There's something really cool about setting up your portable easel and paint box in the 150+year tradition of en plein air painters and becoming one with those master impressionists — as I'm doing in Gunnison Colorado in that photo to the right (Thank you Mr. Mayor of Gunnison for taking that photograph!)
Here's why bringing oils is a Royal Pain:
-- they dry slowly, especially in humid environments
-- they are a mess to clean up, as they require solvents
-- they are relatively heavy
-- the portable easel/paint box is cumbersome to set up and haul around, especially on a bike or on foot.
Granted, there are some really cool products out there that can make all of the above easier, including agents to add to the paint so they'll dry faster, newly fabricated oils that clean up with water, specially designed boxes for transporting wet paintings, and even more compact and lightweight paint boxes and easels.
Let's face it though: If you don't already have all of those groovy gadgets and supplies, amassing them for a trip can easily cost as much as the trip itself!
OILS: Not an option for me this summer.
No, for me oil painting while traveling is best reserved for road trips from home, when I can easily dump everything in the back of my car, without having to be concerned about weight and bulk and Homeland Security.
For travel by plane, my art supplies need to meet the following criteria:
-- be compact and easy to transport (especially if I'm walking or on a bike)
-- be lightweight
-- be easy to clean up (with water, if anything)
-- not be fragile
-- not require shipping or special handling of materials and/or finished works
I've been thinking about these a lot. Acrylics are the foundation of my mixed media collage paintings, since I can build upon them with layers of glue and paint (you can't glue onto oil paint, but you can onto acrylic paint). The layering of colors en plein air could be cool and interesting.
-- the tubes of colors are big and bulky and, en masse, relatively heavy.
-- though they clean up in water, I usually have a sloppy mess in the palette that can be a hassle to dispose of; dumping this slop in a nature preserve isn't an option, and carrying it out is a pain.
-- preserving the wet paint in the palette could be problematic.
All in all, acrylics wouldn't be convenient at all.
These are a real possibility. Their main benefit? They clean up easily with water. And you can get these nifty little travel watercolor sets with tiny "pans" of dried color and even a tiny little travel brush and water reservoir (mine made by Windsor Newton pictured below).
Perfect for small sketches!
This set up was ideal when I rode my bike across Mexico for a month and a half and space in my paniers was at an absolute premium.
But if you want to work larger than 4"x6" this set up is a bit limiting. And if you want more colors than the 10 or 12 "pans", you're out of luck.
Alternative: Bring a folding a palette and tubes of watercolor paints
-- There's the mess of the wet palette (especially if you bring a folding palette and paint tubes), which always seems to drip and dribble and merge colors when folded for transport.
-- And you need to remember to carry water, and a water vessel of some sort — ideally two: one for clean water, and one for cleaning your brush.
-- And then there's the drying time, which can seem interminable in humid climates.
Granted, these aren't huge issues. I've traveled frequently with watercolors in the little kit as well as via the folding palette and have had decent results with few headaches.
Still... I'm undecided.