One of my favourite traditions is to write a ‘trip reflections’ article within a week of returning home after a big sketching trip. You can read the full collection here.
This year’s visit to Europe was all about teaching two 6-day Palladian Odyssey tours (PO Tour) back-to-back, followed by a week with my sister and family. It wasn’t ever going to contain any relaxing vacation time. I really love travelling and am happy to live out of a suitcase, moving locations frequently for long periods of time – such as last year’s 8 week adventure.
However, this year, I felt ready to come home at the end of the second PO Tour – I felt as if I had an amazing adventure, had done enough and would have been content to jump on the next plane home. I think this was the result of the incredibly rich itinerary of the PO tour and that although I was drained from the intensive nature of the teaching component, I had received a lot of inspiration and ideas for my own work during the two 6-day tours.
As I mentioned in my last article, I only had two solo sketching days, the first and the last of the trip, and it would have been good to have carved out another fews days like that, just so I could really get my creative juices pumping. For me, vacations are not about rest, instead they are a chance for intensive development of my art. Working out a way to balance teaching, rest and some creative ‘me-time’ is an ongoing challenge for me.
But enough of the general comments…
I want to now share a few concepts that emerged from my sketching this trip. A number of themes from my last trip to New Zealand were still very relevant – such as mixing it up, more than one sketch to tell a story, limitations, leaving work incomplete – but here are a few new ones:
1. Paint Only
The biggest ‘new’ technique of the trip was doing more sketches directly in paint with no line. These days I normally start with paint as it’s significantly quicker and helps me achieve better colour and values in my sketch.
Although I have done a lot of paint-only work before (eg. 90% of my morning latte sketches are paint-only) it was new to do this on larger scenes. There is no doubt that using my Series 772 1/2 inch dagger brush from Rosemary & Co is a big factor as I can draw with the tip and then use the side for broad strokes.
2. Rapid Line Sketches
While I started doing quick sketches more seriously in NZ, this trip I really developed an extremely rapid form of drawing (in under 60 seconds) using my Lamy pen. Previously my fast sketches have been done using a tool with a thicker or more expressive line so it was new to be using a thinner line.
It has taken me years of training, but I finally feel very comfortable doing these type of sketches – i.e. to have the confidence to just go for it, the improved eye-hand coordination and the quick visual thinking to make instinctive decisions as to which are the important edges to record.
I am very excited about this as it will enable me to pause more when I am walking the streets of a new city and quickly record, in sketch-form, scenes and spaces. I would have normally just taken photos of these scenes, but of course I much prefer to sketch them so they are encoded into my visual memory.
3. Being super inspired by the subject matter
It was an unusual experience to be sketching the same places two weeks in a row (as part of the PO tours) and I was a little worried that I would be a little less inspired on the second week. But that was certainly not the case!
I think the most excited I was all trip was while I was quickly sketching the garden front to Villa Cornaro during the second tour. I had tears in my eyes thinking about how amazing it was to be sketching a Palladian building in real life, and not only that, I was buzzing from a wonderful conversation with the owners – it was a real Palladio fan-girl moment.
Aside: don’t ever underestimate the importance of your own personal interest in a subject matter and how much that affects the ‘quality’ of the work. Sketch what you love and it will show through!
4. Sketching during guided tours using my full kit
Another cool part of doing the tours back to back is that I had a second chance to improve my technique during our guided tours. When travelling and doing tours I have often thought ‘I would like to sketch, but… what? and how?… hmm, it seems like too much trouble.’
However because I was teaching, these guided tours were an important opportunity for me to do some sketching for myself and some bonus demos for the group – they could see how I sketch standing up and in limited time frames. During the first week I tried using some fast tools, my small kit and a waterbrush but I wasn’t totally satisfied with the results.
In week 2, I pre-prepared so that I had my normal palette clipped on my support board ready to go. I was much happier with the sketches done using my normal kit. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to get the full kit out initially, but in the long run it turned out to be easier to use.
5. Creating a record rather than a sketchbook of masterpieces
The more I sketch, the less I am concerned about producing masterpieces or filling my sketchbook with predominantly watercolour paintings. Instead my sketchbooks are becoming increasingly casual and looser as I sketch more rapid line sketches and/or leave my paint sketches incomplete. I do feel as if these days, I am truly saying more with less.
That being said, the rare occasions when I did have the freedom of no time limitations were very precious to me, and I seem to be making better use of them to slow down and go with the flow. Note: Slowing down for me is still very fast by most people’s standards.
6. Making nice journal pages out of teaching pages
My teaching pages are usually fairly scrappy and done in a secondary book. But this trip with 5kg of paper needed for the PO Tour, I didn’t take an extra teaching sketchbook and instead used my ‘good’ A4 watercolour moleskine sketchbooks throughout the teaching sessions.
Despite the PO Tour being non-stop touring, teaching and socializing from breakfast to dinner, I am happy that I fairly easily managed to finish off my pages during the week. It was the really useful be able to share these with the group during the last morning ‘show and tell’ as I could demonstrate how I created nice spreads from incomplete sketches.
7. Recording Instagram stories
My main form of doing updates this trip was using the 15 second videos in Instagram. Last year I experimented with Snapchat (to a handful of viewers) and loved it, so it was great to do it for my main audinece this year. I have all the videos saved so I can put them together in a more permanent form, but I just loved the casual and instant nature of doing these short videos on location.
A special thankyou to Nick Moroney for filming a number of stories in Venice and adding to the entertainment component of my videos.
Thanks to everyone who followed along and sent me messages. It was great fun to share my adventures with you!
My biggest takeaway for the trip was:
Travel Sketching for me seems to have become, for the most part, simply reflex sketching.
The majority of my sketches in my sketchbooks were done in compressed or limited periods of time and therefore I was relying heavily on my reflex sketching skills.
In my daily life I am constantly training my visual skills to see more clearly (eg. to quickly analyse the important edges, shapes and volumes of a scene) and also continually training my eye hand coordination. The fact that I am always building these skills gives me a confidence to take a lot of risks when I travel – I just go for it hoping that the ‘hard yards’ I have done previously will mean that my sketch will turn out alright. I work very hard to make it seem effortless.
I had really hoped to include more people sketches this trip, but although I did start off well in the airport, I found it too hard to maintain, especially during the intensity of the PO tours. This made me realise that I am a long way from being able to sketch people in ‘reflex sketching mode’. It was just too much of a brain switch to start people sketching while I was doing my rapid sketches on the move. Ah! here is something to work on before the next trip.
(Hmm, did I just add an extra point – it’s now 8 reflections. I’m hopeless at sticking within guidelines I set for myself!)
Okay, well I think that is a wrap for this trip.
I have a short turn around in-between my trips this year. Only 4 weeks till I head to Chicago (actually it’s just over 3 weeks now!) so it’s time to start thinking about skyscrapers, Frank Llloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe!
But before I start posting about the preparation for my next adventure, I would love to know if you have any questions about this trip. Is there an aspect of my adventures that you would like to know more about? What part was your favourite?