Travel Journaling ~ Commiting

Try a cartoon or quilt like approach to remembering each day.

On a recent trip to VA, DC and MD I decided to do a quilt or comic strip like approach to recording our journey. A shorter, busier trip, this was my way of capturing the memories.

In Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler by Lavinia Spaulding she writes, “Everyone is capable of great discipline; most of us simply don’t realize it because we’re far more capable of great procrastination”. If you want a rewarding journal experience, you must commit to a schedule.

Getting behind in a travel journal is deadly. We have all been there. The benefit of writing about an experience soon after it occurs is that you maintain the immediacy of your emotions, your senses (the smells, colors, textures, sounds, etc.) in essence – the details. Waiting to write about something can lead to writing that is more general in its description, an overview, or worse, not writing at all. We become overwhelmed, and as Lavinia says, “Soon you’ve passed through too many magical places and befriended too many kindred wanderers to imagine sitting down to record every detail. Where would you even begin?”.

Travel offers a great chance for change. Routines, habits, schedules, responsibilities are left behind. We can be and do whatever we want. And often time is there for the taking – waiting for a plane to load, relaxing on a town square bench, sitting on a train… luxurious moments of solitude, there for us to savor and delight in.

You might start small with comfortable blocks of time. In cultivating the muscle of writing and/or sketching in your journal the important thing is to do it regularly. Daily is best. Maybe 5 minutes a day. Whatever. But open your journal and make a mark. Lavinia suggests opening our journal a few times a day – to jot down an email address, a quote. Her idea is the more we open our journals, the less intimidating and heavy is our association with writing or sketching.

Capturing the highlights of each day kept me connected to my journal.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I began by making a note of the day’s highlights each night before bed or first thing in the morning. This kept me connected to my journal and I did it in a spiral to add to the creative element and make it fun. With this simple exercise I opened the door to more involved writing and drawing. Many afternoons found me sitting cross-legged on the bed in our sunny bedroom, relaxing and writing or drawing in my book.

My journal/sketchbook is a little over half full. As corny as this sounds I feel a real sense of pride when I say that. This could be the first book I fill. That is my intent!

For more thoughts from me and Lavinia read my post on Travel Journaling ~ the best journal.

Travel Journaling ~ the best journal

Sketch of poinsettias in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Journal entry with sketch of poinsettias in our courtyard, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

This trip to San Miguel de Allende I brought along several books since we are staying in one place for the duration. One of them, Lavinia Spalding’s Writing Away: a creative guide to awakening the journal-writing traveler is the inspiration for this post.

Writing Away coverIn Chapter One – Let the Wild Writing Begin – she explores the topic of finding the perfect travel journal in delightful detail. Mindful of the beating your journal will take while you are on the road, she suggests a journal that is sturdy. And in the spirit of giving the author/artist complete creative freedom she strongly recommends an unlined journal“An absence of lines leaves room for imagination to take over. Also, a blank page is a better canvas for illustrations – and so what if you can barely draw a circle? You could at least throw your inner artist a bone”.

Spaulding also believes that the best journal lies flat and that the pages of the blank book  be blank – no quotes, tips, or adornments on the pages. And finally, pay attention to the paper, you want it thick enough so that the ink won’t bleed through.

Interestingly, I have come to similar conclusions or preferences. Since I enjoy working with watercolor at times my current favorite journal (pictured above in the photo) has heavyweight drawing paper that works with wet or dry media. Made by Bee Paper Company this sketchbook/journal has 60 sheets of 93 lb archival quality natural white drawing paper. The double wire binding creates a flat surface, the cover is water-resistant and the heavy weight chipboard back is perfect for field work. This sketch book comes in many sizes – I am enjoying the 9 x 9 inch square book on this trip.

best women's travel writing 2011Another book I brought along to read and keep the travel bug fueled is one that Lavinia Spalding edited: The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World. No matter how many cities, countries, or continents you’ve visited the 31 stories in this year’s collection will make you feel like you have just begun. Hear tales about falling in love while riding a camel through the Syrian Desert, skiing a first descent of over 5,000 feet in Northern India, discovering the joy of getting naked in South Korea, or leaving it all behind to slop pigs on a farm in Ecuador.

The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

This week in our yoga class Arron read from Eknath Eswaran’s Mantram HandbookThe Elephant and the Bamboo – comparing the elephant’s constantly moving trunk to our human mind. As the man in charge of the elephant gives him a stick of bamboo to hold onto in order to keep his trunk still, so may we quiet our mind by repeating a mantram/mantra. Struck by the reading I decided to write it out in my sketchbook; the watercolor elephant seemed a natural addition.

Coincidentally, at the end of yoga one of our classmate’s made an announcement… Philip Glass’s opera, Satyagraha, would be broadcast live at our local performing arts center this Sunday. Satyagraha tells the story of Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, where he developed his philosophy of non-violence. Jay and I went home and made reservations online. We were going to the Opera for $13 a piece!

Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo
Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo from my sketchbook

Metropolitan Opera Live in HD (also known as The Met: Live in HD) is a series of live opera performances transmitted in high-definition video via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to select venues, primarily movie theaters, in the United States and other parts of the world. The first transmission was of a condensed English-language version of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on December 30, 2006.

This year the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series The Met: Live in HD continues for its sixth season, featuring 11 live transmissions. Our local performing arts center is in its first year of transmission. When we saw Satyagraha, the transmission included interviews with the composer Philip Glass, the director, and some of the actors, including Richard Croft who plays Ghandi. The entire experience is incredible – picture a large movie screen, encompassing surround sound, and intimate multi-angled camera work that allows us to visually connect with the actors in a way not usually possible.

I took a quick look at the Met’s website and learned that in Washington State there are 19 venues for viewing. Russia is the latest country to join the Met’s groundbreaking live entertainment initiative; 1,600 theaters in 54 countries, including new additions: Israel and China. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy the Met live at your local movie theater or in a city you may be visiting. All the major cities have venues and click here on Met Live for a PDF of all the current locations for viewing. Can you tell I am excited about this?

There are recordings of the opera… click here on Satyagraha for information on the recording by composer, Philip Glass, with Christopher Keene conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra. And to read about Eknath Easwaran’s book: Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World just click on the title of the book.

Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 2
One page of my sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Heading off the island Friday evening we are full of anticipation about tomorrow’s TEDx Rainier event. This year’s theme is Gained in Translation: Ideas Crossing Frontiers, featuring over twenty five speakers whose ideas and extraordinary work span across domains and fuel innovations and insights. Followers of TED for years online, this is our first live experience.

Earlier on Friday I received a book I had ordered from Amazon – An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory. I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry with no distractions and go through the book slowly, page by page.

An Illustrated Life, cover
click on book for more info

As Gregory says in the introduction, “a book full of sketchbooks and illustrated journals from all sorts of people who love nothing better than to hunch over a little book and fill its pages with lines and colors”. This treasure of a book has 78 five star reviews out of 84… it is stupendous with creativity overflowing tremendously inspiring.

This was just the creative jumpstart I needed and somewhere along the way from home to Seattle the idea was born to capture the essence of each talk creatively in my sketchbook on two facing pages. So I arrived with Jay at the Conference Saturday morning with sketchbook and pen in hand. The first few moments I had some self-consciousness as the first speaker began… where and how to begin, is anyone watching me??? All the usual fears. Fortunately, I was able to move through the fear, pick a starting spot, realize everyone is mesmerized by the speakers (not me) and plunge into it. By the third speaker there was no looking back, I was totally hooked on my project.

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 1
My second page of sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Jay & I enjoyed many of the speakers, some of the highlights included:

  • Rick Steves‘ frank talk about how global travel brings us together, saying “Fear is for people that don’t get out much.” Rick is a world traveler and author of over 80 very readable helpful books on travel.
  • Amory Lovins on Reinventing Fire – how to transition to zero carbon clean renewable energy by 2050… I liked his quote – “Not all the fossils are in the fuel.”
  • Peter Blomquist on being humbled in his encounters with the kindness of simple traditional cultures. Peter is principal of Blomquist International, focused on organizational development, philanthropy, and global engagement. His words of wisdom – enter humbly, stay for tea, listen and learn.
  • ITGirl librarian Chrystie Hill on how libraries are transforming and evolving in the new world. When kids were asked what they would like in a library where everything is allowed, one replied – to hear the sounds of the forest as I approach the books about trees.
  • Leroy Hood on how insights from the human Genome project are bringing fundamental advances in early diagnosis and treatment of disease. P4 Medicine is his belief – predictive, preventative, personal and participatory.
  • Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis on how focusing on the first year of a child’s development can have stunning effects on the potential of the child, for the rest of life. Dr. Christakis is author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Children.
  • Jenn Lim on happiness. Jenn Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) co-created in 2010 to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life.
  • Adnan Mahmud on “Climbing the ladder that matters.” Adnan tells his story about how he came to create Jolkona, a nonprofit that helps people raise large amounts of money through small donation, and receive proof of how the donations helped make a difference for those in need.
  • The three  Interfaith Amigos, Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman on religious discord, and how to get along. Their presentation received a standing ovation. It was at once funny, touching and brimming with promise and hope. Their new book is Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith.

For both of us, the most powerful talk was given by photographic artist Chris Jordan. Jordan, a former corporate lawyer, explores the detritus of mass culture, using photographs and images to, at a gut level, convey the impact we are having on the earth. Earlier this year we saw his exhibit – Running the Numbers – at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in  Eugene, OR.

Let’s see I’ve covered the Travel, Sketch, Write areas… now we get to the part about doing all this while eating gluten-free. This trip to Seattle we experienced two new restaurants. Both casual, affordable, gluten-free friendly and yummy.

Friday night we had a late dinner at Uneeda Burger. Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Uneeda Burger is a casual, roadside-style burger shack with seriously delicious burgers. I had the lamb burger special on a gluten-free bun with a side of spicy sweet potato fries while Jay splurged and went with the Whidbey Island Crescent Harbor 100% Wagyu (Kobe) grass-fed beef (additional $3) with caramelized onions, watercress and blue cheese. Both were deliciously juicy and messy and enjoyed with one of their craft-brewed beers. Not a beef eater, not to worry, they have chicken and veggie options.

Saturday at our lunch break two of the student volunteers at TEDx Rainier suggested we try Shultzys. Nothing better than to walk into a busy restaurant and find a quiet seat near the fireplace on a rainy fall day. Jay tried the “Schultzy”, a char-grilled sausage burger made with mild Italian pork, served on a toasted, garlic-buttered roll with grilled onions & peppers – very good subtle flavors. I had the Bratwurst, a mild but nicely spiced pork and beef sausage, served with grilled onions & sauerkraut. Easily gluten-free by eliminating the bun. Very tasty. The service was prompt and our food came quickly which we appreciated given our limited time.  Seattle’s Wurst Restaurant is located at 4114 University Way NE.

I end with a tip from my sweet husband… Looking for an idea for taking your sweetie out on a date? Go to a TED conference. Ideas are hot! Follow up the conference with a nice dinner, in a quiet romantic place, and prepare to have some great conversation. TED talks will inspire, enlighten, and fill you with hope.

Crossing the North Cascades

Early morning light at the Orcas ferry landing

Up and out early this morning. Catching the 7:15 am ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes. Today we begin our cross country journey after months, weeks, then days of preparation. We are on the ferry, the car packed with everything we need for five weeks of travel… it’s full. I eye the Westfalia in front of us just a little longingly.

Jay strikes up a conversation with the woman who has rented the Westfalia Van and learns that her husband has a company, Canadian High Tops. A lover of Volkswagen vans, he provides conversion High Tops for VW vans for the years 1980 – 1991.

Driving through the Skagit Valley to Sedro Woolley we begin the scenic mountain drive known as the North Cascades Highway (Route 20). The drive begins through small towns and farmland with the green-blue Skagit River flanking the road. Near Rockport we see a sign for fresh organic blueberries and soon we are pulling into Cascadian Farm. A 28-acre certified organic farm since 1972, this farm was a pioneer in converting conventional farms to organic. Many of us are familiar with their jams but when we walk into the roadside store we go straight for the refrigerator filled with pints of blueberries. Gorgeous, organic and just picked they last about 10 minutes in the car.

Cascadian Farm store on the North Cascade Highway
Cascadian farm organic blueberries

The scenic drive continues through the mountains and ends in Winthrop, WA – a town known for the American Old West design of  its buildings. Our pit stop is in Twisp, another 9 miles along on Route 20. At the Glover Street Market we find some lovely organic greens to go with our tuna-egg salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the park.

Watercolor palette

Today after refreshing my travel watercolor palette I decided to make a sketch of my palette colors. These are Daniel Smith tube watercolors I purchased as a set from Daniel Smith a few years ago when taking a watercolor course. Other quality brands for tube watercolors include Holbein and Windsor Newton.

sketch watercolor pallet
Illustration of my watercolor palette

My travel palette is plastic, measures about 4″ by 8″, and holds twenty watercolors with room for mixing. It is incredibly light and is easy to pack in my purse or backpack with a sketchbook. My palette is not new but I recently read in Jude Siegel’s book – A Pacific NW Nature Sketchbook – that it is good to scruff up the surface of the mixing area before you put the paint in. This allows the paint to puddle nicely versus beading up. So I used a 320 grit sandpaper that we had in the garage to create some texture and afterwards washed off the palette to remove the plastic dust.

Next I had to decide how to place my colors in the palette and, in general, it worked out to have warm colors on one side and cool colors on the other. As I was filling the pans I created my illustration of my palette in my sketch book. This was a great exercise because in creating my sketch I realized there were some colors I would like to add – time to personalize my palette. I ordered three tubes of watercolor paint from Daniel Smith online – Quinacridone Pink, Raw Sienna, and Undersea Green (all Daniel Smith paints). Luck was with me, Daniel Smith was having a free shipping offer with no minimum order limits.

My watercolors last a long time because I am mostly sketching with ink and then adding some watercolor. For more information on sketching, my list of supplies I take when traveling… please see my post Sketching on Vacation.

Sketching on vacation

I sketch for enjoyment. Savoring the process and the way a quick sketch catches an impression in a very personal way. In the book – Sketching, the author,  Alwyn Crawshaw suggests 30 minute sketches. Why? “First, it will stop you from fiddling and looking for something extra to do in your sketch, which can ruin the spontaneity of it – a good sketch can be spoiled by overworking. It will teach you how to observe your subject“. On vacation there is often time to linger but not always. Honing our skills so that we can be quick is often a practical asset as well as a way to keep the image fresh. And my experience is that practice is the best way to improve my skills, speed and confidence.

rat sketch with watercolr
Sketches from a metal sculpture at the NK'Nip Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, BC

Sometimes there just isn’t time to sketch or I just don’t want to at that moment. So I take a photograph and sketch from it later. That’s the case with the rat sketches you see in this post. The inspiration was a metal sculpture we saw at the NK’Mip Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, British Columbia. The one on the left is a watercolor sketch done very quickly. The drawing on the right was done more slowly – the outline created with a watercolor pencil and then colored in with watercolors. This one is more realistic and the other is a gesture sketch – often a warm-up for the real thing.

In preparing for a vacation I like to make sure I have all the art supplies I need. I travel light. Here is a list of the art supplies I pack:

  • Two sketchbooks – I like a 7″ x 10″ watercolor sketchbook and a similar size sketchbook of high-quality drawing paper.
  • Black ink pen set (waterproof)
  • 2B pencil and kneaded eraser
  • Watercolors in a small travel palette
  • Two watercolor brushes (#2 for detail, #6 round as my larger size)
  • Small container for water
  • Watercolor pencils (optional)

Watercolors come in cakes or tubes. I took a watercolor class several years ago and bought a set of professional-grade tube watercolors. sketching - 30 minute artTube watercolors last a long time and have richer colors. I find that what I squeeze onto my palette lasts until I use it up. The paint will dry out but can be reconstituted with water. Crawshaw uses seven colors throughout his book – mainly French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, and Yellow Ocher. Other colors he enjoys are Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Ceruleum, and Hooker’s Green.

Since childhood I have enjoyed drawing and was encouraged to draw, first by my grandmother, and then by my mother-in-law who is an artist. In my 30’s I took a basic drawing class which was invaluable. And more recently I have done two workshops – one on watercolors, and the second – sketching with watercolors. Classes are instructive, fun ways to get back into art.

A favorite book I refer to often for instruction and inspiration is A Pacific Northwest Nature Sketchbook by Jude Siegel. She encourages everyone who loves the outdoors to find their artist wings and keep an illustrated nature sketchbook – “…the most basic advice I would give is: Begin. Just keep going. pacific northwest nature sketchbookWherever you might be, there is beauty in nature that can inspire you, and perhaps you will capture this in your sketchbook”. Filled with her gorgeous original watercolors of Oregon and Washington, her book embraces every level of artist. Her first chapter – Getting Started – is a basic primer in itself. She will discuss what materials you need and where to find them, and will give you a few simple techniques, exercises, and helpful tips to get you going in your sketchbook. For those of you in the Portland, Oregon area Jude Siegel teaches a class on nature journaling with pen and watercolor at The Multnomah Arts Center.

What books are your inspiration for sketching?

Nelson, NZ

Nelson, NZ House Sketch
Sketch of a waterfront house in Nelson, NZ

We arrived in Nelson in the afternoon after taking the ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island).  Nelson is a charming town with a Victorian flair to many of the homes.

Villa victoria, Nelson, NZ
Villa Victoria in Nelson, NZ

Landing in Nelson for 5 nights at the Victoria Villa we look forward to a respite within the vacation. Cooking our own food and driving less – yes! Like most folks we have a certain style of eating at home, which can be hard to replicate when eating out. Our habits tend to lean toward lots of green vegetables and some protein – low on carbohydrates – influenced by my gluten intolerance, with the happy side effect of healthier eating. What has worked well for us in New Zealand is to order one main dish and a side or two of vegetables to share. Note: Fresh string beans are in abundance this time of year and are on many finer restaurant menus as well as in the markets.

Favorite food spots in Nelson…

We can see the Boat Shed Cafe from our rental house and walked over our first night after a long day of travel from Wellington. Ignorant of its popularity we were almost turned away but landed a table for two on the outside deck. Warm and sunny we sampled our first Neudorf Vineyards white wine – a crispy Sauvignon Blanc – that went nicely with my grilled crayfish tail with fennel, chili & lemon and Jay’s grilled prawns with feta, black olives & cress. Our dining neighbors ordered the potato salad side, which looked fabulous, so a few days later we stopped in and picked up an order to go – just like moms and Anitas!

Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ
Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ

Our first morning strolling in Nelson we happened upon the Morrison Street Café and went inside for a coffee. My antennae went up when I saw all the gluten-free options – savory muffins, little fruit nut loaves, brownies… I ordered a coffee and a sampling of the gluten-free goodies – all yummy. We stopped in a few days later during a rainstorm and Jay had an amazing Affogato (two scoops of vanilla gelato with espresso). A very popular cafe for a good reason – good quality and good vibe.

Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ

Our last day we decided to walk into Nelson for lunch at Hopgoods which several sources had recommended. They were not open for lunch on Monday so we scouted out the surrounding restaurant menus on Trafalgar Street and settled on barDelicious. We enjoyed the young Canadian waitress who suggested a Pinot Gris and Rose wine by the glass and shared her 2010 Olympics enthusiasm. Lunch was delicious and creative – a Caesar Salad with bacon and a poached egg on top, and an equally delicious and fresh Salad Nicoise.

Jay was thumbing through a local book on Nelson arts scene and The Sprig and Fern Tavern caught his eye – no bigscreen TV, a neighborhood hangout, and over by “The Wood” – a park in the foothills on the east side of Nelson. We decide to stop in before dinner for a beer, glass of wine and a bowl of nuts. We pick up on the friendly feel and relax – as we watch the locals playing games and brain teasers, read the historic factoids on the blackboard and have a great conversation.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard sculpture and tasting room

Hanging around the house chilling is hard work… but mid-afternoon we decided to hit the road and head into the wine country that surrounds Nelson. Top on our list was Neudorf Vineyards. Navigating the countryside was challenging and needless to say we got lost, in the best sense of the word… and arrived at the vineyard 5 minutes before closing. Not a problem, we were warmly greeted in the tasting room and relieved when another couple walked in a few minutes later! Once again the Pinot Gris was a favorite. The late afternoon light filtering through the trees invited us to linger and we did.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard, behind tasting room
Neudorf Winery - window
An old window at Neudorf Winery

Things to do around Nelson, NZ

Valentine’s Day! An early rising to catch the 9am water taxi to explore the Abel Tasman National Park. For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera (sweet potato). Established in 1942 as a park, Abel Tasman is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. It was about a 90 minute drive to Kaiteriteri where we met Wilson’s Water Taxi and climbed up the gang plank to head out to Medlands Beach. Within the park one way to get around is by water taxis – they drop you off and pick you up on a very accommodating schedule. They can take you into the heart of the park and literally deposit you on a beach.

Island with seals and birds in Able Tasman National Park, NZ
Island with seals and birds in Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Before drop off we took a complete tour of the coastline.

Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another ingenious Kiwi invention… a beach friendly gangplank.

Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

After a boat tour of the park we got off at Medlands Beach, walked to Bark Bay, and then back to Medlands where the water taxi picked us up a few hours later.

Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay path, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another day we walked to Nelson from our rental house and after lunch in town decided to walk home via Queens Garden. The Gardens formally opened in 1892 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria and were inspired by an intimate, Victorian garden. Though the garden is relatively small there is an abundance of magnificent old trees and plantings amidst ponds and a wandering creek.  The Suter Gallery, an eclectic art gallery on the western edge of the park, has a cafe that overlooks the garden and provides a tranquil shady place to enjoy a cup of coffee or dessert.

Queens Garden, Nelson, NZ
Queens Garden in Nelson, NZ

End of the day, another glorious sunset and the sounds of outdoor opera in Tahunanui Park blowing in on the westerly winds. We have fared well in Nelson.

Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ