Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sketchbook Journeys: Spain

Spain was wonderful! I loved every moment and came home with a journal filled with memories. Travel changes me. Living in a different country, eating the food, walking the streets, meeting the people, learning about the history of that place - it alters my perception of the world and makes me realize how rich and varied other cultures are. Travel broadens my mind and makes me want to see and learn more. And a good way to do that is to keep a travel journal during a trip. It's amazing what a memory jogger a sketch can be.

These first two pages of my Spain sketchbook serve as a sort of introduction to what follows. I completed the map before the trip to give myself a better idea of where I would be traveling, in relation to other places I've been in Europe.

The quote page was begun at home, added to on the flight back from Spain, and painted after the trip. There's certainly not time to work on a design like this when you're traveling! I had lettered the quote and inked the layout of diagonal squares before I headed to Spain, thinking that I would look for some simple tile designs while I was there. It wasn't until I was having lunch at the airport hotel restaurant my last day in Spain that I finally found what I had been looking for. The top of the table where we were eating was covered with tiles. The patterns were definitely not simple, but I never shrink from a challenge, and I managed to work out the designs for my sketch.

The sketchbook I'm using is a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman and Birn Beta series softcover. I knew I wasn't going to have much time to work on finishing up this journal in the months following the trip, so I decided to approach it a little differently than I normally do during my travels. My goal was to make it quick and casual...and finish-able! To that end, I...

  • journaled everyday in my regular printed lettering style - nothing fancy, nothing to worry about or stress over. 
  • standardized the border style on all my journaling pages, so I had fewer design decisions to make. 
  • incorporated collage into many of the pages. It brings back memories and helps to fill the space on a page without having to devote a lot of time to painting. 
  • limited the time I spent on drawing. Rough pencil sketches were done quickly, so I could get to inking and painting sooner.
  • took advantage of small chunks of time to add drawings to my sketchbook.
I reminded myself at the beginning of the trip that "Done is better than perfect" so I dove in and filled an entire 50-page sketchbook in two weeks. Of course, I still have a lot to finish up in it here at home, but the emotions, the wonder, the awe, and the joy of being in that amazing place are all there, just waiting for the finishing touches.

I dove right in that first day, jet lagged though I was, and sat by the pool for a few minutes on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, with all of Barcelona spread out below me.

The Andante Hotel is in a great location, close to the harbor, museums, and one of the main pedestrian walkways in the city. We walked miles and miles every day, absorbing the sights and sounds of this spectacular city. It was so much greener than I had expected. Tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens made me feel at home, and the architecture reminded me a lot of Paris. So, despite my not being a city girl, I would happily return to Barcelona some day.

The title page for the Barcelona section of my travel journal started out simply, then morphed into a design inspired by the stained glass windows at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece basilica. It all came about because of a boo-boo.

Some gel pen ink from the facing page had transferred to this page when I closed the sketchbook too soon. See?

All through the trip, I debated about what to do to fix the mistake, then finally decided I would have to glue something over the offending ink blots. Since our time in Barcelona centered around the work of Antoni Gaudi, and I had been absolutely blown away by the beauty and creativity of Sagrada Familia, I chose to paint a stained glass window inspired by the rose window in the cathedral. Some of the sections on my page are fairly close copies of designs in the actual window while others were modified somewhat. In Gaudi's windows, the cool colors on the eastern side of the church represent the nativity while the warm yellows and reds in the windows on the western side represent the crucifixion or passion. I included both on my page.

I first designed the window pattern on graph paper, then traced the design onto watercolor paper. I penciled in the lead lines then inked and painted them. Next I cut an overlay out of heavier Canson Mi-Tientes colored paper, used a thick black Sharpie to color it black, glued it over the painted piece, then glued the whole thing to my sketchbook page. The last step was to make the "Barcelona" title piece, which I cut out and glued in the center of the black piece. (By the way, the lettering style is called Amadeus. Isn't it fun?)

I think this page is a great example of how thinking creatively while fixing a mistake can turn a page into something better than what you had originally planned.

More sketches from Barcelona and Costa Brava will follow soon, but for now I thought I'd give you a very abbreviated tour of our time in Spain. It's tough to choose from the hundreds of pictures I took, but here are the highlights....

The view from the roof of our hotel was fantastic, but the infinity pool kind of gave me the willies!

The outside of La Sagrada Familia is stunning, but when I took this picture, I had no idea of the beauty that awaited me inside.

Even on a rainy day, the windows glowed.

It was ethereal....

Gaudi was a creative genius, and it was a high point of my life to see his work in person.

A side trip to Montserrat took us up into the mountains.

We even caught a glimpse of the Pyrenees off in the distance.

After four days in Barcelona, we headed off to Costa Brava for my workshop in the village of Calella de Palafrugell. This view from our hotel is one I'll always remember. I took a picture of it at least once a day, every day, while we were there. It was just that pretty!

We sketched it the first day of class.

The color of the water makes my heart beat faster just looking at it!

I could spend a month sketching in Calella and not run out of inspiration.

One perfect day we sketched at the botanical gardens just up the hill from where we stayed.

Perched atop the cliffs, it was a little piece of heaven.

We had dinners together...

and time alone...

We spent a day in Figueres, shopping, sketching, wandering, and visiting the Dali Museum.

Another day, we visited the tiny medieval village of Pals. It turned out to be one of my favorite spots on the tour.

And one evening, as I sat at the table in our apartment working on my sketchbook, I happened to glance up to see this....

the most spectacular rainbow of my life! Can you see the treasure at the end of the rainbow? It's Costa Brava itself!

It was an amazing trip with wonderful group of people, but no matter how much I love my time away, there's nothing like coming home again. When my mom and I came down the escalator in the Pittsburgh Airport and saw these smiling faces waiting for us, it felt really good to be home.


  1. It looks like an amazing place to visit. You are blessed to be able to travel and visit such wonderful places. Love visiting vicariously through your photos and sketches. Glad you had a great time!

  2. What an inspirational place to be. Even the food is art! You have a travel journal like no other!

  3. Leslie, your sketchbooks and travels fill me with such wonder and longing. The world really is an amazing place. And what a sweet Welcome Home committee. Their signs are so creative! I love the sketching goals you set for yourself, and I can’t wait to see more of your completed pages! Glad you’re back safe and sound. :-)


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