Working from the Road Part II: When to Work

ellen sherman artWelcome to Part II of my little traveling artist blog series. You can read Part I (all about how I pack my carry-on here)

This is a post mostly about my own struggle with time management while out of the studio.

As I write this, I am set up at my wonderful in-laws kitchen table, planner and sketchbook spread across the knotty pine tabletop, and feeling like over the last week I might have sat here in this exact layout a bit too frequently.

The balance between doing work and enjoying the people/places and things you’ve traveled to see is a delicate one, one that has eluded me rather recently.

Overworking means missing out on experiences, might as well be home.

Underworking means getting to be a part of every aspect of the journey, but you might find yourself a little low in the monthly budget, or with clients that feel neglected. Not good.

I will take this moment though to advocate for a TRUE VACATION. A set block of time that has been agreed upon ahead of time with clients, stores turned off and email returned with pleasant out-of-the-office replies. A full break from work can be a terrifying experience for the first 12 hours, but incredibly rewarding once one learns to let go. I try to take 1 – 2 of these respites a year to give myself a chance to decompress and renew. Occasionally these mini-retreats don’t even require leaving home, I turn just turn work off and turn inward for a bit. More on that to come.

Full work breaks aren’t always feasible though. And in those times, being able to decide when to say; “sorry hiking path to the waterfall, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow – I have to chat with clients today.”  and “sorry clients, there is a waterfall with my name on it, I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” can be a very vexing task.

ellen sherman art travel
Delayed flights means blogging.


For me, it boils down to discipline in both situations. Being able to commit to time away from work can be just as hard as committing to work in the face of a shining lake or distant relative.

As with most situations, if I came up with a system things would generally fall into place. I spent a while making lists, categorizing needs/wants and finally came up with what *I think* will be my measuring stick as I go forward.

First part is; clients are top priority. If I can’t be in the studio, I’ll make a schedule of their project with daily/weekly goals to make sure I do not fall behind. I am upfront about my travel time, and never leave when there is a deadline – so this works out fairly well.

Once I have dealt with any client concerns/work for the day, I’m able to transition to travel-mode. Hiking, exploring, eating, painting — embracing whatever comes that day.

The second prong of my traveling artist plan, is to make a list of the top 3 projects that are important to me/my brand. For instance the last trip I was on I chose 1) Pinterest 2.) Instagram 3.) my blog.

Once I have those decided, I’ll plan to get up an hour or two early on ‘work’ days, get some coffee in me and crank out as much as I can. A lot of times if I am unsure of the importance of one task over another these cram sessions will help sort what is most important.

It’s not a flawless system but it helps me stay organized and on top of my work while still enjoying the places and face I have traveled to see.

Working from the Road I; My Carry-On

art supply travel ellen sherman

With family sprawling across the U.S and a strong desire to fly our Miami coop every so often, my husband and I find ourselves on the road (or in the air) quite often. When I first started traveling as a full time artist, I overpacked. Actually, overpacked is putting it lightly. I overstuffed my carry on, my suitcase, whatever other bags were coming with us with more paint, paper and other supplies than I could feasibly use up. I was terrified of needing something and not having it at arms reach. My poor husband had to share luggage space with sketchbooks, canvases — it was just downright silly.

Eventually I came to my senses, with a much appreciated quote from photographer Chase Jarvis; “the best camera is the one you take with you.”

I was doing no one a favor by lugging around all this extra stuff and was definitely hindering the fluidity of the traveling-artist experience. So I paired down. And down. And down.

This is my supply list currently;

  1. My moleskine watercolor sketchbook. A4 sized, perfect for backpacks/carryons. I use this for quick sketches in the morning, blocking out ideas and keeping loose napkins and other papers in the back folder.
  2. 8 x 10 cold-pressed Arches tablet. I don’t always bring this, usually only on longer trips that might afford some time for more serious work.
  3. Travel watercolor kit. I am currently using the kit from Sakura, bought way, way back when I was still in undergrad.
  4. Sakura travel brushes.

And that’s it.

abstract watercolor ellen sherman

What about you? What art supplies can you absolutely not leave home with?