Sketching while traveling – a different way to see the world

I’ve picked up a new travel routine lately. It’s a bit embarrassing, though, both to talk about here and to actually enact in public spaces when I’m surrounded by onlookers. I’ve started sketching and painting some of the places I visit. Sometimes I muster up the courage to do this en plein air – right in front of the scene I want to capture. Other times, I scroll through my memory or camera roll to help me doodle as I sit otherwise bored out of my mind on the train.

It started when I joined an art-focused group tour in Provence, France organized by one of my art professors from San Francisco. Everyday, we went sight-seeing in the morning to sketch on site and returned to the hotel in the afternoon to paint – though I spent several of those afternoons taking a long nap to recover from the heavy French lunches.


Now I’m in love with the idea of sketching while sight-seeing and I highly recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in art. Trust me, it will create a much more intimate connection between you and the space you’re in. And it’s a great alternative to the traditional process of sight-seeing by which you camera click through a location like a zombie set on feeding more pictures to your SD card.

So if you’re ready to take on this activity, here are a few tips I can think of to help you sketch successfully:

  • Sketching in public is daunting! If you’re just starting off and you’ve got some serious performance anxiety on you, take baby steps to increase your comfort level. How about starting off with the flower vase in the hotel lobby? Or going to the secluded corner of the park? Any low-traffic or isolated area will work. But one place I don’t recommend is anywhere inside your hotel room. You will never learn to leave the comfort of your private space this way.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. You really have to immerse your mind to feel truly accomplished at the end of it. Take your time, sit down, and really look around at the things around you. I usually give myself a minimum of one uninterrupted hour of sketching time. For this reason, I don’t recommend you attempt this while sight-seeing with friends – unless of course those friends plan to draw with you.
  • Remember that sketching is like exercise, you build up your skill over time. So don’t be disappointed if your first few attempts don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. Think of them as warm ups.
  • Draw fast! Keep in mind you’re drawing the real world around you. Objects move, people move, the wind is usually annoying. Hone your skills by learning how to get the most important pieces of information on paper as quickly as possible. Then speed it up even more the next time.

Some of the stuff I’ve done recently as part of my new routine: saintremy rousillon pontdugard figtree


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