Travel Sketches

Travel sketching is a way of recording. I also use it as a break from rushing around, or making a boring commute more fun. I usually carry a sketchbook with me while traveling. Occasionally I will draw on iPad Pro if I have more time. But most of the time, I just sketch with a Gel Ink Pen on my sketchbook.

I recently discovered an online community call the Urban Sketchers, where people from all over the world share sketches and organize meetups to draw together.

Sleeping Girl
@Heathrow Airport, London. Oct. 7, 2017

A color sketch on iPad Pro. Arrived too early in the morning at the airport and saw this girl sleeping on the bench. She left when I was about half way through the painting, so I used some imagination.

Lady Reading on a Train
@The Flåm Railway, Norway. Aug. 28, 2017

She did not know that I was drawing her, but noticed that I ran out of ink. Then she offered to lend me a pen, so I showed her what I an doing and asked if I could take a picture.

My main subjects are usually people, instead of buildings or big scenes. I normally sketch while commuting, on trains, subways, buses, ferries, or even ropeways. Sometimes I will have several hours of ride, but most of the time the drawing window will be 5-10 minutes. Originally I did not believe it is possible to capture anything interesting with such short and unpredictable time window. But it actually works and it is a lot of fun.

I started doing travel sketchbook while I was in Japan in 2014, following my friend Sonya. Japan is a very good starting point as people tend to be shy and they pretend not noticing even if they realize you are drawing them. Even though I never have anyone yelling at me, there is still always a psychological barrier for me to engage with random people.

Sketching in the Europe and the US turned out to be more challenging, and sometimes more fun as the subjects might start interacting with you. For example, there was a time when my subject suddenly disappeared and then I realized she sneaked behind me to check what I was doing. Another time in France, a lady sitting next to me on a train used Google translate to ask me to sketch a portrait for her.

There are some fantastic travelers who keep very beautiful color sketchbooks. I'm guessing it takes quite a long time to paint one page like that, and sometimes maybe the main goal of their trips are for sketching. I'm taking a very different stance: sketching is a complement to my trips. I tried to keep it simple and focus on fast changing scenes so that I won't be spending too much time one it (I usually have very ambitious and packed travel plans). On the other hand, It is definitely feel very challenging and exciting to try to capture scenes that might completely disappear in the next minute. Although a lot of time I would fail, I feel great satisfaction when I was able to scribble anything meaningful.