The Portable Studio

Not my studio, it's not messy enough

Not my studio, it's not messy enough

We all know the fantasy. When an artist travels, she makes delicate watercolour and ink sketches of the charming garden of her B & B. Or sketches her croissant and jam breakfast complete with hovering hummingbird. Or line drawings of adorable scamps kicking a ball around an ancient piazza. All neatly bound up in a black Moleskine. 

The reality for me, having returned from a three-month trip to Europe, is quite different.  I am strictly a studio artist. When I paint, I need the ALL the art supplies around me, and I make a big mess. So if I make art on the road, my Airbnb reviews will be in the toilet once I redecorate my host's apartment with random blotches of paint. But I have found other ways to stay create while I travel, and I'd like to share them with you.

Studio Visits

Obviously, if you can't be in your own studio, be in someone else's. I visited Cezanne's dusty and well-preserved hilltop studio in Aix. My best studio experience was when I visited Cheryl Fortier at the artist residency compound she runs in Auvillar, France. Cheryl's recent work was an intriguing departure for her, a huge, elaborate drawing in marker and pencil. And while we stayed there, I got my own studio too! I drew and coloured in a room filled with sunlight and good art vibes. Since Cheryl and I shared a studio in Vancouver, it felt very natural to be working next-door to each other.

Record your inspiration

Ahh Europe. So many amazing art shows! So many free museums. I’ll blog about the best art later, but as a Canadian living in a city with one tiny public art museum with sky high prices, I’m jealous. Seeing an amazing art show is always energizing, so I cram all that inspiration into my photos and travel journals. The most inspiring show for me was Cy Twombly at the Pompidou in Paris. His loose, languid use of line and paint was gorgeous and sensuous. So, I took photos, bought a catalogue, and made notes of techniques to try once I got back to my studio. As a visually-inspired painter, photos are the best way to for me to remember all that great creative energy.


Collage is one art practice that lends itself well to travel. You’re already picking up foreign ephemera like tickets, brochures, and postcards. Half-torn posters already look like my art anyway, so I rip those off the wall and stuff them in my purse. And if you happen to be in Bologna during April, they salute the new graduates with singing and glitter confetti! Yes, glitter confetti in the shape of flowers! I gathered it up from the gutter as my husband pretended not to know me. When I write travel journals, I add illustrations in the form of admission tickets or brochures anyway, so collage only takes this one step further. All you need are scissors and a glue stick or washi tape. A mailing tube is good for storing art purchases and your own creations.

Art Supply Stores

When I was in my twenties, I haunted clothing stores looking for the best deals on the cutest outfits. But now, art supplies stores turn my crank. There’s nothing I like better then finding unusual and new-to-me materials. This trip I hit up the Sennelier Art Store in Paris. I’ve used Sennelier chalk pastels for years, but this place is more than just pastels. In fact, the location I went to is the oldest art store in Paris. Ghosts of Cezanne and Picasso swirled around me as I poked through the worn wooden display cases. I went upstairs where I found a weird paintbrush with four separate ferrules and a box of neon watercolour paints from Japan. Despite—or possibly because of—the dismissive explanations of the snotty saleswoman, I handed over many euros and took home these items that I have yet to use. But they’re inspiring anyway, because they remind me of my time in Paris.

When I travel, I love to buy art supplies. They create packing problems, but in my studio right now, I have neon pink paint from Arhus, Denmark; drawing pens from Tokyo, and pink gouache from Venice. Pink is my weakness.

Brushes Redux

One of the many retrospectives I saw was David Hockney at the Tate in London. And he was clearly addicted to art, painting everywhere he went—even hotel rooms! While the large scale paintings were impressive, one interesting room was filled with iPads. Each iPad showed a painting that he had done with the app Brushes. The paintings were live videos of his process as he added strokes, changed colours, and erased sections. It was fascinating to watch.

Then it occurred to me that I could do the same thing: download the Brushes app on my phone and have an ever-present sketchbook. Brushes Redux is the app available now and it’s free. I used the very next day to sketch a statue in the British Museum, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to create really good work (I’m not there yet) but it’s lots of fun.

There you go, lots of ways to stay creative on the road—without making a mess! If you want to see some of my visual inspirations from Europe, do check out my Instagram feed .

This marks the return of my blog after a two year hiatus. And I will be writing more about my adventures in Europe, including shows by Cy Twombly and Damien Hirst. I have incorporated this blog into my website, but unfortunately the name changed from Ten Feet of Crazy Energy to the more prosaic Blog. I would like to thank the many (well, three anyway) people who have been asking me to blog again. I'm back!