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Joe of our Seattle Store on Destination Sketching (Travel Optional)

Summer is almost here! Many of you will be taking a trip in the coming months. A summer get-away is a perfect opportunity to keep a sketch journal. In addition to taking photos and simply being present on a trip, sketching or drawing or painting your surroundings is a great way to make the memories last. It really forces you to study what you’re looking at and be completely present and meditative in your surroundings.

Later in this post, I’ll talk about what materials I take when I go out to draw, paint or sketch, but first I want to take some time for the rest of us who will not be taking a vacation. For whatever reason, many of us will be staying home this summer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still go on a sketching adventure! There are many great local places to sketch, no matter where you live. Some of my favorites include my backyard, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and anywhere that I’m stuck waiting in line.

Those places are great, but if you want to sketch somewhere exotic without shelling out the airfare, you’ll be hard pressed to beat Google Maps Street View. Google has been working for years to create and maintain detailed street maps of the whole world. In addition, they have people photographing along those streets, as well as certain monuments, parks and other scenic places, at the street level, so you can take a virtual walking trip to anywhere in the world that they’ve mapped and photographed.

For the sketches I’m presenting this month, I began by choosing a country I wanted to visit in Google’s Map function on their WEB search engine. I then proceeded to zoom in, aiming for any interesting terrain or landmarks. Once zoomed in, I switched to street view (grab the little yellow figure and drop him/her onto the map. Photographed street-view-able areas will turn blue). I was then able to take a virtual walk down the street, wandering until I found a view I liked.

In writing this month’s post, I e-visited canals in Amsterdam, a park in Istanbul, a palace in Tibet, a forested road in Paraguay, a shrine and a half-dozen back roads in rural Japan, a cathedral in Reykjavik, and a meadow in New Zealand. Not bad for an afternoon!

I maintain a number of travel sketching kits but for these drawings I took my wet media supplies. My kit starts with a 48 slot pencil case by Global. I’ve always carried sketching materials with me but once I moved my stuff out of the old cash bag and into this case, I find that I draw a lot more than I used to. My stuff is more convenient, organized and generally more handy. There is no fuss.

In the front section, I keep all of my wet media drawing materials. I carry several colors of Faber Castell Albrecht Durer water-soluble colored pencils. These are a great quick way to throw down some color and they work fantastic as a way to sketch for a watercolor painting when you do not want graphite lines to show through. They’re also a good way to add detail, highlights or texture to an otherwise finished watercolor sketch. I’ll also use a dark watercolor pencil to add power lines at the end of an urban watercolor sketch.

Next, I keep a couple of Niji Waterbrushes. These brushes are hollow and, when filled with water, allow you to sketch with watercolor without needing to keep a cup of water with you. I’ve got a couple of graphite pencils and erasers, a few permanent ink pens and a few pens with water soluble ink. I also carry a pair of brush pens filled with dark inks to fill in large areas as well as an UniBall White Gel Pen for white highlights.

In the second section of my case, I have a small watercolor palette, a small gouache palette, a Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener and a Derwent Fine Mist Spray Bottle. I’ve also got a nasty old rag… for whenever I need a nasty old rag. Finally, I also carry a sketch book with a pair of Bulldog Binder Clips. These days, my sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Gamma series because I’m a sucker for the ivory colored paper. The heavy weight of Stillman & Birn papers assures that I have very little warping of the paper when I get it wet.

The two drawings presented are of a Cathedral in Reykjavik whose name I cannot even pretend to pronounce and a small shrine in Japan. I literally found the shrine by accident while e-wandering down a country road. It was located no more than a few meters from the side of the road and finding it was like finding treasure. Both drawings were created by using the following Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors over a graphite drawing:

  • Sepia
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red Scarlet Hue
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium
  • I also added a touch of Quinacridone Pink to get the maroon color for the shrine’s roof.

If you’re taking a trip this summer, don’t forget to take some travel sketching supplies. And break them out and use them! You’ll find that studying and recording your surroundings will cement everything else that is happening around you into those memories. When you look back at these drawings, you’ll remember sounds and smells, sights, conversations and quirky details that you never would have otherwise noticed.

If you’re not taking a trip, like me, you have no excuse! The internet has put exotic lands at our fingertips. And if painting from the internet feels too artificial for you, get outside. There are hidden gems to be found no matter where you live, whether you’re drawing some local historic buildings, or drawing details from the dirt under the little tree out front, you’ll be amazed at all the little details that spring to life when you take the time to really study the things around you.

No excuses. Get outside. Enjoy the weather. Draw. And have fun!

    Joe's Supply List
  • Global 48-Slot Pencil Case
  • Niji Travel Brushes
  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Water-Soluble Colored Pencils
  • Stillman & Birn
  • Graphite Pencils
  • DANIEL SMITH Watercolors


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