Sketching during your travels

When researching how to become an illustrator, the very first thing I learned was that one needs to sketch a lot and quite regularly to improve artistic skills! Drawing is mainly about training hand muscles and if you don’t do it enough, you will struggle to draw live motives and find it difficult to improve.

If you closely follow any illustrator/artist on social media, you will see that they are often sketching during their travels. Yes, I hear you, holidays are supposed to be a break from everything. But for most illustrators drawing/painting is also their biggest hobby. Plus, professional illustrators rarely get time to paint for themselves, so holidays become a perfect opportunity to do just that.


Yet, carrying art materials can be a bit problematic, especially if you plan an active holiday or have little kids. So far, I only once brought my gouache tubes when we headed to Sardinia for a slow-going beach holiday. Honestly, I did not enjoy the painting very much because you need way too many things to make it happen; some water, a mug to clean brushes in between, something to put paint on, clean towels etc. If you still plan to give it a try, I can recommend this video to plan ahead:

Sardinia Beach

I find city trips a little chaotic, so carrying all the stuff for gouache would be too stressful for me. That is why I take as little art materials as possible for these kinds of trips. I sometimes even set the colour scheme ahead of time and only actually take few colour pencils with me. If I don’t expect having much time for myself on a short holiday, I only take my Caran D’ache bicolour pencil, which is red on one side and blue on the other (link below). These sketches are only to practice and record something memorable, but I don’t try to colour them.  

The Zaanse Schans

The kind of art material you put in your bag before travelling depends only on your personal preference. I know some people take only ink pens, some take watercolours and others only markers. During my trips, I realised that I love pastels more than colour pencils. One reason could be my love for bold colours. Below is a sketch from Verona (shortly before Covid-19 hit). Here I took pastels for the first time, and I remember it made the whole sketching experience much more enjoyable. On a holiday, so many things are happening around me and I really don’t want to miss out on anything. Pastel colours save me quite some time as filling blank pages with colour pencils need some patience. Markers are also very useful in that sense, if you like to fill your sketchbook with painterly scenes.

Verona, Italy

Before I end this blog post, I want to remind you that social media creates a lot of pressure for creatives. For example, we watch so many beautifully illustrated sketchbook reels on Instagram that it makes us feel as though we must fill a sketchbook with amazing art in a very short period of time. But no, you don’t have to finish anything, nor do you have to sketch full scenes or perfectly painted illustrations.

close up sketch

A sketchbook should be your travel buddy that never criticises you, that listens to anything you want to tell it and that is perfect at keeping secrets. On top of it, you don’t have to share these secrets with anybody. In my drawing sketchbook, I have many bad and unfinished attempts at drawing something. Try to capture things in your own way and go with the holiday flow. You don’t carry that sketchbook to mesmerise anyone, it is mainly to help you stay connected with your art. In fact, I struggle very much after a long break, so sketchbooks are helpful to prevent me from feeling blocked after the holidays.

Here are a few sketchbook recommendations:

For color pencil and pastel sketches:

For gouache sketches:

For all the above plus compact:×12-cm-140-grams/

For watercolour:

Caran D’ache Bicolor pencil:

Tombow Marker:

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