When you travel, witnessing someone whip out their smartphone to take a picture on the fly is so commonplace, it’s easy to forget that phone cameras are a relatively recent innovation. Such is the influence of technology that, in today’s world, an entire ecosystem of apps has evolved to handle the capture, filtering, and sharing of images on social media for instant gratification.
Despite these digital innovations, many people have discovered something that ‘old-timers’ have known all along: analog media offers something different. Printing your photos protects them from the risk of data loss. You can hang them in a gallery on your wall or make a scrapbook and accent them with custom stamps pressed into ink pads of different colors. This way, your travel memories will have a presence in your life.
If you’d like to take the analog experience even further, painting can be a wonderful travel activity. Instead of using your phone to snap pictures for a few seconds before moving on, you can heighten your awareness and engage with the scenery in a fresh and stimulating way. Here are some pointers to get you started.
Assembling your kit
Seasoned travelers are always mindful of weight. Traveling light will not only minimize your expenses but provide welcome relief to your aching back and shoulders. Today’s devices offer both convenience and portability, which is partly why you’ll see more smartphones being used to take pictures than actual cameras. Thus, when you start painting on your travels, a lightweight, compact kit is a must.
Watercolors are a perfect match for this sort of activity. You don’t have to lug around a bag full of artist supplies to paint on the go. In fact, having too many materials can complicate the process. As a beginner, you’ll find that having a limited palette and one or two brushes will help to simplify your painting choices.
A basic DIY job can turn an Altoids tin into a mixing palette that can fit at least six pigments. Add brushes, pens, pencils, a small Moleskine journal, and some tissue paper, and you’re ready to go. All of those supplies can fit in a pencil case, or a clutch. As a bonus, adding water on the spot allows you to bypass airline restrictions on carrying fluids.
Painting is a wonderful activity with several benefits for children and adults of any age. Even elderly people with no previous background in art can begin to pick up a brush and paint; lack of experience doesn’t prevent you from learning this skill.
However, there’s definitely a learning curve involved. And even if you paint as a hobby, doing so on the go will be a very different challenge compared to working at home or in the studio. Changing weather can affect the lighting as you paint; the constant motion of people can be difficult to capture. Perhaps even more daunting is the prospect of painting in public. When you are effectively putting on a show, there may be added pressure to create something beautiful, and that’s something you could do without.
Everyone will start out at a different point along the learning curve. Make the entry point easier; don’t attempt to paint everything you see. Complete beginners may want to focus on specific parts of a scene and thus simplify their compositions; a fire hydrant, a telephone booth, a parked car, or a landmark building. You can use your phone as a learning aid – take a photo of the scene to capture moving objects, then use it as a reference later on after you’ve painted in the stationary elements. And if you don’t feel comfortable being observed as you paint, simply walk around until you find a more private vantage point.
Trying out different approaches
Watercolor is a great medium for travel painting because it lends itself to the experimental. Paint is applied in broad, loose washes. Brushwork tends to suggest forms and convey moods rather than provide details. As you log more practice sessions under your belt, you can try different approaches to painting. Given more skill, confidence, and time, you can try a photorealistic painting. Equally, hanging out in a cafÃ© for a few minutes can be an opportunity to do a quick impressionistic study.
Don’t forget that painting as you travel is not a new hobby. Many people have been enjoying this well before the digital age. Today, you can engage with the community of urban sketchers and get to meet like-minded enthusiasts as you travel and sketch the world around you. Improve your skills, sharpen your powers of observation, and come to appreciate the world around you better than a smartphone would ever allow you to.