RoadTrip2021: Reflections on my 6 week adventure

June 7, 2021 | 22 Comments


Whilst I still have a few ideas for articles related to my big Road Trip, it’s time to wrap up this series with my typical reflections post. (You can see other ones here)

This time I have so many thoughts that I’m unable to condense them into a few main ideas but I have tried to group them into a number of themes.

BTW: An index of all articles for this trip can be found here.

I have a lot to share so let’s get going!

Overall comments about the trip

NSW is so amazing! I feel embarrassed that I didn’t realise how many beautiful historic towns we have. I’ve had this thought in the back of my head that to see interesting towns I had to go to Tasmania or Victoria, and that NSW towns were less interesting (ie. has less intact historic areas). How so wrong is that thought! I’ve been blown away by the variety and the richness of the towns I visited and the history associated with it.

I really loved the variety of subject matter on this trip – mountains, varying countryside, flat plains, rivers and sand dunes. And each town I visited was different – its layout, its buildings and its history.

This trip has greatly revived my interest in local history, Australian architecture and geography. I intend to do ongoing research and I’m excited about how the discoveries on this trip tie into Sydney’s history, architecture and geography.

It was really great to have an old-style ‘Liz-trip’ – where I had the time and energy to really document my adventures, design my sketchbook pages and draw lots of maps. My trips for the last number of years have always involved some degree of teaching and I’ve often travelled with a heavy workload (SketchingNow related) that I needed to work on in the evenings. So it was great to have the freedom to focus almost exclusively on my own sketching and sketchbook pages.

Note: This trip was not a holiday/vacation but rather an intensive sketching project. I was so happy that I was able to fairly easily finish my pages each night as well as publish in-depth articles here on my blog.

I really love travelling on my own and think I could have easily have done the full 6 weeks solo. I never felt alone because my sketchbook is my companion and I’m constantly having lovely chats with people passing me by. Travelling locally means that there are no language or cultural barriers which makes it even easier to travel solo.

Even though I’m happy being on my own, the moments that stand out in my memories are the times with others. I’m just so thankful to have  had wonderful times with friends – the first week with Chris (with Georgina and Lloyd), time with Bridget and Colleen in Mildura, 3 days with Angela in Beechworth and Yackandandah, and time in Canberra with Sally and the USK Canberra gang. This trip had a good ratio of solo to social time – 4 weeks solo to 2 weeks with others.

It was also really fun to do a big trip out of my car. It made lots of things easier (my ink was always handy if I ran out) and I realised that my car bonnet (hood) is a great support for sketching. And it was liberating not to have to worry about the weight of my sketchbooks.


Sketching

Even with all the solo time, I didn’t spend as much time on developing my work as I expected. This is mainly due to the pace of this trip. I moved a lot – so my main focus was getting from A to B… to C to D! Sometimes I visited 4 or 5 places in one day! I did a quick flip through my book and counted that I sketched in nearly 70 different locations! (separate towns or distinct places.)

I realised early on that the main purpose of this trip was simply to visit as much as I could and get a big picture view of NSW – to find places to return to for further exploration. And so I put no pressure on myself to have any big breakthroughs. In fact, way back before I started, I didn’t set any specific art goals. You can see my pre-trip goals here.

I’m happy with the storytelling that I managed to do during the trip. I mixed up my sketches (a combination of ink drawings and watercolour sketches) and I drew a lot of maps. I’m not sure that I included as much humour as I wanted… but that’s a work in progress.

I really enjoyed trying to document spaces and the overall character of the place I was in. I was generally more interested in drawing main streets than individual buildings – with the exception of the JimmyB (James Barnet) buildings. I do my more experimental work when I’m doing individual building portraits, so the JimmyB project was a great way to include a few grand buildings and it gave me a focus for each town. I had some fun interactions with staff at Visitor Centres trying to work out if there were any JimmyB’s in their town.

I really loved doing more landscapes – and once again enjoyed the variety that I sketched. I don’t get many opportunities for sketching landscapes in my day to day life so they have been limited to my travel sketching. Over the years it has been Scottish hills when I visited my sister, and beaches (mainly of Port Macquarie) when I had a local break. It was great to sketch autumn trees, rivers, billabong waterfalls, lakes, plains, sand dunes and more. I’m still experimenting with loose quick ways of doing landscapes (including water) with the goal of becoming a little more abstract. I was happy with what I managed to achieve this trip and plan to continue with this theme now that I’m back home (even if it means more sketching from photos initially.)

I sketched a lot of typical Australian verandahed buildings. These are hard for me to do in my loose style (and even harder to do direct watercolour) so I found myself reverting back to a more traditional approach to ink and wash (ie. starting with line).

I pushed myself to do quick sketches of complex perspective scenes (eg. looking down a curved street full of verandahed buildings) and this was great fun. I think my intuitive perspective skills have improved as a result.

And overall, it was just so wonderful to be out sketching all day, day after day for 6 weeks. Oh! I just love being outside sketching and I’m so thankful that I had such amazing weather.

I was happy that I had planned a 6-week itinerary because it enabled me to cover so much ground and get a good feel for western NSW.  It was well-paced and limiting driving times to generally 2-2.5 hours per day worked well. I didn’t tire from travelling (I love living out of a suitcase) or tire of sketching, but it was getting harder to finish pages off and do the blog posts towards the end. I also think that my lower back would be happier in future with shorter trips. So four-week road trips might be the ideal length!


Sketchbook format, layout and paper

I absolutely loved using the A4 Moleskine sketchbook – the size and format of the book worked so perfectly for me and I had so much fun designing its pages. One of my goals for the trip was to spend more time designing layouts, but in many respects, I didn’t need to make any effort for that. The interesting layouts just happened by themselves without me trying to achieve anything. I think the varied nature of my subjects was a big part of the variety in my page layouts. I didn’t once wish I had a landscape book.

As for the paper… the paper in the first book was a little sub-par (paper appeared to pill on the smooth side and the rough side was tricky with granulation). However, the other books that I used on the trip were better. 

I’ve realised now that part of the problem with the first sketchbook was my own adjustment to different paper (I had been using Alpha extensively for the last few months) and in particular adjusting my approach to sketching landscapes. My work involves a lot of wet-in-wet and wet-in-damp (highly risk-taking) and my timing has to be perfect. So  I had to adjust my technique to suit this paper and this took time. But when I was half-way through Sketchbook 2, I had adjusted, and from then on I didn’t think about the paper again.

So in summary… Yes there was an issue with the paper in the first book, but the rest of the books were fine! If I had used Book 1 later in the trip, I don’t think it would have been much of a problem for me.


Supplies and Kit

Last week I shared more about my review of art supplies but I have a few more thoughts:

The main reason why I didn’t use more of my coloured inks or different brushes was because of my focus on the driving and planning of each day. When I’m in a city for a number of days, I have more opportunity to think about how I’m sketching and to try new things. So I realised now, that if I go on another similar road trip again, I will just take my favourite supplies and lighten my load significantly!

I started the trip using my own support board but the tape started coming off so I switched to the Stablo. My comments on the Stablo are the same as when I wrote my review. Pros: I enjoy using it and it works well. Cons: It is a little top-heavy when using a tall A4 portrait book and I was getting water damage on some of my previous pages. I have done some tests now that I’m home and can confirm that water drops on the surface of the Stablo were running down into the first few pages of my sketchbook.

I also decided during the first week that I was more comfortable sitting on the ground on my Backjoy than I was on my Walkstool. I realised mid-trip that if I changed the way I attached the Backjoy to my secondary bag, I wouldn’t need to detach it. This made a huge difference – one less thing to unpack and pack up each sketch. It’s the small tweaks like this that make my workflow much better. I also love using my Resto Presto – a waterproof blanket – gift from Cori,a first-run Foundations participant many years ago. It was great for damp ground and can act as an extra layer to keep me warm or dry in case of rain,


Random

A few other things:

  • I’m extremely thankful that I didn’t see any live kangaroos while driving. In fact this trip I saw more emus (5) than I did kangaroos(3).
  • It was fun to notice the kind of car parking on the main street of each town. In the end, there were not many towns that had rear to kerb parking. In fact, they all occurred in the first half of my trip. I’d love to report on the widest street I visited but I’m really not sure. Next trip I’d love to document the streets more!
  • I stayed in 20 different places over the 40 days of my trip. That’s a lot of moving, but it all worked fine. It was a lot of planning beforehand and I left the booking a little too last minute. So it was hard to find places in some of the towns. This is mainly due to lots of Sydney tourists, big football matches and the fact that there really are limited options in some of the smaller places.
  • I stayed in a few old-style motels (sometimes with original bathrooms) because there was nothing else but they were all incredibly clean and had comfy beds. I stayed in a lot of AirBnB – sometimes in old spacious houses which thankfully all have good heating (Note: Central heating is very rare in Australia)
  • One of the great things about this trip was that I had a microwave oven in every place (and often a full kitchen) so that I had the option of eating in. Though as I mentioned at the time, I’ve realised that eating out and sketching my food is a great way to meet locals!
  • Generally the food and coffee were better than expected. Finding a cafe open after 3pm was rare, but I had lots of good coffees. I only have two ‘average’ meals  (ie. below average) the whole trip which is impressive.
  • As mentioned earlier – the weather was amazing. Cool mornings (only 1 frost, and one day my car said -1C)  followed by glorious still sunny days of 12-19C.  I only had cold winds in the first few days and the last few days. There were a few rainy days but they didn’t bother me at all (those verandahs came in handy). 

A few favourites…

Favourite town: Hard to say, but if I could only pick one town it would be Gulgong! The fact that my morning there received a full article is a sign! I also Canowindra for an authentic local and slightly rundown town and also West Wyalong. Ah! obviously, the towns with curvy main streets are special to me!

Friendliest town: Without a doubt it was Beechworth! But West Wyalong is a strong second place.

Favourite JimmyB: Yass courthouse was my favourite to sketch (I think!) but I would like to see Bathurst without the scaffolding. I also loved Dubbo Post Office!

Favourite drive: Crossing the Hay Plain early morning with 5 big trucks in front of me

Most remote sketching: Mungo National Park and the sunset on the Hay Plain.

Best coffee: Breakfast in Griffith – it made me think of Italy both the taste and the cup, so that made it stand out.

Best meal: I had a lot of great food (such as the meals at Beechworth and the risotto in Griffith), but one that I want to mention here was the dinner at the Balranald Motor Inn! Sometimes the places where I least expected good food were the best!

Best accommodation: I stayed in a lot of nice places, but I think my Mildura stay (in a vineyard) is hard to top!

And the list goes on….

I still have more to share but this is already a long article. So  I think that I’ll stop here!


In summary, this is one of the best trips I have been on and one of the most significant. Time will tell, how significant, but watch this space for ongoing projects related to my recent adventures.

Thanks again to everyone who has been part of my travels – especially to everyone who left a comment here on my blog!

I hope that this trip of mine encourages you to explore your own region and be inspired by the places, culture, geography and history of places close to home!


 

22 Comments

  • Doug Elliot says:

    An altogether successful trip Liz, you did all you set out to do and more.

  • We have loved every post, Liz Steel! We love all those little towns that you brought to us. I live in the US and forward your posts to my brother who lives in Australia and then he and I share comments too. So you have given our spread-out family a great adventure together. Thank you!!!!

  • As a Californian, I am curious as to why you said you were glad to not see live kangaroos. I would love to see kangaroos in the wild.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sharon – Kangaroos have a habit of jumping out on the road (dusk and dawn) and hitting one is the last thing I wanted to do (for the sake of the kangaroo and my car). So my comment means that wasn’t ever in danger of hitting one. But I did see a few each day (sadly dead) on the side of the road. Apparently hitting an emu is worse as they will go through your windscreen.

  • Maria Schnabel says:

    Excellent summary! I’ve been following your posts along the sketching tour with awe and envy. Hope to plan my own soon. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • Jane Hallstrom says:

    A great review of your trip. Following your trip–from bef From ore to this review –has been a joy. It has also been a lesson in and of itself on how to plan one’s own travel trip. Planning your supplies, setting goals and challenges, doing the reviews of not only the trip but the supply and clothing use. I learned a lot about Australia and traveling to sketch. Well done and thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Jane! I’m glad you enjoyed all the planning too – its such a big part (and a fun part) of travelling!

  • Suzanne McVetty says:

    Liz,
    Your trip was so inspirational. It made me think of where I live (Long Island, New York) and all the historic towns near me, often overlooked by me. With your trip as a guide, I am going to sketch all the Gold Coast Mansions from the 1900s that still exist. Many are used as tourist destinations, for weddings, as conference centers, etc. Now I have many other ideas to use as themes for sketching desitnations in the near future.

    I am just back from my first post-CoVid vacation of 5 days in Ogunquit, Maine, painting with two friends. They were very jealous of my light packing for my art supplies as I was sketching and they were working in oils. Naturally, I talked up your wonderful classes and one friend is signing up for Buildings.

    Thanks for all your input/blog articles, sharing your thoughts, expectations, and enthusiasm.

  • Deb McLellan says:

    Love,love,love your documentation of your toad trip. What a wonderful experience.

  • Emily D. says:

    This sounds lovely! I loved reading about your trip Liz and it’s definitely whet my whistle for the traveling I’ll be doing this summer and capturing it in my sketchbook.
    I didn’t realize that central heating wasn’t common in Australia! I knew, of course, that it gets warm, but I figured it also got cold enough for central heating? So I learned something today!

  • Dana Perez says:

    Liz, it has been such a wonderful adventure to travel Australia with you and thank you so much for all the in depth posts and photos. I look forward to seeing all these places in person some day.

    • Liz Steel says:

      THanks Dana – I do hope that you get to see at least some of the place in person 🙂

  • Maria Lopes says:

    It’s impressive your organizational skills and method! I’m enjoying reading everything about your Trip, even more than the places you visited themselves. Because you make everything much more attractive with your graphic reports, drawings and texts! Now I will continue to read everything, slow to savor ? Congratulations and thanks for sharing!
    About portable seats, I also have 1 of these tripods but yesterday I bought this one online:
    https://www.wawaho.de/products/outdoor-multifunctional-folding-chair

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Enjoyed following along on your epic road trip! I always appreciate all your process insights and ruminations.


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