Usually when I pack for a trip, I try to think of one or two techniques I definitely want to be able to do. There’s no point in packing everything just because you have all the things at home in your studio and want to be flexible, and then realizing you can’t even work with a certain tool you brought because you lack the necessary desk space. That doesn’t keep me from bringing a pen holder and a few nibs, even when I usually don’t find the ideal desk situation when traveling – most of the times they’re too low, too high, the chair doesn’t allow a good sitting posture, etc.
Calligraphy nibs & pens
I usually bring one holder and a small tin container with a few nibs. That way they can’t poke through any fabric. A very good alternative for traveling are brush pens, they’re flexible and light, and you don’t have to think about bringing ink. When you definitely have to (or want to) bring a pointed pen, make sure you wrap fragile parts like thin oblique holders in a cloth, or only bring an inexpensive one.
Inks are probably the most dangerous supply to pack. I make sure to use a container that I know to close perfectly well without leaking (to test this I leave them upside down over night and also shake it a few times to be sure), and then I use two layers of sealable plastic bags to secure the whole thing. I never bring a lot of ink with me when traveling, and I always try to put the ink in the outer, more separate parts of my luggage.
If you bring an oblique holder make sure you have a container that you can dip into, or bring a brush along to apply the ink with.
Brushes can be difficult to carry around in a soft pencil case, because the bristles will bend and essentially destroy the brush. When you buy new brushes, you sometimes get little plastic caps to prevent that, so I keep those whenever possible. When you don’t have a fitting cap, you can use a great DIY method to prevent this from happening: Use a part of a straw you cut to the desired length.
Another great option are special brushes with integrated caps and a water tank – you can use those for watercolor work as well as lettering, they’re very versatile tools.
I’m not a full-fledged watercolorist, but sometimes I like to bring a few pans of watercolor with me to add a bit of color to sketches, or quickly transcribe a mood with colors.
I know there are travel sets for this scenario, but if you only want to bring three or four colors you can also use a simple matchbox. Make sure you let the pans dry before you pack them up again though. For mixing colors I usually use any plastic surface or that’s available, or even small plates.
Another great option are colored pencils with water-soluble pigments, but you’re more limited in your color choices with those if you don’t bring as many (which is probably wise when you’re traveling).
Sketchbooks win here for portability and keeping your paper bend-free. Of course it depends what you want to do. For practicing calligraphy or lettering, you’re probably better off with a few sheets of layout or printing paper you put into an old pad, and then stabilize it further by putting it between books. I often like to use a laptop case for storing paper, because that case also carries other stabilizing devices like an iPad or books, and will prevent the paper from bending too much. But for any other work like sketching or watercolor, sketchbooks are great. I often like to create a kind of travel diary when I’m away for longer.
Other supplies I like to bring
I usually also carry with me a small selection of black liner pens or gel pens, a (mechanical) pencil, an eraser, a bit of washi tape and a small water container.
All in all, it can be pretty easy traveling with art supplies if you choose and pack them carefully. The difficult part is making the time to actually use the things you brought. Remember, less can actually be more in this case – both from a weight standpoint as well as creatively: by reducing the supplies you bring you’re actually forced to express yourself with the tools you have, and that can lend to very interesting results you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Scarcity forces you to be creative.
Do you travel with your art supplies? Do you like to practice when you’re traveling and do you find the time for it? On what occasions do you unpack your supplies and start making art when traveling? Join the discussion and leave a comment below.