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The Art of Travel Sketching

Updated on October 14, 2013

Drawing on the Road

I've always loved to draw and since my mother used to get paper scraps from a friend who worked as a printer, my sisters and I always had a big box of blank sheets to choose from. I left them scattered around the house, a bird on this one, a flower on that...I still do. I always leave a sheet by the phone to doodle on and a notebook and pen next to my favorite chair. Drawing is a lot like writing; you never know when inspiration will strike.

That is another reason for my little black travel books. I always buy the unlined ones so I can make quick sketches next to my jotted notes. Going back through them I find fishing boats on Halong Bay, canoes paddling silently down the Belize river, a women selling marigolds from her bike on a Hanoi Street corner, a young girl playing on the beach in Maine. Moments when a camera would have been intrusive or ungainly but when a quiet girl sitting on the river bank, or in a cafe with a notebook, can fade into the background like a fly on the wall.

The unobtrusiveness of sketching is perhaps what draws me to it. I've always hated having my picture taken, felt it somehow took something of mine and held it up to the world. But a sketch captures not just a moment but a minute, sometimes an hour or a day. It brings perspective, context, into the picture, for the artist and for the viewer.

By Paul Heaston
By Paul Heaston | Source

Travel Sketching Tips for a Beginniner

  • Opt for a small notebook. On one of my first trips I went with a full sketch pad. Bad idea; they are easily smooshed and wrinkled and are awkward to carry around unseen.

  • Bring multiple pens and pencils. I personally like the Precise V5 black pen, even though it does have the tendency to pop during flights. I solve this by bringing a back up pen and a couple pencils (with good erasers).

  • Back up. Find a spot away from the crowds, perhaps a park bench or cafe table where you can see the whole picture, then pick your focus carefully, avoid getting overly concerned with minor details. My favorite pictures are the ones where I was not noticed, and to go unnoticed you have to be fast.

Fine Tuning the Picture at Home

Since I rarely have a long stretches of time to draw while travelling my sketches are usually, well...sketchy. So when I get home I take out my notebook and any photo's I've taken and decide which ones I want to really finish.

First, the fast lines of my sketches are grounded, weighted and deepened until I feel there is some depth to the piece. Next I zoom in, filling in the background details that started out as scrawled shapes and watch them become recognizable as flowers, chairs or people. Lastly, I set it up aside for a few days then give it another once over with fresh eyes, checking perspective and shading.

So it happens that a year after my trip, after all the touch ups and procrastination, I finally have something that looks reasonably like what I want it to and in the process relived a memory with each line drawn.

Be Prepared

Bottom line, you never know when you will spot something amazing; a place or person you don't want to forget, so be prepared. Most of us carry around a pack or messenger bag while traveling, so why not throw in a sketchbook and pen or pencil, I promise, you won't regret it.

Have you ever done any travel sketching?

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    • brownella profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from New England

      Hi That Grrl! Mine drawings are nothing special either, but I like trying to see sites from a different angle. Thanks for commenting :-)

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 

      4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      My travel sketches are very amateurish.


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