What art supplies should you take with you on holiday?

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In this day and age in which you can only carry small quantities of liquids in your hand luggage when you fly and checking a bag into the hold often costs money, how do you take art materials on holiday without running the risk that some ‘jobsworth’ security officer doesn’t confiscate your valuable supplies?

Depending on how easy or difficult you want to make your journey, you could demand that all your confiscated items are held in a bonded warehouse until you return. It’s not a great way to start your holiday but it is your right. However the paperwork is extensive and may cause you to miss your flight. I have found that most security officers are at least pleasant about taking items from you. They are, after all, just doing their job.

Don’t even bother to try to reason with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) staff at Chicago. Having lived just outside Chicago for six years and travelled back and forth to the UK as well as taking inland flights I actually only met one TSA officer who didn’t treat me like s**t. However, I was stopped every time I travelled, I was questioned, bullied and harassed. They grow them all the same there in my experience. It is the main reason why I haven’t returned to the USA since leaving in 2011. I just don’t need it. I will say, though, that all the TSA staff I met at JFK were fabulous, with me at least. Still, I digress!

So what can you take with you in a carry-on bag which will allow you to make art whist you are away? Clearly, you are going to need paper in some form. I would suggest a couple of small books; A5 is a good size for travelling, although smaller books will weigh less. One watercolour and one sketchbook paper is probably best. If you normally work with oil or acrylic paints, you are not going to be able to take them with you so there is no need for any other kind of paper or board.

You are going to have to accept that paper, pens and pencils (pastels if you must, but they don’t travel well unless you have pastel pencils) are all you can take with you.

Here is where you don’t want to select cheap materials because we still want to produce good results and maybe even remove pages from the books and sell them as part of a ‘holiday collection’. If you are anything like me you already have drawers full of products you bought just because but please do use the good stuff.

You are also going to need to travel as light as possible, so don’t try and take everything with you. I guarantee you won’t use it all so be selective before you travel. I use a clear plastic pencil case so that if needs be I can quickly see what is inside and it also allows security officers to quickly see if they open my bag. In the case I will have a 2B, 4B and a charcoal pencil. I add to that a .5 felt pen, a liquid felt pen and a Sharpie, all in black. Next I will pull out my tins of crayons and pencils. As I said, I don’t need to take them all. Just like when you use paint you don’t throw all the colours at your canvas and most of us have the same few colours we use over and over again.

I will simply take a cool red, a warm red, a cool blue, a warm blue and cool yellow and a warm yellow. I will often add three additional colours which I find difficult to mix when away: a purple; a pink; and a sea blue/green. I prefer to use Derwent Inktense Pencils because I like full-on colour but I will also take watercolour pencils, too.

Also if you have room you could take those little watercolour pots, which are good enough for most things and which screw together but have a lid which you can mix colours in. I also have a small Windsor and Newton travel pallet with eight colours in.


You are going to need brushes, too. Most likely you will only need small ones. The type with a water reservoir in the handle are ideal and as soon as you have cleared customs you can pop to the loo (restroom) and fill the brushes up so that you can paint on the plane if you want to.

Don’t forget to add a rubber (eraser) and a pencil sharpener to the mix and you should be good to go. You will no doubt have your phone to take photos of things which interest you so that will give you a photographic reference as well as your sketchbook paintings so that when you get home you have plenty to work from.

And that’s it. You should have everything you need for your time away, just don’t forget to spend time enjoying your time away.

However, if you are travelling by car or coach you can take some larger items, larger paper, brushes and a few more paint colours. Also you can take your oil and acrylic paints with you too. Same rules apply, though. Don’t try and take everything. You won’t use it and you won’t want to have to carry it if you decide to paint en ple air. A wooden box easel might be a good investment if you plan on painting outside regularly as the box can store all your paints and brushes and the lid lifts up to give you an easel support.

NB Just for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the brands I have mentioned above.

Happy summer painting.



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