Saturday, February 16, 2013

Don't Let These Obstacles Keep You From Travel Drawing

The biggest obstacles to drawing while travelling have little to do with artistic skill. Don’t let these common obstacles keep you from giving it a try.

Drawing in Public

It can be embarrassing to draw in public. Strangers will be fascinated by you. They will walk right up to you and look over your shoulder, completely oblivious to the fact that they are making you nervous. Skill can help you feel more confident, but the only thing that will really help is experience. Over the years I have come to realize that curious strangers simply enjoy watching me draw. They are far from critical. They praise my worst drawings, and I get the feeling they would like to sit down with me and draw as well—If only they had the confidence. This will happen to you. Maybe not at first, but if you stick with travel drawing, eventually someone will walk up to you and instantly become your number one fan. You will never forget the first time someone drags their fascinated child away from your sketchbook.

Travel Companions

Travel companions are trickier. Unless they like to draw, they will not understand your desire to sit in one place for the better part of an hour. Shared experiences are one of the great joys of travelling. Drawing is solitary. Your companions cannot join in that experience. It isolates them. Besides, there are so many other things to see than the thing you are drawing. And you are wasting their time.

You owe it to your companions to be honest and upfront about your desire to spend time drawing. You do not owe your companions all of your time and attention. Usually, you can work something out. My wife keeps a list of alternative sights in mind in case I suddenly decide to draw for a while. But most of the time, I schedule my drawing time with her. This means I miss the chance to draw some things during the day, but it is easier for us to coordinate. This works both ways. My wife likes to write on location, and will warn me when I should plan to fend for myself for a while. 

Drawing Supplies & Comfort

You won’t draw much if your drawing kit is so cumbersome you keep leaving it in the hotel room. Travel light. At home I have a large sketchbook—so large I usually work at an easel. I love this sketchbook, but it would be ridiculous to travel with (it doesn’t even fit in my largest suitcase). For travelling and sketching around town I have a small sketchbook that fits in a bag I don’t mind carrying everywhere. If you won’t carry your sketchbook everywhere, get a smaller sketchbook.

Pick materials you already enjoy drawing with. I don’t recommend trying to learn new drawing techniques while travelling. Learning a new technique or medium takes a different kind of attention than sketching. This can take you out of the moment and make it harder for you to appreciate what you are seeing. Having said that, you don’t have to be a master by any means. You should, however, enjoy using the materials you bring with you. 

Consider bringing a portable chair with you. Nothing is worse than drawing in an uncomfortable position. The downside of bringing a chair is that you have to carry it around. However, a comfortable chair can be worth the extra weight in certain situations. I definitely wish I had brought my chair to Pompeii. I wasn’t comfortable standing up that day, and I feel like I missed the opportunity to draw some amazing stuff (sometimes it is hard to draw standing up, no matter how fit or young you are). I was only able to draw this column because there happened to be a comfortable stone in a good position. There is rarely a good place to sit in front of something you would like to draw.


  1. Nothing wrong with plopping down in the dirt, is there? I wrote a flurry in Pompeii this way...

  2. I'd love to do this! I think I will make a point of it on my next trip. Thanks!

  3. How do you deal with other tourists standing in the way, or in this particular case, leaning on your column?

  4. Sitting on the ground is fine if you're comfortable. The low viewpoint will affect what you can see and how you see things. This is more of an issue for drawing than it is for writing. Imagine taking a photograph from the ground. This can be interesting, but might not tell the visual story you want to relate. Of course, if you are comfortable with perspective, you can imagine the scene from whatever position you like—but re-imagining the world can distance you from the scene at hand.

  5. Wes, would you consider doing an inservice/short webinar or youtube for sketch techniques that are your favorites? I am having a hard time finding books with details on travel sketching instructions, and as a beginner I am looking for a starting place. Thanks!

  6. In spite of the intense heat at noon, I was so enthralled by Pompeii that I would've stayed there a week just to take it all in. Unfortunately I forgot my sketch book and had to settle for a camera, but I'm so glad I did. When you visit an amazing place that really speaks to you, you think you'll remember those haunting little details -- but you don't. I find that drawing something - anything, really - helps to cement that memory. I spent several hours drawing, "the only remaining Roman column to have never been repaired in any way." Every time I look at the sketch I can almost feel the heat and even smell the white dust, and I remember who was standing with me and what was said. How often does that happen? Thanks for the great post.

  7. I would go there to conduct business such as work permits and banking. vacation packages