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Travel Drawing Tips: Minimize Supplies, Maximize Results

Whether you’re embarking on a trip to expand your drawing skills or are bringing your supplies along on a family vacation, an unfamiliar location can be an ideal place to meditate over some new concepts and ideas sketching on the go.

Quick sketches of surroundings teach artists to extrapolate from loads of information and draw what’s necessary with accuracy. Constant sketching teaches artists to capture the essence of people and objects in a few lines. Such drawings often have more life and atmosphere as opposed to artwork done from pictures.



I try to travel very light with just one bag, so I minimize my art supplies for sketching. The essentials, though are graphite or mechanical pencils (with a spare set of graphite lead), a kneaded eraser and a sketchbook. A 5×7″ or 8×10″ pocket-sized sketchbook is great for general sketching, but especially for taking with you across the globe.

A spiral-bound, hardcover sketchbook with smooth white paper is ideal. I use a small spiral-bound Strathmore drawing pad to sketch outdoors. I carry a kneaded eraser, a pencil sharpener and three types of graphite pencils: 2H for very light tones and detail, 2B for general sketching and 4 to 6B soft graphite pencils for general shading.


For quick, vibrant and one-of-a-kind results, consider using just a few colored pencils on colored paper. To minimize the collection of colored pencils, either sketch in black-and-white or use a 24-color tin. Using white colored pencil for the lightest lights and black for the darks lets the paper tone fill in the intermediary tones — which means you only need two pencils.

Of course, traveling with a huge pad of paper isn’t fun. Instead, precut a few sheets and a piece of cardboard and carry them in a ziplock bag — it’s much more lightweight and minimalistic. I use two paper clamps to hold the papers in place.


Another great way to sketch is to use a small set of watercolor paints (with the box’s cover serving as a palette) or a small set of watercolor pencils (that you dilute with water). Since these usually come in compact packages, they won’t take up too much room in your luggage.

Bring along a spiral-bound pad of watercolor paper. Heavy, cold-press watercolor paper has some texture and doesn’t crumble easily, making it a good travel companion.

I recommend using a single, round No. 2 Kolinsky watercolor brush for detail and a 1″ flat brush to make washes of color. Hard, HB or 2H graphite pencils are best for sketching in watercolor, since they leave no residue. You can also try adding an extra-fine black marker or a felt-tip pen to generate an unusual texture or to stylize your drawings.


Sometimes when traveling, I sketch on colored paper, like Canson Mi-Teintes, using a small set of soft pastels. The main advantage of such sketching is a very quick lay in of colors and shapes to produce a finished artwork. The main drawback, of course, is its apparent messiness, which can be especially inconvenient in your suitcase. But pastels can produce beautiful travel drawings, so if this is your medium of choice, don’t let that deter you.

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