.

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    1. I’m happy to hear that you planned to draw everyday while traveling, you have more time to get really into it when you’re away. I’m glad this list will help you for your next trip.

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  3. Another amazing and generous post. The ONLY problem with these..is that I end up NEEDING all the things you talk about! 🙂 Providing the links makes it so easy. I look forward to these posts and they never disappoint.

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