Traveling is weird right now, right? Over Christmas, as we did last fall, my husband and I took a big road trip, where we camped and generally tried to stay away from other people as we saw new sites and put new information and experiences in our tired brains.
I always have big expectations of travel sketching because, in theory, I have more time to sketch. So I had time to document Robertson's Ham, a place we tried to stop during a roadtrip in 2008 - we were able to stop there and get ham sandwiches this time, finally! And I generally have time to sketch the places we stop and stay at, such as Villanueva State Park, NM, but only a quick sketch in the dark after setting up our tent.
The type of materials you bring with you for travel sketching are so important! I like to bring a small variety - a small watercolor set, some colored pencils, and favorite pens. This time I brought some fountain pens, but after this early sketch (still at Villanueva State Park) I wrapped them in a zipper bag and put them back in my backpack to stay, because fountain pens don't always do well with changing altitudes - we were at 8,000 feet! - and one of the fountain pens made a mess that I covered up with washi tape. Also, I know that I just tell a better story when I use my Sakura Pigma Graphic 1 pen, in combination with a Sakura Pigma Micron 01.
I also brought a brand new Stillman & Birn Alpha 8.5 x 5.5 as my Trip Sketchbook, as well as the same in 8x10 as an extra sketchbook. In the larger book, I made this big watercolor sketch at Villanueva, then never got it out again. Once again, I know I tell a better story in my "everyday" sketchbook.
Sketching outside can also be a tricky part of travel sketching. We camped in several places, so that's all outside in the cold, and only sketched after getting the tent set up, which means another sketch at dusk. The next morning I was able to take a little more time with some color, but the water in my waterbrush pen froze! That was a new experience for me. These sketches are from Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico, where we didn't realize until the next day that the overnight low was FIVE DEGREES. Brrr.
We also got to go into a few restaurants, aiming for when they weren't too crowded. Sketching in restaurants and sketching food are important parts of travel sketching - it adds so much life and character and memory to your travel sketches. Lil's Diner in Thoreau, NM, was small but not crowded and we had some delicious hot food there after our very cold night and morning of camping.
Another thing I like to do is sketch my coffee and whatever else I can at the beginning of my day as a warm-up for sketching for the day.
I love doing quick sketches as we make quick stops along the way, like the one above at the Painted Desert. I had to look at the scene first just long enough to take it all in and make some quick decisions about what types of marks I would make for each feature. It's such a workout for your brain and it's so fun!
Manzanita Campground, Coconino National Forest, AZ
After a few days of camping, we got to the Grand Canyon. It took me a while of looking at it to even attempt a sketch. I was so fascinated by all of the different textures, so I tried that first.
Then I tried color! I just kept layering colored pencil until I couldn't anymore - it was cold here, too!
We went again on Christmas day, and I had time for a couple of quick sketches and a couple of longer sketches. The watercolor sketch felt very fussy, but it was still fun. By the time I did the colored pencil sketch, I was totally relaxed, comfortable on my little sketching stool, and just had the best time getting to know these shapes.
I'm glad that I bring a bit of variety - watercolor and colored pencils - since watercolor just didn't come to me as easily on this trip. It's like that sometimes, and what I have success with varies.
Next up was Monument Valley! And more camping - I sketches this quickly as the sun was starting to set, hoping to catch some of the light. In order to quickly sketch a lot, I squished the landscape together.
Monument Valley was so fun to draw - there are pull-offs all along the highway, so we kept stopping and I would just sketch everything as quickly as I could. At this point there was no more thinking, just sketching.
The rest of the trip was mostly driving, but I managed a few more sketches while we were on the road and before returning to the real world.
I need these occasional breaks from everyday life to recharge my imagination. Looking at new things, putting new images and experiences in your brain and heart is good way to reconnect with yourself.
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