Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

The Travel Sketchbook

by Eva Boynton on May 23, 2016

A hand holding a travel sketchbook on a hike, illustrating that many an aha moment waits inside. (image © Kolby Kirk).

Sketchbook in chest pocket, Kolby Kirk is always ready to draw on the trail.
© Kolby Kirk

There’s an Aha Moment on Every Page!

For me, it’s impossible to start a trip without this one essential item: my travel sketchbook. It is my eyes, my memory, my inquisitive mind on paper. Together we take on the world.

It is in the act of drawing that I learn to look, listen, perceive, and remember. In fact, I have not experienced a place fully unless I have sketched it.

Drawing of a jungle collection and inside of a house, showing an aha moment within a travel sketchbook (image © Eva Boynton).

The Jungle Collection: taking a moment to record and remember.
© Eva Boynton

For travel sketchers like me, there is something powerful in the act of drawing—the magnetic draw to draw. The gift back is a travel sketchbook that offers surprises, discoveries, and a souvenir collection of aha moments.

OIC Insights about Time

It was during a train adventure from Chicago to Los Angeles that Ken Avidor sketched the changing landscape. In the process, he realized he could record the passage of time on a single page—something impossible to find in a snapshot.

Roberta and Ken Avidor may be the ultimate sketching duo, always set to travel! They live in an apartment at the Union Train Station with no car and two folding bicycles.  At a moment’s notice, they hop a train with travel sketchbook in hand to discover and draw.

A drawing in a sketchbook of scenes from a train window, showing an aha moment about capturing time in a travel sketchbook (image © Ken Avidor).

A travel sketchbook offers the freedom to show how an environment can change.
© Ken Avidor

Travel is about movement and each travel sketchbook captures the changing frontiers. Ken Avidor explains, “The thought that often occurs to me is I am the first person to sketch this. . . . It’s kind of territorial, like a dog marking a tree.”

Roberta had another insight about time. Unlike photographers, she was able, through her drawings, to invent, erase, stylize and organize how things changed in front of her eyes. On this page of Roberta’s travel sketchbook, she captures the transition from city to country.

Drawing of New York City apartments fading into Indiana fields, showing an aha moment in the travel sketchbook (image © Roberta Avidor).

“All places seem more interesting when you draw them.”
© Roberta Avidor

OIC a New Strategy for Preserving Memories

In the pages of Suzanne Cabrera’s travel sketchbook, she embeds clues to preserving memories. Like a detective or archeologist, Cabrera often sketches single details that connect to a story (or create one!) and forever solidify a memory.

Drawing of a stapler, showing the aha moment of a travel sketchbook (image © Suzanne Cabrera).

A clue…
© Suzanne Cabrera

A drawing of a bag on the ground, a clue to a aha moment (image © Suzanne Cabrera).

And another!
© Suzanne Cabrera









Cabrera says, “Ask me what I did this time last week and I may not have the slightest clue. Ask me what was going on in any drawing I’ve included here—even one that dates back years ago—and I can tell you everything.”

For her, the small and unremarkable provide powerful connections (like pieces in a mind puzzle) to a particular experience or story. Often Cabrera’s travel sketchbook reflects her perusing mind. It offers a blank page to clarify her personal thoughts.

Drawing of a man, showing an aha moment in a travel sketchbook (image © Suzanne Cabrera).

‘Cause there’s is a story behind every-thing.
© Suzanne Cabrera

In her sketchbook, Suzanne sees clues to her travel memories. I see clues to an aha moment: drawing creates narrative, an illustrated autobiography of the sketcher’s memories, perceptions at the time, and later reflections.

OIC So Many Ways to Sense a Place

When Fabio Consoli packed for his world bicycle trip, he made sure to find space for an important tool: the travel sketchbook. Pedaling on bicycle creates an intimate connection to a place, experiencing the elements of the environment first-hand. Consoli found a similar experience with his travel sketchbook.

A drawing of a bicycle and cycle kit, showing the aha moment of the travel sketchbook (image © Fabio Consoli).

The adventure cyclist travel kit. Can you find the travel sketchbook?
© Fabio Consoli

While perusing the souks (markets) of Marrakech, Consoli discovered a red pigment that he could mix and use as watercolor. Then he happened upon a bigger discovery: the use of local materials in his travel sketchbook gave him an even greater sense of place. The smell and taste of his materials instilled a memory of his travel moments in a way that an image cannot.

Scene from a travel sketchbook reveals the artist's aha moment. (Image © Fabio Consoli)

There’s a whiff and a view of the destinations in Consoli’s sketchbooks.
© Fabio Consoli

Consoli talks about his many travel destinations: “I don’t choose the places because they are interesting to draw. In reality, it’s the place that chooses me.”

And Consoli brings home a bit of each place in his sketchbook. He now uses local fruit, coffee, soy sauce, and wine for color in the location he is drawing. His sketchbook not only serves as a visual memoir but an ongoing sensory experience of the places he has visited.

OIC a Great Way to Slow Down and Focus

If you decide to walk the forests of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or hike the steep stairs to Machu Picchu, you might run into Kolby Kirk sketching a tree, a bird, a noteworthy leaf, or an ancient ruin.

A journal with writing and drawing of a campsite, showing the aha moment of the travel sketchbook (image © Kolby Kirk).

Notes on the Pacific Crest Trail
© Kolby Kirk

In 2001 Kirk backpacked around Europe, all the while sketching and writing. His aha moment came at the Temple of Apollo in the ruins of Pompeii, Italy. While drawing, he was flooded by a herd of tourists who snapped photos and rushed on to their next site.

Kolby Kirk explains, “I realized that the act of sketching—paying close attention to the details of the scene—was etching this moment into my long-term memory. I can still remember that day, that moment even, now nearly fifteen years ago. I wonder if the same could be said by those tourists?”

A sketchbook with drawings of Pompeii and writing, showing the aha moment of the travel sketchbook (image © Kolby Kirk).

Pompeii 2001
© Kolby Kirk

In Kirk’s sketchbook he gives time and appreciation to a place and, thus, sketching becomes an act of compassion giving him time to look, draw, and study his surroundings.

OIC Power in the Travel Sketchbook

Each mark made in the travel sketchbook absorbs the artist’s experience of a place and imprints its memory.

Drawing of a cactus by an eight-year-old, showing an aha moment uncovered in a travel sketchbook (drawing © Charlotte Conk).

Charlotte Conk, 8, draws her
surroundings on a family trip.
© Charlotte Conk

While cycling in Mexico, I met a family of cyclists who were traveling with their sketchbooks on a trip from Canada to Panama.

I asked eight-year-old Charlotte Conk what she had learned from drawing during her travels. She replied with a smile:

“That the arms of people do not go on their head.”

Her travel sketchbook is a portfolio that shows a developing eye.

Charlotte’s aha moment—learning to look a little harder—is powerful in its simplicity, providing an insight that she’ll use the rest of her life.


Thank you to Roberta and Ken Avidor and Jefferson Lines, Suzanne Cabrera, Fabio Consoli, Kolby Kirk, Charlotte Conk, and all the other artists who offered photos from their sketchbooks. Thank you for inspiring me to continue my travel sketchbook! 

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


6 thoughts on “The Travel Sketchbook

  1. Eva, I always love reading your stories. I particularly love this story as Bradey was just here in Baran with me and he insisted on buying a sketch pad and pastels so he could draw while he was here. His drawing of the chicken coop was amazing! I was hoping he’d leave it here, but no, I think he took it home with him…I’d love a collection of all the chicken coop drawings! I’d hang them in my home. Lots of love and missing you! Auntie Wendy

    • Wendy!
      Thanks for the feedback and for reading the post! Glad to hear you are all enjoying France and I hope to get there sometime soon! I’m happy to hear that Bradey is drawing!

  2. This is awesome Eva!

    Thank you so much for sharing…and I feel the excerpts you took from my sketchbook were just right. It’s true…it’s really about recording and cataloging moments so they can never be forgotten.

    Great seeing in the sketchbooks of others always!

    • Suzanne,
      Thanks for the feedback and sharing your sketchbook for the article. You’ve inspired me to draw more and write stories for people and places I draw!
      Happy drawing,

  3. A stellar post, Eva. It’s always interesting to read/see other travelers’ sketch journals and realize just how unique each one is!

    • Roberta,
      Thanks for reading and contributing from your sketchbook. It’s definitely a window into another person’s travel experience.
      Happy drawing,

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