Keeping an illustrated journal, especially of a particular journey or place, is such a wonderful thing to do – it will give you and others pleasure for years to come. Having your own sketches, drawings and paintings with hand-written notes and labels creates such a personal reminder of places you have seen, far more than photographs ever could.
It does require a little preparation and a little time every day but it is SO worth it. The results can be delightful.
Preparation for my Egyptian travel journal was simple: I bought an Arches watercolour journal and put together a small watercolour kit plus pencils, a waterproof fineliner and a putty rubber. Two old plastic vitamin bottles with lids were my water pots. A few sheets of kitchen paper plus a simple card viewfinder and that’s it! ( A viewfinder is a sheet of card about 4” x 6” with a rectangular window cut into it. Helps you isolate the scene to paint.) Of course I always have the camera on my smartphone, or carry a small camera in my bag, to take back-up photos as reminders.
Any watercolour sketchbook would do as long as it’s a convenient size; mine was 6in x 10 in ( 15 x 25 cm.) But investing in a special sketchbook meant a commitment to myself to keep up with my journal. This little psychological trick worked for me! I enjoyed my daily sketching – I did about half an hour a day. On the Nile cruise I could manage an hour a day, sometimes from reality and sometimes from relevant photos or books. Then I continued my journal from these once I got back home.
On a fortnight’s trip to Egypt with my husband Owen I kept an illustrated journal of the things I saw every day. And the things I saw were incredible! The Tutankhamen treasures in the Egyptian Museum including his fabulous golden mask, the awe-inspiring temples at Abu Simbel, Edfu and Philae; the amazing mortuary temple of Hatshepsut the female Pharoah, the vast and brooding temple complex at Luxor, the graceful boats (felucca) on the Nile, the Pyramids, the Sphinx…
But I also sketched little scenes of everyday life that we saw along the way, even from the coach or the Nile cruise: a donkey cart laden with sugar cane, two women sitting on a patterned rug selling cauliflowers by the road, girls in brightly coloured Egyptian clothes waving to us, fishermen on a boat on the Nile, water buffalo in the reeds at the side of the Nile, the hot air balloon we went up in to see the Valley of the Kings from the air…
And I sketched things from my souvenir books and postcards: some of the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, the fabulously beautiful statue of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun’s amazing gold mask, the astonishing temple at Abu Simbel with its enormous statues of Ramesses II…
I didn’t need to finish these sketches every day. In fact I finished a lot of them once I got home to the UK. I did write a title for each page every day to remind me what to sketch next. But the scenes remained in my mind because I had done the outline drawings, and because I took reference photos wherever I could. When you sketch you truly SEE something instead of just glancing at it and forgetting it.
You could scribble a quick sketch and write a few lines in a notebook or sketchbooks on the spot if that helps. Because I have quite a good visual memory I can retain the look of something for a few hours, so often I did a quick sketch in the hotel in the evening. Even if I didn’t finish it then, the idea was down on paper. As you see, the lower sketch above still needs painting!
My illustrated journal really is the best souvenir I brought home from my amazing trip to Egypt.
You don’t have to visit somewhere so exotic to keep a sketched journal, and it doesn’t have to be a travel journal either. Simply sketching / drawing / recording interesting or picturesque things you see (in reality, or even on TV and in magazines) on a regular basis improves your art skills enormously as well as creating a personalised record for you and others in years to come. You will also have a great source of subjects to make finished paintings from in the future. Try it!