A simple traveling kit for watercolor

I like to take my watercolor tools with me nearly everywhere I go. Some restaurants have butcher paper on the table; a perfect situation for an after-dinner line and wash. I’m also just beginning to try painting ‘en plein air’, which is French for (roughly) ‘painting outside’.

Here’s a photo of my basic kit, which I can carry around in a very small computer bag (and I can even bring the computer if I wish).

watercolor-travel-kit

It’s not completely minimal, but close. I could leave the pens behind if I really need to go light. If I’m going where there’s water available in containers (a water glass at a restaurant), I don’t even take the folding camp cup.

I love to draw with pens, so I carry quite a few, each with a purpose. From left to right in the blue case:

  • Fountain pen with extra-fine nib (a fountain pen has a looser line than technical pens, but both have their place)
  • Fountain pen with soft nib and waterproof ink (provides wide variation in line width with hand pressure changes; good for line and wash with watercolor after ink)
  • Ballpoint pen with water-soluble ink (good for ink-only line and wash)
  • Ultra-fine ballpoint (0.28mm) (heavenly for subtle ink drawing)
  • Extra-fine ballpoint (0.5mm) (not water soluble, suitable for line and wash)
  • Four Copic Multiliners, 0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.5 (technical pens, superb line qualities)

The Escoda travel brushes are a dream because they are good sable brushes, but come in a metal sleeve that allows me to carry them around damp easily. But any set of brushes and brush holder that fits in your kit will work. A bamboo roll with normal watercolor brushes can be another good choice, for example.

The Zeta notebook series from Stillman & Birn shown is equivalent to hot press; the Beta series is equivalent to cold press. Both are very good for watercolor because they are filled with 180lb sheets. They will curve a bit when really wet, however.

The travel palette is a dodge. I could take the time to put together a good travel palette, but this Raphael travel kit has surprisingly good colors for an off-the-shelf palette. It’s perfect for a quick line and wash. For more serious watercolor, I would carry a different palette. More about that below. (I don’t ever use the tiny brush in the Raphael palette; I should remove it!) A travel kit with really excellent colors is the Winsor & Newton (not shown here, but take a look at the link). Winsor & Newton also offer a range of high-end palettes stuffed with lots of colors; here is a link to a review of several of them.

The folding camp cup is great for holding water, as it stores compactly but holds a lot of water. As note above, however, it’s not essential.

The Copic markers are good for coloring over water-soluble inks. I have colors that work best for outdoor subjects like trees, flowers, and cottages.

This is the stuff I carry all the time when I leave the house. But sometimes I want to have more options, but remains extremely portable. This next photo shows some of those.

watercolor-travel-kit-(1)

The red case is much larger than the pen case, and the lower section holds quite a few brushes/pencils/pens – whatever I need. The upper section is a zippered catch-all, where erasers, eye droppers (for loading water), rulers, etc. can live. I don’t recall the brand name or where I got it, but similar pencil cases are widely available.

The collapsing water bucket at bottom holds a LOT of water. It has a handle, and you can hang it from a french easel if you go that route.

The palette in the middle has two parts: a palette proper, and a tray that fits on top of it when traveling. It’s not sealed, so all liquid must be mopped up when done. This is the Guerrilla Backpacker palette, 6″ x 8″. I use it very, very often.

The palette at top right is from Alvin. It has a rubber seal, and when closed will keep paints damp for a week or more. It also has large mixing areas. A good (and amazingly cheap) alternative is this one.

At bottom right is a typical metal tin, with some watercolor pans. This is a project I’ve never completed. The idea is to find a way to fix the pans in the tin, and then squeeze in watercolors from tubes. I will probably just cave in and get this palette from Daniel Smith instead, however.

The next level up is a French easel (or a lighter easel, without the drawer and the weight of a french).  My Father’s Day gift is a half-easel, French style. I also looked at the lighter metal easels, like this one or even this one, but I felt I’d be happier putting up with the weight of the French easel for its added stability. Time will tell if I’ve made a good choice for me…

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