How Do People Paint with Watercolor On the Go?

Many people want to produce art while traveling. Travel journaling or sketching are excellent ways to document your experiences and help you really attend to the moment. 

Traveling with watercolor is very simple. Pack a travel pan set, a few brushes (including a round brush, a flat brush, a liner brush, and a small wash or mop brush), a watercolor sketchbook, a jar (with a lid), and a few paper towels, and you are set for travel watercolor journaling! 

I will delve into my specific travel setup to make travel watercolor art accessible for beginners and pros alike! My kit fits inside a small purse and is perfect for any situation, local or abroad! This setup is ideal for those who want to travel light but want to include their creative, artistic habit!

Travel with Watercolor Paint

When traveling with watercolor, the best option is to use a pan set. Pans are little square containers filled with dried watercolor. Watercolor can be purchased in pans, or empty pans can be filled with watercolor from a tube. Pans are more convenient for travel because, after a painting session, you can close the palette and move on without extensive cleanup and without wasting any paint.

Watercolor pans can be inserted into a travel palette, which is often a compact metal box, though it can be plastic or even wood. This portable box opens and has built-in mixing areas, which is perfect for painting on the go. You can even remove the entire section holding the pans and use the area below it for more mixing wells in many palettes.

My Travel Palette Showing Mixing Areas

You can purchase pre-filled pan sets from many brands or an empty tin and fill the pans with tube watercolors. Because the pans are removable, you can mix and match them, so if you are customizing your travel setup, grab your favorite colors and put them in a palette together!

I prefer the size designed for 24 to 26 half pans, which is approximately 9 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. I like this size for two main reasons. First, it is very low profile and easily fits in my purse. Second, I can fill just the top half of the tin with pans and use the bottom half for brush storage. Each row can hold twelve or thirteen pans, which is generally plenty of colors, but especially for travel.

My Watercolor Palette with Brush Storage

Can You Take Watercolor Paints on an Airplane?

You can take a watercolor pan set on an airplane in your carry-on. Watercolor tubes are also allowed, but due to their liquid nature, they need to be bagged. Per TSA guidelines, you are allowed to bring one quart-sized bag containing liquids, and the containers are limited to 100 mL or 3.4 oz.

Travel with Watercolor Brushes

As pictured above, I travel with my regular watercolor brushes and store them in my travel palette. I always keep them facing the same direction and put my palette in my purse with the brushes pointing up to limit damage to the bristles. 

I understand that this is not the optimal way to care for paintbrushes, but it works for me. I don’t purchase brushes that cost an exorbitant amount of money anyway, but I likely would not travel with them if I did. 

I take my travel kit with me to work every day, to the park on the weekends with my kids, to church on Sundays, and whenever I travel by car or plane. I honestly have traveled with my brushes like this for three years and have only had one brush get a curled tip on it. Since then, I have been more careful about putting the palette upright so the tips don’t touch the tin.  

Some people put their brushes into a pencil case. If you choose this approach, I recommend storing them upright (with the bristles pointing up), just like I do with my palette. Kristy Rice has shown how to use glue dots inside an empty palette to hold the brushes in place, which is brilliant if you want to be more cautious. 

There are also travel watercolor brushes. The handle is hollow, so you can unscrew it, flip it around, and use the handle as a cover for the bristles. This keeps the bristles from touching anything and protects the point on your brushes. They can vary significantly in price and quality. 

Waterbrushes are another option. These brushes have a special reservoir in the handle to hold water. You squeeze the handle gently, and water is pushed into the bristles. These are convenient for travel because you don’t need a water jar. Instead of rinsing, you can squeeze water out through the bristles and gently rub the brush on a towel or paper towel until the color is gone. 

They are fun to use, but the bristle fibers do not respond like higher quality watercolor brushes, so plan your paintings accordingly!

How do you protect watercolor brushes when traveling?

An extra measure you can take to protect the fragile bristles of a watercolor brush while traveling is using gum arabic to stiffen them. This will make them firm, like newly purchased watercolor brushes. To do this, dilute a pure gum arabic solution by 10:1 with water, roll your clean bristles in the solution, gently squeeze out excess and reshape with your fingers, then lay flat and allow to dry completely. 

Using gum arabic to stiffen the bristles is an excellent option if you are traveling longer distances and will not maintain possession of your materials the entire time. For example, if you have to check your art materials at the airport, the bag will get thrown around and jostled, which could damage your brushes. 

gum arabic

How to clean your watercolor brushes on the go?

Since watercolor paint is water soluble, you can clean your brushes by thoroughly rinsing them in water. This makes watercolor an ideal travel art medium. 

Once you return home, if you want to revitalize your brushes, you can use a brush cleanser, but while on the go, just ensure you rinse until no additional color is visible when tapped into a cloth.

Travel with Watercolor Paper

Watercolor is typically painted on paper, which makes it an excellent choice for a travel art medium. My favorite option for watercolor paper is a sketchbook or journal. These are bound books of watercolor paper. They can be handmade or commercial. They vary significantly in quality. 

Arches, the gold standard of watercolor paper, has a spiral-bound travel journal that is excellent for on the go. At 6×10 inches, it will fit in most backpacks or purses. There are endless options in other brands. I really like Baohong Acadamy watercolor journals and Tumuarta watercolor sketchbooks

You can also travel with loose sheets, cards, pads, or blocks, but sketchbooks are the most convenient and protect your artwork the best. 

Since watercolor dries quickly, you can easily stop painting five to ten minutes before leaving, and your art will be at least mostly dry before closing up your sketchbook.

Travel with Water for Watercolor

Watercolor is activated with only water and does not require other mediums or extensive cleanup, making it ideal for travel. To carry water, I use a small jar that I repurposed from my kitchen. I believe it was a jar of caramel dessert topping. I like using a glass container because it is very durable and heavy enough that it won’t tip over, even with minimal water.

One crucial tip when choosing a water container for your travel art kit is to ensure it doesn’t leak. This is especially important when painting on the go, as you might not always have a suitable place to dump the water. In such cases, you’ll need to store it in your kit. The last thing you want is for your jar to leak and potentially damage your sketchbook or artwork!

I also carry a small spray bottle. It is easier to activate the watercolor paints all at once using the spray bottle. You can use a paintbrush to put drops of water into each pan if you prefer.

When traveling, I always have my drinking water, so I can refill my paint water if needed from that bottle. I can also fill it up at a fountain or bathroom sink. Thankfully, water is generally easy to find.

For air travel, empty your water containers before security, then refill them in the airport at the fountains. No need to purchase crazy expensive bottled water!

My Watercolor Travel Kit

So, now to show you my full watercolor travel kit. I carry all my supplies in a purse, which could easily fit additional items if needed.

Contents of my DIY watercolor travel kit:

  1. Meeden Travel Palette filled with Winsor and Newton Professional watercolor from tubes
  2. Tumuarta watercolor sketchbook
  3. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pen
  4. Uni Pin Fineliner Drawing Pens
  5. A mechanical pencil
  6. Binder clip (for holding back the pages of my sketchbook)
  7. A small spray bottle to activate my paint
  8. A small jar for water
  9. A few paper towels

Now that you’ve seen my to-go watercolor setup, it’s time to make one of your own! Pick your favorite, most loved supplies, pack them up, and get out and create art!

Now it is time for YOU to get Crafty with Ashy!

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Hi! I’m Ashy. I am a Christian, wife, mom, and physical therapist. I am also an amateur painter, baker, crocheter, and miscellaneous crafter. I hope to be able to share some of my enthusiasm for creating with you and to inspire YOU to begin, continue, or grow YOUR creative outlet!

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