Every trip calls for a lovely stash of portable art supplies and a travel journal to keep on the journey.
My travel journals are visual. I do a lot of painting and collage in them – not necessarily about where I am traveling, but about whatever I’m experiencing that stirs my imagination.
Recently I went to a workshop in Cancun, and here’s what I brought for my travel journal. I do a lot of writing on the road, too, just like at home, so I’ll show you how I wrangle that, too.
Your packing list will likely be different, depending on the materials you like to work with.
What you choose to bring and how you pack and carry your art supplies is so individual—and an important part of your creative journey.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how other artists travel with their sketchbooks and art supplies, so I hope this post helps you pack, plan and shop (!) for your next adventure.
This is by no means a minimal art supply packing list, but it does give you a nice amount of materials to work with, and still fit in your carryon. This is important, so you can work while you’re en route.
Thank goodness for those overhead lights that illuminate our tray tables on airplanes.
It was a night flight back to Mexico City, with a very rowdy bunch of Cancun vacationers. And me, quietly drawing and rubber stamping in my sketchbook, while sipping mineral water.
Maps are a common theme in my sketchbooks and paintings, whether or not I’m traveling.
All Most of my travel journal art supplies for this trip fit into two small pouches.
The first thing I do when packing for a trip is decide what size bag my supplies will go in, and that determines the limit of what I’ll bring. If it doesn’t fit in the bag, it stays home!
At least this is my usual rule. For this trip, however, I met up with a friend, and brought along extra art journaling supplies to share, including:
- several sets of alphabet stamps,
- about a dozen rolls of washi tape, plenty of collage paper, and
- a couple different paint sets, not knowing what kind of paint she would prefer. It’s all pictured, below.
Over the years, I’ve collected quite an array of small bags for art supplies. You might be surprised to learn that my favorite art supply bags are not to be found at the art supply or craft store. Nope.
First, let’s talk about packing! And bags!
My favorite art supply bags (for travel and just great all-around organization) are those used for cosmetics, like make-up pouches and beauty supplies. I also use office supply organizers like zippered paper pouches and pencil bags.
So when you go looking for packable, lightweight bags for your art supplies, look for cosmetic bags at department stores. Go fancy (I have a Kate Spade tote that I use for paint!) or go beautiful and economical – I find the best little bags at Target. Then take a look at your local office supply for paper and pencil organizers.
Travel toiletry bags are another great organizing wonder for art supplies when you travel. They’re already lightweight, compartmentalized, and sized for travel adventures big and small.
If you like the idea of everything being inside one bag, a toiletry bag might be the perfect thing for your travel journal supplies.
At the end of this post there’s a supply list linked to Amazon. It’s got just about everything you’ll see here in this post.
Inside the purse organizer are:
- Postcards with my contact info to give away to new friends
- Notebook for note taking during the seminar, plus an extra
- Small sketchbook made from a magazine
- Alphabet stamp set and ink pad
- My favorite pen for writing and sketching
- Pencils and other pens for mark making
- glue stick
- half size plastic ruler
- date stamp! (if you love date stamps, too, you know they demand and exclamation point)
- expired gift card or room key card (after I’ve checked out) – I use these to spread paint around, and as a brayer, to slide over collage items I’ve glued down to make sure they stick all the way to the edges
- small pack of label stickers
- pencil sharpener
- small pack of moist hand wipes – I use these for painting and for wiping glue off the pages so they don’t stick together.
What do I mean by a sketchbook made from a magazine?
This is the inside cover of my sketchbook made from a magazine. I’ve pre-painted lots of pages. Then I collage and write inside.
Photographed on top of the pages (right) are souvenirs from my workshop: the resort pen (writes in purple!) and my room key. Have you ever seen a room key like that?
On the left, images from my own art that I make into small pieces to give away to people. They get glued in other people’s notebooks, or onto the postcards I give away.
The little pieces of art with the word for Thank You in a bunch of different languages are also given with gratuities and left behind for people giving such amazing service and making our creative adventures possible.
Far right, front, is the small sketchbook I made from a magazine. Under the sketchbook is the pen from the resort, in their purple branding colors, with purple ink, and the custom room key cards from the retreat.
The “muchas gracias” art is my own, small printed instagram images that I paste inside my journals and give away to people I meet on my travels.
For this trip, I brought a couple of blank notebooks for note taking, longer written journal entries, lists, and contact information for people I met on the trip.
Yeah, I know most people exchange contact info with their smartphones, I do, too. But I also like to have the contact info inside my notebooks — preferably written by the person whose contact info it is. It’s like a souvenir from that person. If they have a business card, I tape those in, too.
My other art supply bag isn’t anything fancy – it’s from the office supply:
This organizer has one main gusseted pocket in the middle, and two pockets (this one shown, is see-through and zippered) on the outside.
I put the ruler there for reference – this one didn’t travel with me.
The box cutter did. Accidentally. Security took away my small craft scissors after going through my carryon meticulously. But when I got on the plane, there was my utility knife. Oops. Sorry!
Here’s what else is inside:
Small scraps of paper from my studio get saved for travel. You never know when you’ll need to collage something! I also carry some stamps, stickers and whatever small paper ephemera is delighting me at the moment. Even if I don’t use it on this trip, I’m always glad to have it with me for inspiration.
Other contents of the large zipper paper pouch include: a few rolls of washi tape, a roll of clear tape, small scissors, small utility knife… and…. my laptop! See shopping list below for more details on that…
Often my paint pencils are stashed in one of the pockets of the purse organizer. But I put them in their own bag because I had the space, and it makes for easier sharing.
The extra sets of alphabet stamps are in their own little plastic box, because the clear stamps tend to fall off their plastic wrappers.
I probably unpacked an extra pair of sandals just to fit these in my carryon.
There was also a little mesh bag of washi tapes, that I can’t believe I forgot to photograph.
I’ve been working in this book on and off for years, and it’s developed quite a nice patina, with lots of painted and collage pages, and frayed maps peeking out.
The image at the very top of this blog post was painted inside this sketchbook. You can see the text from the original book peeking through.
I keep several sketchbooks at a time, and since this trip was just a week long, took a couple of sketchbooks that were already worked in.
For longer trips, I create a separate travel journal.
There are these tiny beverage tables with loungers by the pool. Perfect for commandeering for an art date.
Two water bottles – aren’t I hydrating nicely?
I’m mainly showing you this photo so you can see the view, and also observe that I’m having this art date with a margarita. Or two. It’s Cancun!
I’m not showing you this photo because my hair is completely ocean and wind swept, unwashed and sweaty. But I am in my happy place.
Note to self: Next time you go a beach resort, just pack this one dress, because this is what you wore all week in 90 degree weather and as a cover up after swimming. More room for art supplies.
Finally, stock up on some magazines to use for collage images – and great text, too.
I like to buy several magazines at the airport (I’ve already had my carryon weighed!) before I board. If you are traveling in foreign countries, definitely stock of on visual magazines on your way home. It’s so much fun to have the imagery and words in another language, even if you can’t read it!
Those in-fight magazines are your to keep – and include wonderful travel journal collage fodder.
I also save each and every luggage tag and boarding pass to stick inside my sketchbooks and travel journals. These are reminders of trips and routes and I just love the black and white graphics.
Travel & Create with Me
Following are links to many of the supplies I use (or their substitutes) on Amazon. The links are affiliate links, which means Amazon give me a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything to use the links, and does help support my art supply (and art supply bag) habit!
Art Journal Supply Shopping List
1. Contain your art supplies
Zippered Pouch, 14 x 9 Inches
This is legal-sized pouch, which is great for magazine clippings and and decorative paper sheets you want to remain whole without wrinkling.
Shhh… I also keep my MacBook Air 11 inch laptop tucked inside. It keeps my travel laptop hidden away and protected in my carry-on.
Handbag Organizer with 13 Compartments
This is similar to the one I bought years ago, only better, because it has a zippered top. It’s on my shopping list, can’t wait to try it.
Clear Vinyl Rectangular Travel/Cosmetic Bag
for storing paints
Pretty toiletry bag organizers
If you’re Libra, like me, or another double zodiac sign, don’t be surprised if you end up choosing two of these. Warning. Well, you could actually use one for it’s intended purpose, the other for art supplies. Right?
2. Journals and Sketchbooks for Travel
Moleskine Cahier Journal, with plain paper. For writing, journaling, note taking. These are sold in sets of 3. You can also get them with lined paper. Size is 5” x 8 1/4” and tucks into the purse organizer with my sketchbook.
For sketching, drawing, painting, collage, you’ll need a heavier paper.
The paper in the Moleskine sketchbooks is wonderful to work on, it’s a little bit like heavy cardstock with a smooth finish – which I love for writing on after I’ve painted and collaged.
For travel, I recommend the “large” and “pocket” small sized Moleskine sketchbooks:
Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook, Large, Plain, Black, Hard Cover
5 by 8.25 inches, about the size of a folded piece of letter-sized paper
and even smaller, about the size of your passport:
Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook, Pocket, Plain, Black, Hard Cover, 3.5 x 5.5 inches.
If you want to work larger, they have an A4 size, 12 x 8.5 inches. A larger size is great if you’re going to a workshop, are going to be in one place for a week, or don’t mind toting around a larger sketchbook.
When in doubt, and if you can spare the room in your luggage, take several different types and sizes of sketchbooks, and then you can decide on the road which one wants to be worked in. Maybe all of them!
I’m known (to people who’ve seen my luggage) to travel with more sketchbooks and art supplies than clothes. So I usually make room for art supplies in my luggage by taking out a clothing item or pair of shoes. Hey, we all have our priorities, right?
3. Make Your Mark
If you can only bring ONE pen, bring this one: (but pack several of them!)
This is my all-time favorite black pen for writing and sketching. And by all-time, I mean I’ve been using this same pen for over 20 years. (Not the ONE same pen, of course, but this pen model. I buy these by the dozen, and it’s one of those products where if I’m down to my last box I start to feel nervous.)
This pen is pretty water resistant, it doesn’t smear when I write, and it doesn’t smear when I even paint over my writing, which I am prone to do.
Also, it does not leak on airplanes or react to humidity or high altitude. Very important.
In addition to the above ink pen, I also pack a few different Sharpie markers, graphite pencils and water soluble pencils — these allow you to draw and paint, without getting your paints out.
Derwent Metallic Watersoluble Pencils
I didn’t know these came in metallic until I went searching for product links – so I swooned and then added them to my shopping list.
4. Glue Stuff Down
Pioneer Photo Square Glue Stick
These glue sticks are big in the Soul Collage community, where precise and permanent gluing is important.
I tend to use any brand of glue stick, as long as it’s new, it usually works well. People are particular about their adhesives, though, so try out some different brands before you leave town to see what you like best.
Washi Masking Tape Collection – I have this set with cream and metallic gold colors. If you like chevrons, stripes and dots… these are the tapes I use the most.
5. Paint While You Travel
These are not fancy, expensive artist paints – but they work so beautifully for art journaling and in sketchbooks. The colors are concentrated and opaque, so you can use them to really paint strong colors. If you water them down a bit, they get more transparent, so these little tubes go a long way.
You’ll need a paintbrush, and a water brush will also work beautifully with your water-soluble pencils.
I also love inexpensive nylon bristle paint brushes for art journaling. You don’t have to worry about loosing an expensive, fancy brush, or forgetting to wash the paint out. These are rather indestructable.
The Sakura Watercolors Field Sketch Set comes with a water brush that fits inside the case.
6. Stamp Happy
These are the best ink pads I’ve ever used. Very long lasting, even when dozens of people in a workshop are using them for days on end.
They have a mini size, too. Adorable and minimalist.
Date Stamper Old school, library style. LOVE.
Did I forget anything?
Your turn. Tell me: