By: Lexi Dowdall

As promised, here is the packing checklist for painters & artists to bring and a few ideas to get you started with travel journaling. Head to this link to read the first post, Create Art Wherever You Wander: A Guide to Kickstarting Your Travel Journal Habit with Holiday River Expeditions.

River Trip Packing Checklist For Painters & Artists

watercolor journal and mini zig zag book included in the packing checklist for painters & artistsSketchbook or Small Watercolor Pad

What paper and sketchbook works best for you boils down to personal preference. I like smaller pads for working quickly and those with perforations are extra fun for sharing paper with another guest or gifting friends a sketch or painting. For watercolor, the higher the cotton content of the paper, the better the quality.

On my latest Westwater Trip with Holiday River, I opted to use a very small but fun accordion-style sketch pad. I painted 1-2 panels per day and melded the landscape into one large panorama. Check out the Hahnemühle ZigZag Book, offered in a variety of sizes, for an awesome travel journal option. I love the smallest option as it feels less intimidating to both start and complete a page with less surface area!


Pens aren’t essential for painting but I often love to add details, definition, and texture alongside a few nature notes to better capture a landscape. I bring 3-4 Sakura Pigma Micron Permanent Pens—I prefer the 01, 02, 03, and 05 sizes.

Travel Palette & Paints

For the river, it’s important to choose a set of non-toxic paints. This is one of the reasons watercolor paints are great for river trips as most are non-toxic! I am partial to the Art of Soil watercolor kits handmade by Karen Vaughan, a soil scientist from Wyoming. Karen creates her beautiful pigments from soil and offers a ton of different palette collections nestled into beautiful handmade wood (not plastic) cases. Her colors are often a perfect match for the desert and river landscapes of the Mountain West.

Markers, pens, colored pencils, or even watercolor pencils are all great alternatives if you’re not partial to watercolors or want a little less fuss.for the art of soil watercolor pallettes

Collapsible Camping Cup

You’ll need something to wash out your paintbrush and I prefer one of those little collapsible camping cups or bowls. A small cup or tin works well too.

1 Pencil & Eraser

I like to have a pencil on hand to begin my composition. If you want an eraser, be sure to bring a gray kneaded eraser that won’t leave eraser residue behind. It’s important to practice Leave No Trace protocol on the river, even as artists! 

2-3 Collapsible Travel Brushes

Much like paper, paintbrush preference is a discovery that must be made over time. I highly recommend using travel brushes, which collapse such that the handle protects the brush so your bristles don’t get ruined. If you’re just starting, an inexpensive brush or a water brush is fine.

My favorite watercolor brushes of all are a bit expensive but so precise: The Black Velvet Voyage Travel Brushes by Silver Brush.

Binder Clips

Small binder (or butterfly) clips can be super helpful to secure your sketchbook pages open when painting outdoors.

packing checklist for painters & artistsLarge Fanny Pack or Bag

Lastly, bring some sort of bag to keep all your supplies in one, easy place. I love my fanny pack since I can bring everything with me on short hikes or attach it for hands-free scrambling on the big rocks near camp. 

Travel Journal Prompts & Ideas

I love to simply paint the ever-changing scenery around me but here are some fun ideas if you’re feeling intimidated or aren’t sure where to start.

Map it Out

Your Holiday River Guide will have a booklet or maps of your river journey and all the impending rapids. Take a look and then make your own map. Add topo lines or big rapids and track your progress each day.


I often employ the “landscapitos”  technique from nature journaling prodigy John Muir Laws in my travel journals. This is a quick and easy way to record a landscape. Simplify everything, make it small, give yourself a short time limit, and convey the main features. Draw a small square or rectangle and concentrate on quickly capturing the scene around you. Focus on major landforms, colors, clouds, and sky. The goal here isn’t to capture a lot of detail accurately but to quickly transfer an approximation of the landscape you’re exploring. This is the technique I employed in my latest Holiday River trip down Westwater Canyon. Give yourself permission to work fast and sloppy, you can tidy it up with a little pen work.Landscapitos

Critter Roll Call

Keep track of all the critters you spy. Write a list or quickly sketch them out.

Dawn or Dusky Skies

Commit to watching each sunrise or sunset on your trip and quickly capture it in the moment. Watercolor is great for loosely and quickly capturing the brilliance of a bold skyscape.

Rock Out

Rivers are great landscape makers. Every river you encounter on a Holiday trip will boast intriguing rock formations and geology. See if you can capture the colors and textures of each strata, make notes or jot down questions. 

Favorite Fauna

What plants did you see? Trace the outline of a leaf, sketch a blossom, and try to capture the colors of the plant life around you.

Lexi Dowdall and guest with water color drawingsLandscape Swatches

If you fear making art, simply mix a few colors and try to lay to paper all the colors you see as accurately as you can. This is a wonderful practice for mixing paints and it creates a beautiful collection of swatches for each landscape you encounter. 

Watercolor Currents

Watch the river flow beneath you. Simply try to capture those swirls and eddies, rapids, and braided channels. Later adding linework with a pen can be a fun way to add definition. This open-ended exercise is great for those who lack confidence or feel intimidated. 


Doodle out a quick comic strip of the day’s highlights. These can be fast, fun and sloppy. No need to nail each drawing with precision. Spend less than 4 minutes on each square. 


Were there any funny jokes or puns dropped throughout the day? Add them in bright or elaborate lettering to remember for later. 

Data Log

If numbers are your jam, you can keep a daily record of river miles, a tally of rapids encountered, wildlife witnessed, miles hiked, shooting stars spotted, etc…

I hope this inspires you to get creative on your next trip or adventure. When capturing the flow, be sure to tag Holiday River @bikeraft on Instagram to share your creativity with our river community. We can’t wait to see what you come home with…

Lexi Dowdall bio photo


Lexi Dowdall is a writer and watercolor artist who jump-started her painting career on a Holiday River trip through the Gates of Lodore in 2019. She is a skier who most enjoys painting the mountain and desert landscapes of Utah. You can check out Lexi’s work at and follow her rambles on Instagram @kapowder. Lexi also writes for the Ski Utah organization and works in the film industry with Sweetgrass Productions. Her favorite river meal is steak night.