If you love drawing, the travel journal is one for you to try.
What is a travel journal? It is a place where you can document the experiences you have when you travel. This post is all about keeping a sketchbook journal when you travel.
There is nothing particularly different about the drawing that goes into it, but rather our own emotional invested interest of being away on holiday or experiencing new things. The travel journal becomes invested with our adventurous and explorative natures and contains a different calibre of drawing, sketching or musing!
In this blog post I want to explore some of the thinking that goes into putting together a travel journal and how you can best equip yourself to fill one whilst you travel.
Grouping or theming our sketchbook under the banner of a travel sketchbook allows us free rein with what we choose to put in it.
Table of Contents
Where to Start?
Which Sketchbook To Choose?
A travel journal needs to be a type of journal. Opt to choose a hardback and durable notebook with a focus on paper that is no less than 150 gms in weight (unless you only plan to pencil sketch in its pages.) This will enable you to use a variety of different mediums. It also gives you the flexibility of creating a scrapbook of ideas and things.
In my post on how to choose a sketchbook, I outline some key principles that you should familiarise yourself with when choosing the vessel for your artwork! The surface and type of sketchbook you choose can have a big impact on the quality of drawings, not to mention the longevity of the work itself.
Within the context of travel, opting for a sketchbook from an A6 to A5 range is a good starting point. Size dictates portability and being able to draw on the go. A hardback sketchbook ensures it withstands the knocks it may succumb to as it travels and deciding whether you opt for ring bound or closed book is down to personal preference. If you are likely to want to include added paper or holiday memorabilia to your travel journal you may want to consider the ring bound option to allow for expansion of space. Many hardback travel journals also come with convenient pockets at the back of the books into which you can slip extra materials such as ticket stubs.
I personally love to use an A5 sized or small square sketchbook. These sizes offer the flexibility of standalone drawings as well as quick sketches of the day! The square sketchbooks are also perfect for landscape drawings (always useful when travelling!)
Don’t stress if you don’t complete a full sketchbook per trip you might take. I filled one sketchbook with a year’s worth of travelling (as you can see from the video clip above!). I also personally keep a range of different shapes and sizes to capture specific themes.
You will also undoubtedly add more materials to your sketchbook too. I have glued in ticket Stubbs and receipts, scribbled sketches on random pieces of paper and even incorporated a pretty napkin in the pages of my sketchbook before.
Pre Planning your Travel Journal!
Don’t “arrive” at your destination without an initial idea of where you’d like go creatively. This does not mean to say you have to predict everything you put into it. Planning some initial ideas will give you momentum to keep going.
Imagine arriving and cracking open your sketchbook and then becoming terrified of what to put on the first page? I’ve done this. Unfortunately my travel journal got relegated back into the suitcase for the rest of my time on holiday!
Planning BEFORE you go is useful in supporting you gain momentum. Here are some things to think about to get your travel journal off to a good start.
- Make a list of some of the things you’d love to include. Think about your travel journal as your album of memories. Food, visits, where you’re staying, who you’ll be with, the journey itself, a daily sketch, the architecture….What excites you about the trip and can you visualise how you’d like to draw it? Use the research and knowledge you have about where you are going to have some initial thoughts and ideas about what you’d like to draw.
- Decide how much time you’d like to dedicate to drawing. Remember, if this is something you love to do in your spare time, for relaxation or mindfulness, being on holiday marries perfectly with filling a travel journal. You might have days where you spend 10 minutes at a time quick sketching, or a longer drawing if you’re going somewhere and staying put for a few hours. Here is where having different sized sketchbooks for different types of drawing can help. Carry your sketchbook with you everywhere you go!
- Draw in the lead up to your time away! Suitcases and their contents, maps, travel itineraries, the journey, deciding on how you draw a date or time or location, all make for fascinating entries in a travel journal and set a context to travel itself.
- Draw your transportation! I have spent hours drawing in an airport. Anything from the aeroplanes themselves, bored children or even the condiments in the restaurant as we waited to board a flight. What about cars, rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, buses or trams, trains or boats….sketch what you travel around in.
- Pack the kit you’d like to use in your sketchbook. Think about the materials you want to take with you! (See the next section.)
- Get inspired by other travel journals. See my personal inspiration down below.
Your Travel Journal Kit!
You won’t be able to take all your materials with you when you draw. Art materials are heavy and with travel restrictions as well as being able to carry what you want to work with all impact your final art work.
I find that if you love to sketch outdoors you will have already developed a refined sketch kit that you carry with you.
As part of your planning phase, try and whittle down your art kit to a portable version. When I travel, I tend to keep my kit super light and manage to fit it into a specialist art bag. The canvas Derwent bag is my go to art bag when I travel. There are lots on the market though that you can choose from.
The important thing is to aim for is an over shoulder bag or a ruck sack. This ensures that your hands remain free to draw on the move but you can still simultaneously and easily reach into your bag to pull out anything you might need. You can also pack your sketching bag in your luggage or carry some of it with you when you travel to draw as you go!
My other top tips when it comes to choosing your kit, especially if you know you can’t take it all are;
- Choose your medium. What medium do you like to work in? Do you like pencil or pastel, paint, ink or colouring pencil? Or all of the above? Perhaps you’re only going to focus on using one exclusive medium for your journey.
- Reduce your colour ranges to the basic colours so that you can mix all colours out in the field. I like to work in watercolours and carry smaller portable versions of my larger tins. I LOVE the Art toolkit range. The all in one watercolour kit on the go that is super light and can still contain a lot of materials! (A little pricey but well worth it if you travel!) Always pack your tubes of each colour if you can so that you can top up on the go. This also applies to all the other materials you might use. Reduce your colouring pencils to a set of 12 or 24, pastels and pens too. The less you pack the more you may find yourself doing.
- Swap out all glass jars, metal boxes or heavier containers for plastic or lightweight options. You’d be amazed how many of these exist on the market to choose from. You can now buy plastic containers for each of these items. (Even cosmetic plastic containers are great for things like carrying portable water containers!)
- Don’t be afraid to choose one medium and go for it. I tend to choose watercolour and a few colouring pencils to accentuate my drawing. Plus I always carry my personally designed small slim line pencil case for ink and pencils. It supports me with speed.
- Practice with your new kit. Give it a whirl on some practice pages. You’ll be intrigued at how it changes how you draw knowing you have less materials to work with.
What to Put Into Your Travel Journal?
Remain open to the different ways and means by which you can fill your travel journal. Experiment and don’t feel you need to stick to a prescribed format every day. Mix it up and gather a book full of memories and images that interest you. You don’t necessarily ever have to finish your sketches or drawings either. Below I have scoped some different ideas of formatting that you can try in your travel journal.
The Daily Travel Journal.
Everyday when you travel is an interesting one! If you are new to the concept of a sketchbook journal that you keep everyday check out a few of my thoughts on the subject to give you an idea of what you can try.
I tend to like to split my page at the start of the day into a few different boxes and fill them over the course of the day, arranging subjects as I go into a collage of different themes and items as part of my memorial to that day.
This is great if you are visiting different places or doing a different activity. Choose 3-4 items to draw in ode of that day. An example of this is my illustration of a camping teapot and cups which take up the bottom left of my page for that day.
Don’t forget too that if you like to write you can include a synopsis or commentary for your sketchbook journal. Conversations hand, your feelings and thoughts, points worthy of note, the places you’d like to return to or remember and so on.
A “one-off” Double Page Spread.
The Leopold Museum in Vienna will be a firm fixture in my mind as one of my travel destinations a few years ago.
Never-mind the fact that I was finally gazing upon famous Secessionist artists such as Klimt, Shiele, or Gerstl that I had only ever seen in art history books. I anchored myself in front of the luminous green wall gazing up the paintings while I quickly sketched them across my double pages.
The day was super hot and I also associate the green wall with having ice cream and apple strudel in the museums quartier before entering the gallery. There is no huge detailing in the frames I have sketched out on the page and yet the imagery and associated memories remain vivid in my mind.
I realised then that hand drawn images carry a weighty symbolic significance that you will recall instantly when you gaze on the drawing at a later date. Far more powerful at times than a photograph. The power of association is at full play when you take your time creating a major double paged spread of an activity. Investing time in producing a sketch (half an hour to an hour) is a welcome addition to the sketchbook.
Ticket stubs, your travel itinerary, a passport stamp, luggage tags, a menu, unusual receipts, business card, postcards, a fun creative photograph….we all accumulate trinkets and curiosities as we travel.
Using the travel journal to accentuate a collection of curiosities with a visual narrative is so much fun. Armed with glue, feel free to create mini montages in your pages of the things you collect as you travel. Jot down notes, and draw your own interpretation of the day around these things. All of this makes for interesting travel journals.
I love to check out postage stamps of the places I visit and have even, when pushed for an idea, sketched a postage stamp of my own holiday incorporating key images of my time away.
My final top tip for the budding travel “journalist” is to seek out others that inspire you. I have two travel journal authors who I love to follow and watch.
He combines delicate calligraphy, history, map work, finite sketches as well as observations of the places he visits. I always take a look at some of his creative ideas as a source of inspiration for the types of things I might capture.
Alicia Aradilla is a watercolour diarist that travels and documents the world.
Both artists have developed definitive styles and preferences in how they document and see the world.