Next time you travel bring a sketchbook

sketchbookWhenever I go on a trip I carry a sketchbook with me.  I have plenty of sketches over the years from my travels.  Some are good, some aren’t.  Either way, I’m happy to have them all.  I think everyone should carry a sketchbook and try their hand at travel sketching whether they are professional artists or haven’t drawn since childhood.  Here is a list of why keeping a sketchbook is a small but beneficial part of every trip.

1.  It’s the best way to remember your trip.

Temple to Apollo in Delphi

Temple to Apollo in Delphi, 2013

When traveling, sitting somewhere and making a drawing is the most effective way for me to recall where I went and what I did.  It’s better than taking photographs, it’s better than writing about the day at the end of the day, it’s better than even talking to a fellow traveler in real time.  When I look at my drawings from past trips, I have a sensory recall that is beyond just the view I was depicting.  It’s a memory that is all encompassing, which brings back the place immediately, as well as where I was sitting, how I was feeling and even what I was thinking about.  You draw, your mind wanders, you draw some more and then voila, you have a drawing, or something that’s there, some record.  Even a simple little sketch or doodle has brought me right back to where I was, a feeling I just don’t get in any other way.

2. It’s a productive way to spend the time.

Chennai Airport, 2010

Chennai Airport, 2010

When traveling there are often many moments of downtime, when you are  just in transit or waiting, killing time.  Sketching during these otherwise mundane moments is a great way to take in a place without even doing anything.  It helps to make the most out of your trip.  You can stare at your phone anywhere, but when you’re traveling it’s a good chance that where you are, you’ll only be there that one time–so why not make the most of it?

3. You’re able to notice things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Dog Beach, San Diego 2011

Craziness at Dog Beach, San Diego 2011

Sitting somewhere for an extended period of time, one begins to catch the beautiful poetry of life.  For the most part, I almost never stop to pay attention to the continuous pulse of my surrounding environment.  But when I stop and draw, I feel as if nothing goes unnoticed. I’m receptive to it all–not just the sights, but the sounds, the smells, the breeze, the temperature, the distinct rhythm of activity around me.

4. It’s a way to reflect, muse, think about where you are, what you’re doing.


Sketch of a tree and notes, Paris, 2012

When you’re traveling about there are plenty of moments to think about schedules, plans, costs, menus, new words, new accents, maps, etc.  That’s part of the pleasures of traveling.  If you sit long enough and draw, your thoughts inevitably begin to penetrate deeper, almost in to a meditative state, where the questions and reflections processing inside you are less about the surface aspects of the trip, as many and important as they are.  Rather they become more about what’s really happening, not only what the trip is about but why you’re on the trip in the first place.  It’s a way to get deeper, and truthfully it’s why drawing for me has become less about the drawing itself, but the process–a way to relax, meditate, and let my mind drift.

Along with this, my sketchbooks frequently have little notes on the side of my drawing that have nothing to do with what I’m drawing itself, but just because my brain is stimulated with different ideas, I have to jot them down.

5. Ties you to a spot forever–you record your view from a specific time, date, viewpoint.


Sketches from the Louvre, Paris, 2000

No matter if I’ve drawn a view that has been rendered a million times or some sudden arrangement that exists only for a moment, that drawing becomes a record of my view that only I have and that will forever connect me with that place or object.  There are random objects in museums I will never forget because I once drew them for five minutes, years ago.  Then, when I go back and see the objects again, I think–hey, I drew that!

6. It’s a great way to sit somewhere for a long time and just watch.


Snippets from Delhi and Agra, India, 2010

In this fast paced world it’s not often that we take the time to just sit and look.  People use to learn about things, just by watching and studying, slowly over time.  When I’m drawing, I’m watching scenes before me unfold and it helps me learn about the place I’m in–instead of just rushing through it in a hurry.

7. You meet people.


Emmanuel, a teenager I met while sketching in Kerala, India, 2010

Watching someone draw is interesting.  It’s not unusual for people to engage you while you are sketching.  I have had many incidents when people have come up to me while I’m drawing who I’m sure would otherwise never talk to me.  Often it’s kids.  I remember people who I met for only a moment, because they came up to me while I was drawing.

8.  It acts as a journal entry/diary, a record of what you did that day.

Waiting outside the bus station in Lamia, Greece, 2013

Waiting outside the bus station in Lamia, Greece, 2013

My travel sketches are less about making great drawings, they’re more to get  a sense of what I did and saw during a particular day.  Sometimes it’s simply a view outside a hotel room or a bus station somewhere.  The best part about this is that drawings don’t have to be good, the same way  journal entries don’t have to be “good.”  It’s a personal record, and a sketch is a very effective at capturing not just the time and place of where I was but even the type of mood I was in.

9. It’s never a waste of time.


Departure from Rome, 2013

Even with drawings that I don’t like initially, in retrospect I’m happy to have made them.  They stimulate my memory.  Bad drawings of mundane objects in the pages of my sketchbook help me recall moments from my trip just as much as the good ones do.

10.  When traveling on a budget it’s free/very cheap way to spend your time.


Calvi, Cosica, 2010

Drawing is free! All you  need is a sketchbook, or some scraps of paper, something to draw with and you’re good to go.  If you want to spend some time and sit around, with just a bit of spare change, you could sit out in in the cafe patio for two to three hours and simply  draw to your hearts content, take a sip of coffee, look around, draw some more.

11.  Practice.  


Pisa Cathedral, 2013

Drawing is  a language and like any language one needs to practice  as much as possible to become fluent.  In order to be truly eloquent draftsman one needs to devote countless hours to the study of drawing.  Yet anyone can express themselves through sketches.  Look at children’s drawings.  I work at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, a school whose philosophy is that anyone can learn to make art.  As with any language, one needs to devote time and effort to it.  Sketching when you travel is  a great way to practice the craft, all while not being so hard on yourself–you’re working on the fly, capturing new sights, and often on trips there is plenty of down time to spend a few half hours here or there and just practice.

12.  Helps to trigger ideas for new projects.


Drawn on a flight from NY to Minneapolis, 2011

Sketching while I’m traveling has led to many to bigger projects, ones that involve many hours of development in the studio and which I eventually had shows around.  I’m sure that if weren’t for keeping sketches while I travel I wouldn’t have thought of the ideas for those projects in the same way.  This sketch I made on an airplane was the creative seed for my Sacred/Wild series.

13.  You lose track of time. 


Florence from the Boboli Gardens, 2012

This is a good thing, getting in to that certain place in your head–when you are in the zone.  Those are healthy moments, you’re not so caught up in the what should I be doing tomorrow or oh what did I do yesterday mindset, but you’re right there taking in the present here and now, something that’s crucial in making the most of your travels.

14. You just might come up with something you’re proud of. 


Dog on the ferry from Athens to Paros, 2011

You may even want to show it and maybe it will even be something that you could give as a gift or hang up on your wall, fridge, online, wherever.  But even if you’re not necessarily brimming with pride about the piece itself, most likely you’ll be happy about having that little souvenir of what you did that day.  Think about how many countless hours we simply coast or grind though, without anything to show for it?  A drawing, whether it’s a masterpiece or a silly doodle captures where we were and what we did just for that one moment in time.


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  1. That worked. Nice template…nice blog…nice paintings…

    • Thanks John–nice blog yourself!

    • Jun, you inspire me to draw more! And everything you write is so valid for both artists and non artists alike. Great article. Jane

    • Thank you Jane! I’ll never forget years ago on the first day of class at the Villa when you told us: drawing is a deeper state of thinking. How important for me that was and has been ever since.

  2. Your drawing and painting is darn good, I am going to make a few studies of your sketchbook pages, which are like mine, only yours are better.

    • Thank you Mark! I really enjoy your sketchbook pieces– just beautiful and so vivid.

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