Photo by Aya Padron

What Gear Do I Need to Start: Travel Sketching

Art + Architecture
by Candace Rardon Dec 27, 2011
Maybe you’re like me, and it’s been a scary number of years since your last art lesson.

BUT SINCE YOU’VE hit the road, you’ve started to feel like your camera just isn’t cutting it anymore. Something about the new scenes in front of you is begging to be seen through a different lens – the artist’s eye.

And that’s where travel sketching comes in. It was a couple of years after I moved overseas that I decided to combine my new love of travel with an old love of art and painting. I started to pack a few bits of gear in my backpack and capture a cityscape or landscape along the way – but on the pages of my sketchbook, not just in photos.

Since then, I’ve found these are the scenes I often remember the most. Here’s what you might need to do the same:


Moleskine Pocket Watercolour Notebook: This version of the traveler’s classic choice for journals is made with 200-gram, cold-pressed watercolor paper. It also comes in a large version, as well as two Japanese albums with horizontal accordion pages inspired by traditional Japanese emakimono scrolls.

Artist Series Sketchbook: Medium-sized sketchbooks in this series feature original cover art drawn using Palamino pencils.

Daler-Rowney Cachet Artist’s Sketchbook: Measuring at 9 by 12 inches, this larger option might be a bit too big for some backpacks, but its sturdy cover makes for a more stable canvas, especially if your lap is doubling for a table.


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Palamino Graphite Mixed Grade Set: No matter what medium you prefer, you’ll most likely want to pack a pencil, eraser and sharpener to get started. This set offers you a choice between 2B, 4B and 6B grades.

Prismacolor Premier colored pencils: Whether you opt for Soft Core or the harder-tipped Verithin, a range of pencils from arguably one of the best art supply companies are available to bring your sketches to life.

Pen and markers

Staedtler Pigment Liner Sketch Pen Set: Waterproof? Check. Permanent? Check. There’s hardly a requirement this set of four pens doesn’t meet, including a variety of line widths. For a more retro pen-and-ink feel, check out Art Alternatives Fountain Pen Sketch Set.

Prismacolor Art Markers – Travel Set of 24: Another Prismacolor classic that can be zipped up in its own case when you travel.

Watercolor paints

Winsor Newton watercolor field kit: A compact case that fits easily in a side pocket holds 12 pigments, brush and mixing palatte. Derwent watercolor pencils are a simpler option that give a similar effect.

Oil pastels

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pastel: This travel set of 36 multi-colored pastels not only folds up for when you’re on the go, but works as its own stand when you’re drawing.


Compressed charcoal set: 12 sticks of varying grades come in a clamshell case, ensuring the charcoal stays on the page and not on the rest of your bag.

General’s Charcoal Pencils: A not-so-messy version of traditional sticks that still gives you a vivid black hue.


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Palamino Luxury Sketch Kit Bundle: A little on the pricey side, but makes it easy to keep everything in the same place while you’re on the road. The sketchbook is also replaceable, so you’ll only have to buy the kit itself once.

Clever Hands Journal Bandolier: Soldiers may have used one of these for storing ammunition, but this adaptation is the perfect way to keep drawing instruments close to your journal without taking up extra space in your bag.


Joyce Ryan’s Traveling with your Sketchbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Travel Sketching with Emphasis on Pen-and-Ink: Over 20 years old, but still offers valuable advice on basic skills with lots of illustrated demonstrations.

Watercolor Journeys: Create Your Own Travel Sketchbook: British artist Richard Schilling opens up his sketchbook to both instruct and inspire you.


Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers and Cartoonists: Compiled by Julia Rothman, this book gives a fascinating glimpse into how professional artists scribble and sketch behind the scenes of their published work.

Francis D. K. Ching’s Sketches from Japan: A month’s stay in Japan led to these ink drawings, whose beautiful minimalism shows that sometimes less is more in capturing the details of a new country.

Many of the mediums listed above are optional. All you really need to get started is a pad and pen…and a view that inspires you, of course!

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