Creating art while traveling is adventurous and exciting. But it’s also something you should carefully plan and prepare for, so you don’t get stuck with a supply disaster miles away from home. Here, artists Susan Andrews and Carolyn Fellman share their good and bad experiences with taking art on the road. Their expert tips will give you advice for testing art supplies and packing your travel art kit. This article also appears in the July/August 2012 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
On-the-Road Art Experiments: The Good and the Bad, by Susan Andrews and Carolyn Fellman
We have been having a very good time experimenting with brush pens in our portable art kits. These brush-tipped sketching tools offer the joy of wet media in a compact and easy-to-carry form. As with any good paintbrush, the line the brush creates varies with the pressure you apply. The effects you can achieve increase as you mix your media, and the pens pair beautifully with all color media. Vary the paper and format for even more options.
Experiment with tools
• Water brushes
Our first experiments were with water brushes. Water brushes are simple, brush-tipped water barrels. You just squeeze the barrel to start the flow of water, and clean the brush by simply wiping it on a rag or paper. We used the water brushes as intended and enjoyed the range of effects they gave with water-soluble color media (watercolor paints, watercolor pencils, etc.).
Then we tried using the water brushes in a new way. Our thought was, if these brushes can handle water so well, wouldn’t they be just as good with paint? We filled the barrel with Golden Airbrush Colors and tried them as portable color brushes. The results? Interesting enough to continue the experiments, but a bit awkward and ultimately the brushes were too prone to leakage for rugged portability.
• Cartridge pens
Our experiments got a great boost when we added cartridge brush pens to the equation. Cartridge pens combine a very good brush point with the workings of a very good fountain pen. The cartridges provide control and prevent leakage; and what a smooth, steady flow of ink they deliver! What possibilities of line and tonality with the mere application of pressure to the brush. Used in combination with a water brush, the ink is capable of subtle gradations of color if the water is applied immediately.
Experiment with paper
• It’s fun to work in a variety of paper formats. Susan keeps a shelf of small, band saw-carved altered books with theme-based content—flora, fauna, book reports, night travel, repast, Buddhas, etc. when working close to home. The books are gradually filling with her observations and technical experiments.
• For more far-flung trips, we pre-gesso paper and fold a variety of book forms at home to get us started. Susan sometimes likes to create a portfolio of blank cards, cutting and adding paper as necessary.
• At our destination, we shop for art papers and also salvage maps and tourist brochures to work with as we go. Papers with a slick surface work best if lightly sanded, so we tuck a small scrap of fine sandpaper in the art kit.
• Think about what you are most comfortable using and carrying around, and try it out with your travel art kit. If a blank book feels cumbersome on a trip, try making your own folded books and test them out. They can be made with any dimensions and any type of paper. Be sure to consider how large you like to work while still being comfortable.
Prepare your travel art kit
• Try it out. We suggest you pack a portable art kit and try using it near home for at least five days before you actually take it on the road. Refine the kit as you complete each day. Add what you think you need; take out what you didn’t use on your last outing. Really consider your comfort level.
• Write it down. Take notes on your experiments, and date and number your pages as you use them so you can restore your chronology and remember what you tried.
• Think ahead. How will you place an image on the page? How will you secure your work in a flapping breeze? How will you protect still-wet pages for transport?
• Use chalk. Try laying some guidelines with chalk before committing your ink to the page.
• Pack some extra bits. Be sure to pack some rubber bands, paperclips, and wax paper sheets in your travel kit.
• Take a camera. A camera is invaluable for documenting the scene when a sudden shower sends you running.
Susan Andrews and Carolyn Fellman have shared studios, travels, and projects for 20-plus years. Known collectively as The Oiseaux Sisters (French for birds and pronounced “wah-zoe”), they migrate seasonally from New York to Florida. They teach at both ends of the road and spend part of each year traveling and conducting workshops all over the world. Visit their website at oiseauxsisters.com.
Want more ideas for creating art on the road? Click here for Jane Davenport’s helpful tips!