Friday, September 12, 2014

More Things I Learned About Travel Sketching

I'm seated comfortably on my self-inflating cushion at the
Cemeterio Municipal in Paraty.
Last year after I returned from my trip to Europe and the Barcelona symposium, my first blog post was about all that I had learned about travel sketching from that experience. That was my first “big” international travel opportunity after I had begun sketching, so I had a lot to learn.

This year I’m happy to say that I had no huge failures (like last year’s bag debacle that led to this year’s obsessive search for a replacement) and, in fact, had a couple of unexpected successes. Here are my assessments:

  1. First of all, the bag: a total win! My faithful, everyday Rickshaw Zero messenger bag performed flawlessly as usual, and since I’m so used to the locations of specific materials, I could practically grab blindly to find what I needed. (It got a little dirty, so after more than two years of daily use, it might be time to get it cleaned. But what will I use while it’s at the cleaner’s?? Accckk!) I supplemented the Rickshaw with a simple muslin tote bag that held my water bottle and snacks, as well as my sunhat or rain slicker, depending on weather (sometimes I had to carry both – Brazil’s weather changes by the minute). The other thing the tote contained was. . .
  2. A self-inflating cushion. I knew I didn’t have space in my carry-on-only suitcase for a stool, but I recalled all too well the hard, dirty pavement I often ended up sitting on in Barcelona last year, so I got the cushion with the hope that I’d have room for it. In its deflated state, it (barely) fit, but I was very happy I had squeezed it in. It weighs almost nothing in the tote, and it made sitting on the bumpy stone streets and sidewalks of Paraty more comfortable (see photo above). I had taken a chance on it because I’d never used it in the field prior to my trip, but it’s definitely a keeper in my travel sketch kit.
  3. I was generally happy with the selection of sketch supplies I brought, which was essentially the same as what I usually carry every day (you can see everything in my bag dump photo from last month). I had brought 10 signatures of paper (three folded 140-pound sheets each) for the Stefano. I had started filling the eighth by the time the trip ended, so my estimate wasn’t too far off. (Last year I filled nine, but those included my workshop exercises. For this symposium, I put all my workshop exercises in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook that I received in my swag bag.) A few misses: I never once used (and will therefore consider jettisoning permanently) the white Uniball opaque gel pen (though I lent it to someone who didn’t know about opaque pens before, so at least I was able to share), a Nero extrasoft pencil and an ordinary graphite pencil. I regretted removing the waterbrush with dark green ink during my last-minute effort to further lighten my bag.
  4. The precautions I took to prevent ink messes like the ones I had made during my flights to L.A. a few months ago were necessary and appropriate. For the flight out, I had completely filled all fountain pens and waterbrushes with ink (I was told that by minimizing air in the liquid cavities, there would be less expansion and therefore less leakage) and placed them in a ziplock bag as an additional precaution. I had no spillage or leakage at all – not a drop. On the way home, most of the pens and inked-up waterbrushes were at least half empty, and I didn’t have any additional ink to fill them with, so I just zipped them up tightly in the bag again. The fountain pens again showed no leakage at all. One of the waterbrushes did leak, but the ziplock prevented any mess. My assessment is that fountain pens are most likely fine without taking any precautions; waterbrushes require a bag.
  5. The biggest (though in the greater scheme of things, it was only moderate) failure was my new Rickshaw Velo backpack. I used it only during transit – my filled Rickshaw Zero messenger bag as well as other travel essentials all got stuffed into it – and I found it to be just a little too small. Its slimmer profile and shorter length – exactly what made it more comfortable to carry than my former traditional backpack – are exactly what made it fail. It was so tightly packed that I was constantly digging between crammed items. So the search for a backpack continues.
  6. An unexpected win was my Rhodia pocket notebook. I’m so excited about this now-essential piece of my travel kit that I wrote a separate post about it.

(Seeing the photo above, which was taken in the Cemiterio Municipal in Paraty, I realized I had forgotten to include the sketch that I was making while at the cemetery in my Brazil posts. So here’s a good excuse to post it now. Despite sitting right under that huge cell tower, I still had no bars on my T-Mobile phone!)

8/31/14 Super5 fountain pen, Diamine Grey ink, watercolor, Caran d'Ache Museum pencils, Canson XL 140 lb. paper (Cemiterio Municipal, Paraty)


  1. Ahhh.... there's the blank Rhodia! I'm surprised you didn't choose the purple or Lilac! Argh... except Rhodia doesn't sell direct. Jet Pens has the colors, but only in lined. Goulet has blank for only Black and Orange. I can live with black. OK, some of the links provided by Rhodia have blank books in the colors. Where did you buy yours?

    1. I got mine on Amazon a while back (I got a purple one, too!). They have both lined and blank in all the colors, so you have to check carefully to make sure you are getting the one you want.


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