What to Pack for a Watercolor Painting Holiday


I'm a "more is better" traveller, so I struggle to keep my luggage down to one carry on suitcase. I need those four pairs of shoes! And when it comes to painting, I don't want to be stranded without the perfect colours, so I tend to overpack in that department as well. However, I make up for this by always forgetting my toothbrush. I'm leaving for a workshop in Ireland this weekend, and for this trip I've narrowed down my needs by bringing a few favourite useful tools that help me keep it simple. This post contains affiliate links. 

My Perfect Watercolor Travel Kit

My number one goal is to pack only what I can use on my trip, without limiting myself should creative inspiration strike hard. I work first to pack from my studio supplies, knowing that familiar products and tools will be easier to use than an unfamiliar kit that I use only during travel. Sometimes making do is over-rated, however, and so recently I upgraded my palettes to make studio and travel more convenient and comfortable.


For travel I'm using the 12" diameter PL19S palette from Robax.com. It has 19 wells and a circular shape which I've filled in an approximate colour wheel. It's a smaller version of my large studio palette, the PL64, but the PL19S has more than enough space to serve as a studio palette as well.

I've also packed my small travel palette, the Portable Painter. I love its efficient, compact design! 


I plan to bring 4 brushes; a tiny round for signatures, a large quill, a dagger striper for fine lines and my workhorse brush, the Escoda Versatil #10 rigger. This is the brush that will see the majority of use and if I had to narrow down my selection even further, it would be the only paintbrush I'd bring.


Choosing colour for travel is always a challenge. My studio palette has 64 wells for colour, but on a trip, I want to keep it simpler, while not missing out on hues that will capture my location and mood. I try to build a palette based on what I know about my painting habits, since it's hard to anticipate what I might need in advance. I choose colours that I regularly use, rather than new hues I'm still getting to know, and make sure to start with the primary colours of magenta, cyan and yellow.

Basic Paint Palette for a Painting Trip

I like to pre-fill my palettes with artist-quality tube paints and allow them to dry for a week or so before travel. Tubes can be messy during travel, and dry, set paint is easier to work with. I also bring Glad Press'n Seal wrap to help seal a palette after painting if I need to travel while the paint is still damp.

Red/Pink: Quinacridone Magenta (QoR), Opera Pink (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Coral (DS)

Blue/Turquoise/Cyan: Ultramarine Blue (DS), Verditer Blue (DS), Cobalt Teal (QoR), Indigo (DS)

Yellow: Hansa Yellow Light (QoR), Quinacridone Gold (QoR), Aussie Red Gold (DS), Burnt Sienna Light (DS)

Brown: Burnt Umber (QoR)

Violet: Ultramarine Violet (QoR), Imperial Purple (DS), Cobalt Violet Deep (DS)

Green: Green Gold (DS), Zoisite (DS)

QoR carries a great basic palette in its High Chroma set, which makes colour selection simple. I would add an Ultramarine or Cobalt Blue to complete a basic set.

I have a few more hues I'd love to bring but ran out of space or just didn't have it in stock: Rose of Ultramarine, Moonglow are both fun to use, but I can mix approximations. I really wanted to bring Sennelier's Cinereous Blue but I'm out of stock. It literally felt painful to leave Nickel Azo Yellow at home (I may have snuck in a half tube). I have been having fun with various shades of turquoise, Kingman Green Turquoise and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise from Daniel Smith, Cobalt Green from Sennelier.


Travel is the one time when you don't want to mess around with more affordable full single sheets of watercolour paper. A block of paper is gummed on four sides, so you don't have to pack masking tape or a painting board, so if you can find blocks of your favourite brand, it's just easier to work with blocks. I like to have more than one so I can work on more than one painting at a time, since with a block you only have access to the top sheet of paper until that first painting is removed from the block. I'm using Fabriano Artistico 140 lb cold press. 

I have also traveled with loose sheets of paper, I like to cut them down to quarter sheet size (11 x 15 inches) and pack a corrugated plastic sheet just a little larger than the paper size to mount the paper on as I paint. Masking tape or bulldog clips work well for attaching the paper to the board.

Odds & Ends: 

I always bring a small container of salt for adding texture in a wet wash. Pencil, ruler (for tearing paper to smaller sizes). Paper towel. White gouache can make any paint opaque. Toothbrush for spatter. Sketchbook & notebook for idea recording. Camera for capturing the scene to finish back at the studio.

Plein Air Painting Kit:

Most of the time, I'm not really painting on location. Travel painting for me involves a makeshift studio of some kind, whether a hotel room or a classroom space if I'm teaching. While my Portable Painter includes most of what I need for short stints outdoors (I add a sketchbook and brush and am good to go!), if I'm planning to paint en plein air (outdoors) for any length of time, I need to plan a little further.

For longer painting sessions, I'll bring a lightweight easel and stool with a storage compartment.

I also bring water (my Portable Painter includes containers for water), sunscreen and bug spray. Extra masking tape and clips to secure my stuff on a windy day. If you do a lot of painting in wind, you might want to carry some rock bags to help weight your easel to keep it from blowing away - a painting board can catch a lot of wind!

Use Those Tools

When the packing is complete, the next goal is making sure you use the supplies you packed so carefully while traveling. Making time to paint can add richness to your travel adventures as you slow down and savour the sights and sounds of unfamiliar surroundings, or experience a frequent travel haunt in a new way.