What was learned – Part 5 of my travels with a sketchbook

USA Sketchbook 20
  1. I had an epiphany at a Turner exhibit – the importance of boldness. This was the biggest lesson: to be bold in terms of time, line and materials. I have always tended to pale, tentative sketches. The limitations of time and materials forced me to far less subtlety, and I think that is a good thing. You can get away with a lot more if you do it with confidence and flair. I’m still working on both of these, but I am aware of the difference now.
  2. To appreciate markers and coloured pencils. Not always like, but appreciate.
  3. The joy of having the book constantly up to date.
  4. Paying attention to little scenes. I remember places keenly because of a knitting girl or a moldy pumpkin.
  5. People complicate travel sketching. I am conscious of their possible reaction (both to my sketching and to others’ reactions), time constraints, the need to move at a joint pace rather than individual, the vagueness it lends my half of conversations. I need to practice drawing in company and to stop being rritated by conversations which on drawing time.
  6. I have become much more comfortable with drawing/sketching from life and have continued this in other sketchbooks since returning.
  7. I like having a visual record. It is more legible than handwriting alone, I look back at it more frequently than a written journal, and I think it is more self-contained and interesting than a photo album alone.
  8. I feel less self-conscious about inviting people to look at sketchbook than at photo albums. This is partly vanity and partly because I am never convinced people actually want to look at photos (and I have to sit there and explain them).

Knitting at Books of Wonder

Next time I will:

  1. Take less.
  2. Ignore perfection – better at all than never.
  3. Draw more.
  4. Be bold.
  5. Make hi-res scans the first time around (still, better at all than never).

Painting Ghandi
The other parts:

And the journal itself is up as a set on Flickr: USA 2007 Moleskine.

What was organised – Part 4 of my travels with a sketchbook

Alligator Rattle

In the grand tradition of not making up my mind until the last possible moment (as usual, some time after take-off) I browsed through travel journals in newsagencies and online trying to determine an optimum combination of categories – should I include expenditure? an itinerary? what about an address book? How much space should be allotted for each day? How did artists organise their travel sketchbooks, if at all? Were journal, diary and sketchbook incompatible?

I settled on the winning combination on the flight over: The debden notebook would retain its usual structure – infodump with index. I put all postcard addresses in there (indexed under “contacts”). Otherwise, it was used for directions, reminders and a futuristic science fiction story involving cryogenic sleep and prosthetic limbs and lawyers on motorcycles and mafia connections and the rule of law (the true hero) and consisting only of the bits in between the action.

The sketchbook was divided into two sections.

Section one was a planner: each page featured four hand-drawn boxes with the date (a sticker), month and day of the week. In these I jotted down a very minimal account of the day, and only missed the last four or so. For a random example, 17 October – Wednesday reads:

Up 9-ish.
Watched part of the Waltons and Little House (guest starring a very young James Cromwell)
Breakfast @ Free Port (“Good food, legal drinks”): cinnamon scrolls.
To North East to wait for Martha to get off work.
Lunch at Bova’s.
Back to Martha’s to drop off a sub for Nick.
Through Eyrie to Presque Isle.
Drove around Presque Isle, monument, lighthouses.
Stopped at visitor centre.
Back to Martha’s for pie. Spoke to C.O. on phone.
Back to farm.
Downloaded photos. Kathy & Mommy organised for me to go to Pittsburgh.

Section two was everything else (I micromanage content, as you can see). The date headers went in as each day came along. I sketched as I could through the day, wrote only a little, and at the end of the day added in any cartoons or drawings (often from photos on my camera or phone) or bits-and-pieces that remained.

I had an idea that if I wanted a list of expenditures I could start from the back, or keep lists of Things to Eat on the index cards in the back pocket, but none of these were necessary.

Driving to Pittsburgh

And the journal itself is up as a set on Flickr: USA 2007 Moleskine.

What was stuck – Part 3 of my travels with a sketchbook

USA Sketchbook 44

I did not want to repeat the pattern of previous holidays which resulted in collections (envelopes, packages, bags, boxes) of papers, brochures, tickets, advertisements, envelopes, squashed pennies, packaging, cards and labels.

This time, I implemented a policy I referred to as Cut Things Out and Stick Them In.

Every night, before bed, I had to cut up the papers collected through the day, cut them up, stick the relevant sections into my sketchbook-journal and Throw The Rest Away.

There were a few late nights, but it was not generally an onerous task and tiredness could make me brutally selective. As I carted the glue stick with me, dead time in airports (“the planes in America have never been so safe or so late”) and planes and trains or while other people were in bed could be used productively.

My bags were lighter, there were no folders to sort or store when I arrived home, and I don’t regret throwing out anything I did.

Best of all, the journal was always up to date. I could not show photographs to people, but I could show them scraps and sketches, and when I arrived home, the journal was almost complete: pictures drawn, scraps stuck in, observations made at the time. All that remained was to add in the few pieces that had fallen through the cracks and into the back pocket of the sketchbook: a menu, some currency, a greeting card.

Scraps, however, were not the only things that were stuck in. Before I left, I treated myself to one of the unsung treasures of the stationer’s: numbered stickers. I took a package of black-on-white to label the days in the planner at the start of my sketchbook, and white-on-black to label each day as I progressed through the sketchbook. It was unnecessary but fun, with some of the mild excitement of an advent calendar, and knowing that as each day was sketched and written and pasted, I could mark it off and start a new one with a fresh new sticker.

USA Sketchbook 21

The sketchbook is here: USA 2007 Moleskine.

Other parts:

What was used – Part 2 of my travels with a sketchbook

Bought an umbrella

I divided the tools I took into two bags: a large ziplock bag in my checked luggage with scissors, brushes, watercolours and so forth; and a smaller bag in my handbag with markers, prismacolors, unipins and mechanical pencil. The glue stick travelled between this smaller bag and my clear-onboard-toiletries-and-liquids-for-inspection bag according to whether or not we were airborne.

And in the end I used only:

  • the monochrome markers
  • the prismacolour pencils
  • the mechanical pencil
  • stickers
  • glue stick and
  • scissors.

The first two were unexpected. I have almost always drawn in pencil or pen. Markers were still unfamiliar territory, unwieldy and permanent and blending poorly. I disliked coloured pencils – using them, what they could and couldn’t do, what art in coloured pencil looked like.

They were, however, the most travel-friendly: light, portable, not messy, quick to use, bold, handy. Both travel in my handbag still and if I am again travelling light, I might leave behind all the excess security blanket of other media.

The last two were used for cutting things up and sticking things in, of which more anon.

Freezing on a tour bus.

The sketchbook is here: USA 2007 Moleskine.

Part 1 is here: What was lugged.
To come: