One summer I made two choices for myself:
1) I signed up to take a drawing fundamentals class.
2) I decided to travel.
In so many ways, what I experienced that summer has shaped the way I see things, how I create art, and the manner in which I approach my days. Once I got over the initial shock of learning new things (learning how to hold a pencil, how to look at light and dark spaces, and damn, even learning how to speak survival Spanish with a Catalonian accent), I found a creative flow that has worked for me. Even when I am not traveling, I still weave in some of these essential elements to my daily creative rituals.
1) ART + TRAVEL force you to simplify and pare down your supplies.
In cities where you are taking public transportation, hopping on boats and walking up hilly streets, you realize what art supplies are most important to you. I always keep it simple: a few graphite pencils, sharpener, eraser, a spiral sketchpad, watercolor crayons or watercolor paints. It should be light enough you can carry it in a messenger bag or a backpack.
2) ART + TRAVEL has taught me to be very intentional about where I go on trips and to also be spontaneous about what I end up drawing, observing, and/or painting.
In a big city with a limited amount of time, I can’t stand cramming and slamming 6 museums in one day. I try to focus on one particular neighborhood or just pick 1 or 2 places for my entire trip to visit. That way I have space to wander, to be slow, and to really experience a place. When I lighten my itinerary, I can also pad in things that make for new moments: getting lost in foreign city where there are no street signs, taking my time to see the sun setting during a hike, or having synchronistic or awkward conversation with a local on the bus.
I’ve accepted that I can’t see everything and trying to see everything just isn’t my style.
3) My drawing fundamentals class really changed the way I observe life.
Before I attended art school, I oftentimes had an idea beforehand on what I wanted my sketches to look like. In so many ways, drawing is so much more delicate and more honest. With a calm and non-judgmental gaze and a pencil in my hand, I know that all I have to do is draw what I see. Regardless of the circumstance, I could be drawing people at a festival or a statue in a garden. I have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of physical space to lay down the shapes, shadows, emotions, and experiences.
4) Having an “artistic eye” has also enriched my experiences when I visit unfamiliar places. When we are taken out of our familiar environments, we are dropped into scenarios where we oftentimes have sensory overload- foreign languages being barked at you as you walk on the street, random vendors wanting you to buy selfie sticks or an imitation handbag, or just the putrid smell of durian wafting through a market.
Relying on that calm and non-judgmental gaze has been very grounding for me especially when I can’t rely on my phone’s google maps for reliable directions or I am overwhelmed with the prospect of speaking a foreign language to get my bearings. I start to remember and learn my way around place. I have to rely on visual cues: use a volcano to know that I am facing south or remember the street vendor selling fruit is my halfway mark.
5) ART + TRAVEL has taught me to slow down and savor my experiences.
If you are in the middle of drawing something, you actually have to sit down, stop playing with your phone, and breathe. I am forced to look at the lines, stare at the way the buildings are related to each other in space, and relax into what I am doing. The bonus part of these drawings is that I oftentimes remember the context I was placed in when I was making the art- who I was with, the emotions I was feeling, and/or maybe a conversation I was having with myself of with my travel companion.
6) ART + TRAVEL also encourages me to try out new things and be a little more brave with my creativity.
Since I am out of my comfort zone, sometimes it forces me to just go all in and do a lot more things differently. I like going into museums especially ones featuring artists from the area. It shows me a new way of relating to the creative process and I oftentimes learn how the locale has influenced their work. I also enjoy going into local art supply stores. I get to oftentimes experiment with a new paint or a kind of paper.
And finally, my artwork is often a way I connect with local people. My foreign language skills may not be the greatest, but having a visual diary of the things I have seen has oftentimes given me a way to get over my “I’m a foreigner” introversion. You interpret things differently and add on a new layer of meaning when you describe your picture with a new vocabulary.
What’s ultimately meaningful for me about ART + TRAVEL is that it gives me a kickstart to my creative practices at home. It definitely encourages me to try and make the time to see new things in my hometown: a foreign film, the latest art exhibit in town, or even taking a day trip out to the beach.