This week I am finalising the content for a three day workshop on Travel Sketching in Launceston Tasmania. I am very excited as it is the first time I have taught this material over three days and in the context of travelling – on previous occasions it has been only a one day workshop with at least half occurring inside from photos. This time it is all on-location and with the goal of recording a sense of place as well as cover ingdifferent types of sketching locations common when travelling – museums, streetscapes, city views, grand architecture, landscapes etc.
It has been really fun to put the content together for my workshop – to come straight off one course and shift gear significantly – to focus on the special requirements of travel sketching. For me, the big two factors of travel sketching is limited time and taking risks. When we travel it is often a once in a lifetime opportunity, we are incredibly inspired and more attuned to our surroundings. But we often have huge time constraints especially when travelling with others, so it is important to have some techniques that give us the confidence to go for it. I certainly find that every time I travel, I make significant progress in my work – something special happens – and I think it’s the result of this combination of inspiration and risk taking.
Most of you know that I love using watercolour pencils – not so much by themselves but in combination with ink and (especially) watercolour. I think they particularly come into their own when you travel as they make it so easy to record line AND colour ‘dry’ – you can then activate when you have time or leave as is. So for this workshop we are providing all the participants with a kit containing my selection of 10 colours – it was last night’s activity to pack the kits. You can read more about my approach to watercolour pencils here.
I have done a lot of travel sketching in the past 8 years. In 2010 I spent my 11 week ‘long service leave’ sketching in USA, UK and Italy, filling 8 sketchbooks in that period. This photos shows some of my early travel sketchbooks (up to 2011).
Apart from my style changing a lot over this period, my approach to filling a travel sketchbook has changed as well. I am much more serious about painting and use a larger book (A4 size moleskine). I have mentioned this previously, but the larger book has meant that I’ve been less likely to attempt a quick sketch, so my sketchbooks have become less journal-like. Another thing that has changed is that I rarely travel solo these days. During my first few trips I was travelling on my own a lot, occasionally meeting up with a friend along the way, but spending most evenings alone in my hotel room, providing valuable time to add notes and maps and finish my pages. This finishing takes a lot of time and is a big commitment whether you try to do it en-route or leave it till you get home!
I had a delightful time reading through my 2009 travel sketchbooks in preparation for this workshop. I loved all the notes and maps, and particularly my crazy list of the day’s moments. This trivia is SO much fun to read later. I would love to be able to do this again but need to carve out some solo time to do that – these days my trips are full of sketching meetups everywhere I go. I also blogged this trip extensively – see more here. It was a significant trip for me as I spent 4 weeks driving through the UK on my own, and I certainly felt like my sketchbook was my best friend travelling with me. So it seems if I want to revive this type of sketchbook I have to become a little more anti-social when I travel!
I know a lot of my readers will have already signed up for Marc Holmes’ new Craftsy course on Travel Sketching. I am saving it for a special treat when I get back from my trip and will be curious to see how many of our approaches are similar. I feel so grateful to have travelled with Marc and Laurel Holmes over the last five years before or after the USK symposiums and although we work differently, our styles, interests and time for sketching (or photography in Laurel’s case) work together so well – they are the best travel sketching companions! I know that the course is excellent – if you haven’t signed up find out more and get a discount here. I recently spent numerous days travel sketching with Marc and Laurel in Singapore before the symposium here and here. And in Cambodia here and here – there was a big group of sketchers but we were the last ones there and had a few days sketching together at the end… it is truly inspirational to sketch alongside Marc!
Anyway this week has made me focus more on the recording aspect of travel sketching – how to best record your experience of a place in quick sketches, notes and maps. I love maps – they do take extra time but every time I do one it seems that the parts fall into place and I get a much clearer understanding of place. Here is a map I did at the end of an afternoon prepping for a Travel Sketching Workshop last year in Lambton – more here.
Maps are also a great way to record the events of the day in a visual way, because as much as I try, there is really NO way that I can sketch every single moment of my particular travel day! Here is a map from a crazy day in Barcelona (after the USK Symposium in July 2013).
And here is one of my craziest days of sketching! This is a lot of sketching but so much more happened (including hours of driving) you can see some pictures here.
I have also loved basing the content for this workshop on my Foundations concepts and seeing how my three ways of seeing (Feeling Edges, Abstracting Shapes and Constructing Volumes) relate to different ways of working when travel sketching. I have also got new approaches that I haven’t taught before, bringing together what I have been doing over 8 years of travel sketching into a single concept and exercise.
It is very exciting to codify what I have developed over a period of time and now do instinctively. I don’t want to steal my own thunder for the sake of the Launceston workshop participants, but the concept of the VIP (Very Important Perpendicular) is becoming more important, especially as I am increasingly tackling complex streets in limited time frames! Actually, this was part of Edges, but I will be applying it in a new way to travel sketching.
The biggest tip I have for travel sketching is to start with your focus – another Foundations idea! The more I sketch, the more I realise how powerful this approach is!
And finally, although I often travel alone or for the specific reason to sketch (ie. I am not hoping to sketch while traveling, I am travelling to sketch), I am often with friends and have very small windows of opportunities (5-10 minutes) in which to get something down on the page. Having strategies for making the most of these opportunities is what travel sketching is all about.
Ok.. this has turned into a long blog post… but I would LOVE to hear from you
– What you do want your travel sketchbooks to be like?
– Are you happy to just do one or two sketches from one part of the day or do you want to record the whole trip in some way (some sketches, some notes, some maps, some collage?
– What are the biggest challenges you face when you try to sketch while you are travelling?