Firestarter: Packing for vacation with art in mind

I like to boast a little bit (okay, a lot) about how light I pack. I am not the typical vacation girl. I leave home without a blow-dryer and four pairs of shoes. In the case of my most recent vacation, I even left behind makeup and extra jewelry. I was going to be running around outside all the time for goodness sake. For our recent trip to Wyoming, I packed one bag smaller than a carry on, and it held all my clothes, toiletries and hiking boots. In my head, I am cheering my self on for kicking so much packing butt and thinking everyone should be in awe of my skills. It sounds like a major ego problem. Thank god it’s all in my head. But then I have to admit I packed a second bag of art supplies.

For a two-day, three night stay, I packed an entire backpack of art supplies. This is the area where I overdo it. I brought a full-size sketchbook, water colors, oil pastels, assorted pens, pencils and markers. I also had scissors, washi tape and pendant supplies for a swap I was in. All this totaled up to 4 medium-size pouches all packed to the gills with supplies. And that was just the smaller items. Add to this my flip, my camera and two books I wanted to read. The point is, the amount of art supplies I pack pretty much eliminate any bragging rights I have to be a light packer.

But more important than how I pack is WHY I pack. My vacation times are precious. With my husband working on the road, getting time off together as a family can be really hard. So once I leave the office for vacation, my phone goes off and I ignore emails, RSS feeds, blogs…pretty much the entire electronic world I usually cling to like my life depends on it. I still want to make sure I carve out time to be creative every day. Over-packing supplies allows me to do whatever I want to – draw, paint or collage. In other words, I want to squeeze every last drop of utility out of my fun time.

That does sound thoroughly un-romantic and un-artistic, but I love it. While we were staying in our little cabin, I managed to carve a bit, do some pencil drawings, paint and make some notes. I even read an entire book and started another. So my preparation was a good thing. And, in this case, I had the extra space in the car to eat up with all these goodies.

In a few weeks, I have a totally different vacation coming up –Seattle. I have never been there before, I am so excited that I may be fired from my job just for talking about it too much. The main goal of the vacation is to have a good time as a family. We will be going to the zoo, aquarium and science museum. Our meals will be a combo of good local restaurants and cooking at the condo with food fresh from Pike’s Market. But I also have one other large goal – make some sweet antique or thrift store finds for my house. In preparation for that, I need to pack light. Like superhuman light. I want to have extra space for bringing home goodies. In that spirit, I will be bringing an extremely austere art supply bag. I plan to bring:

  • a small multimedia sketchbook, purchased just for this trip
  • mechanical pencil and lead
  • eraser
  • 2 ultra fine sharpies
  • Watercolors
  • Water brushes
  • Oil pastels (maybe, is I have the space)
  • Colored pencils
  • Washi tape
  • Mini scissors

That’s it. Nothing else. I want to record little bits of the vacation here and there, but we will be on the go a lot. So in this case, having too many supplies would actually be a detriment. I need to have one compact bundle I can bust out on a park bench, bus or crowded table. My big goal creatively speaking on this upcoming vacation is to fill as much of my sketchbook as possible. I am not bringing any other projects at all. And just saying that makes me feel all nervous and twitchy because that opens me up to unused time. Scary.

So even though summer is in full swing, you still may have vacation time coming up. When you are prepping for those trips, no matter what kind they are, taking some time to think critically about what you are bringing and why will ensure you can still be creative without getting bogged down. Just ask yourself a few questions.

  • How much space am I REALLY looking at? Think about all the essentials for you, as well as for anyone coming with you. My packing lists always include a few items I can omit as needed, and are indicated with an asterisk. Making adjustments in advance and while packing will take most of the stress out of preparation. Case in point: For Seattle, we are bringing the big stroller. It has storage space and is comfortable that L can nap in it. That right there outweighs the fact it takes up three times the space of the umbrella stroller. To compensate, we are packing half the clothing we usually would and will take advantage of the in-room laundry.
  • How much time will you REALLY have? When vacation is far off, it tends to be more abstract. You envision it as relaxing, carefree and you think you’ll be spending all your time lazing about and eating cookies. Or maybe that’s just me. But as you are working on your packing list, make sure you take a realistic view at what’s going on. How much time will travel eat up? Not just to get to your destination, but also to assorted locales after you arrive? What activities do you “have to” do and how much time will they take? So after all that, when and where do you think you will have the most creative freedom? Oh, and if you are flying, for goodness sake, take a good, small project in your carry on. One that will take hours to complete. I hate to jinx you, but delays in air travel are the worrrrst.
  • What tools will give me the most bang for the space they take up? The answer to this question will come at the intersection of what do you really like to do and what takes up a lot of time. If there is something in particular you are excited for, no matter what size the project is, try to take part of it with you. If you have something large like a painting you’re stalled out on and you can’t bring with, take photos and your color swatches. Looking at them occasionally in a different frame of mind might be just what you need to get over that artist’s block. Even planning, such as bringing your Christmas gift list with can be fun. Not only can you jot down ideas as you think of them, you may even find some materials on the road.

So if you can, take a vacation for goodness sake! And if you can’t, at least do something out of the ordinary. Take your paints and head to a new park. Take a sewing project to a new café. Load up the car with some snacks and drive to the next town with your laptop for some peaceful writing. Just simple changes of pace will make you feel refreshed, especially when you are prepared for them.

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