Leave Your Camera Behind - the Next Time You Travel, Capture Your Memories in a Book of Watercolor Sketches Instead of on Film

Article excerpt

Photographs preserve visual images of your travels. When you get home, you label them, organize them, and put them into albums, often giving them titles like "Bill's and My Anniversary Trip to Egypt, June 1998." The albums are treasures you periodically take from their shelves, share with friends, and reminisce about over a cup of tea.

But imagine a different kind of picture album: a book of watercolor sketches you did on the spot. A sketchbook, recording your impressions, capturing people and places, sights and sounds, preserving your memories. An original piece of artwork bound in a single volume.

Sketchbooking is an art anyone can learn and use to preserve images of his travels. The concept was originated by Barbara Stecher, a talented artist who teaches the skill at the De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Stecher travels extensively but never carries a camera, and yet, she has an album of visual memories of every trip she's ever taken. She creates her images by sketching as she goes, adding words and captions to the pages. The words are a vital part of the memories she creates and add a second dimension. The shelves in her home are lined with colorful sketchbooks that capture the essence of her travels: Antarctica, Egypt, Paris, East Africa, and Australia are all recorded.

The wonderful thing about sketchbooking is that even people who feel they have no artistic talent--and that includes me--can sketch well enough and quickly enough to capture the essence of what they see and feel at the moment. Stecher's system of spontaneous sketching brings out the creativity in everyone and offers an alternative to traditional snapshots.

The philosophy

Understanding the philosophy of sketchbooking is critical to understanding the how and why of it. The first part of creating a sketchbook is to ignore that chattering, nattering critic in your head. He's a drag. All he ever says is, "You can't draw, why are you bothering? That's terrible." Instead, let the creative, childlike part of you go free and just have fun. What you're doing is creating a book of images that pleases you, that tells the story of your trip and brings memories of your travels alive long after they're over. Imagine looking at your sketchbook two years after your trip to Paris and suddenly finding yourself back at the Arc de Triomphe, sights, sounds, and smells flooding your senses. Your sketches--and you--are a success. Wow!

The other point about sketchbooking is that it is done spontaneously, in the moment, with whatever time is available. That critic in your head will pop up and say, "But you need at least three hours to sit down and do a decent sketch." You don't. Sketch in whatever time presents itself, even if it's only three or four minutes while you're waiting for the bus. What's important to understand is that in three to four minutes, you can only sketch the bare bones of what you are observing. You do what you can in the available time, and the sketch records what you saw and felt in those few minutes. Your sketch says you were there, in the moment.

During other parts of your trip, there will be more time, and your sketches will be more elaborate and detailed. Imagine relaxing for several hours at a cafe on the Champs-lysees, watching people stroll by, sketching the scene as you sit, sipping espresso. This sketch will invariably be more complex than the one done at the bus stop. The beauty of sketchbooks is that they embrace all kinds--quick and impressionistic ones that capture the flavor and feel of a

place, its essence; detailed and elaborate ones, recording the specifics of an experience; or anywhere in between. Together, they tell of an adventure, your trip, each sketch supporting the other, in your storybook.

Stecher is an enthusiastic whirlwind, brimming with encouragement for everybody who wants to try sketchbooking. She is spontaneous and believes in having fun. …