Stephanie Echeveste is a Mexican-American artist living in New York City. She’s the founder of Distill Creative and is interested in the intersection of fiber art, craft, community, and culture. Last year, Stephanie wrote about traveling to Mexico for embroidery, weaving, and natural dyeing workshops, and today she’s back to talk with various artists about how to pack for creative travel. Here’s Stephanie:
“I’ve learned to pack lean over time. No matter how much art I want to create while traveling, the reality is I am also enjoying time with my family, so unless I am traveling alone, I’ve learned to not overpack. I never have the time to use all the supplies I think I need.” — Betsy Beier
In an effort to learn how to pack better — and lighter — for my next trip, I asked some artists who do work on the go about what they pack. I found that each artist has their own unique set of art supplies, based on their own practice. Instead of packing their whole studio, they each select only the essential items and have found that the limitations actually help them be more creative.
“For every place I go, my list is always a bit different. Lately, I have been creating work on postcards. I love using them as studies and complete pieces. I’ve taken a large stack on my most recent trips to keep up this habit (and to send them)” — Alex Lee
Many of the artists I interviewed keep travel journals and use a combination of artist pens, watercolor, and watercolor brush pens to create while out and about. Others like to sketch quickly using pencil or ink while exploring a new place and then spend more time back in their lodging where they can set up their art supplies at a desk.
Illustrator Betsy Beier regularly carries around a black Micron pen, a small travel watercolor set, and a small sketchbook. When she travels, she takes along a few black waterproof pens in various widths, a water brush, a paper towel, and 1-2 small travel journals. She tries to find at least 5-10 minutes to sketch while out and about, doodles when she’s touring a museum, then takes more time once she’s back at her hotel.
“I have my supplies in my purse or backpack so that I can sit and draw and paint at any time. I love sitting and sketching in cafes, museums, and parks.” — Jane LaFazio
The packing lists for each artist I interviewed varies, but they all include the following:
Most artists I interviewed carry a sketchbook everywhere, especially when traveling. Some of the artists I spoke with supplement with medium-specific surfaces, like watercolor paper. Hannah Lowe Corman likes to bring canvas paper pads because she likes the feeling of painting on canvas. Nicole Young likes to pack watercolor or mixed media paper pads in 9” x 12” or 6” x 8” because it’s easier to pack. Beier likes to have one or two small travel sketchbooks, in brands like Moleskin or Field Artist. Jane LaFazio likes to carry 2×3” pieces of watercolor paper and then pastes them into her sketchbook (genius!).
“I love creating on the go because it changes your art practice in really interesting ways, whether it’s because the supplies you are able to pack are more limited than what you have access to in your home studio, or because you’re inspired by being out of your normal routine. I’ve built entire exhibitions and bodies of work based on creating while traveling. If it’s doable for your practice then I highly recommend it!” — Nicole Young
Media of choice
The type of medium packed varied depending on the art practice of the artists. All had some type of wet media—watercolor, gouache, and/or acrylic paint, dry media—like a pencil or a mechanical pencil, ink such as Muji pens (0.5, 0.7), microns and/or pigma brush pens in a few colors, and extra items—like charcoal, chalk pastels, Derwent Inktense colored pencils or Faber Castell Graphite Aquarelle (watercolor soluble graphite).
Stefanie Stark, who does abstract paintings, travels with a small set of gouache paints, oil pastels, pencils, and some paint pens. Young, who works with acrylic paint, collaged textiles, and homemade plant pigments, usually creates large-scale paintings on canvas. When traveling, she packs smaller bottles of fluid acrylic paint, chalk pastels, and gouache, which she doesn’t normally use at home, but takes when traveling because ‘a little goes a long way’.
Corman, a painter, travels with her favorite palette knife, painter’s tape, and a few brushes. Stark likes to pack smaller paintbrushes and coated paper plates or a light plastic palette. Architect Paulina Parra likes to use a watercolor brush pen for when she’s doing quicker sketches, standing.
I always have my iPhone ready to go with tons of storage because I take pictures of everything and often come back to those photos to create paintings once I get home. My whole “Bleached” Collection of paintings was inspired by two recent trips to Arizona and the photos I took while there.”— Hannah Lowe Corman
Other helpful things
Many artists mentioned using their iPhones to take inspiration photos while traveling. Clare Thomas, whose work is mixed media, also packs a small pair of scissors, needles, embroidery thread, and a glue stick. Young is going to start packing a fixative so her chalk pastel work doesn’t get smudged before she gets back home. Many artists also mentioned water cups, paper towels, gum erasers, and pencil sharpeners.
“I used to take needle and thread just to make repairs, now I take it to make work!” — Clare Thomas
The overall takeaway is that you don’t need to get anything special to get started creating on the go. Pick something you can write/paint on, something you can write/paint with, a brush and/or watercolor brush pen, and pack them up! Lee suggests starting small and not taking anything you consider too precious — “I found that I would bring along really nice watercolors, but I wouldn’t use them, because I didn’t want to waste them. It wasn’t until I bought a set of cheap paints that I found the freedom to use my sketchbook to explore.”
Also, creating art on the go requires a little bit of discipline and confidence. You must give yourself some time to create and be ok with being watched if you are drawing in public. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel and the more you will create!
“Just do it! Don’t start till you think you’ve got the correct and complete set of materials, and most importantly: DON’T mind people watching! Because they will and you might be self-conscious at first. [I swear eventually you won’t even notice them, and even one or two will ask to buy your art on the go!]” — Paulina Parra