Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Portugal Sketching Highlights

7/25/18 Coimbra

Every time we travel, Greg and I learn a little more about what we enjoy most (and least) about traveling, and I learn a little more about what kinds of travel sketching moments are my happiest. When planning a trip, I always have a mental “must-sketch” list based on images I’ve seen, and I usually manage to hit a few. But time and time again, the highlights of my trip are not when I’ve checked off the “big” sketches on my list but the casual moments captured spontaneously. Since I can’t plan for the spontaneity that I know will ultimately be the most enjoyable, I’ve learned that I can only build in enough unstructured time in my travels to enable those moments to happen. And over time, we’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding over-planning and staying as loose as we can.

My favorite sketch of the entire trip is the one you saw earlier in my report of my workshop with Eduardo Bajzek (top of post). It was late afternoon on our last full day in Coimbra when we had nothing to do except maybe look for a place for dinner. Greg was taking photos somewhere nearby; a busker played jazz on his saxophone. Relaxed and unhurried, I looked at those café umbrellas in black and white and the canyon of buildings topped by a triangular slice of sky, and the casual scene seemed just right for practicing the graphite techniques I’d learned. In addition to being a quintessential Portuguese street scene, it represents the best of what I took home from my symposium education.

Another highlight was when I sketched Mondeguinas Tuna Feminina da Universidade, one of several musical groups made up of female Coimbra University students. Singing traditional college songs about loyalty and fraternity, these vivacious young women seemed so positive and cheerful as they busked to help pay for their education. (They were so delighted with my sketch that we exchanged Instagram names, and they showed my sketch on their account later that day.)
7/24/18 Mondeguinas Tuna Feminina da Universidade
I had good moments in Lisbon, too. On a Sunday afternoon, we stopped for a late lunch at a café with very rocky tables and chairs teetering on the lopsided, inclined pavement. No amount of tissue folded under the table legs would keep it from tilting dangerously. A large tree provided plenty of shade (and occasionally dropped small leaves onto our plates). It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner for the other patrons, who shot the breeze over bottles of Sagres, so we were the only ones leisurely eating. After I finished, I sketched a building on the street below us that was covered with yellow tiles. Streetcars passed by (but never long enough for me to work one into the sketch). The whole time I was wary of leaning too far in any direction lest my unstable chair toppled over. I was sketching in Portugal, and it was wonderful.
7/14/18 Lisbon
Although the last official leg of our trip was Coimbra, we had to fly home out of Lisbon, so we returned there for an overnight before our morning flight. With only about 18 hours in the city, we felt at loose ends. Wandering around our hotel’s neighborhood (which was different from the one we enjoyed during our initial Lisbon stay), we stumbled upon a lovely park. Strangely enough, it was filled with roosters and some large, ugly birds that looked like a cross between a turkey and a vulture. Some of the most fun I had in Portugal was chasing these birds around the park, sketching them. At one point a surprising gust of wind took my hat off and into the fenced area where the birds roamed. As I was contemplating whether to climb ungracefully over the low fence to retrieve my hat, a young woman who had been sitting nearby saw my quandary and stepped over the fence to get the hat for me! It’s a simple memory that I’ll cherish.

7/2718 odd birds in Lisbon

Although these weren’t necessarily among my most enjoyable sketches, small thumbnails (like those below) turned out to be long-term sketching energy-savers. Sometimes when traveling, I don’t have enough time for a full-page sketch, but I want to preserve a scene anyway. A tiny thumbnail (these are only a couple of inches) does the job as well as a full page, and it enables me to save energy for a larger sketch later. In this case, it’s not so much a sketching highlight as a strategy for greater enjoyment overall.
7/26/18 thumbnails of Lisbon building tops
If these were the highlights, what were the lowlights? Although I enjoyed seeing both Sintra and Guimarães, I realize I don’t appreciate short day trips nearly as much as committing several days to a single place. Greg feels the same way. I feel too rushed and compelled to sketch only the “big” sights because that’s what I came to see, and I end up missing the ordinary. It’s hard to resist the “must-see” side trips that travel books recommend, but I have to keep reminding myself to stay true to what I enjoy – not what the guidebooks say I will enjoy.

The more I travel and sketch, the more I learn about both traveling and sketching.

Tchau, Portugal! We'll be back someday!


  1. Love reading what your highlights were on the trip. I agree that sometimes the small moments are the ones that make the biggest impression on us. I was really glad I opted to spend more time in Porto...I almost took a day trip and decided it would use too much of the precious time I had left.

    1. That was a good choice you made. . . I wish I'd had a couple more days in Porto!


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