Friday, August 26, 2016

The Sketcher’s Spouse

Greg doing his thing in a train in Japan.
After seeing my posts about our travels in the UK, a reader asked me what my husband Greg is doing all that time that I’m sketching. That’s a question that I get asked frequently by friends who know how much I love to sketch and how much we both love to travel. Specifically, Jean is interested because she’s planning to attend the USk symposium next year and wondered how to manage such a trip with a non-sketching spouse.

“How and when do you meet up with your spouse during the Symposium? What parts of the Symposium can your non-registered, non-sketching spouse attend and not attend? How is your spouse received by other sketchers? And how do you plan a trip that pleases both of you, so he isn't just wafting about waiting for you to be finished with the Symposium so you can move on to the rest of the trip?” All great questions, Jean!

The easy and short answer is that Greg is a photographer, so our interests are highly compatible. Although certainly we enjoy spending time together while traveling, we also want to go our separate ways and meet later at a designated time and place. “Done, where u?” is a text message we exchange frequently.

If he didn’t have photography as a hobby, it might be more difficult to manage traveling together so that I still have time for myself to sketch. But I’ve also traveled or day-toured quite a bit with non-sketching friends and family members and have still managed to get in sketching time without being annoying (at least, no one has told me I am ).

Greg doing his thing in Bath.
There’s a reason for that: I can be very fast. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sketching on location regularly, it’s the ability to manage my sketches based on how much time is available to me. (My correspondent role in Manchester certainly helped me hone that skill.) I wouldn’t want to make people wait 30 to 60 minutes for me to do a typical sketch. But no one seems to mind waiting 10 minutes, and often they welcome the opportunity to sit on a bench and rest while I do a quick one. If I know I have only 10 minutes, then 10 minutes is all I need.

Attending the symposium with a non-sketching partner need not be an issue, either. I talk to other symposium participants who are traveling with partners and keep my ears open. During the Barcelona symposium, Greg met another sketcher’s husband, and the two of them decided to do some touring together one day. (I regret to this day that I missed out on a visit to Parc Güell, but I had workshops to attend!) A similar opportunity came up in Manchester, so I let Greg know about it.

In Paraty, a small town that’s easy to navigate, I always left him a copy of my workshop map and timetable so that he would know where I would be each day, and we sometimes met up for lunch between workshops. In Manchester he joined me for lunch at the Manchester Museum where I had just done some sketch reportage, and afterwards he enjoyed the exhibits while I moved on to the next event.

Greg doing his thing in Rio de Janeiro.
At all the symposiums, Greg joined me at dinners and drink-and-draws with other sketchers, who enjoyed having another “victim” to draw (Greg got used to appearing in lots of sketchbooks!). And sometimes I skipped social events because after a long day of non-stop activities, it was nice to have a quiet dinner for just the two of us.

In regard to Jean’s specific questions about which activities spouses might be allowed to participate in, that’s something that has improved over time. In Barcelona, a number of spouses wanted to attend the closing reception, but there was no formal process in place for them, which led to people feeling like they had to sneak in the back door. In Manchester, however, the symposium staff anticipated this issue and simply sold reception tickets at the door to cover refreshments.

In Paraty, which didn’t sell out and therefore had attendee passes to spare, I bought Greg a low-cost “Sketcher” level pass, which allowed him access to the central facility where attendees hung out between workshops, used the restrooms, grabbed a snack and used Wi-Fi. That pass also allowed him to attend the receptions.

Achieving the right sketcher/non-sketcher balance during travel is not as easy as when you and your partner are always together. But having separate experiences gives each of you a different perspective and often enhances the travel experience as a whole. And balance is the operative word – just like all the other parts of a relationship.

If you have a non-sketching partner, what kinds of things do you do to achieve balance during travel?

Like Jean, if you’re thinking of attending a symposium for the first time, you might want to check out the post I wrote after Barcelona. After that first symposium, I learned a lot of practical matters as well as how to manage expectations.

We always eat ice cream together!


  1. Helpful, thanks. Dan is a photographer also, so I'm assuming he'd have plenty to capture in Chicago but it's good to know we can connect here and there throughout the day to check in.

    1. I'm sure you'll both have fun in Chicago, Terrie! I'm already looking forward to it!


  2. I think it helps that Greg takes photos so he has something to occupy him. My husband composes music so when we travel he is content to do that when we are away. On certain trips it has worked well, but when I go to my watercolor workshop in SC every year it is easier to let him stay home...and he is happy to do that and let us have "sister time." I' hoping to go to the symposium in Chicago, but I think I will probably go solo and meet up with friends there.

    1. I sure hope we can finally meet in Chicago, Joan -- that would be so much fun!



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