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Monday, October 14, 2013

my travel sketchbook : the reality

On Thursday, October 11, 2012 I wrote my thoughts on this blog on creating a travel sketchbook

I had written that blogpost to gather my thoughts "on paper" on how I would approach my own travel sketchbook. I had entered the 2013 Sketchbook Project and chose the theme : Travelogue. At the time I decided to revisit my 2007 holiday to Paris, as if I was there, drawing as much then as I do now ! My sketchbook is based on my diaries, photographs I took and where I thought I would have drawn at the time, as well as souvenirs I bought. Although this is created in retrospect, all the time I thought how would approach future travel sketchbooks.

The journal can be viewed here
Travelogue Paris 2007. Over the 18 double pages of the Sketchbook Project I experimented with composition, lettering, maps and came to some  conclusions about what and how I wanted to try and capture in my travel sketchbook journal.

In July this year I had three weeks holiday travelling to London and Barcelona, where I had the opportunity to put all of my thoughts and ideas in practice. I filled two Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks. This post is to review what worked (most things) and what didn't (a few things) in reality. I knew what I wanted to try and achieve and what was important to me on my holiday in my journal.
I am so incredibly proud of my holiday sketchbook journals  (see them on flickr: London and Barcelona) and each time I look at them (for example, to write this,) I relive my holiday and it gives me immense joy to see the pages. They are a unique holiday souvenir that will be with me for a long time.

Below are my original theories from the Sketchbook Project  and then the reality of how it worked when I was actually travelling, with examples

· it will be a combination of on the quick on the spot sketching and more detailed drawings

This worked so well - and gave life and an individual feel to my sketchbook.

on the plane Sydney to Hong Kong. a very quick sketch of people queuing for the toilets after a meal. A drawing of my dessert (a delicious ice cream bar) . I drew the ice cream for a while then as it began to melt, I ate it, making sure I opened the packet in an inconspicuous section. I then kept it after the attendant cleared the meals away and finished drawing it then
I use watercolour pencils and Lamy Safari Joy ink pen. I can combine these and have a few different styles of drawing that suit different opportunities, the time and place or my mood. The above sketch shows the two extremes.

· leave first page or two of each day blank – at end of day I could draw maps, streets walked that day, rail/metro routes caught.
I wish I remembered to do that each day . I often forgot to leave the first page blank and would not remember until I had started the first sketch . I would then leave the rest of the page free. Next time I will turn to the next blank page the night before and write in pencil on the page LEAVE BLANK. Two pages could easily be left for this

· draw objects such as tickets, souvenirs, food, headings also at the end of the day in my hotel room. There is time and space to draw. If there is a good view from the room, I can draw it everyday

view inside the hotel room and also looking out the window. This was drawn over two or three sessions, just a bit at a time

the leaf and seed were picked up in Hyde Park on this day. I sketched Royal Albert Hall on the spot and then left the space and drew a rough outline of the size and placement of the leaf and drew if at the hotel over the next day or two before it wilted

I stood across the street to sketch the printshop and then drew the books on the plane on the way home.

I had the feathers for a week and then realized that we were flying home the next day and could not take them back to Australia. Three feathers in one night !

I drew objects A LOT less than I thought I would, especially since that is a style of drawing I do a lot at home and get a lot of enjoyment out of. In reality, if I was working (that is the wrong word !) on my sketchbook in the evening, it was adding my notes, finishing off sketches by adding a bit more colour or line.

I was travelling with my mother and she was very patient with my sketching, and also appreciated quiet time for herself, while I sketched.

I was also very tired at the end of each day. It is part of being a tourist, walking and seeing a lot. We had 28 degrees in London each day and long summertime hours

If I colour the roads or areas between the road on a map I can match them with other colours I have used on the page, bringing it all together. 

the blue and green of the land and river on the map, matching the sky
The lettering on the page matching the blue of the Serpentine



just the basics


I am really happy with this combination
I have never been comfortable with maps I tried to add - too many streets, too messy  looking. But I do want to include maps of my travels. I experimented with a few different alternatives in my Paris Sketchbook project. In the end I have a basic mud map. I have included  the streets we walked down and different types of transport. I did not do a map for everyday - probably only eight in the whole book, but I was pleased with those that I did. They are a gentle reminder of how we get where we went

·  leave lots of white space – I can always fill it in later if it looks too sparse.
as mentioned  , I did not do enough of this .

·   write commentary about how I feel, think, react to things, smells, places but not too much. I will probably keep a separate diary.
I want to write too much and have to make decisions about what to include. Often the sketch tells the story and only a few other notes were added.

I feel as though I did not write enough on the moment of thoughts and feelings. It was not often the right time and place. Often I scribbled some thoughts in pencil on the page and left a block of space around it to expand on it later (in the evening at the hotel).

I still want to include something of the history or description of the place I am. But where to stop? In the end, my sketchbook journal is for me, not a history lesson, so I just need reminders of it's place and importance in history. And there is SO much history in London. I am overwhelmed by it.

· Re: buildings and vistas
I know how I draw at the moment. I am at ease drawing objects, food, paper. I am not so good at buildings and vistas. But architecture is an important feature of a city or town and so I want to include it , the trees, roads, sky. I have been considering how it is best for me to capture a scene with these in it. I want to create a little vignette., with a little character and insight, but not too much

-just try and draw a section
-leave the top, bottom or sides unfinished.- lines drifting off
only colour some parts  

· don’t try and fill the page - only use part of the page

I filled the page in the vast majority of the time -so much to draw !!!

don’t try and get caught up in the detail and try and leave this to a " close up " drawing later if I get the chance

Writing this has helped me think about what I have learned about my sketching and myself when travelling. I know that sketching brings me do much pleasure. I hardly took any photographs and when I did they were of people (and then there are those 20 photos of squirrels for reference photos for drawing at a later date).

My art is growing and slowing evolving as I meet other sketchers, go to workshops. These travel sketchbooks seem to be the culmination of a series of events . It is an exciting journey in itself.




  1. Thank you very much for this article. It's very inspiring and thoughtful! Ш will reread it in future many times.

  2. Thanks Alissa for this fascinating insight into your journal planning.You have given me some good ideas for my own travel sketchbooks.

    1. Valerie, I'm so glad that you enjoyed this. I got my ideas from other journals and from my own experiences. In the end it is your personal journal - part of the joy is creating it and part of the joy is looking back over it

  3. Thanks for the detailed information about your plan and actual efforts...I keep wanting to draw more when I travel, but find it hard to do while surrounded by non-journallers. I'm inspired to try a limited approach on my next trip.

    1. Jeanette, I was very fortunate to have a very patient travelling companion. I still would have done some of the sketches and drawings travelling with non-journallers - on the plane, the train, waiting in queues( a great use of time) and while they are checking their email or "i-devices".
      I hope you enjoy your travel sketching and I look forward to seeing it on your site!

  4. VERY nicely done. Thanks for taking the time to do it. You encourage all of us who dream of doing the same thing.

  5. I never go anywhere, but I love seeing the travel journals of the people who do. Wonderful pages and advice. :)

    1. Thanks Rita . I sometimes make a travel journal of a day trip in my own city (Sydney) . Of course it is only to or three pages, but it captures my day and gets me thinking and seeing

  6. Thank you to the many people who have read this blog. And thank you for your comments. I am so glad it has inspired people! or even started you thinking about creating your own....

  7. What an amazing, inspiring, fascinating post, Alissa...thank you SO much for sharing it with us. I'm going to pass it along to our Facebook group, too, hope you don't mind!

  8. great blog post - I loved reading it. It is so good to see the plan and the reality..and especially how close to the plan the reality is!! I am fortunate enough to have seen these sketchbooks in real life (they are amazing!) and also see Alissa talk about them - when she says immense joy...I can tell you that she expresses thats!

  9. Great post! I agree with everything you said. For me, the writing is just as important as the sketches - to capture the complete moment - I like to record the weather, time of day, exactly where I am (name of the street, place name etc) smells, sounds (children, traffic, a lawn mower!) to help bring the sensation of being there back when I read my journal later. Well done you!

  10. Alissa, what a wonderful post! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences. I learned a lot. I've been lucky enough to travel with my mother, too, on several extended sketching vacations. She's very patient, like your mom, and is happy to keep herself occupied with a book or just watching the people go by when I need to take time to capture something in my sketchbook. She's always the first to tell some shopkeeper, "Look! My daughter did a sketch of your building!" and it's led to lots of fun conversations with the locals. Travel sketching is the BEST, isn't it?

  11. Wonderful post with great tips! Thanks for the excellent reminders

  12. Excellent info, Alissa. I just joined the Sketchbook Project and have begun my sketchbook, tentatively titled, "Where I Live."

    Cathy, I think I could add in a simple way to the subject of Travel Journaling and Sketching. Would you like for me to put something together? Lee

  13. Wonderful pages Alissa. I work at Aldgate and recognised your sketch of St Boltoph instantly. I often sit on the benches there and have my lunch. You have inspired me to take my sketchbook with me when I visit Naples in March. I just hope that my wife has the same patient attitude as your mother! Great work!


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