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There’s something magically evocative about a sketch. Something that a photo doesn’t capture. A holiday is the perfect opportunity to capture the sights and senses of a special place, as you have time to indulge yourself with a bit of relaxing sketching in a way that the day-to-day business of living doesn’t allow. If you want to come home with a sketchbook of impressions that conjure up memories in a way that no photo album will ever do, then read on. I am going to share with you my top tips for making the most of your holiday sketching.
I’ll talk about the following:
– The kit you’ll need
– Planning in advance
– Sketching opportunities in unlikely places
– Finding time on holiday that doesn’t take you away form your travelling companions
– How to distill a scene when you don’t have a lot of time
– Deciding what’s important
– Sketching family and friends
– How to make sketching on holiday a social occasion
You need to grab your chance when it’s there when you’re on holiday, whether it’s snapping up a piece of local pottery or sampling some tasty street food. It’s the same with sketching on holiday. You will need to have your kit at the ready so that you can make the most of a sketching opportunity. You’re there to relax, first and foremost, and whatever sketching you do should feel easy, and fit into the group’s plans.
When I’m on holiday, my sketching kit goes into whatever bag I’m taking with me. I’ll likely be walking for a long time so it can’t be too heavy. There may be wet kit in my bag if I go for a swim somewhere, and I don’t want the two to mix, so I bring a waterproof bag, either to put the sketching kit in or for the wet gear.
In my bag are the following:
A sketchbook – Fabriano Venezia in the A5 size is my book of choice at the moment
A small paintbox with 21 half pans, but 12 will do nicely – I use Schmincke for their intense colours
A travel brush which folds to protect the tip – I use Escoda Versatil in #10 or #12
A water pot – I use a metal one meant for oil painting as it has a sealing lid and doesn’t tip over
A white gel pen – useful for lettering on a blackboard
Three fountain pens – I use a Sailor 55 degree fude pen, one with brown ink, one with black ink and a Platinum Carbon pen with grey ink
Bulldog clips to hold pages down in the wind.
As for the bag itself, I adore my Etchr field satchel but you can use any pencil case.
The kit packed up – nice and compact. You might want to add a small portable stool.
Plan In Advance
– Be like a general! Think of your holiday as a campaign in which you are going to tell the story of your destination. Are there particular landmarks in your chosen destination? Special food or unique architecture? Maybe a local business that the area is well known for?
– Book a room with a view! You’ll need to book a room anyway, so check whether you’ll look out onto something interesting. That’s nice to wake up to, but even better for sketching, when you’re under no pressure and can come back to it.
This was the scene I looked out onto in Nice, France, and was one of the reasons I booked the room.
– Pretend you’re writing for a travel magazine. Do a sketch review of a local speciality – in my home town of Galway it’s all about seafood – or perhaps a local wine. What about a ceramics factory? It’s a lot of fun to talk to locals and include their comments in your sketchbook.
On Your Marks…
– Hit the ground running! Once you’re in the airport or at the train station, your holidays have begun. The wait time involved in travel is a great opportunity to sketch. You can sketch in the airport itself…
…or on the plane. You can bring a bottle of water for sketching with you through security, as long as it’s not above 100ml and in a transparent bottle – and in a transparent bag. Sketching on a plane is a great way to pass the time of the flight.
– Once you arrive, there’s often time to chill after you’re settled. There’s no nicer way to get to know the place you’ve just arrived in than a quick sketch. A sketch of the place you’re staying will be a lovely memory – and because you’re spending a few days there, you don’t have to finish it all at once.
This is the exterior of the B&B in Kent where Marcel and I stay every Christmas. I look at this and I can smell the lovely breakfasts, see the beautiful Japanese objets d’art that the proprietor loves, fell the long fur of Oskar, his lovely white Siberian pussy cat…
– Keep the troops happy. If you want to make sure your sketching isn’t disruptive to whomever is with you, you’ll need to find extra time to sketch. Short snippets of time are a lot easier to find than you think.
– Rise and shine! Do you wake earlier than your partner? Head out early to sketch, and be back before they’re ready for breakfast. Or maybe you’re the night owl. There’ll be somewhere atmospheric to sketch nearby – a night sketch in artificial light can be amazing.
I painted this at seven o’clock one morning, when everyone else was still snoozing. I felt privileged to capture the beach outside the apartment where we were staying in the early part of the day, when the locals were taking the scenic route to work, and before the tourists had stretched out their towels.
– Don’t let the weather get you down. Has rain stopped play? Use this extra time to sit down and sketch. You travelling companion won’t see this as interfering with the plans, since bad weather is out of our control…
– Does your travelling companion like a snooze in the afternoon? Take that time to sketch.
I sketched this while my mother snoozed on the beach at Castel in Nice, France.
– Divided we conquer. There’s probably something your companion(s) want to do or visit that you’re not too keen on. Use it as a chance to sketch something you particularly like.
Deciding What’s Important
– Keep it in the family. If you are travelling with loved ones, then you’ll get a lot more pleasure looking back on a sketch that has them in it, even if it’s only a suggestion of them. Paint in their holiday clothes or the hat they only wear on holiday, and that’ll be enough to bring the scene alive again.
My husband Marcel loved his Tilley hat, but it was stolen when he turned his back on it for a minute on the beach in Mauritius. He misses it a lot and this sketch makes me think of all the times he used to wear it – and of my younger daughter a few years ago.
– If you are somewhere so full of amazing things to sketch that you can’t decide what to choose, then include a few cameos of various things you like.
There were so many beautiful things at this restaurant where I had a wonderful lunch with my mother, and I tried to get a few of them in.
– Is there a pool where you’re staying? It will be a nice reminder of relaxing times, and of sunshine…
I am glad to have this sketch because it brings back memories of a very lovely time. Marcel and I used to take a cup of tea and a pastry in the pool every morning at elevenses, just as we do in Ireland.., without the pool or the sun.
– Make a sketch of your own holiday clothes, if they’re different from what you wear at home. For the fun of it, include unlikely elements, like mosquito spray and sun tan lotion, or a holiday read of the sort you’d never look at at home. The nice thing about this kind of sketch is that you can do it in your room, when there’s no time pressure.
– Draw the place you make regular trips to. Make a loose sketch of a panorama, if you can, emphasising the sky if you like so you don’t get bogged down in detail, and then make a close up of something that makes it unique – maybe a mosaic, or the drinks or food you always have, or the view.
A lovely Nice restaurant I visited with my mother and her friend. It was one she visited regularly.
Family And Friends
– People add life..but your companions may object to being drawn. If they don’t mind, that’s great. If they do, tell them they are doing you a favour. I say things like “I need to put a person in for scale / interest” or “You make such a perfect scene sitting there with your book – so relaxed” or even “That shirt / swimsuit is so lovely, the print will look amazing in my sketch”. Flattery will get you everywhere, but I am careful not to make it too much about the person, or they might become self-conscious and I don’t want that. Even if the sketch is ALL about them.
I don’t draw my children sleeping because they are sensitive about that. But that’s because they’re teenagers. Some kind of nonsense about drawing people sleeping being abusive. It doesn’t apply to most people! However, I have drawn a mouth hanging open, then stuck a bit of paper on top and drawn a closed, dignified mouth!
This was one of those sketches of people relaxing that no one objected to. My father is reading and my mother is sleeping – much as they do at home.
– Everyone will have downtime on holiday, and often everyone will be together. At one of those times you might grab a quick sketch – even a line drawing, or a line + a one-colour wash – and you can be sure they will all be really glad you did it.
My entire family got together for a few days on the Med a couple of years ago. I am very grateful to have this sketch of them all.
– Ask for forgiveness, never permission! Your subjects will always be glad to be in your sketchbook, even if they object at the time. Use subterfuge if necessary.
Lose The Detail
– Don’t get bogged down in detail. You may not have much time and you probably would quite like to shut your eyes and kick back. A simple sketch is all you need.
– Identify the bit you like best. Start with that bit. The rest can be filled in as you go. And don’t worry if you don’t get it all finished.
– Use artistic license to leave out boring bits. So if there is an expanse of fence bewteen two interesting areas, simply cut it out.
Remember when you were a kid and you made rubbings of leaves or coins? That’s the kind of thing that makes a lovely sketch, except you’re using a pen instead of a soft pencil.
The colours and pattern of these pebbles were perfection, and were typical of the geology of the area in microcosm. I sketched their setting in order to give them context.
Sketching Loves Company
– Don’t be a stranger! If you join Urban Sketchers online, you’ll find a thriving group of like-minded individuals. But it gets better. Wherever you are in the world, you can find fellow sketching enthusiasts. All you need to do is post that you are in a given location and you are likely to make contact with someone who lives in that area and who will take you somewhere nice to sketch together. Urban sketchers are a friendly bunch and they’ll be delighted to extend the hand of friendship to you.
But while sketching on holiday is a great way to remember a happy time, remember not to let the sketches be anything other than an aide-memoire. Ypu are there to rest and relax and if that means leaving the sketching kit in your bag and closing your eyes…then don’t let anything stand in your way.