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 The Best-Ever Travel Sketching Supplies

The Best-Ever Travel Sketching Supplies


I recently spent six weeks in France with my daughter, half of which we spent gallivanting on our own. I imagined us at a cafe near the sea, wearing fluttery summer dresses, sipping espresso (or whatever, she’s seven) and sketching passersby. In my imagination I was probably also wearing a scarf and dark sunglasses.

Having no interest in schlepping giant suitcases down cobblestone lanes or paying baggage fees, I aimed to pack light and spent hours paring down our choices. And by far the most important choice was which art supplies to bring. My criteria: compact, portable, non-messy, kid-friendly and I couldn’t do without watercolor washes and pen lines.

After much Googling, review-reading and testing here is what I came up with:


1. Global Art Materials Travelogue Watercolor Book (8.25” square $24). I can’t say enough about these books. I’m picky about paper and these are fantastic quality. I was concerned about buckling because I love my watercolor washes. No buckling. I was also worried about show-through when using both sides of the paper. No problem. They’re compact and stay flat with a rubber band. Super-big thumbs up from me.

2. Albrecht Durer Faber-Castell watercolor pencils (about $2 each). I brought 24 colors (I actually Googled the colors of Provence so I could match them). I did a lot of research on these and tromped around local art stores testing different brands. These are not too soft, they have a good variety of colors and the pigment spreads nicely when you add water.

3. zippered unicorn pencil case ($7 from Blue Q). Sturdy, fun, plus the plastic coating gives a bit of water protection. Also, unicorn.

4. Pentel Aquash water brush ($4 ish) This is what made me love doing watercolors on the road. The ability to put colored-pencil lines down and choose when to add water was really convenient. This is much less messy than using a brush and a cup of water. Three cheers.

5. white Uni-Ball Signo gel pen ($6 for 3). These are the best white pens I’ve ever found. They work great on top of watercolor. Once they start drying out they don’t flow well (which doesn’t always correlate with how much ink you’ve used) but they’re better than anything else I’ve tried.

6. Kuretake Sumi brush pen ($15). I love this Japanese brush pen for smooth thick-and-thin lines. Definitely worth it if you’re into that sort of thing (I am!).

7. black Faber-Castell XS pen ($2). My favorite pen for thin black lines, it’s consistent and flows nicely.

Random things I already owned and loved:

8. regular yellow pencil. A classic.

9. kneaded eraser. Also a classic.

10. Tombow Mono Sand Eraser. LOVE these. They grind out stubborn lines without destroying the paper.

11. KUM brass pencil sharpener. Because metal sharpeners are consistent and sturdy. I misplaced mine in Paris. Let me know if you see it.

As for spending picture-perfect hours lounging by the sea, that dream may not have been totally realistic. But I can report that this supply combo worked wonderfully and was the perfect fit for me. It’s so nice, once in a rare while, to have something work out as planned.

Happy drawing!

Nicole Roberts

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