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The 7 essential art supplies to pack for travel journaling

When packing your bag for a holiday or weekend trip: what do you find more difficult? Choosing your clothes or your art supplies ;-)? I know for many of you, the answer is definitely art supplies. When I shared my travel sketches from a weekend trip to Porto in April, I got multiple questions if I had tips on what to bring when traveling. So, with the summer holidays at our doorstep, I figured we could all use a blog article about this subject!

The difference between travel journaling, urban sketching and sketch journaling? I’ve explained it in this previous blog.

Nienke Vletter blog travel journaling art supplies

Comfort zone or not?

First question you wanna ask yourself when packing: do you want to make it creatively easy for yourself? Or do you wanna challenge yourself on this trip? If it’s already a challenge for you to regularly draw in your sketchbook, it might be best to stick to the art supplies that you're familiar with. But if you’re ready to get out of your creative comfort zone a bit, a holiday can be the perfect circumstance to do so!.

Nienke Vletter blog travel journal Croatia

When we (= the boyfriend & I) traveled to Croatia in 2019, I decided I wanted to get better at drawing with colored pencils. So I only took pencils with me on that trip. Since I had nothing else on hand, all I could do was work with those pencils, and it helped me heaps to grow. Small confession: I did end up buying an extra set of colored pencils for kids in a local supermarket because I was missing some colors haha.

I know my colleague Anne had the same experience when she went to Thailand a few years ago and only brought fineliners and a small watercolor set with her. It was actually what sparked the beginning of our Sketch Journaling course!

3. Nienke Vletter blog travel journaling colors

Travel light

Might be a bit of a no-brainer, but when it comes to sketching while traveling: choose to pack light. You don’t need 10 different art supplies and a range of 50 colors. First of all: it's just not practical to carry lots of stuff around with you all the time. Secondly, limiting your options actually makes it easier and you get more creative!

Don’t have that precise color of green that you’re seeing? Great: you’re getting challenged to mix colors or choose a color that’s not realistic. Wanna bet that it makes your drawings even more interesting? As long as your color values are correct (how dark or light the colors are), you can get away with almost everything! That's how I ended up with that green-yellow dog in my Croatian travel journal, I still love it.

Nienke Vletter blog favorite art supplies

What are my personal 7 must haves?

I carry my pen case with me wherever I go. The content might differ over time, but there are a few essentials I almost always have in there. With these materials I created 99% of my sketch journal pages:

1. Mechanical pencil Mostly I use the erasable Pilot Color Eno, because the color doesn't show as much underneath watercolor. Otherwise I also like to use the Tombow Monograph.

2. Eraser The Tombow Dust Catch is my all time favorite or the Mono Zero for smaller details.

3. Fineliner or fountain pen I often use the Winsor & Newton fineliners (especially the sepia colored ones for portraits). Next to fineliners I recently started using a Platinum Preppy extra fine fountain pen with their waterproof Carbon ink cartridges. I also have the Lamy AL-Star medium, which is a wonderful fountain pen. Just make sure you use it more often to not let the waterproof ink dry in the pen. 4. For highlights and corrections White gelpens (I use either Gelly Roll or Uni-ball Signo) or an acrylic marker like Posca.

5. Binder clips Essential when you're sketching outside and it’s windy. I like the wired ones: they also make a good accessory when photographing your work :-)

Nienke Vletter blog travel journaling zig zag

6. Of course a sketchbook I have A LOT of different ones, but the Hahnemuhle watercolor sketchbooks are definitely recommended for beginners and professionals. I currently like the square ones, available with white paper as well as toned paper. The zig-zags are also a lot of fun if you wanna capture one trip in an ongoing sketch!

7. Something to add color. What material you use for this is personal preference. Colored pencils, alcohol markers, water based markers, wax pastels or mix all of the above? Although I try switching it up more and more, for urban sketching I mostly use watercolors. Why? Because it’s fast and a small set already goes a long way! My go-to brand is Winsor & Newton. Especially their Cotman sets have a great price-quality ratio. When I’m on the go, I use waterbrushes with my watercolors.

Nienke Vletter blog Katya Tikhova urban sketching

A bonus essential for comfortable sketch dates

Going on a sketching trip? This foldable chair has been my favorite for urban sketching and I know a lot of fellow sketchers agree! The first years of urban sketching I would just sit on the ground or a bench if I found one. But being comfortable is so important if you’re drawing for a few hours. The reason I like this chair is because it has a backrest. My back still thanks me for getting this one, it’s much more comfortable for sketching (and camping). For only € 11,99, you can’t go wrong with this one!

*Fun fact: colleague Katya Tikhova drew Anne, Marlon and me while we’re all sitting on our foldable chairs during the international USK symposium in Amsterdam in 2019.

Tips to draw while traveling

I could fill a whole separate blog about this subject, but let me give you a few tips to get started.

  • Don’t be afraid to sketch in public. Your inner critic might be scared, but it’s such a fun experience to do so! You learn so much more when practicing from real life. Afraid what people might think / say? Most people LOVE it and are actually kind of jealous of your creativity. “How wonderful!” and “I wish I could do that” is quite often the response. And if they are an artist or urban sketcher themselves, you’ll probably have a really nice conversation about it!

Nienke Vletter blog picture
  • Make sure to take a picture when you start. If you can’t get around to finishing your sketch on location, you always have a photo reference to finish at home. Also: the light might change, people may move or it might start to rain. I was just sketching a café today that was still closed when I started. By the time I was done, the staff had started their shift and set up the whole terrace! I was happy I took a picture for reference.

  • Wanna save time on location? Go straight in with fineliner! This might seem super scary at first. But sketching everything with pencil first often has become an unnecessary safety net. Drawing in ink right away forces you to slow down and really look at your subject. Your drawings might be wonky at first, but it’ll help grow your observational and drawing skills so much faster! And actually, your sketches become more lively and more interesting. Embrace the imperfections! If you want a perfect representation of reality, you might just as well only take a picture, right?

Nienke Vletter blog urban sketching
Full focus: my first time joining the national Urban Sketching symposium in Utrecht
  • Don’t have time to sketch on location? Take pictures and make a drawing in your sketchbook later that day or week. Don’t wait too long! The amount of holiday pictures that you still want to draw can grow pretty fast (confession: I still haven't finished my sketch journal from last year's trip to Scotland). Put it onto paper while the experience and the feeling of the place is still fresh in your memory.

  • Traveling with friends or family? They might not always want to wait hours for you to sketch somewhere. See if you can find something you both enjoy. For example: my fiancee loves to watch sports. When there's an important match of his favorite soccer team or a F1 race, it’s a win-win situation for us. He enjoys the game on his phone or iPad, while I have 2 hours of sketching time. Combine that with drinks on a terrace with a sunny view and it’s a perfect time to enjoy together, while still doing our own thing.

I hope these tips were helpful! Tag me on Instagram if you do go sketching on location this summer, I’d love to see what you create.

Treating yourself to new art supplies?

All of the recommended art supplies are based on my objective opinion. Most links in this article are affiliate links. Which means you help me if you use these links when you are going to purchase products. It won’t cost you anything extra, but I do get a small percentage. Which allows me to write many more of these blogs! So thank you for your support. Purchasing your new art supplies at the webshop Be Creative Shop? You get a 5% discount when you use my code ‘NienkeVletter’ at check-out!

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