How to Create Your Own Travel Sketchbook
Pausing to see the delicate patterns of lichen on tree trunks in the Nilgiri mountains.
Becoming friends with a 5-year old Vietnamese boy in a village without a word exchanged between us!
Sitting inside a bamboo grove, silently.
Watching a tour guide’s face light up.
Getting authentic local food and travel tips.
Being zen while waiting in airports and stations.
I’ve had all these experiences and many more through travel sketching.
And, that’s why I love sharing it with others and getting them started on their own sketching journey. Here’s my take on how to get started with travel sketching. I have included step-by-step photos from a sketching session I did in Sirsi, Karnataka.
Travel sketching is an awesome family activity. It gets children to observe and remember a travel destination. And of course, you’ll have a unique souvenir for every travel
Travel Sketchbook ideas
People often say “I can’t even draw a straight line. Forget about sketching.”
I tell them, “ That’s great. You don’t need to draw straight lines.” There’s no such thing as a born artist. It is all about practice, practice, and more practice.
Look for inspirations around. If you find your zen moment of producing a sketch on the spot, go ahead sketch it out. If not, look for small collectibles like dry leaves, ticket stubs to paste in your travel sketch book for inspiration to strike you later.
In the above image, we had hiked up a hill and it was absolutely beautiful and surreal there. There were prayer flags strewn all around. I picked up a few and pasted them in my sketchbook.
Putting together a travel sketch kit
A travel sketching kit must be a collection of the basic tools required for making a sketch. Also, I have found having limited supplies encourages me to be creative. Such as, mixing two different mediums.
Here’s what you will need:
- Black pens with waterproof ink
- Colour pencils
- Pencil sharpener
Yes, I’ve deliberately left out the ruler and eraser😊
You could also keep a box of crayons, some watercolour pencils, and a glue stick. If you have smaller children, avoid carrying watercolours. For older children, a small watercolour pan and some water brushes are perfect. Keep it small, simple, and light.
A5 size sketchbooks with thicker paper are a good choice – they fit in everywhere and are not too small for landscapes.
Pro Tip: I like to keep all my art tools in a sling bag. This helps me access my art kit easily.
5 Awesome Tips for Travel Sketching for Beginners
Choosing a subject
Start with a tiny step – don’t try to draw the entire forest or city around you. Choose a small window of a house, a dry leaf on the ground, or an interesting branch. Long waits in airports can be used to draw the people, bags, food stalls or simply the announcement boards. You could even draw maps to show the places you visited.
This is a small town in Sirsi, Karnataka. The blue roofs amid all the browns and reds interested me and I decided to sketch the road.
Outlining in pencil
Draw an outline of the object using a pencil. It does not have to be perfect – if something looks off, draw over it. Forget if the drawing “appears correct” – the idea is to capture the object in your own style and have fun while doing it.
Adding in the details using a black pen
Now that you have a basic frame done, add in the details using a pen. Encourage children to add some text to capture the place, date, the sounds around you, or any other details. You could paste things around your sketch – a ticket stub, a leaf, restaurant bills, bits of pamphlets. Ask a local to teach you how to write a few words in their dialect on your sketchbook.
There were some changes from the pencil outline. However, I didn’t erase anything.
Adding the final touches with colours
Use a mix of different colours to add life to the sketch. If you are in a hurry, colour in the most prominent bit – the red bricks, a green tree, or that yellow dress. This will save some time while capturing the essence of the place.
You’ll notice I’ve added some blue in the sky which is not there in the photograph. As an artist, you can take liberties while making a travel sketch 😊
Doing art at home or at school is different than working in a public area.
When I sketch during my travels, people often stop to see what I am drawing and want to talk about it. I remember, when I started travel sketching, I’d worry that my drawing is not good. I felt people passing by were judging me.
So, I’d say be kind to yourself.
Don’t judge what you draw.
Just go with the flow.
Drawing on different types of paper, like newspapers, can be a lot of fun.
Travel Sketching - Capturing the Feel of a Place
Marco Bucci shows the Process and gives awesome ideas for sketching places from life. See the video for the art of composition, color, focal point, feel, etc.
Travel sketching for children
Encourage children to draw from their observation. Drawing from observation simply means drawing what you see. And, it is the essence of travel sketching.
Breaking the object into smaller shapes
For example, you are looking at a majestic British building and your daughter is stumped where to start drawing it. Ask, “What does the building look like? Do you see a rectangle with a triangle on top? Do the windows remind you of a shape?
Have fun with colors and collage. The above sketch always takes me back to the greenery of a tea estate.
Focus on the process not the outcome
Even if a child fails to colour inside the lines or draws a circle which is more of an oval, it is absolutely fine. Encourage the children to experiment with colours and shapes – give them the tools to draw but don’t tell them what to draw.
Making sketching fun during travel
Engage with your little story teller and ask her to describe the picture to you. Who knows she might have an interesting tale behind the picture and the colours used.
Last but not least, don’t forget to complement the little Picasos. It would be great if you could mention specifics, like “Wow, I love the way you have drawn that leaf.”
Do you find the thought of “Travel Sketch Journal” inspiring? Don’t wait for the next vacation to start travel sketching! Visit a park or museum this weekend, carry some sandwiches and try out your art kit!
Video on Travel Sketching Tips from Travel Sketchbook
In this video Liz Steel shares lots of travel sketching strategies and tips while going through her sketchbook from her recent trip to New Zealand.