I am often asked, what is the big difference between photographing a trip and sketching it. Carrying my camera comes naturally to me and I’ve taken thousands of travel photos throughout the years.
Taking photographs literally places the camera between us and what we are experiencing. Taking a photograph takes but a second. We rarely slow down to really look at what is around us when we capture our travels with a camera. We figure, we will look more closely later, when we look through our photos. So we shoot and move on and come home with hundreds of photographs.
I would return from trips with 100s of photographs but not a lot of vivid memories of what was actually going on when I was taking those photos. I came home with a blur of images and a blur of memories.
In 2004 I decided to leave my camera at home and travel with a set of art supplies instead. I found that I collected napkins, museum tickets, names of streets, and all manner of details along the way to include in my sketchbook. Details I had not paid much attention to on previous trips.
At first I worried that I would be slowing down my traveling companions with my collecting and observing and sketching. But pretty soon, family and friends joined in on this new way of exploring what was around us. We started to pay much more attention to everything: the receipts left on tables, train schedules, windows, sounds, people. The textures of traveling.
Each page I create allows me to live the experiences I have all over again. Whenever I look back through these sketch books, even years later, I am transported back to the ordinary and the exquisite moments of my journeys. This business of sketching gives me a slowed down experience with a deeper sense of place.
Sketching forces us to sit down and take in a scene. Through sketching, our memories get recorded in a significant way on the page. When I go back through my travel sketchbooks, even many years later, each page brings back lively memories of who was with me, what we were doing, even what we were talking about or listening to at that time.
Keeping a visual travel journal enhances your trip and opens your mind. Even sitting on a plane for hours or waiting in line to get into a museum transforms a tedious event into an enjoyable one if you are sketching.
With a sketchbook in hand, all of a sudden I am inspired to slow down, drink in what’s around me, experience things in a deeper way. It refreshes my eyes and my thinking. I start to see the uniqueness of things, it fills my travels with discovery and wonder.
Sketching fixes my experiences in my mind.
So to me the difference between photographing a trip and sketching it is that drawing pushes me to notice details and understand more deeply. Sketching reveals a lot of things I wouldn’t notice with a simple glance or with a snapshot.
After several trips with my sketchbook, I began taking groups of students on sketchbook workshops around the world. Some of the people who join me are completely new to sketching, while others are professional artists who want to travel with other artists or who want to learn to travel with a sketchbook.
My hope for participants in my travel workshops is that sketching becomes an exciting way to record their experiences. A sketchbook can have many roles in an artist’s practice but in traveling, it becomes a great place to observe, annotate, explore, and reflect.
Most of all I hope it becomes a joyful way to record one’s world.