Scaling back your art practice for long term travel – the early days

I’m still in the early days of this, but I had to do some serious thinking about what materials to bring with me to Canada. As a printmaker who had been dealt the ridiculously lucky hand of having an artist residency at Central St Martins, I had finally emerged and blossomed from my kitchen table cocoon and gotten used to having all the presses and space I could ever dream of at my finger tips. The move to Canada presented a typical type of sods law irony, I would be giving up one dream for another – but then who gets to live two dreams within the space of a couple of years? The IEC visa is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style golden ticket, only 5000 Brits are given one each year – it is not something you politely decline.

So the decision was made, the move to Canada was happening – now I just had to figure out how I would condense my collection of art materials (and trust me, there was a pretty big collection!)

At the core of my decision making process was the idea that everything had to be portable in some way – no huge bits of equipment, nothing clunky and difficult to pack, nothing that couldn’t if need be get shoved inside a carry on bag. I think this was the best decision I made, as it allowed me to pack my ‘greatest hits’ of art materials into a couple of art bags which fit snugly into my checked bags without taking up valuable space and adding too many kilograms. I could easily have filled an entire suitcase just with art supplies – but then I would have found it even harder to pack all of my clothes to cover the actual 4 seasons that they have in Canada (jumpers take up a lot of room!)

art materials
I wasn’t kidding when I said art bags….

Now as an artist of any kind drawing is a pretty essential element of the basics of your practice, this isn’t just unique to printmaking – so the first thing I tackled was drawing materials and sketchbooks. At home I had a storage box full of different paper types and sketchbooks, a great deal of which I gave to my dad (family of artists, that one’s for another blog post) and a drawer or two full of pens and pencils. I had to be incredibly honest with myself, and separate the things I know I use alot from the stuff that I don’t use so much. It’s probably something I should have done a while ago, but when you have the luxury of storage space larger than a couple of 23kg bags to fit your life in – you tend to hoard art stuff!! We all do it!!

This honesty continued across my collection of art supplies. Acrylics were donated to the South Island Workshop (a charity where I facilitate creative workshops), as was a huge store of patterned fabric that I had intended to make pillow cases from. Bags of pens which I didn’t see the point in putting in the attic went to my family or to the SIW. My big beautiful set of watercolours went in an attic box, and I opted to bring a smaller set and my Ecoline primary colours with me instead. I lamented for days over whether to bring a selection of gouache with me, I’ve got a huge tub of them at home from a donation made to the SIW about 20 years ago that are still in good nick and that I use alot. But what colours?? Time became a factor and in the days before we left I decided that watercolour would have to do in my scaled down kit, as it was just that little bit more portable.

Most important to me was making sure I had some printmaking equipment to keep me satisfied until I managed to 1. get a job to financially support my habit; and 2. allow me to continue to make work from the comfort of my own home if getting to a studio just wasn’t possible. So I put together a bag with my lino cutting tools, a selection of lino, one tube of black Caligo ink and ink extender, a palette knife, 3 rollers and some sharpening stones. My entire print studio in one small bag – but enough to do whatever I need to keep me satisfied. I also brought my etching needles and hollow scraper because etching will happen while I’m here – plus you can use etching needles to create tonal variations in lino prints, so double use there!

art cat
Carmy, one of the cats we’re looking after, making it difficult to take photos of my materials!!

At the time of writing, I have been in Canada for just under 10 weeks. At this point, I have only been using drawing materials. I’m slowly working through one of my hand-made sketchbooks, and mainly using the kit that I have in my regular pencil case. Up until last week we had been moving to new accommodation pretty much every week so getting anything else out was a bit of a hassle and time has been limited as I’m now working full time – but now that we are settled in a house sit for the next 2 months, I have started to get a bit more out and am beginning to get my creative juices flowing once again. Life on the road is amazing, and it’s nice not to feel tied down to anything, but it can often make it difficult to get much done art wise – you just have to be dedicated in your approach and make sure that you have packed things that you can access and use easily when space and time are at a premium!



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