The holidays are approaching! Grab some travel stocking stuffers from this list >>

Art on the Road: Why I Enjoy Keeping a Watercolor Journal (plus what I pack)

traveling with a watercolor journal

The following guest post has been submitted by Denise Bleakly.

I have always been intrigued with artists who keep sketch books, and I have numerous books on traveling with a watercolor journal. When I was in my 40s I decided that there was no time like the present to start. I started with a weekend workshop on travel sketching – that was over 10 years ago, and I now I always travel with art supplies.

I don’t worry about making art, instead, I try and get absorbed in the place and record in my journal what I am seeing and feeling. Now, when I look back at my older journals, I can perfectly recall the moment I made the image, the time of day, what I saw and what I felt. To me, these little drawings are the best mementos of my journeys.

I have several little kits – my most basic consists of a permanent Sakura Micron Pen, a water soluble Pilot Razor Point pen, a Sakura Koi Watercolor brush pen and a Moleskine water color journal. I keep the pen and brush in a reading glass case and I keep it in an outside pocket of my travel bag, just in case I want to record something.

My travel art supplies
My travel art supplies.

An example is this drawing I did as a passenger in a car while driving through the San Luis Valley in Colorado, USA. It was late in the day, the hills were green with deep shadows and there was verga, rain that doesn’t hit the ground. It had been a lovely day, and to me this picture puts me back at that special place.

San Luis Valley, Colorado
San Luis Valley, Colorado

When I want color, I have two small palettes that I carry with me. One is homemade with 3 colors in it, a yellow, a blue and a red. I can make almost any colors I want with these three. For a bit more variety, I sometimes carry another homemade palette. It was a child’s paint set that I emptied and replaced with some of my most favorite Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton watercolors.

Most recently, I’ve been experimenting with Artist Trading Card sized paintings. Artist Trading Cards, or, ATC’s, are 2.5 by 3.5 inches and are a very handy way of keeping small art materials at hand. A few years ago, I took a trip to Costa Rica and created a whole series of paintings on these little cards. When I got back home, I mounted them in a slightly larger album and now have a wonderful little memory book of that trip.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica

When I know I am traveling to one of the National Parks in the United States, I bring along a special journal I have kept for many years devoted to this purpose. It is an acid free, leather notebook that I picked up at one of the parks. In the back I keep some small watercolor sheets, and I use that journal to record when and where I visited. The National Parks have special stamps that your can use that has a date and name of the park on them.

I usually stamp my book and do a small painting of something I saw at the park.


None of these supplies take up much room, and they are very light. If I am going on a longer trip, or a trip where I am planning to paint more, I usually put my pens and brushes in a clear zipper bag from Blue Avacado, or a Reveal bag by Rume.

If you would like to get inspired to try some travel sketching, the book, “An Illustrated Journey” by Danny Gregory, is a great way to see the wide variety of approaches to travel sketching. Travel sketching is a rewarding way to record your journey, and it will give you a lifetime of enjoyment!

* * * * *

Denise BleaklyAbout the Author: Denise Bleakly, is a cartographer (map maker) and travels for work and pleasure. When she is not making a map of some exotic place, she is dreaming of a trip! You can reach her at [email protected].

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

speakeasy hidden pocket travel scarf ad
Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


Splice Jaisalmer Reversible Tunic
Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


tom bihn 3d organizer toiletry bag
Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Danielle says

    Great article! All wonderful supplies! Carrying Art supplies can be a bit of extra weight coming home, but its worth it. And with the right supplies, it wont take up too much room!
    I traveled around Italy painting with watercolors and acrylics, even took a painting/drawing class. My paintings turned out to be the best souvenirs I brought home with me. Also remember to leave room for written musings or bring a glue stick, to collage in bits of your trip!

    • Denise B says

      Thanks for your comment! I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve loved the little collections of odds and ends I’ve pasted into my journal with my paintings.

      On one trip, I had a delicious beet salad – I used the beets to add color to my little drawing of our meal! When I look at that page in my journal, I can remember what that wonderful salad tasted like.

      On another trip, the soil and rocks were a really unique color. At one point I took a small amount of the soil and mixed it with water and did a wash on one of my drawings, the soil acted like a pigment, and made my little drawing look a little more like the thing I was trying to capture – which made it all that more special.

      Denise Bleakly

  2. A says

    Thank you! I am always looking for a way to bring art supplies along and still be able to fit them all. I love the idea of making your own mini-palette.

    • Denise B says

      I appreciate your comment. What did to make my own little mini-palette — I found a small tin – like a mini Altoid’s tin, and I got some empty watercolor 1/2 pans (available at art supply stores and at on-line art supplies) filled them with my favorite paints and then glued the 1/2 pans into the Altoid tin.

      I’ve made mini-palettes out of empty make-up and eyeshadow compacts. With those, I pried out the empty makeup and then refilled the areas with my favorite paints.

      Denise Bleakly

  3. Laura says

    Such lovely photos! I sometimes sketch little things in my notebook, but mostly I stick to writing. If I could make lovely paintings like that though, then I probably would find a place to shove that all into my backpack!

    • Denise B says

      Thanks for your comment! I started out making little sketches, and then adding color — just try it! Before you know it, you’ll have nice little paintings.

      Denise Bleakly

  4. Stephanie says

    Thank you for taking the time to write this! I am just starting to include art in my journaling and your article had some great ideas.

Leave A Reply