Travel and art – it’s all about the journey

When we travel the trip begins with the discussion of where to go, often a year before we board a plane. Searching maps, checking hotels and trains, rental cars and restaurants, are all part of the thrill of travel. A trip will go through many iterations before we are done, and it keeps evolving mid-journey. The idea of a tightly planned schedule or a tour group led by someone else holds little interest – unexpected events are the grist for memories and captivating stories.

Like travel, art is best when enjoyed for the moment. This last year has been quite an adventure. After many years of traveling the world with a sketchpad in my bag I took the risk of offering workshops to teach others how to capture their own times and places, thankfully it worked out and the new sketchers I met have become friends.

This year I kicked my acrylic painting up a lot, specifically plein air. I experimented with new techniques, and tools, enjoying sunny days both warm and cold, out in nature. When not outside, my studio was a place to experiment. Instead of just painting from real life or photos I began to paint from what was in my mind, a whole new thing. What I realized was that I was often frustrated “driving around looking for something to sketch or paint.”

All of this primed me for our trip to Japan and Korea. At art stores I had seen these marvelous brushes that they make in Asia, expensive here, so I hoped I could get one while there. My first morning in Seoul, as is usual for me, I rose early and walked. Within a block or two of our hotel i went past multiple shops with entire walls of brushes, every size and shape imaginable. The shops had paper such as I have never seen, shelves and shelves of handmade papers that I had no idea what to do with, but the artist in me just knew it was good.

The first visit to a shop I bought a brush, mostly from size and looks. Nice bamboo looking handle, pointed bristles that were lightly colored at the base, brown at the tip. Little did I know how much I had to learn. It was not a watercolor brush, it is a Combination Sumi-e brush for ink painting.

Thanks to internet and YouTube I started off on a new art adventure that has captivated me. The brushes bend and stay bent, brushstrokes are magic, the art is expressive. My travelsketching is often detailed, Sumi-e strives to capture a feeling with a few strokes, and gray tones of ink. I am hooked.

Two more brushes bought, some amazing papers, and now I am off on the challenge of learning and loving it. Art is not a business for me, art is like travel, and I get to take a trip every time I pick up a brush or a pen. New challenges are like new countries to travel too, both to be savored and enjoyed.

Here are a few of my Sumi-e style so far

This was one of my first, the Kanji symbol is slightly off, but i am learning that as well.

I did these four small paintings as thank you gifts

Here are some others

The lesson, never stop trying new things, you just might find something that you love.

Posted in ink, Japan, Sumi-e, Travel | 1 Comment

Adapt your sketching style to the situation

What is your Travelsketching style? Trick question! You need more than one to make it work. Here are some examples of the different styles I have used on this trip to Tokyo and Seoul, with explanations as to why I used them

Really quick and loose – 5-minute sketches

We were in Tokyo for the honor of attending Saori and Dijiaro at their wedding, a week later they took us 56km out of Tokyo to this amazing tiny museum and cafe. I could have sketched multiple sketches, and spent hours doing so, yet that would inconvenience my traveling partners, and one must always be considerate. So I stood and quickly did the ink work, no more than five minutes. When we sat down for a cup of tea I added the colors. I got a sketch in, and was respectful of their time. Lesson here: practice 5-minute sketching.

In Seoul one morning I was out looking for coffee, it was about 6C, but the flowers were too stunning for me not to give them some attention. So a quick sketch with the paint added back in hotel room was the order of the moment. Lesson here: practice 5-minute sketching.

Savor the moment – take your time

We were in Seoul, waiting for my niece and family to join us for the Festival of Lights. Sitting comfortably on a rock by the stream I had plenty of time, well not unlimited time so I did hurry a bit, but probably spent 30 minutes on this.

In Shinjuku I got up early, grabbed coffee at 7-11 as no cafes in Japan open early, then headed for this temple, the sun was just rising. Tokyo is the safest city in the world so I was not concerned at all being out that early, of course the fact that I was sitting on the steps of the local police station while sketching added to my security. I spent an hour and a half on this, watching the sun rise, adjusting the sketch to the light every few minutes. These are the best times, when you are immersed. People walked by on their way to whatever their day held, I captured a moment, my moment. Some of the best times I have traveling are early morning sketches, with tea and the place my only company.

Sketching from a photo

There are times when all you can do is snap a pic on your phone. Unlike Urban Sketching, us travelsketchers know that photos are our way of connecting back with a time and place we could not spend the time with when it happened. This is a sketch from a photo in Seoul, we were visiting a Hanok village, but time was short as we had to catch a bus, so I took a photo of the tree and the rocks. Then in the hotel room, with some meditative music on the Bluetooth speaker I pondered the tree and its resilience, the rock and its strength while I sketched, nice way to end a day.

Posted in Japan, Tips for the Travel Sketcher, tokyo | 2 Comments

Seoul Sketching and Sumi Enchantment

Monday we flew to Seoul, South Korea, the first time there for both of us. Lots to sketch, but the amazing thing is I bought brushes for Sumi painting, which is so enticing me. Here are sketches and even a few experiments with new techniques.

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The first week in Japan

It has been a good week, here are a few sketch so far, some quick, some more refined. The beauty of Travelsketching is that all are good.

Posted in ink | 3 Comments

What a fun day

Thanks to the sketchers who joined Tricia and me for a relaxing afternoon of Tricia’s great food, a sip of wine, and of course some sketching. Sketching captures our moments and brings people together – it did today.

Check out a new blog post about why I like to travel on my other blog, Been There Eating This

Posted in ink | 1 Comment

3 Times not to travel-sketch

Yes! I always have something with me so I can sketch, always. Yes! Sketching always beats taking selfies. Yes! Sketching makes travel exponentially more rewarding and memorable. Travel-sketching is all about capturing the moment, slowing down enough to actually look and see what you spent all that money and vacation time to be standing in front of. BUT here are three times you should not sketch.

1 – When sketching becomes everything

Thanks to Instagram I am able to learn from and follow the journeys of many other sketchers. Recently there was a post of one sketcher’s efforts from a single day in a town. This sketcher had done at least 15 sketches of buildings that day. That is a lot, and a lot more than I would want to do, it would mean the whole day was spent sketching.

Now, I do understand a few things about this post. The person who posted this is a professional sketcher, they were there with other sketchers at a workshop. So it is understandable that they would do more than they might do if they were on a trip for pleasure. It did make me ponder, that though they saw a lot of buildings in that city, they had such a short time at each that they were not really savoring the moments, which is my goal for sketching while I travel – sketching on assignment would be different.

Since I stopped traveling as a seminar speaker a year ago, which kept me on the road 40-50% of the time, sketching has changed. Now I spend most of my time in the Mukilteo area of Washington, a beautiful place for sure. Often I head out for the purpose of finding something to sketch for my column in The Mukilteo Beacon – sketching is the objective, not simply capturing a time and place. On those trips sketching is everything, and I find it changes the sketching experience. When I traveled heavily each day took me to a new place with new things to sketch, it was fresh, I just sketched what was in front of me.

The message here is that you don’t have to sketch everything. Put the pen and pad down and just enjoy the view, listen to the sounds, watch the people. Sketch the significant things, while allowing some time to just soak it all in.

2- When sketching affects other people

Traveling with other people means being sensitive to what each person wants to do. Sketching takes time, thankfully Tricia is patient with my wanting to stop and do a sketch. Sadly I have not always been as sensitive to realize that me sketching has been a bit selfish. We have found a few ways that work well to balance it all out.

One, she is a photographer, if you don’t already follow her blog you should: Travels Through My Lens. While I do a quick sketch, she wanders off snapping some nice photos for her blog, knowing that I will be right where she left me. If the people you travel with are not photographers they may have other interests they can pursue while you sketch.

Another tool is that I learned to do quick sketches. I can sketch most things in five minutes or less, it may not be the kind of sketch I would do if I had more time, but it works to capture the moment. I did this sketch standing on the trail in less than five minutes at Yosemite Falls, while Tricia walked a bit further down the trail, then I added watercolor back at the hotel.


Sketch when other people are sleeping, I read in Suhite’s blog that she uses the time of day much as I do. Many of the people I travel with, including Tricia, prefer to sleep-in a bit later in the morning. I am an early-to-bed early-to-rise sort of guy. When we were in Robion, France I was always up before everyone else; loved it, I went to the cafe, grabbed a café, and sketched. By the time they joined me I was ready to give them my attention.

3 – When sketching is unsafe or inappropriate

There are cultures where sketching a person is considered intrusive or disrespectful. Enough said. As sketchers we are there to embrace places that are different than our own, not there to impose ourself on others. Some museums and historical locations require permission, some even post no sketching, when in doubt ask, and respect the answer. Take a photo if allowed, and do a sketch later at a cafe with a glass of wine.

There have been many on-line discussions regarding safety while sketching, I get that. Traveling as I have for over 25 years I find that most of the times that people get into trouble it is due to lack of vigilance and caution. Rarely have I ever felt at risk, even in places like Barcelona, Jakarta, or South Africa, all of which have reputations for danger, but I go out of my way to reduce the risk. Avoid standing out, dress like the locals if possible, don’t stand on a street corner with a map looking puzzled, learn a few words of the local language, and be aware of what is going on around you. 

So often I have seen someone leave their bag on a counter, wide open with passport and wallet in plain sight, while they turned away or even walked a few steps away; that is an open invitation. Since I always get aisle seats on airplanes I see this frequently: a woman boarding the plane with her purse over her arm, the bag open wide, passport on top. Grabbing it would be so easy. Use common sense – if you are sketching, keep your bag in front of you, not behind, or loop the strap around your foot.

If you do find yourself in a risky neighborhood, or situation – protests or strikes, places where you are just out of place – don’t sketch, as it draws attention. If you are going to try to capture some of the action on paper, get out of sight and be safe.

There is plenty of risk, the reason we fear it more when we travel is because we are in an unfamiliar place, and we are so easily distracted. So stay focused, on the sketch and on what is going on around you.

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Sketching at the barn

We had a wonderful workshop last Saturday sketching a barn in Mukilteo, at the home of Ana, a generous sketcher and plein air painter. It filled so quickly that I never actually posted it on my site, so for those who would have liked to attend yet did not have the chance I am so sorry.

A 5-minute sketching exercise was a challenge, to work on sketching without overthinking. I try to do quick sketches, in either pencil or ink, every day. These improve your eye-hand coordination, something we all need.

Then we sketched the barn, and talked about mixing watercolors. The weather was great, all around a fun time.


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