How Do You Paint on the Go?

Painting on Vacation

It’s already August!?! Are you in last-chance vacation mode like I am? I spent all winter and a ho-hum spring imagining sunny summer road trips and exotic jaunts. But now I remember that almost every time I go on vacation, my glow wears off once the artists show up.

Inevitably, I see a traveler who is painting on vacation, creating landscapes or sketching, making significant and personal mementos. And, I am left envious and grumpy because all I have to take home are cheesy postcards and tacky magnets. This can’t go on!

Painting on the Go | Painting on Vacation | Artist Daily
Villefranche, France by Eric Wiegardt, 2009, watercolor painting, 22 x 30.

Choosing the Right Travel Companion

I sleuthed around to find an art medium that is a facile traveler, and almost immediately my pity party was over. Landscape painting in watercolor is the answer for the painting on vacation challenge!

Supplies are minimal, there’s nothing heavy or cumbersome to lug around, pieces dry quickly so you can paint and move on with your journey, and storage can be as simple as closing a sketchbook.

Watercolors can also be used to enhance and complement graphite and pen-and-ink sketches, which opens up even more options. But for those who really love oils, if you carry a small pack and use a condensed palette, painting on the go is totally doable as well.

Finding the Perfect ‘On the Go’ Technique

Midmorning by Charles Burchfield, watercolor painting, 1916.
Midmorning by Charles Burchfield, watercolor painting, 1916.

The approach to painting on the go is more a mindset than what you are painting with. Painting quickly is the goal, but that’s not about time management as much as working intuitively. Therefore it helps that loose yet controlled brushwork often shows watercolors and oils to their best advantage.

Painting fast also provides good practice in not getting bogged down in details of the landscape artwork you create. Instead, you’re using broad swathes of color to build a sense of atmosphere.

For more tried and true tips to improve your landscape art skills when you are traveling, consider the Summer Sketching Fun Pack Deluxe (also available as a Digital Collection).

Whether you are planning your next trip abroad or refining sketches you do on location in the studio, the technical demonstrations, artist tips and painting tutorials in the collection will help you learn how to become a better artist. This collection will also make travel and exploration this summer the experiences that inspire you for months to come in the studio.

Let me know how you paint when you are on the go — leave a comment and leave me green with envy with all the great sights you’ve seen this summer.






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Artist Daily Blog
Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

45 thoughts on “How Do You Paint on the Go?

  1. I am normally working in oils. On my recent trip to Colombia I brought my watercolors and Yupo paper and had a blast! I even got my paints out during my visit with my Compassion Intl child and eight of us were painting together!
    Judi Kruis

  2. I pretty much use what I always do – 2B pencil and white prismacolor on Rives BFK Tan. It’s portable and I can develop images to my ordinary fussy level of detail in a short time. One time I was in the Placa Catalunya in Barcelona and fell in love with the rather abandoned-looking sculpture in the pond there:

    I spent about three hours drawing the sculpture from four different angles. The only other people spending time in the square were a bunch of African guys selling umbrellas, and business was slow, because it was sunny. So after the first hour of drawing I looked up and realized I had a crowd of umbrella guys looking over my shoulder. The same thing happened in the Sistine Chapel, but it was with the guards – one of the great honors of my artistic life is that they came over to tell me to stop drawing the Libyan Sybil, but then they looked over the drawing and changed their mind.

    Obviously I’m more of a traveling art-and-architecture drawer than landscape-drawer. My landscapes are a *mess*.

  3. Courtney,

    I’m so glad you wrote this blog – it’s so true that watercolor lends itself to travel. On painting excursions, my artist friends lug around heavy supplies in order to paint plein air with oils, while my watercolor kit fits in a backpack.

    I can usually find a rock or bench to sit on, and my paper is taped to a thin board. Many times I use these “on location” studies for larger studio paintings. It’s important for me to observe the actual colors and see into the shadows of the landscape scenes. If I try to paint from photos alone, I don’t get the delightful experience of connecting intimately with the scene I’m painting. Photos don’t give me that visual memory that comes from keen observation and painting it there on the spot.

    Although I also paint in acrylic and oil, when traveling now, I bring my watercolor kit and leave the other media behind at home. Besides, there’s never any problem with bringing my watercolors on the plane.

    Thanks for mentioning your great idea.

  4. I never leave home without my sketchbook—drawing is how I “see”. When I tour I prefer to carry a sketchbook that has a heavier stock —one that can handle light washes of watercolor or ink.

    Winsor & Newton makes a fun, all-in-one, palm size, field box that flips open to display two pallettes and compartments for a travel brush, water container, sponge, and detachable well (all included). It also includes 12 colors in half pans: Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine, Ivory Black, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Raw Umber, Titanium White, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Winsor Lemon, Winsor Red, Winsor Yellow, and Yellow Ochre.

    The kit is great to work with and has everything you need to document your travels…happy trails!

  5. I pre tint my sketchbook pages, sometimes 20 -30 at a time with a watercolor wash. I mix up the colors and lightness and darkness. Also I do not wash the entire page and I use a random pattern. Then I use what ever, graphite, ink/wash, markers. The results are great. and I am always ready to sketch.

  6. You can forget tubes of paint if you take watercolor pencils, make your sketch, then with a “water brush” (a plastic tube filled w/water, and a brush on the end), blend everything. So portable, less space to carry, need just a block of paper, and the brush is re-fillable with water wherever you are.
    Another idea if you really want to splash around, take along a zip-lok bag made to stand up (pleated at the bottom), works wonders, folds flat when you’re ready to move on.

  7. In response to mdreyer…I have had problems at airport security checkpoints with art supplies…you should have seen me trying to explain to a security guard what a weighted plum line is used for! Security personnel are very suspicious of anything in metal tubes and one shouldn’t be traveling with any solvants or potentially hazardous substances–and some paints come under that heading. If stopped you should state that your tubes are “artist pigments” and not “paint”. The former is allowable –the latter is not.
    In the end sticking with half-pans of watercolor or ink when traveling is probably the best way to go—especially if you are flying.

  8. I love the sketches and painting s I see that other artists have done on their trips.
    But I find I can’t do both, travel and paint. One or the other has to be my goal.

  9. I created a lap top easel that has worked for me for 2 years for my daily wc painting. I actually paint during my daily commute to and from my job. Please go see the video where I show all of my equipment the link is on my web site or
    I have added a marker to my equipment, Marvy 1122 LePlume II I draw and then use my waterbrush. Enjoy a summer full of travel and painting. KMcElwaine the BusPaintings artist

  10. I love to paint small watercolors when I travel, but I usually don’t paint them in a sketch book. I take a sketch book for notes and some sketches, but I also take small sheets of Twinrocker handmade watercolor paper because every sheet has a natural deckled edge, and the sheets are thick enough and dimensionally stable enough that I don’t need to stretch them. I like 11″ x 14″, 12″ circles, 14″ x 14″ square, etc. I just clamp them to a piece of 1/2″ plastic foam board. Then when the painting is finished, the deckled edge sets it off without being matted.

    I also love the dark blue Winsor Newton Watercolor Travel Bag. It has a handle, fits easily into a small back pack (with the small sheets of paper) and holds all the brushes I need, and even comes with a small pan watercolor set. I bought 8″ watercolor brushes which fit perfectly in the WN Travel Bag. Then I also have a collapsible water container and another plastic w/c palette in my back pack. The travel chair I like is called Camp Time Roll-a-Stool. It’s extremely light, folds with an over-the-shoulder strap, and sits slightly higher than the typical “bag” chairs, and with no arms so I can easily more around when I’m painting. I just hold the board of plastic form core on my lap and the paper clamped to it with small, plastic utility clamps. With everything in my back pack except the folding chair, I’m good to go just about anywhere!

  11. I keep a bag in the car with postcard to 7×10 watercolor paper, plus small palette with dried w/c and always have water. the small bag has toilet paper roll plus a small sponge in the palette with small brushes and pen. good to paint while waiting for my grandson’s bus! larger bag organized with slightly larger papers etc to go off plein air painting – that is in a back pack. different packs for different on the go painting adventures! but my car bag is always left in the car because I am in their the most. catch my results It is the greatest way to create on the road, record local color and have some wonderful memories.

  12. I, too, find watercolor a delightfully portable media! I have countless sketchbooks filled to the brim with people and places that I’ve come across while out and about over the years. Moving fast to capture a restling pose of a person is a wonderful challenge–and watercolor makes this so easy with just a few slashes of the brush. I love getting to see other’s captures–they’re inspiring!


  13. I push the user-friendly, quick, and portable theme a step further, and bring gouache. Same properties as transparent watercolor, but it’s opaque, so you can add the lights and highlights last. It’s a good idea with either watercolor or gouache, to squirt the colors into a closeable small palette and leave the tubes at home. You can let the paint dry out in the palette, and then re-wet for use.

  14. Hi Courtney
    Welcome to Artist Daily
    When I go painting on vacation I use an old binder with a zipper and put about 6 sheets of Arches 300lb watercolor cut into 8×10 sheets paper in it. In my hotel room I keep more sheets for the next day. There is room in this binder for my cotman paint box and lots of room on the side in the pockets for paint brushes and pencils and pens and erasers, sharpeners etc. I carry a water bottle with a large lid for well, water. This binder is always prepared and takes only a moments notice to grab and carry with. Then there is the trusty camera which I can take quick pictures when my husband does not want to stop awhile. Which happens often. I wonder how other wives are supported by their husbands? There seems to be still some discrimmation if you’re an artist and a woman. No?

  15. I made a small custom watercolor box sturdy enough to survive being stuffed in a backpack. I also carry a small watercolor block. The combination weigh just ounces and has survived many miles on the trail in the high Sierra.

  16. Watercolor is my primary medium, which makes it a no-brainer for plein air. I use a Winsor Newton Cotman sketch kit with the half-pans replaced with artists-grade pigments, a collapsible water bucket, my favorite brushes, a large bottle of water, a few paper towels and I’m good to go. Everything fits in a backpack, including my sketchbooks. Here’s a link to a photo showing my on-the-go setup from an outdoor sketching session:

  17. Courtney,
    Thanks for the great article. I’m also a watercolor fan, like many of the other commenters. Since I’m finicky, I bring a number of tubes. Although you can rewet the paints, there is nothing like watercolor straight from the tube. I also use Arches watercolor blocks. They also serve as storage of completed paintings.
    In addition to the painting experience, each painting brings back the smells and sounds of the painting site after I’ve returned home. I’ve also had many conversations and non-verbal interactions (where I don’t speak the language). There is something approachable about a painter seated on the ground.
    If you are interested you can see much of my plein air work at
    Thanks again.

  18. I like to make a scrapbook/journal as I go instead of waiting until I get home. It also frees me of the “need” for extra stuff – specialty scissors, expensive brushes, etc. I just use what I find in addition to the few supplies I have room for – big set of Prismacolor pencils (Life is too short to be without them!), three sizes of drawing pads, black gel pens, three drawing pencils, 8-pack of watercolor cakes, 8-12 gel pens or markers, glue sticks, scrap paper, small pair of scissors. I tear paper most of the time, but occasionally cut items. Tear it, cut it, glue it, do it, paint it. I find my travel journals are more much freer and more “accurate” in their depiction of my experiences.

  19. My drawing pad goes everywhere with me. I keep it in a laptop bag. Which makes it easy to take anywhere. I also take my oils and French easel with me when I travel.

    Last summer while up on the U.P. I hiked in to Au Sable light house early one morning & painted it. When I was finished & was packing up to leave a group walked in. One of the guys in the group made arrangements to buy it before it was dry. So after it dried I shipped it to him & his family loves it..

    This week I’m in St. Louis & if I get a few hours I will be painting. But I will be drawing the people while I’m here waiting & waiting & waiting…

  20. I find watercolor the easiest medium to take along on a trip and capture quick images, or even completed paintings. I take a watercolor travel kit (dry pan sets, no worry about tubes and going through security) and an arches block (no need for tape and board).
    The wonderful thing about painting on a trip (or plein air, anytime) is when I look at it, I can more vividly remember the experience of the place, because I took time to really “see” and experience it.

  21. I have a toiletry bag, that I grab, that is filled with a graphite pencil, a black pen, (5) water brushes, watercolor paper and my Koi watercolor field box! It has lasted me a long time and I’m ready in seconds! I also carry my Nikon D40, so that if the target is too fast to catch on paper, I have a back-up plan for the studio later!

  22. While creating art for over 40 years I have developed a proficiency in a number of different media. While earning a BFA I was encouraged to explore all types of media, this offers an artist an opportunity to develop in many different areas all which improves your over all approach to art. I always carry in my purse a 3.5”x 5” or 5.5”x 8.5” sketch book and often a 3.5” x 5.5” moleskin or similar drawing book. I use a pencil, Pitt pens, and/or watercolor pencils. I never can anticipate when I will have time to draw, so I stay prepared. I also enjoy using pastel paper and pencils, after pen and pencil this is my fastest travel set up. I love the rich feel of pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes colored pastel paper, I buy larger sheets which I cut and clip to a board or I use a brown toned Cachet spiral bound book in various sizes starting with a 5”x8”. When I have more time but not enough for a large set up I take either a travel water color set or water color tubes and a small handheld easel, a small moleskin 5.5” x 3.5” or a small spiral pad or watercolor blocks 5.5” x 8.5” all which fits into a small backpack, I find this works well at zoos and places where I may not have room to spread out. I love to paint in oils, so when I have about 2 or 3 hours and I use my pochade box and oil paints with canvas on board.

  23. While creating art for over 40 years I have developed a proficiency in a number of different media. While earning a BFA I was encouraged to explore all types of media, this offers an artist an opportunity to develop in many different areas all which improves your over all approach to art. I always carry in my purse a 3.5”x 5” or 5.5”x 8.5” sketch book and often a 3.5” x 5.5” moleskin or similar drawing book. I use a pencil, Pitt pens, and/or watercolor pencils. I never can anticipate when I will have time to draw, so I stay prepared. I also enjoy using pastel paper and pencils, after pen and pencil this is my fastest travel set up. I love the rich feel of pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes colored pastel paper, I buy larger sheets which I cut and clip to a board or I use a brown toned Cachet spiral bound book in various sizes starting with a 5”x8”. When I have more time but not enough for a large set up I take either a travel water color set or water color tubes and a small handheld easel, a small moleskin 5.5” x 3.5” or a small spiral pad or watercolor blocks 5.5” x 8.5” all which fits into a small backpack, I find this works well at zoos and places where I may not have room to spread out. I love to paint in oils, so when I have about 2 or 3 hours and I use my pochade box and oil paints with canvas on board.

  24. I have never taken to watercolor and am an acrylic and oil painter. On the run I use chalk pastel pencils (CarbOthello) also ink pens and create shadows with a water color brush (water in barrel). Tombos are also great for color and shading.

  25. Personally, I’m a pencil artist, so I have it easy. I just load up my colored pencils and watercolor pencils, a water brush, paper and go! I have pencil “easels” that hold from 15 to 120 pencils each. I load up a canvas bag with my pencil easels, pads of paper, accessory bag, and off I go. Piece of cake! 😀

  26. There’s a great solution for plein air painters called the Art Cocoon. It’s an individual wet painting carrier – perfect for traveling. In the spirit of full disclosure, it is my own invention. A long two years in the making and now available for sale, you can check it out at
    Pat LaBrecque

  27. For acrylics to go I use 35 mm film canisters filling them about halfway and place them in a hinged lid plastic container about the size of a cigar box that I had acquired at an art supply house ,Michaels I believe.

  28. Compact watercolour pans or pencils are my faves too, but happy to use whatever I randomly decide to take or is available. One really nice thing about watercolour is that you can scratch/blot/sprinkle it with objets trouvés for texture etc while still wet, and mix it up with lots of other media – waxy crayons are especially quick and fun for combining like this.

    I love to sketch onto postcard blanks and send them to myself, friends and family during the holiday for a nice surprise and extended holiday memories when I get back!

  29. I take groups of artists to bali for a painting holiday twice a year. We focus on Visual Diaries using pens, inks, pencil and watercolours. Easy to carry around, dries quickly and all completed in thumbnail sketches . I encourage them to make notes along side their drawings either with what they experience or with what they see ie colours, amount of sunlight and shadow etc. Often they take photos as well of what they paint for future reference. We do have time to paint when we are not traveling around and here they can develop their ideas onto larger watercolour sheets of paper.

    Gaye (Bali Painting Holidays)

  30. I appreciate your comments about painting on the go. I am just coming off a two year trip full timing in a 24′ travel trailer. I kept all my water color supplies in an aluminum tool kit about the size of 2 fat briefcases put together. I could set up at picnic tables outside, or in my trailer at the dining table. You learn what you REALLY need for your own style of painting, and keep only that. I would usually work on 1/4 sheet watercolor paper, which would fit in the kit, along with sketch books and brushes rolled up in a canvas brush keeper. Watercolor paint tubes do not take much space. I also had pencils, charcoal, eraser, and watercolor pencils. Watercolor pencils are very compact in a little tin case of their own, and can be used to enhance pen or pencil drawings. I like to dip the tip of my Caran d’Ache watercolor pencil in water and make a few marks of intense pigment, later to be moved and diluted with a brush of clear water. It is often easy for us as artists to be caught up in having all the equipment and accessories, that we sacrifice some of our vision. The compact travel kit forces us to get back to the basics of making and doing art.

    Thanks for your encouraging emails. Keep up the good work.

    Julian Buck

  31. Koi Watercolors makes wonderful small kits that travel and use well. They have a limited palette and a brush that has a water tank. There are several sizes of the Koi travel kit and add’l water tank brushes can be purchased at art supply stores. These kits are great for traveling light, sketching etc. etc.

  32. I travel with Pastels – a small box of basic colors and/or pencils; the wonderful spiral pastel paper books that include protective sheets for each page; hand wipes and I’m ready to go. Sketching with a basic brown and using purple for the darkest and bright yellow for the lightest – filling in back at home base with the other colors. Also take watercolors, but pastel is what I find most satisfying.

  33. I always find that my sketches done on site evoke emotion……Love them and treasure them always. Last fall I did a sketch of Devil’s Tower. It is framed in my office.

  34. I carry small – 7×9 sketchbooks heavy weight paper- ultra fine sharpies-black/
    and 2-3 brushes with some pan watercolors to enhance the ink sketches- have done about twenty five sketchbooks on my travels…Try to stay loose, keep the materials with you at all times, especally in restaurants or coffee shops, on buses and trains,
    I try to do 4-5 sketches a day but sometimes it doesn”t work out-I get lazy or forget my paper. I like to add color back at the hotel at the end of the day- with a sink handy
    It is easier. Am headed to Iceland, Amsterdam, Paris and the Normandy coast
    next month on our 60th Wedding anniversary- hop[ing to get some good subject
    matter.. mostly prefer landscapes or architectural subjects

  35. When I am away from home I take one of two backpacks. One has all the watercolor stuff I need (paper. paint ,brushes, collapsible water cups, water and a few sketching supplies) and the other is just sketching supplies. It depends where and how long I’ll be gone which backpack I take.. I have refined the contents over time and trips. I try to take one of them whenever I leave the house.

    You never know when you will see something and wished you had a least some sketching materials. It also helps me from getting bored when waiting .

  36. My supplies fit in a makeup bag or 5×7 pencil case. Travel w/ Koi w/ water brush..micron 01, 03 black pens, a few pots of twinkling h2os(luminarte)in lime, purple and pink, charcoal pencil, stump, sharpener and kneaded eraser. Maybe a black elegant writer pen or black aquasketch pencil. Sample shampoo sized bottle of water and a paper towel. Small moleskine, homemade or other sketchbook. I sketch on location quickly w/ my micron pens. Fill in w/ watercolors as time permits.

  37. I used to keep a tiny backpack with a travel set of watercolours, a pencil, kneaded eraser, 2 brushes (one collapsable from the kit and another i cut short) and a glued pad of postcard sized watercolour paper. I took this with me whenever I went somewhere picturesque. Before I had kids anyway. I’ve tried traveling with more including my whole palette and an easel but its too much.

  38. I first learnt water colour painting earlier this year while on a cruise – was totally ignorant before then. my husband and I are what we in Australia call Grey Nomads, we live in a motor home and travel the country (when not travelling the world). I now plan to do painting of the most interesting places we visit – heading for the red centre at present – and have just done the initial sketches for a couple of paintings I plan to complete of the locality we are currently staying in, which is in the southern Flinders Ranges. I am so glad I learnt what I did and now have a hell of a lot of work ahead of me improving but i’m going to enjoy every minute of it. Muriel Cubley

  39. I don’t paint on the go as such, I do sketch, but for landscape paintings, I use a camera, a quality camera, I take a picture and each one I take is as if it were the actual picture I want to paint. then I download these off the camera, onto the computer then useing iphoto, and other applications will do, I simply enlarge them on the screen and commnce to paint.
    a bit off topic perhaps but relevant to your discussion. I recommend it as all the work can be done at leisure in the studio. It almost if not, as good a plein aire as far as I am concerned.

  40. My husband and I travel at least six times a year. I take a small Yarka Watercolor palette, five various size brushes, and small postcard up to 8 x 10 Canson watercolor pads. Setting on a ships balcony in port can be very rewarding and the views are oft times incredible. Never travel without those paints. You never know when a “Wow” moment will occur. Pat Deeter at

  41. Over the years I have tried numerous media and each has its own pros and cons. I admit I love them all equally. Never the less, I have recently started working in the water mixable oils. It is hard to describe the media except the colors apply like oils with the wonderful buttery effects everyone loves. The blessing of using them is that they dry fairly quickly but still maintain the blending effects one enjoys with oils. My paintings will dry to touch in 2 days, making transport of a painting easy. I have used them plein air with success. I keep a stack of pizza boxes in the back of my SUV and pop a wet canvas or gessoed board in there until they dry. When all are dry I can wrap a bungy cord around the boxes and I’m off to my next adventure.