I BEG TO DIFFER. While I’m no professional, over the past year I’ve started to sketch and paint scenes from each new place I visit. Here’s how you can do the same—and you don’t need to pack an easel and canvas in your backpack to do so.
Finding the right supplies
Depending on the medium you prefer, there’s a number of travel-sized options available. A case of 12 watercolor pencils from Derwent is thin enough to slip into your backpack and forget about until you need them, while Prismacolor makes a conveniently sized set of 8 premier illustration markers. Two friends recently gave me a Winsor and Newton watercolor field kit, which comes with 12 colors, a paintbrush, and palette for mixing, all in a case no bigger than your palm.
Moleskin’s pocket watercolor notebook was practically designed with travel sketching in mind. Like the classic Moleskin models many travelers already bring with them for a journal, this sketchbook has the same black hardcover and fold-out inner pocket, but its 60 pages are made from cold-pressed watercolor paper.
If you have a little extra room in your backpack, you could go with a 9”x12” option, such as the Artist’s Sketchbook from Cachet by Daler-Rowney. This gives you more room for larger scenes and could even double as a place to paste old ticket stubs, brochures, and other miscellany you might collect from a new place.
Connecting with other artists
A few months after I started travel sketching, I discovered a group called Urban Sketchers and realized I wasn’t the only one pulling out my sketchbook in a new city. Founded in 2008, Urban Sketchers is a non-profit “dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing.” One hundred artist correspondents upload their drawings onto the group’s blog, and last year they held their first international symposium in Portland, Oregon, offering field sketching sessions with instructors as well as lectures on topics such as the history of location drawing and how best to share your images online.
Another way to connect with artists is to research clubs or classes that take place in the city you’re planning to visit. I recently stayed in Chennai, India, and learned about the Cholamandal Artists Village, established in 1966 and currently the largest artists’ commune in the country. There I joined a group of local Indian artists and expats for their weekly Sunday morning sketching club. Sitting around sketching with pencil, charcoal, and oil paints was a great way to meet people I might not have otherwise.
Taking a creative holiday
If you want to do more than the occasional sketch while you’re away, you could look into what are often called “creative holidays,” where workshops or classes are held abroad for a day, week or sometimes even months. You could explore Berber pottery making in Morocco, paint the landscape of Andalucía, or head down under to Australia’s Summer Art Experience and New Zealand’s Art Ways.
Another group called Artists on the Move offers a number of week-long painting, drawing and printmaking workshops on the Greek island of Paros, where its Byzantine churches and the Aegean Sea make for perfect subjects. These programs aren’t always cheap, but they can be a great way to combine your love for travel and art at the same time. For even more ideas, check out websites like Holiday Artists or articles such as Britain’s Top 10 Creative Holidays.
Looking for inspiration
Still stuck for what to draw? There’s nothing like a blank page to make for a slow start, and it took me a while to get into a rhythm of what to choose for a subject. I kept it simple at first—sketching the scene from my hostel’s rooftop or from the window of a restaurant at lunch. Slowly I began sitting down on the side of the road or by a river and drawing in the middle of a scene. Urban Sketchers says most travel sketching uses architecture, people and nature or parks as its subjects. Major points such as statues, bridges and cathedrals are also good, as it gives you a chance to put your own spin on a city’s iconic landmarks.
So next time you go traveling, leave your easel at home and pack a field kit instead. And maybe your beret…you never know.