Travel Sketch Supplies

What art supplies do you need in your backpack for your travel sketchbook and journal? For me, shaving weight from my pack is always important, but just as important is the ability to carry a miniature studio with me everywhere I go. I've developed a variety of lightweight, big color sketchbook supply setups for my travels. I'll share them with you here to help you develop your own.

Ultralight Travel Sketchbook, but Packed with color

When I really need to shave weight in my backpack (for example, when I'm backpacking or when I need to carry all my gear in a single pack), I like this format, which allows me to write and paint in watercolor. This setup includes:

  • One small 5 ½"x 3 ½" Moleskine Watercolor notebook
  • An Altoid-Mini tin which easily carries enough watercolor paint for a two week trip. I usually fit about 12-18 colors in these tins
  • One Micron liner pen. Although I love the precise .005 pens, if you have room for only one pen, use a wider width, because thinner nibs can explode in airplanes, leaving you with no liner pen
  • One medium-sized Pentel Arts Water Brush
Watercolor tin and travel sketchbook

Full Waterproof Watercolor Case and Brush Pens

This setup is my preferred for travel sketching, and if I have the space in my backpack, or if I'm traveling by road, this is the gear I'll take. Although I do like to use watercolor notebooks, I prefer traveling with the Moleskine Art Notebooks, which is a much better surface for writing notes and for line drawings.

With this paper, I apply the watercolor much drier, so that its applied to the paper almost like gouache.

A larger watercolor case like this allows you to travel with 36 or more pigments, and lots of surface space to mix color.

  • One large 5" × 8¼" Moleskine Art notebook
  • Waterproof watercolor travel case
  • tube watercolor pigments
  • Fine and think liner pens
  • 3 Water brushes
Waterproof Watercolor Case

Watercolor Pencils and 5" × 8¼" Sketch Journal

Watercolor pencils are a great tool for the travel sketcher, because they allow you to add dry watercolor to line drawings in the field in a very precise and fine-grained way, and go back later and apply water to apply the effects of watercolor. Colored pencils do add weight, and keeping them in a case is essential to protect the tips.

Travel sketch with watercolor pencils

Small Journal, Nib Pen With Winsor & Newton Drawing Ink

One very lightweight travel sketchbook solution is to carry a small bottle of drawing ink, a nib pen and a small journal. Winsor & Newton drawing inks come in small, indestructible glass jars that never leak when closed. This solution is so compact that I often carry my ink and liner pen or nib pen in my pocket. This is similar to the set-up I brought to Morocco.

Nib Pen and Ink

Small Travel Journal, Winsor & Newton ink and brush pen

A variation of the drawing ink toolkit is to replace the nib pen with a brush pen and liner pen. This solution worked well in my Paris sketchbook.

Travel sketch with watercolor pencils

Travel Journal with Gouache Spot Color

One of my favorite lightweight travel sketchbook set-ups is to carry one or two gouache colors in a mini-Altoid tin. Gouache applies to a variety of Moleskine papers really well, and it doesn't bleed or run on Moleskine art paper the way watercolor does.

Try carrying just a single color, such as sepia to match sepia liner pens, and a strong red or blue. I use the sepia to apply shading, and the bright spot color to give each sketch a bit of extra detail.

Masking fluid also works really well with gouache on a Moleskine notebook. This compact masking fluid product called Masquepen comes out in fine detail. I duct-tape a sharp, long pin to the side of the bottle to pierce the narrow opening when the masking fluid freezes the opening.

  • One small 5 ½"x 3 ½" Moleskine notebook
  • One Altoid tin with 1-2 Gouache paints
  • One brush pen
  • One liner pen matching the color of the drawing ink
  • Masking Fluid
Gouache Travel sketchbook

Liner Pens and Other Pen Gear for Travel Sketching

There are several liner pens out there on the market, and there are a few important considerations outside of cost. The first is how each pen brand feels on the particular paper of your particular sketchbook or journal. The second is how the pen actually feels in your hand. And the third may not sound important, but it has become one of the most critical deciding factors for me. How does the pen hold up in a variety of travel conditions, especially altitude changes on an airplane?

I have always been a big fan of the way Micron's smaller tips, especially the way they hold a clean line on my preferred Moleskine journals. However, I come to find that Staedtler Pigment markers have a better feel in the hand, as there is a nice texture to the tube of the pen, and they tend to be much more resilient. Simply put: they are far less likely to explode in an airplane or on a hot day. In fact, almost all of my many pen explosions are from smaller tip Microns.

Liner pens for travel sketchbooks

Travel Journal Pens and Ink: Picking the Right Combination for your Sketch Journal

I never take such a large set of pens while traveling anywhere, but depending on what style I am interested in at the time, I'll try to have as large a range of blacks and shading grays as possible.

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