Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Page 1 Travel Map

When I returned recently from a wonderful two-week vacation in Italy, I mentioned here that I had brought home a travel journal filled with lots of unfinished sketches from my trip. Well, I'm happy to say that, little by little, the drawings are being brought to life with watercolor. I've been managing to snatch a few minutes here and there during the day to work on it, and it's coming together slowly but surely. I'll be posting the sketches as I finish them, so keep checking back to read the ongoing saga of my great Italian adventure.

10" x 7", ink and watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook 

On page one, I've drawn a map of the places we visited while staying in the Veneto region, just west of Venice. It may look like a hodge-podge, but it shows all the day trips we took from our home base in the little village of Poianella. The pup (see detail below) represents Aspen, the sweet little golden retriever mix that we dogsat for ten days, along with her pal, Bailey. To the right is the house where we stayed.

The building near Lupia is a fantastic restaurant where they serve the most delicious gluten free pizza. I couldn't get enough of it! The COOP supermarket in Bolzano Vicentino is where we did most of our grocery shopping.

In Marostica, we ate our first gelato and explored the 14th century castle on the hill. Nove, just 25 minutes from our home base, is world famous for their ceramics. We visited several of the small shops and were impressed with the beautiful hand-painting on the pottery.

The funny-looking trees (shown above) were a memorable part of the local scenery. The severe pruning they receive every year or two causes all the branches to grow from the thick, stubby trunk. The cut branches are used as fuel for the winter.

One of our favorite places was the wine country around Lake Garda. The hilltop view from San Giorgio is something I'll never forget. I'll tell you all about it on page 18 of my journal.

Our one day in Venice gave us a taste of that magical place and made me long to go back some day when I'll have more time to explore.

Vicenza was just a 20-minute drive from our house. It's a lovely city with many buildings designed in the 16th century by Andrea Palladio. Our trip to the weekly flea market was such a treat! Everything from clothing and household goods to octopus, cheese, and salami was offered for sale. But the flower stalls were the best! Oh, the colors!

There was beauty everywhere we looked ... red-tile roofs, warm golden walls, old wooden shutters, and window boxes filled with pansies and trailing ivy. I wanted to draw it all! One small travel journal filled with simple watercolor sketches can't begin to capture the experience of being there. But pausing to look, listen, study, absorb, and record on paper what I saw and felt has made Italy a lasting part of me.


  1. You do beautiful work, and have created quite the keepsake. I have long wanted/longed to be ale to create in watercolor. Perhaps the coming new year I'll make it happen. Thanks for sharing this and reminding me of yet another art to play in!

  2. Leslie, I grew up in Greensburg, PA and remember driving thru Washington on our way to Wheeling to visit family. Your notice for your workshop triggered happy childhood memories. Enuf of that! I soooooo love your work and appreciate the step by step lesson on Venice. Thank you. Plan to check in on your web page to see more and more of your painting. Thanks again, Cinda

  3. Hi, Leslie. As I have time, I love going back through your archives. I have a question about travel journals. You said at the beginning of this post that you came home with a journal filled with unfinished sketches. Can you tell me more about your process?

    My husband and I are going to Germany next year with a church group, and I'd like to document the trip in a sketchbook, which I'm very new to doing. I've picked up the idea that people finish their sketchbooks onsite, each sketch complete with watercolor, text, borders, etc. Which leaves me feeling a bit anxious, as I am not a fast drawer or painter.

    How much do you do onsite? Do you take reference photos for adding watercolor later? Do you take notes in a separate notebook, or do you add them to the page as you're sketching? Do you go into a trip with a sketch plan in mind, or do you work more spontaneously?

    Okay, that's more than "a question," but I'd love to hear whatever you have to say!

  4. Hi Susan,
    As you read more of my posts about my Italy sketchbook, you'll get a feel for how much I usually finish onsite, which is... not much! :) I'd say I probably came home with less than ten pages completed out of 65 total pages in my travel journal. I think a lot of sketchers do as I do and often just do the drawing on location and then, due to time constraints, finish the painting later at home. Our time is so precious when we're on vacation in a foreign land, and I like to see as much as I can without feeling too rushed.

    I generally take the time to do a very quick pencil drawing, just to get the major shapes roughed in and proportions figured out, then I do my ink drawing. I snap a photo or two of the scene for reference, then move on to the next exciting place down the road. I even had a page or two in my sketchbook where I had absolutely no time to draw, so I penciled in a note of what I wanted to put on that page later at home. It was fun reliving my trip months later as I worked on finishing things up.

    For the text passages, I would leave areas on a page as I sketched, knowing I wanted to add writing there that evening in the hotel. I had a little 3"x4" spiral notepad where I jotted down notes during the day, so I had a record of all the things we did and places we went that day. I tried to keep up with the journaling in my sktchbook every night - it's really difficult to catch up if you get behind.

    I didn't plan anything in the way of page layouts or compositions before I went on the trip. I designed it as I went along. I did make an effort to vary the pages though, to make it more interesting using borders, different fonts, and unique page layouts.

    It was also fun to have a theme for certain pages, like flavors of gelato I ate or the colors of Tuscan houses. I liked adding things to those pages over the course of the two weeks.

    I hope this helps. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to do this. Just try to find what works for you and enjoy the experience. And don't feel guilty if you don't come home with completed pages! Sketching can be a way to enhance your travel experience, but it shouldn't feel like a burden or an obligation. Whatever you accomplish, at least it's something. You'll remember those scenes you sketched with a clarity that will amaze you. It's worth the effort. Good luck and have fun on your trip!

  5. One more thing, Susan - you might want to read my blog post entitled "The Realities of A Sketching Vacation":

  6. Leslie, thank you so much! Such a wealth of information! Our trip isn't until late 2015, so I'm giving myself lots of time to learn and practice and, hopefully, gain confidence.

    I enjoyed the Realities of a Sketching Vacation post. My favorite page was "Lucca." It made me laugh, because that is how I envision how my pages will start out. I like that you said you'd rather be biking than sketching people biking past you. Good advice.

    I love your work so much. One day, I hope to figure out a way to make the 5-6-hour trip once a week to take one of your workshops. Thanks again for your generous response!

  7. Susan, how about only making the trip once? I've been toying with the idea of hosting a three-day workshop here at my home. Students would stay in a hotel nearby, then come in the morning to my place for class, stay for lunch, then go out for a sketching field trip together in the afternoon. Does that sound like something you'd be interested in? It would be next summer or fall sometime.

  8. Please send me an email, so I can contact you directly when I decide on dates, etc. I think it would be a lot of fun, and we have some great sketching locations around here. (Find my address on the Contact page above.)


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