Prepping For Paris: Choosing Art Supplies

9:33 AM

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Part One: Packing Art Supplies WITHOUT Taking The Whole Studio
Long years ago, I packed a BOX of Art Supplies to take on a seven day road trip to Tennessee with my husband. (Note the emphasis on box and art supplies.) The image above is NOT from that box, but it will give you an idea of what I took!

A BOX. As in the BOX was 12" W x 18" T x 6" D and I crammed it full of all the Art Supplies I thought I could possible need or want, things I didn't even normally use in my studio at home because you never know, right? I had extra paper and all kinds of markers, pens, watercolor pencils, traditional brushes, rubber stamps, glue, masking fluid, a mask remover, a special brush for applying the masking fluid AND soap for cleaning the special brush.

And do you know what happened?

I did not open the box the entire trip.

Not once.

I maybe sketched twice?

Colossal fail.

Fast forward a few years and we went back. This time, I managed to get it down to a bag of Art Supplies. The bag was bigger than my regular purse and I crammed it full of all kinds of Art Supplies that I could possibly imagine needing.

Mind you, we were going to Tennessee, not a third world country.

I did manage to sketch and paint that trip, but I didn't use anything but my normal kit the entire trip. No glue was needed, no masking fluid was applied or removed, no watercolor pencil applied, no stamps stamped. Nada.

Now go back and re-read these first few paragraphs substituting the word FEAR for Art Supplies.

Because that's what I packed—FEAR in the disguise of Art Supplies.

Entering The Unknown
When we don't know what we're doing (or we don't do an activity often enough to develop any confidence) and we're "expecting" to come home with a visual record of our travels, we tend to want to stack the outcome in our favor as much as possible and that translates to taking every possible Art Supply we could conceivably need because we're afraid of failing.

Because we wouldn't want anyone to know we didn't know what we were doing (gasp!) or that it was the first (or third or eighth) time we tried to sketch on location (gulp!) or the purpose of the entire trip we took just so we could sketch (eek!), would we?!

And if we came home without a sketchbook full of adorable pages of sketch after perfect sketch, then we would have failed, wouldn't we?

And if this happened because we didn't have the one exact art supply we needed because we left it in our studios, then the failure would be our fault, wouldn't it?

Can you see how slippery the slope becomes and how easily things can spiral out of control when fear is woven through our thought process?

I can remember being in my studio and looking at an item while thinking, "well, I haven't used this in six months (or ever) but you never know, I might need it. I want to be prepared!" and then I chucked it into the box.

I lugged approximately 20 pounds worth of art supplies (fear) that never saw the light of day the entire time we were gone.

Not once did I open the box.

Fear's job is to keep you "safe" and fear has become a master at disguising itself in clever ways (extra art supplies, anyone?) so it can do that job. Make no mistake, fear is determined and sneaky. It will hitch a ride any way it can to keep you "safe."

Your job is to recognize the fear before you drag it around the world with you!

To Truly Stack The Outcome In Your Favor...
If you really want to stack the outcome in favor of you coming home with that adorable sketchbook full of sketch after perfect sketch, I suggest the following:

Limit your art supplies to what you regularly use to create your art and little more.

I know, that's not a lot of fun. We all have dreams of creating these phenomenal pages using all these specialty supplies while on location and some artists do...those that draw, sketch, paint and create on location on a very regular basis.

They've honed their process so that they know what they need and they take very few "extras" because they know what they need to create.

There is something to be said for only having what you need as this bring a certain magic into play when we consciously choose to limit our choices. Remember, not only are you going to sketch, you're going to "see" a new location, to experience the culture and to take in as much as you can.

While making art is a top priority list while traveling, it's not the only priority on the list and if we make the art-making process too difficult by overwhelming ourselves with choices, then it is likely the process will suffer, if not break down all together.
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Keep It Simple
1. Choose a sketchbook that is appropriate for your chosen medium. In this case, I'm going to use watercolor as an example.
2. Choose a lightweight palette* and fill the wells full. Give the pigments plenty of time to firm up by doing this a couple of weeks ahead of your departure date...nobody likes to open their palette and find their paint ran everywhere! If you already have a palette you use on location, top off the wells and use that. If you are setting up a brand new palette, be sure to set the pigments up in the same order as your usual palette so you are not scrambling to learn the new layout while on location.
*Do not, under any circumstances, take a palette or any art supply that has great sentimental value or cannot be easily replaced. It's not worth the grief if something happens to the item while you're traveling.
3. Two identical**, large-tipped waterbrushes (if you use them) as well as two identical**, small-tipped waterbrushes. I recommend taking them out for a spin BEFORE leaving to make sure they work properly and do not leak.
4. Choose two identical** mechanical pencils, two pens** with permanent ink in whatever colors you normally sketch with and or two most common nib sizes you use. Limit yourself to no more than eight pens in a variety of colors and nib sizes. Make sure the pencil has plenty of lead and a new or nearly full eraser. Make sure all of the pens work well on the paper in your sketchbook and that they are permanent on that paper.
**A plus of having identical waterbrushes is that if you run out of water in one brush, you can switch the tip to the full handle of water in another brush and continue sketching without having to find a water source. Also, if one tool breaks, becomes damaged or stop working, you have an identical item for backup.
5. A kneaded eraser or a white eraser that will not mar the paper.
6. A ruler that is no larger than six inches in length and there is a bonus if it's clear.
7. Two white gel pens with non-water resistant ink and two white "ink" or paint pens with permanent ink.
8. Paper towels or a wrist band to wipe your paint on and a pack of facial tissues.

And that's it. That is all you really need. Because these are the tools you are most familiar with, you will not be struggling to not only learn how to use a new tool but also create in the moment while you're on location. (Now, is that all you're going to take? Not likely, but that's another post!)

Make A Test Run
Before the trip arrives, pack your kit. Set out your "must-haves" (journal, pigments, pens, pencils, etc.) and fit them into the bag or pack you plan on using on your trip. Once everything is in there, including any extras like your phone, camera, keys, lip gloss, glasses, etc., lug it around with you for a day. Even better, take it out and use it a time or two.

If your neck and or shoulders begin to hurt, look for ways to lighten the pack by either carrying less or by finding lighter items.

Likely Culprits
  • Leather bags and leather covered journals are beautiful, but they are heavy and they'll triple their weight by the end of the day! Only you can decide if it's worth it to lug those items around. The same could be said for large journals (8 x 10 inches and larger).
  • Question every item in your pack and make sure you absolutely need it. Consolidate items where possible rather than taking two or three different organizational containers.
  • Metal palettes are great, but they are much heavier than plastic. However, paints do behave differently on each surface. If you're used to and happy with metal, take the metal but see what else you can remove to make the kit lighter. 
  • Check to see if there are any items you can take with you, but not haul around daily (like duplicate items—with the exception of waterbrushes, I leave the duplicates in my room). You likely will not need two black pens, two red pens and two blue pens for one day of sketching. Take only one size and color of each pen (the size/color you use most) and add any additional pen work when you get back to your stash. 
  • If you're traveling with a partner, see if you can figure out a buddy system for those extra, nice-to-haves-but-not-need-to-have items. This can cut down the amount of weight you're both carrying. 
  • If you already know you will have trouble with your neck and shoulders, pare down your kit to the most basic you can make pencil and one pen along with loose pieces of paper cut down to the size of your sketchbook. Leave the palette and sketchbook back in your room. Add paint later. Glue the paper into your final sketchbook when you're done. It's not worth missing out on the trip because of the pain!

Those Special Extras
In the next "Prepping For Paris" post, I'll be discussing those "extra special items" to take with you and I'm going to leave you with a question to ponder...what item or items would you likely use on a trip that would make it worth hauling them (weight-wise and space-wise because they will be taking up space in your luggage!)?

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8 Creative Thought(s)

  1. It is so exciting reading what all you are going to take with you. I think I take everything except masking, white pens/pencils, special papers etc. I am pretty basic when traveling. I do take glue, tape and scissors. I tape or glue in all sorts of "stuff". I also have a camera. I take pictures. When I return home I paint from pictures that I have taken. We are usually on the move so much that I don't have time to relax and paint. I paint in the evenings, at dinner etc. Nice to have any and all supplies. If we drive I take a whole lot more. If we fly I pare down to very little.

    1. You've probably have the straight of it, Lisa...keep it simple and basic. Hard to do though!

  2. Laure, please list the exact colors. Your list on one of your web pages is too many colors. What colors do you suggest?
    I like Lisa's idea of taking scissors and glue.

    1. Yes, scissors and glue are excellent ideas. I'll be sending out more info on color to the traveling group, Faith.

  3. Helpful reminder as I choose what to take for a trip to California. It will sort of be a dry run for Paris!

    1. Good luck! I hope you find some time to journal!

  4. Laure - this list is not only great for a long trip but also for just a day at a local park. Loved reading what you are taking. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  5. I know I'm late to the party on this blog post - but better late than never. This post is a Gold Mine of information, experience, and tips - or 'words to the wise'. THANK YOU so much for distilling this all down to a blog post which will be invaluable for me as I plan for the trip to Paris. The realities of 'traveling lightly' are starting to sink in as my new carry-on suitcase arrived today -- and I'm only taking what will fit in there and in my 'personal item' which is yet to be determined. I need to cut back from what I'm used to taking with me ..... sigh and ending up back at home with the unused supplies. But, Paris will be different!


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