Travel Sketchbooks Explained

Irene Rowley

Irene when in Rome, Italy … when I was young.

A travel sketchbook is one way of recording your journey in a very personal way. I like to keep travel journals and here is what it is like to draw in one:

I took a travel sketchbook on my tour of Italy when I was young and on my own. Let me heighten this story adventure by saying I sketched on the very first day in Italy, right after being robbed by a taxi driver.

I was sitting in my hotel window in downtown Rome, and I recall vividly even twenty years later that I was tired from jet lag but feeling like such a brave soul to have come to Italy. The sketchbook was there like a good counselor to absorb my quaking feelings. Slowly and patiently, the beauty outside the window of an Italian church steeple and a cobblestone alley, and the sound of the children, and the pencil, all calmed my mind and healed me from the experience of being robbed.


A Basilica in Rome, Italy.

Sketching is a good time for introspection. Soon I was feeling in tune with Italy. And I recall, not only did I see the round basilica outside my window more clearly, but also the cobblestones and the trees. I also could hear the birds, smell the coffee being brewed downstairs, and listen to the waitress and waiter chatter to one another in their warm language. Pretty soon I was feeling peaceful and in tune with it all. No robber can stop an artist because we’ll just keep on going.

To be very honest… it can be challenging to sketch “on the road” and outdoors, when one feels on the run and the scene changes before you constantly. There will always be good sketches and always be bad sketches. The trick is to blend into your environment and capture it quickly.

A Bad Sketch

If one of my sketches is going “badly”, it feels difacult. The thing on the paper looks horrible and I can’t fix it. I try and erase it, but it is like dark tatoo ink I cannot erase. Or the weather fights me by sending sunshine so bright, it gives me a headache and a migraine. Or the wind shear is so cold,  that my fingers get so cold, they lose their dexterity. Or the person or the cat I am drawing will just get up and walk away, mid-gesture. Or, my paper blows away and lands in a lake or a puddle…… and sinks.

A Good Sketch

If my sketch is going “well” or looking good, I’ll begin to feel relaxed and in touch with my surroundings.  A “good” sketch moment heightens all my senses. The pencil feels alive and energetic. The sun is gentle, and my fingers feel warm and dexterous. I have a good coffee to drink in hand. Whatever happens, the paper takes everything that happens gracefully and laughingly, and transforms that with my eyes. It becomes something new and brilliant, shiny and fun. Just like a playful kite that wobbles and plays in the sunshine.  If my paper blows away… it lands face up on the grass unharmed.

It makes me wonder if angels watch over the “good sketches”, helping these good ones along…?

Travel Sketchbook Examples

Here are some travel sketchbooks there that I discovered and enjoyed that are posted online:

  1. Been There Drawn That Blog  by Cristina Urdiales
  2. Barcelona Sketchbook – Illustrations of Lapin
  3. Lisbon Sketchbook by Liz Steele

Pinterest is a great way to browse through and share travel sketchbooks, and so I browsed it all afternoon this week. Have fun browsing these: CIMG5515-effects-2_1000px

  1. Urban Sketching – Litchfield
    St. Mary church steeple
  2. Jeremy Hush – Nature of Secrets
    child and animals
  3. Out of a Moving Truck Window
  4. Qinni Qing Han, Sketched Females
  5. European Travel Sketchbook by Nicholas DeBruyne
    Gestural Sketch of Cathedral
  6. French Sketchbook by Monmartne 
  7. Personal Investigation Sketchbook
    Natural forms and  monoprints
  8. Sketchbook of Roanna Wells
  9. Sketchbook of Samuel Palmer
  10. Sketchbook of Gabriel Picolo
    An Amazing Lion Sketch
  11. Sketchbook of Helen Wells
    In Pen and Ink
  12. Sketchbook of Pat Perry
    A Strange and Surreal Neighborhood

2 thoughts on “Travel Sketchbooks Explained

  1. A sketchbook can be as big or small as you want it to be. Sketch epic landscapes or intricate multi-panel drawings on an oversized B4 pad, quick thumbnails in a mini A7 notebook, or anything in between!

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