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I Drank Paint-Tainted Water and Lived!

Water and Other Supplies for Your Watercolor Sketch Kit.

Yes, I have sipped the water in which I washed my paint brushes. Okay, it was only a little bit of paint, but I still did it. It was hot and I was dying of thirst, but why did I do it?

I did it because I love convenience and portability, and I was thirsty. All of my supplies, except a water bottle, can fit in one pocket of my cargo pants. So not only must travelling artists consider painting supplies, they need to think about their wardrobe.

Small is good. That’s my mantra while I travel. Why? The act of painting is just one part of the process. One must also think about transporting supplies and paintings. Large paintings are fine if painting is the primary purpose of the trip, but large paintings can present logistical problems. That means more planning and less convenience. I rarely paint larger than 5 by 7 inches when I travel, usually smaller.

Why do I think small is good? It is because I do not consider travel painting as exactly the same as painting on location, en plein air. For me, travel paintings are done in the context of travel. Conversely, travel is one within the context of paintings on location. It is a matter of purpose, but it means that artistic factors such as lighting and viewpoint, may come second to other factors such as itinerary and train schedules. The need to accommodate the other factors has lead me to my “Small is good.” mantra.

Here are the ten supply items I have considered and refined over the years.

  1. Watercolor paper. I prefer paper made for watercolors. I buy the smoothest paper available. I almost always get pre-made watercolor postcard pads. Good art stores tend to have bigger selections. All pads are not the same. Feel the paper to make sure it is to your liking.
  2. Watercolor kit. I use a kit because it combines paints and palette. I find it much more convenient than carrying separate tubes and a mixing palette or tray. There are several brands. Mine has 12 color cubes (cakes), including white. Replacement cubes are available at good art suppliers and online. White is useless. I should email my kit manufacturer and ask about the white. I have other cubes to replace the white. I will do that one of these years. You can easily make your own kit. Just get a small rectangular plastic box with a lid. Squeeze the colors you want into the box and let them dry. Now you have a kit that is field-ready. Some kits come with water bottles, mine does not. Kits without water bottles usually have more paint cubes. Mine came with a brush, but it was not very good.
  3. Water bottle. My kit does not have a built in bottle. I carry a bottle of water that doubles as a source of drinking water. No, I do not drink the water, not usually. Sometimes I do not carry water and rely on whatever liquid I can find. I have painted with a glass of water, tea, cola, beer, and water from fountains and canals.
  4. Water cup. This is where I dip my brushes. Anything that holds water and has a wide top will do. When I pack ultra-small, I have a little plastic container from the art store. It’s about one inch in diameter and one-half inches tall.  I have been caught without a cup once or twice. In those situations, I used the cap of the water bottle. Not ideal, but it works. When I use my backpack, I throw in a home-made container. I cut the bottom off a small plastic water bottle. It’s two or three inches high, and surprisingly indestructible.
  5. Brushes and brush holder. I paint small, but carry a big brush. It’s too easy suckered into slow, detailed paintings with a small brush. That can work against you when you want to capture a scene, but do not have much time. My brushes: Kolinsky #8 round, Synthetic #4 round. Number 4 is small, but I rarely use it, and those paintings take longer. My Kolinsky was expensive, but it is very durable and I keep it in a sturdy, breathable brush holder.
  6. Brush holder. Brushes get bent and beaten up unless they are in a container. Plastic tubes are popular. I use a wooden sushi roller that I bought at a Chinese grocery. I cut the roller so it is just big enough to wrap around my brushes and not much longer than my big brush. Without modification, rollers will wrap around brushes several times and can be too long, adding unwanted bulk to travel kits. Similar products are available in art stores. I secure the wrapper with two sturdy rubber bands. I prefer wooden rollers because they permit air circulation, helping the brush to dry while protecting it, and they can be modified to fit your brush.
  7. Pack or Cargo Pants. My painting supplies, except water bottle, fit into one pocket of my cargo pants. However, a pack of some sort is much more convenient than carrying loose painting supplies. I have a multipurpose backpack for my supplies. It has enough room for my laptop computer and lightweight sweatshirt or jacket and a hat. My backpack gives me some flexibility as it is adaptable to the purpose of my outing. I may want to stop by a café for coffee and check my email and I often go out in less than ideal weather.
  8. Paper towels or rags (optional). I do not carry towels or rags. To clean my brushes, I dip them in clean water in my water cup, then shake them dry. Sometimes I use napkins if I am in a place where they are available.
  9. Pencils, eraser, and sharpener (optional). I carry two soft pencils (2B) because I like to draw a quick sketch of my subject before I paint. I will often use a pencil sketch in combination with a photo when I do not have time to complete a painting. Erasers and sharpeners can be useful at times.

10.  Ink pen (optional). I draw ink lines on my paintings. It is my travel sketching style. I use a pen with a hard, durable tip and permanent ink.