Emma Block Illustration


The creative life of an illustrator living in London

How to Sketch While You Travel

sketchbook mallorca  emma block 3.jpg
soller emma block 7.jpg

Is there anything more relaxing than sitting painting in the sunshine whilst on holiday? However it’s so easy to pack your paints and sketchbook in your suitcase and then leave them there all week! I’m definitely guilty of taking my art materials on holiday, but never actually using them. When you are on holiday and you’ve got a limited amount of time to do and see things it can be difficult to make time to sketch. Here are my top tips for making it happen.

sketchbook mallorca  emma block


Think carefully about the materials you are bringing. You want to choose things that are compact and lightweight. At home I use a Schmincke Horadam Watercolour Set that comes in a metal tin, however this is very heavy, so on holiday I take this Winsor & Newton Watercolour Set which comes in a light plastic palette with lots of mixing space. It's the perfect paint palette for travelling with.

This was my first time travelling with gouache. I had just bought a set of Holbein Artists Gouache, which come in tiny 5 mL tubes. These teeny tiny tubes are perfect for travelling as they take up no space at all.

Water brushes, brushes that contain water in the handle, are ideal for painting on the go. I also like to bring small travel brushes with me. The set of Winsor and Newton watercolours I linked to above comes with a size 5 brush with a short handle so it fits perfectly inside the palette. You can get travel watercolour brushes with detachable or retractable handles that keep the bristles intact whilst travelling.

I might be completely biased, but I love my sketchbooks from Papier. Yes, they might have my illustrations on the front, but the paper inside is great for pencil sketching, gouache and watercolours. The sketchbook is paperback and staple bound so it opens up completely flat and is very light to pack. The pages are thick enough that you can paint on both side.

If you are packing traditional pencils make sure you bring a pencil sharpener, and if you are taking a mechanical pencil make sure you bring some spare leads. I bought my Blackwing pencil with me which has a great rubber on the end.

Pencil case
I used a make up bag from Nikki Strange as a giant pencil case which I could fit my sketchbook, paint set, brushes and pencils into. Having everything all in one bag made it easy to keep everything together.

Choose your Colour Palette
It’s a good idea to pick a colour palette before you go as it will allow you to limit the amount of art supplies you need to bring. Some people might say that you never know what will inspire you, and therefore what colours you will need, but realistically knowing that I was going somewhere with stone houses with green shutters and lots of orange groves that I would need a good green, orange and stone colour.  Think about the place that you are going and the colours you are most likely to use. For example if I was going to Japan during cherry blossom season I would want to take some great pinks with me. If you are bringing watercolours you will probably just bring the whole set, this applies more to tubes of gouache, colour pencils or felt tip pens. On my holiday I brought five tubes of gouache - white, raw umber, permanent yellow, permanent green and flame red. I also took a set of watercolours.

Top tip -

If you are short of space you can just take a set of watercolours and a tube of white gouache. You can mix the pigment from the watercolours with the white on the palette to make gouache of different colours. 

sketchbook mallorca  emma block

Make it Happen

Make Time
Doing a sketch or painting takes a bit of time, it’s not like taking a quick photo. Plan times when you are likely to be able to do some painting and take your sketchbook out with you. I found that waiting for my food to arrive in a restaurant was a great time to sketch, as we were always eating outside in picturesque locations.

One of the tricky parts of painting on holiday is compromising the people you are travelling with. Explain to your travel partner that you want to do some painting and suggest that they have a go sketching as well, or bring a book to read. On holiday I did lots of painting and my husband read. 

sketchbook mallorca  emma block 2.jpg
sketchbook mallorca  emma block 1.jpg

Don’t feel like you have to paint everything you see in front of you. If you are inspired by one small detail of what you can see, like a particular person, a beautiful tree, or a cute dog it is fine to just paint that one thing. It’s also fine if you don’t finish your painting or sketch in one sitting. Take photos of the scene and use them, plus your memory, to finish it later.

Save it for Later
If there is something you want to paint and you don’t have time grab a sneaky photo and paint it later. I always like to do some holiday paintings in my sketchbook when I get home whilst it is all still fresh in my mind.

Enjoy the Moment
Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece or a beautiful sketchbook. Painting on holiday is about the experience, not just the end result. Painting while travelling is a great way to force yourself to slow down and really take in your surroundings. Enjoy the moment and don’t worry too much about the outcome.

sketchbook mallorca emma block

I hope those tips have inspired you to get painting on your next holiday. Let me know if you have any questions. Here are some great blog posts about sketching while traveling from my friends Jackie and Viktorija.

More from my trip to Mallorca coming up soon!