Clothes? Check. Makeup bag? Check. Art supplies? Check. I may not always remember my toothbrush, but I never leave home without an art project.
Almost every trip I have taken in the last 20 years has included a paint palette, a cluster of brushes, and watercolor paper in my bag. For the first decade of that 20 years you would find me painting in a dedicated manner wherever I happened to be in the world, at sunrise, sunset, and many hours in between. I would haul a stool and easel, a roll of brushes, a freshly filled watercolor palette, and the perfect portfolio backpack to carry it all. Quite abruptly, a little over ten years ago I began to leave the easel and stool home so I could carry the necessary car seats and diaper bag. I still continued to throw the paints and paper in my bag, but they rarely saw the light of day.
Last month, as I prepared for a family trip, I decided I was tired of hauling materials that I wasn’t going to use while traveling. I left home with a backpack for a brief stay in Manhattan that for the first time did not contain my palette or brushes. I had decided to travel light when taking my art on the road.
Less than 24 hours later I found myself in sheer panic. Leaving my paints behind for 10 days felt like leaving behind a part of myself. With one day left before catching our flight, I went online and requested same-day delivery of a small sketchbook with heavy paper stock, a Sakura Koi watercolor set, and some inexpensive water brushes. As I opened the package two hours later, I felt myself becoming calm. Then I began to wonder, how could I return to my love of playing with watercolor plein air painting while traveling? Would this new selection of materials work? Could I even find the time to do it? I had the paints and was ready to travel. But, would I use them?
I decided that if I were carrying them, I would be determined to create. I’ll explain how I made that happen. Employ these strategies on the road or at home, and I believe you can find your way back to this creative practice as well.
Mix it up. Use the materials you are familiar with in new ways. Inspired by several collage works, I decided to paint several sheets of copy paper with washes of color that could then be cut and assembled into images in my sketchbook in a way I had never explored before.
Don’t make it precious. Instead of loading up on sheets of pricey watercolor paper, sable brushes, and professional quality watercolors, bring materials you aren’t afraid to mess up. This allows you to experiment. I brought a reasonably priced set of paints, an inexpensive sketchbook, and a couple of cheap water brushes.
Start before your trip begins. As soon as the paints arrived, I created washes in myriad colors on cheap copy paper so they could be used once I reached my destination. I also packed my kids’ glue stick and a pair of their tiny scissors.
Make time to create. Travel can be busy, but there are always pockets of opportunity. Think morning coffee while the kids nibble whatever confection they find, waiting for a long dinner, or sitting by the pool. I made use of all of the above. I also had several opportunities to take my supplies in my glamorous zipper-lock plastic bag and head out for a walk. I plopped myself down on whatever surface I could find near a view that inspired me, and made quick artwork happen.
Adapt to your environment. This ties in to the above tip. Paint where you find yourself inspired. Once upon a time I would have needed an easel, stool, water container, large palette, and the finest brushes and perfect setup in order to paint. These requirements serve no one if you aren’t able to create. This trip I set up on rocks, grass, a swinging bench, and a cliff side. I found the inspiration and then made the location work. I intended to create collages, but some days it was so windy I couldn’t cut and paste. I had to paint, and paint quickly.
Make it a family affair. Once again, adapt to the environment when taking your art on the road. If you find yourself surrounded by a bevy of eager kids excited to paint, let them! The materials aren’t precious, but the experience of creating artwork with family members is exactly that. Traveling with 17 family members at any given moment, I had a son or a daughter or two beautiful nieces champing at the bit to create alongside me, and I let them. Remember, this is the beauty of inexpensive materials. Even more so, it is the beauty of creating memories together.
This trip was a milestone for me. I have long had paints and the willingness to travel, as well as the incessant desire to create. Adopting these new approaches allowed me to not only return to my love of watercolor while traveling, but also work in a way that enriched my trip—and deepened the experience of anyone who was called to create alongside me.
This leaves me wondering how these same tips and tricks might be applied to my studio practice at home, and yours as well. Something to think about.
Cassia Cogger is an artist, teacher, and author who is inspired to create artworks, creative courses, and experiences that allow individuals to enter into greater relationships with their surroundings, becoming present to that which is essential. As much as she is excited by color, shape, pattern, and beauty, she is more excited by what the creative process reveals. Her work has been featured at the National Academy Museum in New York City, she has appeared in Watercolor Artist magazine as a rising star, and has had her work featured in a host of galleries and private collections. Check out her new book from North Light Books, Creating Personal Mandalas: Story Circle Techniques in Watercolor and Mixed Media, and discover more about Cassia at cassiacogger.com.