Traveling Artists: Packing Light

Travel is the perfect opportunity to get inspired. Beautiful views and novel experiences may make you want to break out your art supplies and start creating!

But lugging around a suitcase full of paints and paper may not be quite as enjoyable.

Here are a few favorite packing tips for traveling artists:

Packing Paints

  • Don’t bring any kind of liquid tube paints in your carry-on when flying. New rules increase the likelihood of your expensive paints being confiscated at security. Why take the risk? Leave tubes of paint in your checked luggage or at home. Dry cake watercolors should be fine to bring on the plane, I have done it on international flights with no problem. But perhaps you should check with the airline in advance to be sure.
  • It is smart to include a typed sheet with oil or acrylic paints that gives ingredient and flammability information. Just print out a small page and put it with your paints in case your luggage is searched.
  • Many traveling artists report that “paints” is an alarming word to airline security and prefer to call their supplies “artist colors” so as not to raise any red flags.
  • Do not bring solvents of any kind.
  • Instead of carrying all the colors under the rainbow you can choose the basic primaries and mix your own shades.
  • What about creating your works using only black ink and then coloring it digitally later? Many of my favorite illustrators do this. Check out this helpful guide to traveling with inks and calligraphy supplies by The Postsman’s Knock.
  • I always keep my paint boxes and tubes in ziplock bags in case of spills or explosions!
  • You can squeeze a dollop of watercolor paints or gouache into pans for easier travel. However, you must let them dry for quite a while or they will ooze everywhere and make a huge mess. Also beware formulations that use honey as a binder (such as M Graham). The paints are lovely but they never completely dry and will make your travel palette a disaster. Learn from my mistakes haha. Also some people report that insects are attracted to the honey based paints when they use them outdoors.
  • Try watercolor pens, pencils or crayons instead of messier paints. See more below.
  • I have lots of hack ideas for mini paint sets and water containers on the go, perhaps I will share them in another post. If you have questions, feel free to get in contact.

Painting at the beach, in a train, at a cafe, at the airport, in the harbor, on a plane!

Packing Paper

  • Bear in mind that paper is heavy. Try to estimate the amount of paper you are likely to use and don’t bring much more than that. Luckily although paper is heavy it is also flat so it is easy to store in your luggage. But do keep in mind paper dimensions to be sure it fits in your baggage or daypack.
  • Sketchbooks are of course super convenient on the go. Maybe test out a few using your favorite materials to find some that work best for you before taking them on the road. It’s no fun to discover your new sketchbook warps and pills when you are already in the field.
  • A few of my current favorite sketchbooks: Moleskin and Strathmore 500 Mixed Media
  • Depending on where you are headed you can also buy paper as needed. Then you don’t have to carry a huge supply with you for the entire trip. Do some research beforehand to see what art supply stores are in the locations you will visit. I have to admit I love shopping for art supplies when I am traveling, although I try to limit myself!
  • Perhaps instead of carrying tons of paper, paints, pencils and pens you could create your travel artworks digitally on an iPad or similar device? The new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is an amazing tool. It’s about the size and weight of a single sketchbook.

Packing Pens, Brushes and Pencils

  • Consider the minimum supplies you’ll need to do the work you like to do. Perhaps you can draw in pen or pencil and later paint over it at home using your photo reference? Perhaps you don’t need six similar pens or pencils when just one or two will do. Try to pare down your supplies.
  • Again, take a look at the shops available where you are headed. You won’t need to bring three backup UniPens if you can easily buy a replacement on the road.
  • A pencil case, bag or box can be super convenient for carrying pens, pencils and brushes. I use a zipper pouch or two. I’ll often have one for my day pack with minimal supplies such as waterbrush, 2-3 pens and a pencil as well as a larger one with more supplies in my suitcase.
  • Have you tried out a waterbrush already? It’s a plastic brush with a built in reservoir for water that eliminates the need for a separate water container. I like mine, but I prefer a wetter painting style. You could test one out, it’s very travel friendly!
  • Concerned about the ends of your fancy brushes getting mangled? Save the plastic sleeve that often comes with a new brush to use in your travel kit. You could also make something out of waste that wraps around the end of the brushes to protect them and then secure with an elastic band.
  • Marker sets can be great to travel with. They usually don’t leak like ink bottles and paint tubes. They are relatively light and compact. Try some out at your local art supply store before your trip. There are markers in every style from inexpensive and skinny Stabilos to fat Winsor & Newton watercolor pens. When flying I’d still keep markers in a ziplock bag just in case.
  • Another way to get painterly color without messy paint tubes is watercolor pencils or crayons. You can draw with them or fill in space and then paint over with a waterbrush or regular brush and get lovely watercolor effects.
  • Do you work with pencils and colored pencils? Don’t forget to bring a sharpener! One with a built in container to store the shavings could be nice, but I’ve never had a problem finding a rubbish container. An eraser is handy to have along too.

Scanning your Work on the Road

Do you often work traditionally and digitally? Me too, and one thing I miss when on the road is my scanner. What to do?

Sometimes you can find a coworking space or print shop that has a scanner you can use. Save up your drawings and take them all to the scanner to have a scanning party!

I have heard from a few road warriors that they love their portable scanners. Check out the Doxie, it’s tiny and lightweight and can scan your work at up to 600dpi. I am planning on getting one soon. There are other brands that make similar travel scanners as well.

Or simply use your camera to take photos of your work. After all, a scanner is basically just a big camera right? This is the method I resort to but I have to admit that it is not ideal for me. The lighting has to be right so you can’t do it at night, and you have to have a very steady hand to get a perfectly crisp image. In other words, it is a hassle. But it does work in a pinch! Some artists I know use their camera phone – I think the images are not high resolution enough for me, but they do it all the time and make gorgeous artworks!

Do you have any hints for traveling as an artist? I’d love to hear them! Also you can follow me on Instagram to see my silly scribbles at @shoshannahscribbles.

If you enjoyed this article you may like to check out my Art Day Out with the Fjallraven Re-Kanken Mini! Or maybe you’d find my guide to packing light helpful.


This article contains affiliate links to help support my travels as an artist! But of course all thoughts, ideas and recommendations are my own. Thanks for reading, hope this was helpful to you!

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