Who knew that one of the most time-consuming parts of preparing for my upcoming trip to Italy is figuring out what would go into my travel sketching kit?
When you’re an art supplies hoarder like I am, it’s a bit of a challenge to figure out which ones are ‘essential art stuff’ and which ones can be left back at the home studio. I mean, sure, I’ve taken sketching supplies before in my travels. In fact, I don’t really remember travelling anywhere without at least a sketchpad and a pen and/or pencil.
But, I’ve never been on an ART TRIP before. As in, a trip specifically for art – with artists. And art lessons. I’m actually travelling to make art and to enjoy art. In Italy. [Yes. Un-be-liev-a-ble!]
Going on an art tour has been in my dream list since I was a kid. And, Italy has been at the top of my travel wish list for some time now too. So, making two dreams happen in one go, as a 40th birthday present, is something that I’m extremely grateful for. That’s why I intend to make the most out of it, even though I have mixed feelings about it all (ie, excited that I get to do something I love to do; but also guilt/sadness that I won’t be with my family for a couple of weeks).
Anyway, technically, we don’t need to bring any art materials for the tour. Everything will be provided for by our host and teacher during the official art lesson week in Tuscany. But, I know that I would still need sketching gear outside the official art lesson sessions. So, I’ve taken stock of what I already own and what I’d like to have when I try my hand at travel sketching for this trip of a lifetime.
Early on in the year, I’ve shared some of my sketching tools. That’s still pretty much the gist of what I use most of the time when I sketch. But, for the purpose of this trip, I decided to put together a special travel sketching kit, which consist of two parts: 1) My basic on-the-go travel sketching kit and 2) My back-up and extra travel sketching tools.
The one pictured above is my basic travel sketching kit. It contains:
* Small sketchbook – I decided to try Jasart’s premium blank sketchbook, with 145 gsm, buff-coloured, acid-free pages. Never used this before so it would be interesting to see how I work with it.
* Winsor & Newton Cotman Travel Watercolour Set – I’ve had my existing W&N watercolour set for years (it was a gift from my mother-in-law, I think back in Christmas of 2002, in South Africa). It’s a bit big for travelling though, as it has 24 half-pans. I love it because of all my colour choices but I knew it wouldn’t suit my needs. I bought a smaller travel watercolour set some time ago, but I couldn’t find it at the time and knew the set needed new paints anyway. So, when I saw this set at a local art shop on sale, I decided to buy it. It originally has 14 half-pans. But, when I did my usual colour study using the pans, I decided that I needed other colours in the set. So, I bought 5 individual Van Gogh watercolour half-pans to replace some of the colours in the original set, and I decided to add a couple more in the set since I couldn’t decide to leave anything else out.
The colours in the box (from the top left; the ones with ^ are Van Gogh line, the rest are W&N): Cadmium Yellow Hue, Naples Yellow Red^, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Purple Lake, Rose Quinacridone^, Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue, Sap Green, Hooker Green Deep^, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Chinese White. Added (in well): Payne’s Grey^ and Permanent Blue Violet^
Oh, and the kit contains a water holder, a pull-out a palette, and a small brush.
* Spritzer bottle – Great for spraying the watercolour pans to make them moist for painting.
* Water brushes – These things are a godsend for travel sketching! Only discovered their existence a couple of years ago. They’re great because you can paint on-the-go when your brush containers are filled with water. I currently have two in my kit: a flat brush and a round brush. I love them.
* Tissues – When you’re doing watercolours, tissues are essential. You can also pack a small rag or paper towels instead.
* Mechanical Pencil – I like the 0.7mm pencils for drawing/sketching, if I wish to run pencil lines first. There are times, though, when I just go in with a pen or a brush. So, I don’t always use pencil. No need for anything fancy. Mine are just the cheap ones I find from Big W. This one in my kit is a Bic mechanical pencil.
* Black Pens – Usually, I just a black Sharpie (fine) for my pen lines. For this kit, I decided to invest in a set of Faber-Castell PITT artist pens. The set usually comes with four pens: S (0.3mm), F (0.5mm), M (0.7mm), and B (1.5mm). The B pen is like a brush pen. In this basic kit, I kept the S, M, and B pens. I’ve put the F pen in my second back-up/additional kit.
* White Gel Pen – When the inspiration strikes me, I love adding white lines to my sketches/drawings/paintings. So, I like keeping one of these in my kit.
* Portable Fountain Pen - I’ll admit that whilst I’ve admired the use of fountain pens by other people, I’ve found it really hard to use them myself. The lines are so unpredictable and dealing with inks can be such messy business. But, I’ve fallen in love with the lines they create. So, I decided that I’m going to keep trying and seeing if I can make something out of this newfound love for fountain pens. So, into the kit it goes. I only have an inexpensive set from Kmart that I bought some time last year. One day, I hope to invest in a good one.
* Derwent Inktense Pencils – In the past, I’ve only really used watercolour pencils in my travel sketching kit. But, recently, I’ve discovered these Inktense pencils. They’re pretty much just like watercolour pencils but somehow, the colours seem more vibrant. I have a tin of 24 colours and I had a really hard time choosing which ones to take into the basic kit with me. Especially since my case can only take 10 colours!
I ended up with the following colours in the basic kit: Sun Yellow, Tangerine, Poppy Red, Fuschia, Deep Indigo, Iris Blue, Apple Green, Field Freen, Willow, and Violet.
* Sable Brush – Although I already have a small brush in the watercolour kit and two water brushes, I thought it might be good to bring a slightly bigger brush, in case I need one for creating quick washes. This lovely Winsor and Newton Kolinsky Sable Brush No. 8 is one of my favourites.
* Pencil Sharpener – For the Inktense pencils.
* Eraser – I don’t usually need one, especially since the mechanical pencils usually come with a tiny one, but I know it’s always good to have one, just in case.
I’ve put most of these in a hard pencil case from Smiggle. This purple case actually belongs to my daughter. But, when I was brainstorming on how I’m going to put the kit together, this case came to mind. So, I thought I’d borrow it from her. She seemed happy to oblige, even though she has already cried a couple of times because of my trip. She hates the thought of me leaving without her, but she has been absolutely amazing. Even helping me to pack and to choose things to take with me.
Anyway, here’s how the travel sketching kit looks like all packed:
The second back-up/extra travel sketching kit consists of:
Another thing in my ‘extras’ pile is this bigger sketchbook – a Strathmore Visual Journal with 140lb watercolour paper (size: 5.5 x 8 inches). I have a feeling that I might try to take this with me in some of my outings, just because I like sketching in this size rather than the really small one in my basic kit. But then, I know that one good rule for travel sketching is to “work small” because they make you sketch faster and you’re less conspicuous when out and about. So, we’ll see.
In any case, I decided to add a couple of envelopes to this sketchbook (one at the front cover and one at the back cover). The plan is to put in tickets and other small items in there that I’d like to keep from the trip.
Now with my travel sketching kit all packed and ready to go, I just need to make sure that I actually end up taking them out and recording Italy through my sketches.
If you want to follow my Italian journey from 13 to 30 June, I’ll be posting most of my photos on my Instagram and Flickr accounts. Whatever I post on Instagram gets shared on my Twitter account too. And yes, I plan on occasionally sharing some highlights on Facebook. And, at some stage, here on this blog, of course.
Not sure if I’ll be able to blog again before I leave. Or if I can blog at all during my trip. I still plan on staying connected, so we’ll see. In any case, until then, let me be cheesy here with one of the few Italian words that I know – Arrivederci!
P.S. – BTW, I should probably mention that June’s Daily Week-long Challenge of the Month is Travel Sketching. 😉
Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.