Packing to Paint: An Artist Guide to Holiday Travel
With the art of painting comes the art of packing. Whether you're packing a suitcase or carrying your supplies on your back this summer, we've created a list of solutions that will help!
Don't forget to take these with you!
Tips on What to Pack by Cecile Disenhouse
I'm notorious for packing light, so my art supplies weigh exactly one pound. Before I go on a trip, I prepare a small, lightweight plastic palette that includes 18 DANIELSMITH watercolors. With a range of warm colors (toward the yellow side), and cool colors (toward the blue side) I'm able to create mixtures that capture just about everything nature has to offer. In general, warm colors tend to advance, and cool colors recede. For example, in painting landscapes the background mountains would be blue or purple (cool), and the foreground might be a yellowy green, or a warm blue like turquoise. I also include a collapsible water jar, a mechanical pencil, a sepia drawing pen, paper towels (several sheets), brushes and paper. I put everything into a vinyl art bag to keep it dry and use the bag to support my paper while painting.
Arches or Fabriano watercolor paper is available in "cold press," "hot press" and "rough" at 90, 140 and 300 lb. weights. Cold press is lightly textured and commonly used. Hot press is smooth, an excellent support for ink and watercolor. And rough is, as you might surmise, the most deeply textured of the three. Since 90 lb. paper buckles when wet and 300 lb. is heavy to pack, I use both cold- and hot press paper at the 140 lb. weight. This allows me to work on both sides of the paper, so if a painting doesn't work, I simply turn it over and use the other side.
Scott Burdick Outlines Four Options for taking Art Materials on Your Travels
So you've gotten the trip of your dreams arranged to Tibet, Italy, or maybe just across the state; then comes the dilemma -- what kind of painting equipment to bring? I'm constantly asked this question, and I've learned (many times the hard way) a few things from the numerous painting trips my wife, Susan Lyon (also a painter), and I have taken both far and near over the last ten years.
There are four different setups I use on painting trips, each one progressively lighter and simpler. Which one of these setups I choose depends on our destination.
I use the first setup when we're painting within the US, have a rental car, and aren't going to be hiking long distances to find our subject matter. This is perfect for plein air shows like the Laguna Plein Air Painters of America and the Plein Air Painters of America show on Catalina Island. In both instances, I simply pack everything up into a large cardboard box and ship it UPS to the hotel I'll be staying at, avoiding all the hassles of checking it through on the airplane. This first setup is also ideal for local landscape painting or driving trips. It's nice having all my brushes, colors, and a large palette when doing larger on-the-spot works.
My second setup is for places that you can't ship your gear to ahead of time, and where you might be doing quite a bit of walking to find your painting spot -- National Parks or Europe, for example. For these trips, I usually substitute a large pochade (self-contained) box that holds all the paints, brushes, canvas panels, and other equipment compactly into one, easily carried unit. The box itself attaches to a tripod so I can stand and paint or simply sit, and it rests on my lap or on a table. This is perfect in Europe where you can sit at a café and paint while sipping tea! I don't usually do anything larger than 12" by 16" with this setup, and most of the paintings tend to be around 9" by 12". Everything fits nicely into a backpack with just enough room for a camera and jacket.
Now, for places that are a bit off the beaten path, like trips we've taken to China and Nepal, you really need to travel light. So, I use a third setup which consists of a small box, three or four brushes, and only four tubes of water-based oil paint (red, yellow, blue and white). We use water-based paint since it is nearly impossible to track down acceptable paint thinner in such places; and would have the extra weight of carrying a jug of thinner around all the time. And of course, paint thinner isn't allowed on planes! Water can be found everywhere, and it makes cleanup especially easy. To replace bulky canvas panels, we paint on boards sealed with gesso. These are so thin and light that you can easily take as many as you want. You might think 6" by 6" is very small, but you can easily get all the info you need to do a larger painting in the studio.
My last setup isn't even a setup -- just my sketchbook, a few pencils and an eraser. This is great when you want to do some serious hiking, or are sick of carrying all your painting gear. For most of the time in Nepal, for example, when we were trekking up into the Himalayas at high altitude, my sketchbook was all that I needed or wanted. I have been lucky enough to paint with many of the best plein-air painters around, and each has their own quirks and equipment that suits them. When in doubt, I'd go with the smaller and lighter setups -- there is nothing more frustrating than struggling to haul all your equipment down street after cobblestoned street, with that magical aura of old-world beauty obscured by the sweat pouring into your eyes. Believe me, I know!