Making Art On Vacation

Article by Kelly Foss — Drawing: Mike Barron @malcontentcomics

Does a vacation also mean a vacation from creating?

Most of us have done this; We go on a trip with grand plans “I’m going to make a painting a day. No, 3 paintings a day! And 2 drawings!”. We lug our heavy art supplies in our bags, and then before we know it we’re back home unpacking our untouched art materials. Naturally, frustration ensues. Another wasted vacation. Or was it? Whether it’s a trip to the Bahamas or a 3-day staycation, let’s talk about making the most of our days-off and avoiding that frustrated feeling.

First thing’s first: What’s the purpose of your vacation? To relax? Reconnect with family? Explore? Let’s be honest; Would taking time to create be constructive or destructive to your vacation’s true purpose? If the idea of “Must draw something today” stresses you out, painting in the yard pulls you away from family, or staying locked inside while everyone else goes to town sounds sad… maybe it’s a good idea to give it a rest. Didn’t expect to get that advice? Trust me, it’s a bad thing when we start thinking about creating in terms of “must” and “have to”. Stress levels rise when art becomes an obligation. And when stress levels rise, creativity dries up and enjoyment is nonexistent. That sounds like a recipe for misery to me, not a vacation.

When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor. Elon Musk

“But I really do want to make art in my free time!” you say? Let’s look at some artist life-hacks to making art happen (and with more ease) while on vacation.

Photograph: If you can’t draw or paint it now, maybe later. Take a pic. It can serve as inspiration for future artwork. Or, the photo itself can be the art!

Book it!: For people like me, who enjoy checking things off lists, get a drawing-a-day journal. You’ll feel accomplished doing a daily drawing. Scribble some thoughts about the day’s itinerary and it will serve as a great memory book too!

Drawing: Paper and pencil. Can the supplies get any easier than this? Invest in a little Moleskin sketchpad to stick in your bag with a pencil tucked in. You could take it a step farther and simplify with an automatic pencil that has an eraser on the end. As busy as our free time can be, there usually a lot of waiting times sprinkled in. Take advantage of that long ticket line (your shoes could be a fun drawing), slow food service (draw a spoon), and that 3rd truck stop you’ve stopped at this morning for yet another bathroom break (draw a tree, and for the love of Pete- cut the kids off from juice). Practice drawing “thumbnails”, i.e.; small, compositional studies that also help you map out values. Make a “cartoon” (i.e.: simple line drawing) writing out color notes of what you would use if you were to paint it.

A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere. Joyce Meyer

Drawing with color: Color pencils.  Don’t colors seem brighter when we’re on vacation, enjoying life? Why not try to capture that bright blue sky with a TSA friendly art supply? Remember a good sharpener (preferably one that holds the shavings) and you’re good to go!

BONUS fun: Watercolor pencils. It’s a whole new world! Long plane flight? Bring it on! Switch your drawing pad to an aqua-media friendly one. While everyone is watching the in-flight movie about magical owls, you can be drawing a colorful landscape from the plane’s magazine, AND (ask the flight attendant for a cup of water) making it into a painting!

Paint: Watercolor. If you want to keep your bag light, pick a little pan set (as opposed to tubes), a couple brushes, and your water holder can be a cup from anywhere you go. That’s pretty easy!

Paint: Oil. This is the biggest commitment due to the challenge. We’re dealing with the heaviness of the paint tubes and other supplies like a palette, turp/mineral spirits jar, brushes, canvas, etc. If this is the way you want to go through, let me recommend: Paint small canvas panels. Invest in a canvas carrier (such a life saver for keeping wet canvases protected). Consider short handled brushes, and using a limited palette/a few colors specific to where you know you’ll be going. Going somewhere very green, or has a lot of blues, or there’s a purple flower you just love there? Make sure you include those colors. If you’re flying, NO turps/mineral spirits. Check online to see what is allowed to hold in carry-ons and check through bags. It’s a sad experience to have your supplies seized.

Good Morning Sunshine: Time off is for sleeping in, right? Well, consider setting an early alarm and making it YOU time. It’s easier to carve out an hour of time for creating by doing it first thing in the morning rather than trying to fit it in later in the day. You’ll be surprised at how invigorating uninterrupted art time is in the quiet morning world. And might I suggest a cup of coffee join you on this feat?

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. Vincent Van Gogh

A lot of vacations are spent with loved ones. If you making time for art causes friction in your relationships it might be because they’re feeling left out. Ask them to pose for you. Do silly drawings of your kids, or ask them to direct your drawing. Or, simply engage in the art of reconnecting with others.

Making art can give us a happy glow. But if creation just doesn’t happen during your time off, don’t beat yourself up! Not all art is the creation of it. Shift from output to input. Go absorb some art! Check out museums and the local art scene. It can be inspiring to see how artwork styles shift from one community to another. Read an art book (I recommend Strapless about John Singer Sargent). There are other forms of art to absorb too! Music, culinary arts, dancing, etc. Beauty is inspiration. Going on a nature hike, swimming in the ocean, having a campfire at night, listening to silence, seeing a loved one genuinely smile… These are the experiences that enrich us. When we come back to normal day-to-day, we are so full of life that when we get to our easels, good things will pour out.

If you’re blessed with time off enjoy it any way you can, either in creating art or intaking art!

How have your past experiences been mixing art into your vacation time? Are you planning on taking supplies on your next getaway? Would love to hear about it!

Artist, DNY Instructor and Author
I love painting faces, flesh, and fabric. The more tactile I can make a painting feel, the more I’m satisfied with it! I feel blessed to make art every day and look forward to the next day to continue my projects. Traveling to teach workshops is also something I can’t believe I get to do.
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Kelly Foss Author
I love painting faces, flesh, and fabric. The more tactile I can make a painting feel, the more I’m satisfied with it! I feel blessed to make art every day and look forward to the next day to continue my projects. Traveling to teach workshops is also something I can’t believe I get to do.
3 Comments
  1. I love painting on holidays. I have lunch with my family and then coffee and maybe some short siesta. Then I paint while is hot outside untill my cousin comes to take me out for coffee and to the beach

  2. Always try to draw while on holiday. There’s something very special about bringing home those drawings- like brnging back a piece of sunshine and good times!

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