Traveling with Watercolors – Best Lightweight Art Supplies

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Galilean Moons 9.5 x 18 Watercolor (sold)

Over the years of posting photos here of work in process at Art Festivals, you’ve asked about the set up I use to paint watercolors away from home. I try to keep my traveling watercolor kit small, and nimble. Here are some of my best lightweight art supplies.

At festivals, I usually use an easel to accommodate standing, face-to-face conversation with strolling visitors. If you don’t have an easel, don’t fret, because there are alternatives. I didn’t take an easel to France on either trip with, and it worked out beautifully with just a little preparation.

traveling with watercolor painting supplies
Painting watercolors on an easel at the San Diego Artwalk a few weeks ago (thanks to the pretty, dark-eyed visitor who snapped the photo)

Traveling with Lightweight Art Supplies

There’s a lot of pluses to keeping your watercolor painting gear simple and lightweight. Traveling can feel chaotic, and the urge to see and experience everything that’s foreign and new can tangle our ability to focus.

Having to choose from too many art supply options on top of so much visual stimulation might prohibit making anything at all. Assembling a kit that’s lightweight, effective and ready to go at a moment’s notice is a good plan.

After you’ve selected your lightweight art supplies, take them outdoors to your own backyard, or meet a friend at a local park to sketch for an hour with a bag lunch. Get acquainted with your set up near home before you take it on a longer journey, and make notes on accoutrements to add or remove from your new kit. Watercolor travel supplies to consider are listed below…

traveling with art supplies
Three things; a folding mini chair, a sketchpad and a canvas roll-pouch of colored pencils; everything you need to sketch lavender fields in Provence, France

Folding chair (optional)

portable, lightweight travel chairs for painters
This is my favorite travel chair. It fits in my backpack, weighs just under 2 lbs. I’m sitting in it in the photo above. (This brand isn’t available, but the link takes you to the same chair.)

Traveling Watercolor Palette

watercolor palette sets for traveling
A small watercolor palette is lightweight and small enough to carry in a backpack or purse. There are several brands, and assorted sizes to choose from. I like Winsor Newton, Van Gogh and Sennelier palettes, as well as an empty tin (below) you can load with tube pigments that match the colors and arrangements you use in the studio.
watercolor palette for field painting
You can purchase an empty palette like mine, and fill the wells with tube pigments that match your studio palette to avoid color mixing surprises while traveling.

Watercolor Brushes (Brush Tips with caps are Excellent)

watercolor painting travel kit
Watercolor brushes with caps that extend as a handle when opened are So Good to travel with! The brand I bought on Amazon is for some reason very expensive now, so here is an alternative set of three just like mine.
DIY watercolor travel rinse cup
This homely little guy has been traveling with me for years. I know – you can tell. ??‍♀️ He may not be handsome, but he works! Clip off the top of a bottle of water, and poke a couple of holes to thread with light gage wire.

Small Cup and a bottle of water

When you’re traveling, water is heavy, and studio style rinse cups are too big and bulky to stuff into luggage or a backpack. It’s easier to use a small cup with a tiny pour from your drinking water.

You don’t need more than about a half cup of rinse water with watercolors. My DIY cup hangs on the hinge-knob of my easel with a loop of light gage wire (you can see it swinging on my easel in the photos snapped at the San Diego Artwalk below and above).

There is also this nifty little guy on amazon (below) for table-top painting.

Two compartments – one for dirtier rinse water, and another for a cleaner rinse when you need it. Both compartments seal closed till you get back to a place where you can dump, rinse and refill. I got this one here.

Paper towels or a cotton rag

painting watercolors while traveling
Work in Process at the San Diego Artwalk: a couple of brushes, a tin palette of watercolors, a paper towel, paper taped to a hollow board or a sheet of foam core, and a 1/2 cup of rinse water hanging over the right edge; voila!

Pencil and Eraser

Foam Core with watercolor paper taped down, under a newsprint flap

travel with watercolors
If you don’t have an easel, this is a simple set up to paint watercolors away from home, and it’s lighter than carrying watercolor block pads. Pre-tape a selection of watercolor papers to a sheet of foam core. You can even mount the watercolor paper front and back on the foam core. Carry your tape and loose watercolor paper in your suitcase, but take your pre-mounted sheets with you out into the fields of poppies with a newsprint flap for protection.

Watercolor Paper Options when Traveling

Cut sheets of watercolor paper to a size and format you’d like to work on. You can use masking tape to attach the watercolor paper to a small sheet of foam core, or stiff mat board.

This (above, right) is typical of what I bring on a plane, with watercolor sheets (arches hot press 140 lb) attached to both sides of the board, and a newsprint curtain to protect the watercolor paper’s surface from scratches or smudging in my carry-on bag. This way, I can paint on the plane to pass the time, or begin to sketch from reference photos I can add paint to later.

Painting with watercolors while traveling doesn’t require an easel or a fancy set up. Basic supplies and a place to sit will provide you with hours of art-making on the go.

Traveling with Watercolors

So there you have it – a small kit with a zipper pouch of brushes, pencil and palette, and some watercolor paper taped to a sheet of foam core, and you’re good to go!

How do you travel with watercolors? If you have tips to share, please leave them in the comments so we can all get smarter together.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. If you’re new around here, subscribe so you’ll get each new post via email as soon as it’s published.

P.P.S. Here is a little video of monarch butterfly magic. Have you ever *listened* to millions of monarchs fluttering around your head?

Here’s a 24% discount for this course, just for you, because we’re friends.?‍❤️‍?‍?
Final watercolor touches to Galilean Moons in the studio, and then on to scanning and framing.

Art Quote

If you’re imagining your future and then looking back at today through a rear-view mirror, it can wear you out.

Writing a book (all caps, WRITING A BOOK) or preparing for a TED talk (already in all caps) can paralyze an ordinarily productive person.
At the same time, tweeting is easy for a lot of people.

That’s because Twitter makes the false promise that it’s all about now. Whatever. Write what you’re doing, or feeling, or angry about. It’ll be obsolete in ten minutes. No future, no rear view mirror.

On the other hand, a book feels permanent. It’s not for now, it’s for later. It’s your testament, something for strangers to read.

And so, when you sit to write your book (or your blog, for that matter), you imagine who’s going to read it, one day in the future. And then you reflect from that distant, amorphous place back to now.

Time travel.

Without a doubt, we need to do this now and then. We need the discipline to think hard about the implications of our actions. We need to plan, to envision, to make trade-offs. It keeps us on track, doing work we’re proud of.

But when you find that it’s paralyzing you, it might be better to get back to now. Sit around the campfire and simply tell your story. Your story as of now, for the people who are with you, now.

Seth Godin

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6 thoughts on “Traveling with Watercolors – Best Lightweight Art Supplies”

  1. I love the water brushes for traveling and painting out in the field. I also love watercolor pencils for traveling. I usually bring watercolor pencils and a small watercolor set as you’ve described above when I travel. Great tips, Belinda! Thanks!

  2. Wonderful post. A big concern now is trying to eliminate plastic in supplies. Hard because it’s such a practical and light alternative.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

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