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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Travel sketchbook thoughts : Alissa Duke

Thoughts on creating myTravel Sketchbook

I have had these thoughts going through my head for a while and I wanted to put them in an organised version on paper. The catalyst has been the Sketchbook Project that I am working on this year (more about that later) and wanting to share my learning experience anyone else who is interested.

Looking back, I always enjoyed reading books that were illustrated travel journals and sketchbooks. I enjoyed them for their illustrations as well as reading about other people’s travels, They are always more interesting if they are about a city or country I want to or have visited, especially the United Kingdom ( I am in Australia) .

This interest began many years ago with books such as David Gentleman’s Britain (and many others in the series) and Fabrice Moireau sketchbooks, to more recently Taking a Line for a Walk by Christopher Lambert, An Eye on the Hebrides by Mairi Hedderwick and Lorette E Roberts Singapore. Secrets of the Lion City.  (and many many more books) . (I am looking forward to Danny Gregory’s upcoming book “An Illustrated Journey”).This is all pre-internet/self publishing era.  But these are usually edited, formatted, composed, cleaned up, lovely small font with commentary, they are quite lengthy and published after the journeyNow I have many online favourites, .
I realised that I wanted to create my own sketchbooks in my drawing style when I travel.. They would be a narrative, day to day, capturing my travels, whether local, interstate or overseas.. As the sketchbooks would be created as I travel, I won’t have the luxury of all of the above editing factors. But I do have the luxury of being able to have an approach in my mind, a concept of how to approach a page composition and what works for me. That is the stage I am at now.

For the past few years I have been drawing everyday in a Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, using watercolour pencils and/or ink. I draw at home, on buses, in queues, sitting on stairs, at cafes,. So I am comfortable with how and when where to draw.

I also know how I draw at the moment.  I am at ease drawing objects, food, paper. I am not so good at buildings and vistas. But architecture is an important feature of a city or town and so I want to include it , the trees, roads, sky. I have been considering how it is best for me to capture a scene with these in it. And people – people are the life of the city, so I must include them too.

Sketchbook travel Journals

I currently draw my pre trip preparation – drawing my packed bag, or things in preparation – my sketch-kit,  passport, currency. I also always draw at the airport, and on the airplane.( a good way to pass the time)  So I am comfortable with the first few pages of my travel sketchbook.

o o   My current creative investigation is into I

I am entering the 2013 Sketchbook Project and have chosen the theme : Travelogue.Paris 2007.  I am revisiting my 2007 holiday to Paris, as if I was there, drawing as much then as I do now ! ..My sketchbook is based on my diaries, photographs I took and where I thought I would have drawn at the time, as well as souvenirs I bought. Although this is created in retrospect, all the time I thought how would approach future travel sketchbooks. I still have a few pages to complete, as it is not due to be sent away until January 2013.

The journal can be viewed here Travelogue Paris 2007

My Travel Sketchbook :my thoughts

Over the 18 double pages of the Sketchbook Project I have experimented with composition, lettering, maps., It is different paper and size of my usual sketchbook and I have had to squeeze five days into a limited amount of pages. have come to the following conclusions
  •  it will be a combination of on the quick on the spot sketching and more detailed drawings
  • leave first page or two of each day blank – at end of day I could draw maps, streets walked that day, rail/metro routes caught.

  • draw objects such as tickets, souvenirs, food, headings also at the end of the day in my hotel room. There is time and space to draw. If there is a good view from the room, I can draw it everyday

  • MAPS. If I colour the roads or areas between the road on a map I can match them with other colours I have used on the page, bringing it all together. Below are examples of maps and date experiments



  • leave lots of white space – I can always fill it in later if it looks too sparse.

  • write commentary about how I feel, think, react to things, smells, places but not too much. I will probably keep a separate diary. I have read a very good book by Dave Fox called “Globejotting : how to write extraordinary travel journals”. I am not a writer, but it had some great hints.

  • Re: buildings and vistas
  • just try an draw a section
  • leave the top, bottom or sides unfinished.- lines drifting off
  • only colour some parts
  • don’t try and fill the page - only use part of the page
  • it is like a little vignette., with a little character and insight, but not too much
  • don’t try and get caught up in the detail and try and leave this to a " close up " drawing later if I get the chance

Reading over what I have written it seems a little pedantic in places but it has been a very valuable creative experiment.

Of course this is all very well in writing,



  1. great post Alissa!!!! I love your process and all that you have learnt by doing this project...such a brilliant idea and way to explore your approach. Can't wait to see all these plans in action in your moleskine. Really love the combination of images that you are achieving here!

  2. Well what a fabulous post! I'm off on holiday on the 21st and you have inspired me to take my sketchbook :0)

    1. JIt is just about the day for you to leave on holidays Sandra - I hooe you have a great time and make time to pencil to paper.

  3. Wonderful information! Thanks for sharing your process...you put so much thought into this inspiring project!
    I just returned from a vacation where I did lots of sketches, wish I had been able to read this post before my trip.

  4. Alissa, this is a fascinating project. I spent a year living in a very different place (from the rest of my life) before resuming my passion for sketching. So, there's a whole year of missed opportunities, though my camera was very active. I will have to ponder the idea of a retrospective sketching project to fully reflect the whole experience of being an expat-American (anglophone) living in French-speaking eastern Canada.


  5. Fantastic, informative post. Thanks for all the great info and ideas. Wonderful sketches.

  6. I thought I'd commented on this, Alissa! I LOVED it. A wonderful, interesting, in-depth post and it will be fun to see where you go with it.

  7. Than you all for commenting and reading this post. It is lovely to know that someone may have been inspired to do their own travel sketchbook, or even just to use airport tikme to draw planes and passengers. I would be interested to know if other people have a "planed" approach (to any extent) and what they include/do

  8. My gosh, Alissa, I have just looked through your travelogue on Flickr and it's absolutely AMAZING! I just love the whole concept of working through the 'process' of making a travel journal and what it should/could look like. I feel very inspired after viewing it - both to make one and to travel ;)


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