“Sketches have in common a flame that the painting does not possess. It is the moment of heat for the artists, of pure energy, with none of the adornments that reflection adds to everything.” – Dierot
On my first trip to Europe in 2010, I took around 700 photos over the 9 days I was there. 700 Photos! That’s about 70 photos a day of buildings, food, strangers, landscapes and of course many compulsory selfies. For most of these photos, I can’t remember where or why they were taken and even though I have some moderate photography skills, these photos failed to reflect my memories of the trip.
In 2016, I travelled to the Netherlands and brought my sketching kit (I have written about my travel sketch kit here). My tiny moleskin filled with sketches remains the best souvenir from this trip, and possibly from any trip I’ve taken. It contains about 20 sketches drawn in cafes, museums, country roads and beaches. I still enjoy looking through these sketches and sharing them with friends and family.
What makes these travel sketches special, is that they represent a prolonged moment of time. Sketching forces you to be present for longer than the time it takes to click the shutter. It forces you to look at the scene in front of you and see what makes it truly unique. A sketch reflects your view of a place and captures your unique energy and how it was affected by a moment and place in time.
Don’t get me wrong, photography is an amazing art form, and if you truly love photography, then snap away. But for many of us, I feel like photography can actually take us out of the moment. For example, when visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, I observed a tourist walking from masterpiece to masterpiece, taking a photo on their Iphone and shuffling along. He acted almost like a consumer, “collecting” the photographs. I wanted desperately to get him to stop and take a moment to really experience the art work – to really look at the piece and absorb it. Photos can never rival the experience of being in front of the piece and, as a traveller, you might never get that opportunity again.
So I say, go ahead, take your compulsory selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. But also, try sitting in a cafe and truly being present, sketching your surroundings. I guarantee that you will cherish these sketches more than any snapshot you take.
If you are interested in learning more about travel sketching, I teach travel sketching workshops in Waterloo or can arrange them for small groups. In these workshops I look at supplies to bring and teach basic drawing/painting and composition skills to help you get the most out of your quick sketches. My next class is coming up in April 28, 2018. at Uptown Gallery in Waterloo.