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Essential Packing List for Artists

by Hannah Barth Jul 13, 2010
Through art, one can learn about a culture’s history and values.

PRACTICING YOUR OWN art abroad can be equally rewarding, as it gives you a chance to start a discussion about what makes your creation unique and why you’re interested in a different culture’s way of creating.

My chosen career path as a performing artist has taken me to Paris to study mime, Turkey to practice folk dance, and India to teach theater to street children.

Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about what I need to pack to keep the spotlight on my art and off any potential mishaps.

Makeup for Performers & Other Essentials of Your Trade

Don’t assume just because other countries have your essential artist materials, they’ll necessarily be affordable.

Being an artist (especially a wandering one) often means keeping a very tight budget.

I’ve found that a $7 tube of mascara can cost upwards of $15 in other parts of the world. If you’re a stage performer, you can’t work without your makeup, so make sure you’ve got an ample supply lest you’re forced to break the bank.

The same goes for a certain color of paint or a specialized sculpting tool.

These kinds of products can be hard to find in foreign countries, and even harder to describe in a foreign language if you don’t immediately find what you’re looking for.

Standard Blacks

Black is the official color of the art world. I’ve found that packing one black skirt, pair of pants, T-shirt, pantyhose, and shoes in simple styles serves me well when I’m away from my full wardrobe.

If you think you won’t use these essentials for an impromptu street performance, they may have other uses. Blacks can be a chic alternative to grungy travel wear at a gallery opening and it’s hard to see charcoal smudges on a dark t-shirt.

Speaking of Formal Wear…

In the US, I often slink out of the theater post-performance wearing sweats and a comfy tee. Other parts of the world aren’t quite so laid back though.

Pack two or three nice outfits (or one nice outfit and a number of accessory pieces you can swap around) for post-performance schmoozing and drinks.

Your chic European counterparts will thank you for your efforts.

Electronic Version of Your Resume & Business Cards

Most of us have our portfolios online nowadays, but if you’ve ever tried to locate and operate a printer in a foreign country, you’ll know how indispensable this one is.

I also like to carry a handful of business cards in my wallet.

It’s much easier to just hand someone who’s interested in my work a card rather than navigate the spelling of my last name with someone whose native language doesn’t involve the ‘th’ sound.

Tip: If you don’t already have business cards and don’t want to spend a fortune getting them, Vista Print will send you 250 for the cost of shipping alone as long as you don’t mind their logo on the back.

Artists’ Fix-It Kit

We’ve always got things like scissors, tape and a black permanent marker in our junk drawer at home, but rarely think to pack them in our suitcases. These items can be lifesavers when creating art in strange locales.

I’ve seen a ballerina color her Pointe shoes with a Sharpie and black tape hold up quite a few costumes. Other helpful things might include a small sewing kit and stain remover pen.

Sleep Mask & Ear Plugs

Sometimes being a traveling artist means spending nights on the floor of a bus screaming over ill-paved foreign roads.

Try to look bright and cheery onstage after a sleepless night in transit and you’ll know the importance of a sleep mask and earplugs.

They can make the journey slightly more bearable.

Bonus tip if you have the packing space: A bulky sweatshirt can serve as a pillow and a simple scarf makes a great blanket.

Climate-Specifics for Your Location & Trade

You should consider your target country’s climate when packing your clothes, but are there extras you don’t need at home but might need abroad? Would a sun hat help for painting outdoors during the Asian summer? Or fingerless gloves for sketching in Siberia?

I’m used to dancing in an air-conditioned studio back home so I pack a high-absorbency travel towel for mopping up my sweat when I dance in the Turkish sun.

One last point to consider: Art is subjective. Americans tend to use very constructive criticism when giving artists feedback. Other cultures can be harsher in their critiques.

When I was in Paris, I rarely heard the phrase “Yes, but…” during rehearsal. “No, not like that!” was generally the case. When working as an artist overseas, stay open to foreign criticism.

Just don’t let it adversely affect the way you value your art. What one culture considers singing can sound like screaming to another.

Community Connection

Check out various artists’ journal pages for inspiration at The Traveler’s Notebook. For more packing tips, check out Matador Network’s Focus page on packing.

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