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Scenario #1: The Overseas Dream Trip

Your Summer Art Guide. How to make art while traveling light. Scenario 1: Overseas dream trip.

Do you have a trip planned for this summer? Maybe you’re going to go camping, visit friends or family in another city, do a road-trip, backpack through Central America, or head off to Europe? Perhaps you’re wondering how to keep up your art practice while you’re away? How will you make art? How will you stay inspired? I’m asking myself the same questions.

That’s why I’ve come up with: Your Summer Art Guide!

Depending on what type of travel you have in your future, your needs will be different. In the next three posts, I’ll focus on different travel scenarios.

Scenario #1: The overseas dream trip

Travel style: On the move; hopping on and off of trains, planes, and automobiles

Your luggage: a backpack

Your focus will be on keeping a sketchbook journal and taking reference photos.

Tool #1: Sketchbook. Small.

Things to consider when buying a sketchbook:

What materials are you going to be using? Keep in mind that watercolor paint, washes, other wet media, and certain markers require a sturdier paper than if you’ll only be using dry materials.

What will you be drawing? Sketchbooks come in a variety of formats – rectangle, square, long & skinny – suited to different subject matter. Remember that you can use the single page or double page format (ie. a square will also double as a rectangle when you use the full spread).

What size do you need? Small is generally better but it depends on how you like to work. Just make sure you choose a size that you can carry with you all the time. Or bring two: one pocket-sized and one slightly larger. You can even get postcard size sketchbooks and mail your images to friends!

There’s a ton of variety out there, so take the time to go to an art store and browse the possibilities. The photos below are of two of my favorites.

Moleskine Watercolor Journal. Lightweight and available in different sizes.
Moleskine Watercolor Journal
Moleskine watercolour journal pages
Moleskine pages









Handbook journal pages
Handbook journal pages
Handbook journal
Handbook journal











Tool #2: Sketching Materials. Compact & lightweight.

Consider experimenting with various sketching materials before you leave. You want materials that are fast and easy to work with so that you can capture an impression whether you have a few minutes or an hour.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers' Pocket Box
My watercolor pocket kit. It is only 2 x 5 inches.

Possible materials:

  • watercolor paints in pans (look for pocket-sized kits that come with a small brush)
  • watercolor pencils (you can use these like a pencil crayon or wet them to achieve watercolor effects)
  • oil pastels (nice for a painterly approach)
  • markers (quick, clean, convenient)
  • an assortment of pens, pencil crayons, and pencils

Advice on keeping a travel sketchbook:

Think of this as a visual journal of your voyage. You can record anything and everything. Sketch while in cafes and restaurants, on buses and trains, on street corners, lounging in parks and gardens, even at the museum. Your subject matter can be the people, street life, night life, architecture, nature, flowers, windows and doors, your traveling companion, food vendors, the sky above you, the plants in your hotel, even what you are eating for breakfast! You can sketch scenes as well as individual objects, make color notes, or do quick studies for future paintings.

Experiment. You can also use many different styles, such as line drawings, gestural drawings, illustrations. Try full color and monotone. Your drawings can be as abstract or as realistic as you like.

Write. Take notes about places you visit: the sights, sounds, and smells. You might want to jot down things that happened that day. Or you may be moved to write a line of poetry or quote a song lyric.

Sketchbooks are an art in themselves. They are beautiful documents, visually rich and fascinating to look at. Some artists have even turned theirs into books, calendars, and agendas (a great gift idea!).

A Bit of Paris, print by Artquirk on
“A Bit of Paris”: one of many digital prints based on watercolor sketches by Artquirk on
Watercolor from "Paris Sketchbook": one of many beautiful books based on sketches by Fabrice Moireau.
Watercolor from “Paris Sketchbook”: one of many beautiful books based on sketches by Fabrice Moireau










To get more ideas on the art of sketchbooks, consider borrowing a few books from the library. There are wonderful things written on using watercolor while traveling, on urban sketching, and on drawing architecture.

Also, check out my Pinterest collection “Travel Sketchbook” for tons of inspiration. You’ll see the endless possibilities for your travel sketchbook and I guarantee you’ll be excited to get it started.

[pin_board url=”” size=”custom” image_width=”100″ board_width=”600″ board_height=”280″]

Your sketchbook will turn into a treasure: a place you go when you need to reflect, relax, pass the time, or recount something memorable.

Tool #3: Camera

You don’t need a fancy camera. These days most people have a decent camera built into their phone or you can use an inexpensive point-and-shoot that fits in your pocket. A camera is a great tool in combination with your sketchbook. If you are planning to do some paintings once you get home from your trip, having both photos and sketches/notes will give you a lot of material to work from.

iPhone camera
Most phones have good built-in camera
canon point-and-shoot camera
A slim point-and-shoot camera








Searching for inspiration. Often it doesn’t come in the form of tourist attractions but rather from everyday life. Go in search of alleyways, quiet streets, back gardens, and outdoor cafes. This will reveal to you another side of the city or village you’re in – life as it’s lived by real people. It will help you capture a real sense of place, its atmosphere and mood.

Tips for taking reference photos:

Much will vary depending on what you want to do with your photos. But some things to keep in mind:


If you want to create effective landscapes or cityscapes you’ll want to make sure that you have both light and shadow. Midday isn’t ideal; rather, try to get your shots early in the day or late in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky and casting shadows. Getting a great photo with the right information will help you avoid the common pitfalls of painting from photographs.

Usual framing/cropping

Be conscious of composition when taking photos. Don’t just push the button, but think before you shoot. Try different or unusual angles – like from above or below. Use framing devices, such as shooting through a door or a window. Zoom in to get details. Experiment with cropping, that is, cutting certain parts out around the edges. Look for pattern, color, and line.

Get more information

Take a few color notes and do a some thumbnail sketches to accompany your photos.

Well, that’s it for today. I hope this gives you a few ideas for how to keep up with your art practice while traveling light. Even carrying around a tiny pocket sketchbook and pencil is a good start!

I’m curious to know whether you are planning to bring a sketchbook with you on your travels this summer? Or have you done so in the past? What materials are you thinking of using?



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