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Ten things to know about travelling and painting

My paints have been repacked, stowed, and are waiting for me to get back home to paint more fall trees. Can’t wait to get the colours going! I have never been east to see the fall colours but every time I take out my Richard Schmid book to peruse, there is a red maple leaf pressed between the pages that were given to me some years back by my good friend and artist Julie Hamilton after she returned from a trip to the east. She promised me that when I had a chance to go, I would not believe my eyes and placed this leaf in my favourite book. Well, I went and she is not wrong. The amount of colours you see for the brief time of year is mesmerizing. The trees were literally chasing right before our eyes.

I am currently writing this on a flight home from Quebec after the most amazing week of painting the fall trees with a group of twenty or so artist-student-friends. I should have written this before we went, but still as I write this my thoughts are now turning to The Casa Buena Mexico workshop coming up in January. Here are a few thoughts about travelling to paint.

#1 - What to bring

If you are driving, you can drag along as many supplies as your vehicle can handle and as much of it as you want. I still pare my equipment down as much as I can but being in a vehicle allows you more freedom to bring extras. Extra canvases, an umbrella, more camera equipment and a bigger jug of potato water or fermented grape juice for after. Whether you are an oil painter or an acrylic painter be prepared to have paint accidents in your vehicle. It just comes with the territory. I’m sure this is why I haven’t seen the Porsche 915 Plein air edition on the dealership lots yet...

#2 - Packing paints and Airlines

Paints must be packed in your luggage and will go in the under-storage part of the plane not with you on the seat part. I have heard of people painting in watercolour on the plane, who pack that stuff in their carry-ons, but these days with airlines almost nothing goes. Though most art solvents are within the flying flash point. Fire safety limits, if the airline people find solvents in your luggage they will confiscate them. And you will get your fingers wrapped. If you need solvents you will need to find an art store once you reach your location and purchase solvents there. If you can’t find an art store, most hardware stores will carry some form of odourless solvent. For group trips, I ship my paints and solvents ahead of time via ground service and they are waiting at the hotel when I arrive. Most mediums and gels for acrylics are fine to fly with as they are water-based.

Here are a few other tips for flying with paints. If you’re ever asked about your paints call them vegetable-based art colours. Airlines do not like the word ‘paint’. They’re never quite sure what to do with them. Vegetable-based is a softer term. Plus now you can say you're a vegan art guru. Another good idea if you’re flying to very foreign countries, is to have some photos of yourself painting with your equipment to show to any over-zealous border officials. It can help breach the language barrier.

#3 - Pack Light -Paring down your equipment is an ongoing thing.

I’m always experimenting with new ways to lighten the load. Lighter easel, lighter tripod etc. you can get things down to a manageable weight and size but do not do it at the expense of shoddy equipment. Good equipment is worth its weight in fresh fries. Light and compact to the best of your ability. Money should be no object. Good equipment will produce good results and you will most certainly get your money’s worth in the end. Unless you're John Moyers and have a love for every colour ever made you don’t have to bring every colour from your studio out with you. Some will opt for the 3 colours and a white, some a bit more. I usually have 6 or 7 colours and a big tube of white. Fewer colours will make for a more cohesive unified painting.

#4 - Clean up tips. Clean your brushes and palette after each session.

Do not leave it until later. I know you are tired and weather-beaten after a painting session but there is nothing worse than finding your petrified brushes a week later or having to scrape off solidified paint from your palette. Take a few minutes and do the work now. You’ll thank me later. Acrylic painters can soak a paper towel in clean water and wrap their wiped brushes in it, then clean them immediately when they arrive at your sink base. Oil painters can put their oil brushes in a plastic bag, though these days plastic bags getting hard to find. For oils, if I am travelling in a vehicle I bring a second thinner pot with fresh thinner. I use this after I have removed all of the paint from my dirty brushes. Once this is done I give them a dip in the clean thinner. This way, when they dry, they are daisy fresh. You should not if you can help it wash them in your dirty thinner. They will dry stiff and scratchy.

#5 - Plan your day, not the outcome!

That should take the pressure off! It’s about the experience of the conditions of the day, that’s it! Things change. A painting location may not turn out as you planned or it may be closed. Be open to options. There have been many days that in the end, a painting didn’t materialize for me but instead turned into a great photo shoot gathering reference kind of day.

#6 - Wet paintings.

Wet painting storage is mostly an oil problem. This is where your acrylic and watercolour sets get off easy. Here are a few options for wet oil paintings. The trusted wet painting box. These come in many styles and sizes. from wooden to cardboard and everything in between. Make sure whatever you choose is light yet sturdy, I personally don’t paint too big so I only need two boxes. 6x8"/8x10", and a 9x12"/10x12". I don’t paint much bigger outdoors than that though I will bring along 11x14" but I don’t have a box for it. But it's a single so I can usually find a hidden home somewhere for it. If I’m flying there are a couple of options. The wet box can be a bit cumbersome to bring. Wax paper between each painting will work great. The paints won’t stick to the paper and now you can just put your paintings in between your dirty underwear. Wax paper is also great for gouache paintings or watercolours that just won’t dry when you need to leave in a hurry. You could also bring small rubber washers found in any hardware store to use as spacers, placing them in the corners of your paintings and allowing you to stack them up and once again they can be hermetically sealed in your dirty skivvies.

#7 - Camera goodies, cords, charging blocks, batteries, battery chargers, earphones etc...

Because of the amount of times, I have forgotten any number of these things, I now keep a list on my phone to refer to make sure I have all of these things with me when I leave. This includes an SD card in the camera. More than once I got out my camera only to find there was no card in it rendering it useless. I know these cords are pesky and easily forgotten. Make a list, again… you’ll thank me later.

#8 - Hotel painting.

Often when I'm on an art supply buying junket I need to spend a few nights in my hotel. I have a small pochade box with gouache paints in it just for this purpose. It’s a small backpack loaded with all the essentials I need to do some smallish paintings in my room. I always have, in my pack, a small tablecloth to put down to keep the hotel clean. I once spilled Alizarine Crimson paint on the table and after I attempted to wipe it up my room looked like a murder scene.

#9 - Tag-a-long Johnny.

Husbands, Wives, Life Partners, Significant Others, or whatever terms you choose (I like ‘Sherpa’, myself) Any of these can be an added welcome to the journey but only if they want to be there. If they are not enthusiastic to join in your journey leave them behind. Nothing worse than having, in the back of your head, nagging thoughts of hurry up and be done…hubby is waiting… This is very dampening to the creative mind. Bringing along an impatient Annie or a Debbie downer can ruin the whole trip.

#10 - Painting Buddies.

Having a good painting buddy is almost a necessity. Finding someone who loves painting and to travel with is awesome Nothing wrong with the occasional friend to paint with but if your going on a longer trip here are a few things to think about. They should like the same sorts of areas or scenes to paint as you do, but always be ready to try new things. They should paint at about the same speed as you. Nothing wrong with waiting for your buddy to finish but if it’s going involves waiting around so long that you're ordering a pizza while you wait, you may want to rethink that buddy. Worse if you paint slow and someone is hovering over you and your rushing to get done, you can ruin a really good painting. Lastly, make sure your buddy is supportive. Nothing worse than a naggy critic or a "know-it-all" telling you how to paint.

#11- Bonus Round: Painting on location can attract a lot of attention.

Innocent bystanders will want to stop and chat you up just to let you know that their aunt also paints. Be aware of your location before you begin or you just might end up being the most interesting thing around. If you can’t avoid the busyness of the area one way to help is to wear earbuds or headphones. Onlookers will sneak a peek but once they see earphones they will not bother to talk to you.

Have fun and enjoy your trip. Remember it’s about the journey, not the destination. Be ready for anything. I’m not sure, sitting on your painting is one way to get it dry quicker but a good laugh is always in order... Your friend in art Doug.

Here is a butt painting and three little hotel gouache paintings to enjoy.

This is a photo of a woman with paint on the back of her pants.

This is a gouache painting of fall trees.

This is a gouache painting of cherries.

This is a gouache mountain painting.

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This article provides invaluable tips for artists who love to travel and paint, covering everything from packing supplies to dealing with wet paintings. The advice on staying organized and prepared is especially helpful. Tweed handbags can be a stylish and practical addition to your travel gear, offering both durability and a classic look. Overall, the focus on enjoying the journey and staying adaptable makes this a must-read for any traveling artist.


Rafe Curtis
Rafe Curtis
Oct 06, 2023

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