Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Travel Sketching Supplies

I've done a lot of traveling in the past few years, and I'm happy to say that I think I've finally figured out what sketching supplies to pack, whether I'm heading down the road or across the Atlantic. I thought you might like to see what's in my bag....

My travel sketching supplies (click to enlarge)

My carrying case is the Kutsuwa Dr. Ion Super Mega Pencil Case. I carry it, along with my sketchbook, jacket, wallet, water bottle, etc., in a backpack whenever I'm out and about.

Dr. Ion Super Mega Pencil Case

(The Kutsuwa Dr. Ion Super Mega Pencil Case is available for purchase on at the time of this writing, but it is sometimes not available. Kutsuwa has a newer model, the Dr. Ion Multibox Large Size, which is available here. I haven't seen it in person to know if it's the same case, but it looks very similar to mine.)

The case holds everything I need, other than my sketchbook. It's small and compact, but it holds a generous array of sketching supplies. It's almost like one of those clown cars at the circus - you can stuff it full of much more than it appears capable of holding. Let's take a look inside...

There are two main zipper compartments. In one I store my pencils, pens, paintbrushes, and miscellaneous supplies. 

In the other, I stash a small palette, a kneaded eraser, and a few more small travel brushes.

The elastic straps that hold the paint brushes in were too loose on the original, so I hand-stitched some additional seams on them to divide the brush-holding area into smaller sections, as shown below.

My favorite travel sketching palette is an old Winsor & Newton Compact Set that I've had since I was in college. I long ago emptied out the Cotman watercolors that it came with and refilled it with a selection of tube paints. (Click to enlarge the photo and see the paint names.)

Click to enlarge

I like to have plenty of color choices, even in a small travel palette, so I made some extra wells using hot glue to divide the paintbrush storage area...

and the tiny water cup that's part of the set.

That gives me 24 colors in a palette that measures only 4-1/4" x 5-1/4".

The paints are American Journey (from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff), Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, and Holbein. The colors I've included are ones I'm familiar with and tend to use often, but there are many others that would work just as well. I like this little palette, because it fits in my Dr. Ion case, it holds a good number of colors, and it has a decent-sized mixing area.

For drawing, I carry mechanical pencils, Sakura Pigma Micron pens (sizes 01 and .005), a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Pen (size S), a Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen, and my favorite fountain pen, a Platinum Carbon Desk Pen with Platinum Carbon black ink cartridge. I also bring along a ruling pen to use with masking fluid, and a Pentel Clic eraser.

A kneaded eraser comes in handy for erasing a pencil sketch after it's been inked.

When it comes to packing paintbrushes, it's tough for me to narrow down my choices. I could probably get by with just one brush if I had to, but since I have the room, I bring along a selection that seems to work well for any situation I encounter. It's a mix of round DaVinci Maestro sable travel brushes, a size 8 Joe Miller Signature Series sable/synthetic blend, a small Isabey size 6 round, and a set of American Journey Interlocked Synthetic brushes. (The AJ set is reasonably priced, and they have been performing well for me for several years.)

I also include a tiny size 0 Escoda Versatil for filling in Roman-style lettering, and an old toothbrush for spattering.

The miscellaneous supplies in the interior mesh zipper pocket give me options for scraping, spattering, masking, salting, and blotting...

Here what I usually carry in that catch-all pocket:
  • A collapsible water container with a magnet hot-glued to the bottom. It attaches to my Coroplast plein air setup, detailed in this post. 
  • A tiny bottle of Dawn dish detergent. When I want to use a brush to apply masking fluid, I dip my paintbrush in Dawn, make sure the bristles are coated, then wipe off the excess before I dip into the masking fluid. The container I use to carry it in my sketch kit is a "Dinky Dip" from John Neal Bookseller.
  • Pebeo Drawing Gum (masking fluid) in a Dinky Dip container. Used to preserve the white of the paper or to mask at any stage of the painting process. 
  • Natural sponge. Great for adding texture when painting trees, rocks, and other natural landscape elements.
  • Pencil sharpener. This one has two sizes of holes.
  • Paper clips for clipping sketchbook pages together on a breezy day.
  • Tissues. Used for blotting/lifting paint or to remove excess water from a brush.
  • Fine mist sprayer. Used to moisten paints in the palette, wet my paper, or spritz paint to help it move on the paper.
  • A piece of window screen for spattering.  Just dab on some watercolor, hold the screen over your paper and give a quick puff of air to blow perfect small spatters onto your sketch. 
  • Salt packet. I rarely use salt while sketching, but I always carry a packet of it, in case I need it for adding texture to rocks or beaches, or for painting a starry sky.
  • Credit card pieces can be used for scraping into a wet or damp wash.
  • Rubber cement pick-up. Used for removing dried masking fluid from paper.
  • Kitchen sponge. This piece of kitchen sponge has Velcro stitched to one side. It sticks to my plein air setup board, and I blot my brush on it.  
  • Plastic viewfinder. I seldom use this, but I always demonstrate its use to my students, so it warrants a place in my kit.
  • Ink cartridge. I usually carry a few spare Platinum Carbon Black Ink cartridges for my Platinum Carbon Desk Pen. The ink is permanent and waterproof.
  • Ruler. You never know when you might need one!
  • Rubber bands. I wrap these around the pages on my hardbound sketchbooks, to help hold them flat while I'm sketching. 
Can you believe all the above-mentioned brushes, pencils, pens, palette, and miscellaneous indispensables fit into that one small case? But even though this sketch kit is compact and doesn't take up much room in my backpack, sometimes I need something simpler. When I know all I have time for is a quick pencil or pen sketch, I pull out my "Minimalist Kit"...

It's a quart-size Ziploc bag with a pencil, two pens, and an eraser tucked inside. Honestly, I use this more often when traveling than I do the larger Dr. Ion kit. So often, I'm just adding a small sketch to a composite page, filling a box on a gridded page, or catching up on my journaling. At those times, there's no need to pull out all my supplies. A pencil and pen are all that's needed to capture the moment.

I always carry my sketchbook in a Ziploc bag to protect it from spills and wear, and I usually slip this "Minimalist Kit" into the same bag, so I can pull the essentials out of my backpack in one quick move.

There is one additional supply that I take with me on trips - a larger palette. My choice is the Alvin Heritage 18-well plastic palette. It has a rubber gasket around the edge of the lid to prevent wet paint from leaking out. I like to use the Heritage palette when I'm painting in the studio or at a table, times when I have room to spread out a bit, rather than working in my lap. 

Click to enlarge

It holds a generous supply of paint and offers several good-sized mixing areas. The clear plastic insert in the lid is removable and can be used as an additional mixing area, but I filled mine with extra paint pans, so I never remove it.

I glued an assortment of half pans and full pans into the palette lid with rubber cement, so I have room for some of the non-essential but useful and fun colors that I use often.

So there you have it, my travel sketching supplies! More than I need, maybe, but not too much to easily carry with me on a trip. So whether you use a minimalist kit, like I did on the lawn beside the Eiffel Tower...

or the full plein air setup, as I did at the lavender fields in Provence...

Whether, you're sketching with a group of friends on the rocky coast of Maine...

or with just one friend in Sweden...

grab a sketchbook and some supplies, get out there, and just do it! Remember, your sketches don't have to be perfect; it's the act of sketching that's important. It centers you and puts you in touch with the real and beautiful things in this world. Focus on what moves you, and sketch to remember it.

If you're up for some travel sketching, why not come along on one of my 2018 sketching trips? Next September I'll be teaching workshops in Sicily and Northern ItalyAll the details are taken care of for you on these sketching vacations. All you have to do is enjoy!

And I also have US workshops scheduled in San Francisco, San Clemente, Maine, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Read all about them on my US Workshops page. Come and join the fun - I hope to see you in 2018!

Where would you like to take your 
travel sketching supplies one day? 
Leave a comment, and let me know 
what fabulous places you're dreaming of!


  1. It is always so interesting to see what other artists take along as their travel sketching supplies. I have a smaller pencil case that works for the most part. I just wish it had a zippered compartment too. Thanks for sharing and happy travels Leslie!

    1. Thanks for reading through this lo-o-o-ong blog post, Joan. Happy sketching!

  2. I just found your blog thru the article in the Mary Jane magazine. I'm also from the western PA area. I've been going thru your blog from the beginning and its has been such a fun journey. I would love to take a beginning sketch class. I have traveled a lot and would have loved to made sketch journals like these and even tried, but did not have the talent or know-how. Years ago, I had taken a calligraphy class and the teacher was showing us some techniques with watercolor that she wanted to teach us in the next class and then got a job with the American Greeting card company. I tried to find a class watercolor class that used the ink and watercolor combination and was told that I might as well go use a coloring book. So I stopped looking and then came the internet! I have taken some classes online but its hard when sometimes all you need is that one on one to feel you're going down the right road. All that to ask if you will be having any classes locally this coming year.

    1. Coloring book? Harumph! It really bothers me when people feel free to pronounce judgement on various art forms, like there's a right and wrong way to make art. "Ink and wash" is a style of painting that's been recognized for centuries.

      I'm sorry it's taken you so long to find a way to get started with sketching and painting. I wish I could tell you that I have an intro to watercolor class coming up here at my home studio, but I'm afraid I don't have plans to offer one this winter - the weather makes a weekly class too uncertain. I will still be offering my monthly watercolor classes, which are more advanced. I'll be announcing the 2018 dates for those in a few days. If you'd like to get on my email list, just email me at I always announce workshops and classes to my email list first. (I really need to get a sign-up button on my blog! Just haven't gotten around to it yet.) I hope we'll get to meet one of these days. Where are you located? Would a weekly class or a multi-day workshop be better for you?

  3. I have the same Kutsuwa case, and it is amazing what can be fit in it. Thanks for sharing so much information about your kits. I appreciate your mention of using paperclips to keep your sketchbook pages from blowing open in a breeze—a great alternative to binder clips, which are so bulky. And I love that you include a salt packet! Such simple suggestions, they make me wonder why I didn’t think of them for myself!

    I’m dreaming of taking my travel kit on one of your sketching tours someday! I’d also like to take them to the Cotswolds and the Garden District in England. Where are you dreaming of next?

    1. My dream destination is the same as yours... the Cotswolds! And the Lake District. Any place in England, really. One of these days....

    2. I meant the Lake District. Although, if there is a Garden District in England, I'm sure that would be sketch worthy too!

  4. Leslie, can you share your source / brand / size for the tiny bottles you used for the dish detergent and masking fluid? Thanks!


    1. Good question! They're "Dinky Dips" from John Neal Bookseller:
      I've never had them leak, through all the traveling I've done in the past few years. I think I'll edit my post to include this information - thanks for asking, Susan. :)

    2. Thanks, Leslie! I can already think of several uses for these tiny jars in a compact travel kit. It's great to know they don't leak. Always a plus!


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