View Full Version : First time out of U.S.to paint, help?!

10-20-2004, 06:19 PM
I have been fortunate enough to have been offered a full ride to study, paint,travel and look at art in Europe for 5 months beginning in March. I am so excited, but am a little nervous about traveling and painting or drawing. I've never been good at keeping a sketch book, or painting on the spot outdoors, but then again I've never really tried it. I'm sure I'll find a way once i get over there, but does anyone have any tips on what to take, what not to take, where to go, where not to go?
The only thing I'm sure of right now is that I'm spending 2 months in florence and the other 3 are for traveling wherever!

:confused: :D

10-20-2004, 07:03 PM
Charlotte, I am sorry I can't give you any advice on what to take with you
I just wanted to say congratulations that is a dream come true for all of us...
Have a great time...
Bonnie R

Sharon Douglas
10-20-2004, 07:14 PM
Congratulations, I`m :envy: of you.

Once you start painting pleine air, you`ll love it.

I found painting on the spot easier than working from photo`s , I really enjoyed it, unfortunatly, I haven`t done it since getting back from Kington.
I`m too nervous of doing it alone yet. :rolleyes:

As for equiptment, I just used my normal paints, with a couple of brushes, plastic bottle of water, and a refillable plastic container.
Take plenty of masking tape to tape your paper down, or wrap elastic bands round your sketch book on windy days.
Other than that, you don`t need much else, maybe a roll of kitchen roll or toilet paper and store it all in a rucksack, oh and a fold up stool.
You can take a portable easel, but I find that for watercolours they aren`t necessary.

I hope this helps, you could always take me with you to carry your equiptment for you :evil:

10-20-2004, 11:04 PM
Welcome to the wild, wacky, wonderful world of the watercolor forum, you lucky lady you!!!! :D

Florence is my ab-so-lute-ly favorite city in Italy!!

My advice is to paint outdoors as much as possible between now and March. You'll soon find out what you need, etc.

Will you be traveling with a group, or on your own? Inquiring minds want to know!! :D


10-21-2004, 08:27 AM
I strongly reccomend that you use two containers for your water, then you don't need to carry around so much water. I have been using cut up milkcartoons, they can bee folded flat and weigh almost nothing, they don't last forever but are easy to replace. In general I would recomend that you try to keep things as light as possible. A small sketchbook in your purse is better is better than a large one on your desk.

10-21-2004, 09:51 AM
You will want a digital camera! A little one.

10-21-2004, 10:28 AM
Wow! Lucky you! :envy: :envy: :envy:

It really is enjoyable to paint plein air. Here's a link (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=190170&highlight=plein) to a previous thread on the subject.

I would advise you to take good quality sketch books and watercolour blocks, and if you can't paint, then sketch. Take lots of reference photos too.

It is essential to be comfortable when working outdoors, and I take a folding chair. Sit in the shade if you can, and if you have your back to the wall, then you won't be disturbed so much - although it has never bothered me - most people admire your work and "wish they could do that".

When painting, make a note of the shadows early on as they change as the sun moves around. A small composition sketch is also a good idea to get things organised. Remember you can leave out or move things that spoil the composition.

I look forward to seeing the results of your trip.


10-21-2004, 10:40 AM
CONGRATULATIONS...how wonderful!!

Also....Italy (especially Florence) has art supplies available.....so you can always supplement what you take.

Watercolor BLOCKS travel well. If you are staying that long, however, you may want to take your regular sipplies also for finishing back in your rooms....

We can't wait for you to come back and show us all your work


10-21-2004, 01:54 PM
Wow! I just joined this site yesterday and this is great! Thanks to all for such useful tips. :clap:
to answer a few of the comments...
I'm going on the trip by myself and most likely will only have one of those big huge backpacks, so, i'm trying to prioritize my materials. The milk carton idea is great, and I would guess that I could get tape and that kind of thing over there. Does anyone have any thoughts on those travel boxes of watercolors? you know the little all in one things, like winsor newtons travel box? waste of money, or worth it?

10-21-2004, 02:14 PM
Hi Nancy,

Welcome to the forum. Just looked at your website - can't teach you much about painting!

Yes, the small W&N boxes are fine for plein air sketching, but I would also take your normal materials to do larger paintings. That's unless you are going to be continually on the move, in which case sketching and photography will have to do.

That said there are some fine examples of journal type sketches, and this is an art in itself. Do a search in the watercolour forum for sketchbook (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/search.php?searchid=301468) and I think you'll find some.

Also have a look at Javierroca's excellent plein air paintings (http://www.wetcanvas.com/RefLib/showphoto.php?photo=34500&sort=1&cat=500&page=5) of New York.

Got a spare place for me? :evil: :D


10-21-2004, 02:22 PM
Hi, Charlottean! What a wonderful offer, congratulations!

There is a site http://handprint.com which has a lot of musings about painting plein air (as well as terrific research on papers, brushes, and, especially, pigments). You could do worse than go there, click the color wheel, and find the 'painting outdoors' page, also the 'pleine air' kit if you want his ideas for specific gear.
He suggests, for example, that it's usually easy to get water in cafe's, etc., but for emergencies, purchase a 6-pack of those very small bottles of water packaged in light, crinkly plastic. Pour out a bit, then cut it down to use (then crush them & pack them out when finished).
Blocks are better for plein-air painting, but there's a tip in a forum here (about cool stuff to use, or studio tips) on how to make blocks -- much cheaper than buying them! (Cut down full sheets to your preferred size, then get something from a printing store than they use to glue pads of paper into pads, and attach to cardboard support.)

I'm also living in Charlotte (Coulwood section, or "Mountain Island"). Used to paint outside a lot when I lived in Manhattan, but haven't ever tried it here. My housemate & I are supposed to go to a writers' conference next weekend, though, and I'm planning to paint outside there! (We'll have an ocean-front room or suite, and she'll be at the conference more than I will.) Maybe we could get together sometime after I get back, and try painting together, on a good day? They say it's less intimidating en masse. (I was never intimidated in Manhattan, never even gave it a thought -- but just about anyone can do anything in New York without raising an eyebrow. Not like here.)

Here's a suggestion: Take along a few watercolor pencils; an emptied "Pentel Color Brush" refilled with plain water; and an acid-free, 70-page, cheap (less than $5!) sketchbook you can get in Walmart, of all places. I have a cylindrical, plastic, translucent 'pencil case' I bought at a dollar store (NYC) in which I keep these. I'm sketching more than ever, with this setup.

My housemate had a device (given her by Lufthansa) she gave me that's perfect to tie the two together: It's a tiny metal airplane on a cable of twisted wire with a plug at the end. The plane has a slot in it so you can put the cable through it and it 'locks' in place naturally. (Probably this was originally meant as a luggage tie, or keyring, perhaps.)
The sketchbook is spiral bound, so I just put the cable through the D-ring on the pencil case, pass it through a few spirals at the top of the sketchbook, and close it (place cable end through slot in plane). When I want to sketch, I remove cable end through slot in plane to free it from closed sketchbook, open sketchbook to fresh page, and re-fasten pencil case to the sketchbook in its open position. Then open or half open pencil case; nothing falls out. :) Draw with pencils, scribble, then erase (or adjust color) with Pentel Color Brush.
I don't recommend this in place of plein air painting, but as a supplement to it. I also have a Cotman Field Kit, and my own empty half-pans to fill with the W/N tube colors I normally use. If you want to try it out to see if you like it, I'd be happy to lend it to you.

Oh, and welcome. :D

10-21-2004, 05:09 PM
Wow, need anyone to help with the bags?

Never painted in Europe but I've been to Australia with my watercolors several times. I suggest you keep it simple. Count of obtaining water containers and such there. Don't take your expensive favorite brushes or anything else that might grow legs. take a cheap/used but adaquate digital camera. I'd take a limited pallet of colors you know well. I'd take tubes of colors, the values are stronger I feel. I'd take zip-lock bags in various sizes for the paints and for bringing home the bacon intact. I'd research the equivalents of my favorite colors and take that as a shopping list if your paints get confiscated. I'd take a used, robust camera tripod fitted with one of the Sun-Eden tilting adaptors. These are inexpensive and will hold up to a 12x16 block and a clamped-on pallet. For a pallet I suggest a small covered one in a zip-lock bag. I use the Zoltan Stabo pallets. Get some kleen-ex and take a couple of old terry cloth towels you can throw away eventually. You will want a few 1" clamps, white tape, a knife or perhaps a leather-man tool. A floppy old hat. If it is cold take cotton work gloves. Some HB pencils, a sharpener and decent eraser. I take some paper but I also buy some there. I hit every art supply store I see... it is part of the fun. I get all this stuff into a smallish duffle-bag. The Sun-Eden adapter is the largest item to fit in.

Sketching... get some black 0.05 and 0.08 technical markers and small pads. Every time you sit down... draw. Well, almost every time.

Have a great trip, :)


10-21-2004, 05:23 PM
Sorry about that link :o EDIT:Still doesn't find "air" or "NYC" however there are some of Javier's plein airs here:-

Here's a link to Javierroca's plein air paintings
This is better;


10-21-2004, 05:37 PM
Sorry about that link :o

Here's a link to Javierroca's plein air paintings


thanks for the link those are amazing! i can only hope to come back with books like that.

10-21-2004, 05:51 PM
Hi, again!

I have the smallest Field Kit that W&N makes--it has a flask for water, a small collapsible brush, 12 little paint pans, and four places to use as a palette and mixing area--and it fits in a shirt pocket!!! I highly recommend it. Until I received a free art fanny pak, I used a zip lock bag to carry a block of 5 x 7 watercolor paper (Fabriano, I believe), a couple packs of pocket size Kleenexes, and a couple of brushes. Took it to Canada with me in July.

Fanny packs are essential when traveling. And as you are going to be on the go, I suggest a hidden passport and money carrier--they make them for the leg, the waist, and the one I used when I traveled overseas you wear inside your shirt or jacket.

Travel as lightly as possible. Wear one set of clothes and carry another. (Suggest extra T-shirts and undies!) A waterproof jacket and a sweater.

What a wonderful adventure! :envy:

BTW, there is a forum on WC! called En Plein Aire. You should be able to get a lot of help there; several professional artists participate in that Forum.


10-21-2004, 08:34 PM
Try private messaging Turtle33, she was recently in Italy. She may have some advice as well.

10-22-2004, 01:07 AM
How lucky can you be???
Go to San Gimignano, Lucca The Cinque Terre, and of course ,Rome. We loved Sicily and all Magna Graecia ,where you will see the best standing Greek Temples ever. The small towns are wonderful and the Northern towns are great too
Women traveling alone or at night are considered fast , avoid that if you can and try to be with another person. They are not broad -minded about women traveling alone. Yes take your Digi , There are hidden artifacts all over. Fodors Guide to Rome Cristina Mason from Alibris is a gem Happy traveling. June :wave:

Kate Mc
10-22-2004, 02:23 AM
Wow, what a great time you're going to have. You've gotten some good advice here, the only thing I can add is that you should be careful of the small portable watercolor kits. Be sure that you have artist's quality paints (you know this, I'm sure, but just in case....) Many of them come with student grade paint.

I'd also re-iterate Lyn's suggestion above that you practice some pleine aire painting around Charlotte to test your supplies and see what you need and don't need. The advice about two water containers is good--one for clean and one for dirty. I do that in the studio too!

You can get water containers in Italy. You can get paper towels and stuff like that in Italy too. You can also find some interesting and wonderful paper and some new paints. I always take my tried-and-true favorites with me, though, because you never know.... :rolleyes: But W/N is pretty much available everywhere, as are Arches and Fabriano paper.

As you prepare for your trip, let us know what you put in and take out of yoru kit. That'll give us ideas too!

Bon voyage, and welcome to WC.

I'm particularly interested in this because we're going back to Siena for two weeks in November, and instead of a cooking course I'm planning to paint.


10-22-2004, 03:48 AM
A long trip!!!

Nice one!!


A4 or 12x9 medium tooth drawing paper in spiral pads.
Lots of them!!!!!
Unsharpened 2B carbon pencils (Conte)
No Eraser!!!!!!!!
With these you get fast broad lines, and dark shading in 5 minutes.
Look, see, and sketch on the spot!!
Move on.

Also lots of torn loose 7x5 of watercolor paper for fast down and dirty thumbnails and on the fly sketches.
A 12 pan paintbox tin with a place for water for washes
Tins are the best.
Pentel waterbrush flat tip with water.

This is different from your painting set up.
It is for a 5 minute sketch.
The paint box needs a place for washes so you can mix a wash and have enough to do it in 5 minutes. In italy the washes will dry fast and then the touches of detail.
The field box is sweet but NO depth to the wells to hold an amount of mix for fast washes.


A4 or 12x9 smooth
A3 or 18x12 smooth
2 clutch pencils with HB and 2B leads, a small lead sharpener.
the line has more character than the .5 mm leads and dont break.
Ink pen in two widths
Kneadable Eraser


A plastic folding palette with 20 wells and a thumb hole, about $5.
Pour your tube paints, and make sure they dry (non honeyed).
It has plenty of space for mixing, is light.

Water containers, you can by a double non spill container for kids, or two disposable "solo" cups!!
And a 1/2 liter bottle of water, over and above your drinking water!!

How big do you want to paint?
The bigger the looser.
Trevor Chamberlain a famous Engish outdoor painter uses 10x7.
Mel Stabin uses 22x15.

Big means an easel.
Smaller means a board or folder on your lap.

10x7 is large enough to be loose and small enough to be tight!!!
Blocks are the easiest to use. If not blocks then pads.
140 lb on a block is fine.

Buy different brands and surfaces.
Soft sized and hard sized, so one will absorb and the other will sit for longer. Bockingford is soft,Fabriano is soft, Arches is harder
Rough and Cold Press (NOT).

You must know your paper before hand!!!!

# 10 round
# 6 round
# 2 rigger
3/4 flat
A container for the brushes, Tooth brush holder with holes and elastic to hold the brushes in place.

If you can go the folding travel brush route that is the best.

0.7mm lead pencil with 2B and a kneadable eraser

A folding stool
This allows you SOOO much freedom.
You can stop where ever you want.
There is a very expensive folding tripod stool that will fit in a small bag.

Drawing board or folder
For the watercolor blocks to rest on your knees.

Digital camera, only after you have sketched it.
Drinking water
Broad brimmed sun hat
Sun cream
Bug cream

But the most important thing to take with you is
It weighs nothing but is heavy.
It takes no space but you can put anything in it

An attitude

Good luck!


10-22-2004, 08:32 AM
If you decides that you want to stretch your paper then you can put a paper on each side of the board. Tape a paper on to the board let it drye completely, take a piece of plastic(some kind of papers works to) lay it over the paper and use some maskingtape to keep it in place, turn the board over and put another paper on the back. Once you finnish the painting put it in the sun to drye then you can move put the plastic on top of the finnished painting and start using your second paper. So far I haven't had any accidents using this method.

10-24-2004, 02:28 AM
OH yes, I forgot Venice ! The most beautiful city in the world. Go now before it drops into the sea. It is happening as we speak!
Talk about doing Plein Aire, the light there is like nothing you've ever seen before, Turner thought so too. You will never want to leave.
OOOH , I am so Jealous! :envy: :envy: :envy:

10-26-2004, 08:53 AM
If you want a travelbox I would recomend metal one, the palstic once have compartments where a halfpan will fit exactly, this means that pans of an other brand might not fit. In a metal box you can also have whole pans so you can chose between having 12 halfpans or 6 wholepans or having some of each.

10-27-2004, 08:01 AM
I've traveled often with art supplies and find I've either taken too much or not what I need on the spot. If Italy is your place of adventure, I'd suggest your favourite paints, and tools, perhaps a small set of water soluble colour pencils, a good quality, compact sketch book with heavyweight paper that is easy to toss safely into a shoulder bag, and probably that light weight stool--and nothing else. If you like back-packs, I'd recommend not taking more than can fit inside. Many of the things you'll want can be had in major cities, and it is so much "fun" to buy new supplies in a new place and not spend a fortune.

Several of the art suppliers I visited in Italy do custom paint for a very reasonable price and you could select your favourites and use them on the spot (they are put into glass bottles so don't travel back home easily).

Just myself back from a short jaunt and did have to run off for additional supplies :evil: and I discovered a small 3-in-1 plastic water holder; light as can be, they nestle inside each other, and are under $5.00 at Utrecht (it's called "Three Layer Brush Washer." You might find something like this useful. I've used these a dozen times since and they wash up really well and dry quickly.

Have a wonderful time, and congratulations on getting such a terrific opportunity.

10-27-2004, 12:43 PM
If you want a travelbox I would recomend metal one, the palstic once have compartments where a halfpan will fit exactly, this means that pans of an other brand might not fit. In a metal box you can also have whole pans so you can chose between having 12 halfpans or 6 wholepans or having some of each.

yes, but....
Metal paintboxes are hard to find in America.
And the ones that are sold are the expensive heavy duty ones.

The Winsor Newton Compact (Plastic) has space for 14 1/2 pans or 7 whole pans, or a combination.
But the mixing wells are not deep enough for washes.
Also they only take W/N whole pans, the loose empty pans do not fit!!!


10-27-2004, 05:07 PM
Much good advice already!! :clap:

I'd emphasize the 'get out and practice now' advice as that will really tell you what YOU need to be comfortable and productive.

I think a stool or small chair is essential. I don't use an easel; just balance the sketchbook or watercolor block on my lap. What I do miss is a little table to put stuff on - I mean you only have 2 knees and 2 hands and sometimes the ground slopes and things roll or blow away. So, I've started taking a small collasible stool (it's other life is the step into my Van) to put stuff on.

A big floppy hat to keep the sun out of your eyes is great to have! And plenty of drinking water - I remember this spring in Venice I used the last of my water for painting and was left with the leftover wine from lunch to drink on a very sunny, warm day (my friends were off shopping while I painted). By the time they returned for me, the wine was gone and my technique was decidedly looser!!

Have a marvelous time!! :wave:

10-29-2004, 08:26 AM
I hope you don't mind if I come with some more tips. I have a Winsor&Newton sketchbox and a thing I didn't like is that the pans sits loose in the compartments so the pans might make marks in the lid and the box rattles. I solved this by putting a drop of fabric cement on the side of the pans. It doesn't stick very well to the plastic but works like a wedge, so the pans are kept in their place but can easely be removed by using a thin knifeblade.
One thing more when using pans it can be practical to use a small flat brush to mix your paints.

Arnold Lowrey
11-01-2004, 02:36 AM
Travel light - thats' important
Also if you are in London, take time out to visit the great galleries
National Gallery and natial Portrait gallery , Trafalgar Square
Federation of british Artists, The Mall
The Tate and Tate Modern
Trust your gut feelings on what you like and what you don't
Have a good trip