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One Week

In one week, I will be on a plane to Botswana.

I am terrified. I have bought two travel journals and they are probably both wrong.

I really want to keep a travel journal--or at least to be the sort of person who keeps travel journals--and I am going with a pack of artists so I totally have to bring one. Sketching will occur. But then I get these books about travel journals and it's all doodles on Moleskines that are eleven thousand times better than my best day sketching and I KNOW they only put the pretty ones in and not the pages that are like three lines and a doodle of a chicken, but it doesn't help because ALL of my sketchbook pages are three lines and a doodle of a chicken.

(I kinda like the guy in this one book who just takes photos of everything and jots down notes and then goes back and sketches from the photos after he gets home and colors them digitally. I appreciate that. As a primarily digital artist, I will be at a disadvantage until they really kick up the game on tablets.)

Seriously, though, on some level I really want to be making the journals that look like Hemingway took up scrapbooking and they wind up galleries and then everyone will be terribly impressed at my mad on-the-spot drawing skills and insightful extemporaneous poetry and also how legible my handwriting is.

And while I am dreaming, I would like world peace and a pony.

I know people who take their sketchbook everywhere and draw in them and they are probably better people or at least better artists. I keep trying to get into the habit and it keeps sort of not happening. Possibly it's because I don't actually like drawing very much. I love painting. I will paint all day long. Drawing is the chore that leads up to getting to paint. If I'm drawing for fun, it's basically as a punchline to a joke. This is arguably why I'm in comics.

Anyway, I continue to prep in other ways. I replaced my hiking boots that were pinchy. Apparently my problem is that I am a size 10, not a size 9.5. I was a size 7, once. Mind you, I was also a C cup once, too.

Anyway, everything is as prepared as it gets, I guess, except that you are supposed to make your checked luggage look really gaudy and crappy and distinctive because there's a major problem with people stealing luggage off carousels, so the safari company suggests making them LOUD. I have purchased hot pink and blue leopard print duct tape. We will do this thing.

Solution: draw comics.

Comic-style drawings of things in your journal would be tops. It might also help you remember things you want to paint later (though photos are quicker.)

Or take photos, sketch from them later, and tell us they are sketches from your journal. We'll all nod along, I promise, and the vast majority of us won't know any different anyway, and can't draw *at all* ourselves so even if we did know different, we'd still admire the sketches.

But most important--have fun. Pay attention to Botswana so you remember it later. You can paint it for us with words; you are also very good at that.

Wombats Take Botswana. ^_^

I mean. You DO have Hello Kitty bandaids. Just sayin'.

Would it help to make a travel palette of watercolor paints? I'm also of the opinion that photos are never a bad idea and am enamored of the Papa Hemingway's comic scrapbook approach.

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I spent a month in Rwanda in 1988 visiting my mother, and it was eye-opening. She taught at the National University of Rwanda, which was six kilometers down an unpaved road built mostly of lava rocks, in the middle of a jungle. With an active university, running water, electricity, etc. I suspect it's all gone now, though.

What I recommend is that you bring a good camera and take a lot of pictures. Stop trying to be other people.

Enjoy Botswana. Soak it in. Learn to say "good afternoon" in and "how are you?" in the local language. Wash everything before you put it in your mouth, even vegetables. Make sure the ice was made with filtered water. You'll have an amazing time.

Rwanda has gone through some seriously terrible time since you were there, but it's totally resurgent now - they're a tech powerhouse, supplying newly-educated expertise around Africa under a remarkably positive government. A real success story from the bloody ashes.

Which we basically never hear about, since nice stories are boring news, and it's Africa so it doesn't fit in with the established myth. Go look into it yourself, it's fascinating.

Journals are to help YOU remember what YOU saw and did. If you are too busy seeing and doing awesome things to even open one, your trip was still a success. If you sit in a hotel room the entire time and fill several journals with detailed entries about the food on the airplane, you won't have enjoyed your trip as much as you could have. Focus on having fun and seeing and doing interesting things, and journal IF and WHEN you feel like it.

Focus on having fun and seeing and doing interesting things, and journal IF and WHEN you feel like it.


There are neat options now for sketching by hand in a way that saves the drawing as a digital file. Special pens or a slate/pen combo that work with any paper laid over them. Though I also thought there were newer tablets with improved draw/write capacity for on the go stuff.

Anyway, have fun!! :)

Have fun. Learn things.
Pack a backpack and tuck a wide length of cloth inside it. You can carry things in it. Wrap things, (including yourself) protect things from sun, dry things from rain, shield things from eyes. When you are stuck you can even trade it for somethings. It's Doug Adams Towel and it comes in handy.

Last year I stumbled on the book "Sketchbooking" by Barbara Stecher which is about travel sketch journals, and I really loved it because it did include the pages that were just three lines and a chicken, and explicitly encouraged you to draw crap that was just three lines and a chicken, and had a bunch of other good advice along those lines ("Limit yourself to five minutes a sketch, period." "Number all the pages in advance so you can't tear any out even if you want to." "Never attempt to judge a sketch until you are at least fifty miles away from where you drew it and can no longer compare it to the original" "Start by sketching your pile of luggage before you leave so you aren't faced with a blank book on your first day out" etc.)

It actually got me consistently sketching for the first time in my life! And my last long trip I ditched the camera and just brought a sketchbook and I actually filled it! With terrible sketches that were three lines and a seagull but it was a ton of fun.

Good luck Ursula!

My mom was recently held up at the airport until 3 AM trying to meet up with some ninny who took her luggage by accident. My red luggage is getting more and more commonplace, so I might have to go the hot pink hello kitty duct tape route pretty soon.

I've done the travel journal thing before. It was mostly full of words, but some art got in there. I glued in some paper envelopes on the inside covers to slip things in that I found were neat. Worked for receipts and small bits of paper that were from places I wanted to recall the names of, ticket stubs and the like. If you want to press flowers and leaves, get a rubber band that you can keep the back half of the book tethered together to press-on-the-go!

Another fun thing was letting people I'd meet along the way, draw in it or write something too. A bum in Ireland drew me his interpretation of Florida and though a lot of the lines made no sense at all (he wasn't -quite- all there to begin with) it ended up being one of my favorite pages. :) So.. depending on what characters you meet, and how well you can judge if they're gonna run off with your book or not, its another idea for a fun thing to do with your journal. :)


Edited at 2015-04-02 11:47 pm (UTC)

Just in the last few months, sketching clicked for me. I've always been a painter/digital artist. I kept a sketchbook because I was supposed to because I'm an artist and thats what artists are supposed to do in order to, I don't know, prove that they're serious? I don't know.

Anyway, sketching clicked for me because I was finally able to accept the fact that I draw the way I do and I don't have to draw like anyone else. The big thing that helped with this was brush pens. Seriously. I'll put in the rough sketch in pencil and then finish it with the brush pen... and sketching is now somehow amazingly fun. I think its because the brush pens let me work in shape, rather than line, which is what I think we painter people are used to.

I have some of the marker-y type brushpens in various degrees of grey, and a couple of the Japanese ones that actually are brushes with bristles and such. The marker ones last longer and dry faster, but the Japanese ones make really nice shapes.

Edited at 2015-04-03 12:16 am (UTC)

Watercolor pencils.

I'm okay with sketching with pencil. I doodle a lot with pens (mostly during meetings), but I discovered I much prefer doing my art with a water color pencil sketch and then going after it with a wet brush and traditional water color media. I've seen brush pens for doing watercolors and that's my next present-to-me.

It's crazy easy to make three lines and a chicken into art or art like objects using watercolor pencils.

You are a writer as well as an artist. Take photos, and while you are there paint them with words. When you get home, paint them with paint (and/or its digital equivalent).

I find journaling is most successful when it has a purpose. Is it for memories? Is it for therapy? Is it for an audience? Is it because holy shit it's three a.m. brain will you PLEASE shut the hell up I have to work in four hours?

If it's something no one will ever see, it doesn't need to look amazing. It can just be what it is. If you were planning to publish it upon your return, then I would say use it to facilitate the way you work the best. i.e. produce manuscript, go home, produce art.

Google indicates this is, in fact, to publish. In which case I put it to you that as an artist, you won't be happy with what you produce regardless of whether or not it's three lines and a chicken. :P

sketches are only aide memoirs so they can still be three lines and a doodle. I'm betting the travel journals you are impressed with started out that way too. it was only when they got back that the real art began.