As I mentioned in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” I normally prefer to work with moist paints, fresh from the tube. I forego that luxury, however, when I travel. Instead I use a small “piggy back” palette, with a lid of its own, which serves as my mixing tray. This entire tray can snap into the lid of a larger palette, which I leave at home. Squeezing a limited quantity of creamy paint into the tray’s palette cups, I intentionally allow them to dry for several days, uncovered. Each cup is labeled with the color and manufacturer’s name so I can restock it with the same color when I get back home. After the paints have dried in the tray, they are no longer subject to airlines’ “liquids” regulation so can be packed into either my suitcase or a carry-on bag.
My other traveling-studio necessities include a soft drawing pencil, eraser, and a fistful of brushes—a #30 round synthetic (my workhorse), #8 round synthetic, a natural-hair brush somewhere between those two in size, a #0 round or liner for detail, a small scrubber, and (if I intend to use frisket) a small disposable round. An old toothbrush or typewriter eraser brush works fine for spattering paint or water.
I like to tuck in a compressed cellulose sponge or scrap of terrycloth (such as an old washcloth) with which to sop excess water from my brushes and to wipe up spills, in lieu of relying on paper towels or fast-food napkins, which aren’t always absorbent enough for my needs. A quart-sized collapsible water bucket is handy, too, but in a pinch, a jar, can, or even a small disposable cup can be used. (I avoid employing reusable food or serving containers when using any potentially toxic pigments, such as cobalts or cadmiums.)
Watercolor “blocks” of paper, up to quarter-sheet size (about 12 x 18), can be packed in a carry-on suitcase. These have the advantage of providing their own backing and do not require stretching. (I save any covers or backing boards to use as stiffeners for finished paintings to be repacked for my return.) Or a small watercolor journal can easily be slipped into even a mid-sized purse. Paper larger than quarter-sheet size poses more of a problem, since it must be bought at my destination and shipped back separately. I don’t use an easel. Since I prefer to work on a horizontal surface, and watercolor blocks include their own stiff backing, a table, flat rock, or even a lap can suffice when I’m traveling.
Other items are optional, depending on whether I anticipate needing them. Liquid frisket can be bought in small containers, either for packing or as an on-location purchase. Spray bottles (to be carried empty) are available in travel sizes. And drawing pads and graphite paper can also be easily packed if I expect to want them.
But whenever I’m traveling, the most crucial “studio” element of all is my camera, supplemented, of course, with extra batteries and memory cards. I don’t always have time to execute a painting on location, but I can almost always manage to snatch a moment to whip out my camera to record a scene, a mood, or a detail for future reference.
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested also in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” and the upcoming articles, “Selecting Paints” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”