Travel Sketching

One of the absolute best things to do when you travel is sketch.  A quick 15 minute line drawing will establish a bond with a subject.  Spend an hour or more at a site and you will secure that spot in your soul forever.  Because, as I’ve been saying, when you draw you really see.  Drawing on location in new places provides the opportunity to get acquainted with that site in a way that taking a photograph can never do.

I’ve done a number of sketchbooks devoted to my travels, plus nearly all of my sketchbooks include random drawings from various trips.   As much as I intend to come back with a book full of sketches, it’s not easy to set aside time to do that.  If you’re traveling with a non-artist, it’s even more difficult.

A few years ago I spent a week in Ireland with one of my daughters.  I bought a new book just for that purpose.  I envisioned it filled it with drawings and watercolors of the Irish landscape by the time I returned home.   Most days I only had time to do one quick sketch.  I felt guilty making her wait while I did a drawing.   What we eventually worked out was that I would get up early to draw while she slept in.

I bought another book to take to Vancouver Island a couple years ago.  I was going to be shore crew for a sailboat as it raced around the island.  I figured I’d have lots of time at each port while I waited for the boat to arrive.  Wrong.  There were errands to do, people to see and plans to make.  Again, most of my sketches were very quick and rather primitive, but worthwhile to me.   I’m so glad I took the time to do them


On a recent trip, which was devoted primarily to painting, I hoped to do a series of drawings that would document my journey.   After all these years I finally came to an important realization: while every kind of sketching is valuable, what means the most to me is to sit down for a few hours and do a detailed drawing.  I did one and a half sketches (half because I had to leave before it was done) and six drawings.  I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to figure that out!  No, I won’t stop sketching, but now my expectations will be more realistic.


When I’m traveling with other people, I’ll continue to do the quick sketches because they’re fun and always worthwhile.  When I’m by myself or with other artists, I’ll plan time to do the detailed drawings. The most important thing is to draw and by doing that you will learn what kind of drawing works best for you.

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