Two days in New York: tips for quick travel sketchesPosted: October 16, 2019
Last week I was inspired by reading artist Jean Mackay’s “8 Tips for Travel Sketching“, especially by how economically she pares down her materials to fit into a Ziploc bag. This past weekend I was on a family trip to New York City, travelling with non-sketchers, and thought I’d see what kinds of quick sketches I could get done in two days in the city. Although our sketchbooks look very different, there’s lots of overlap with Jean’s wonderful tips. My tiny sketch kit consisted of one 8″ x 8” sketchbook, one pencil, one permanent brush pen, one water-soluble brush pen, a few travel brushes, a small 8 colour palette from Sennelier, and a small water bottle. All fit into a Cocotte mini messenger bag. Here are my tips for quick travel sketching when you don’t want to disrupt your travelling companions:
Get out of the room first, and be prepared to finish things later. I was travelling with my sister and my nieces. We didn’t realize that when we booked our room in New York that we chose a place that was too small for four adults to move around comfortably. Wide angle lenses create deceptive photos, don’t they? I tried to get out of the room early and sketch while I waited for the others. I drew the orchids in the lobby with a brush pen, but added colour at home. Drawing time: 5 minutes.
Sketch after ordering, and pick a good view if you can. Travelling in groups usually means lots of restaurant meals. By some luck, at breakfast we were seated at the first table next to the counter, which offered me a great spot for sketching. In between the time that we ordered our food, and before it landed on our table, I sketched the elegant gentleman slicing the smoked salmon. While my sketch was drying, I ate that same salmon on a bagel. The water-soluble brush pen was perfect for this type of quick drawing. Drawing time: 15 minutes.
Make choices if you really want to draw. We spent a bit of time at Hudson Yards on Saturday afternoon. If you haven’t seen The Vessel, have a look at this link. Some people find that the tourist attraction is an eyesore, but I saw it as a beautiful drawing challenge. I chose not to climb the 2,500 stairs so I could sketch it. We had already walked about 10k to get there so I was ready for a rest. If you look carefully, you can see my sister, my nieces and my cousin waving to me from Level 3. Drawing time: 45 minutes.
Be prepared to have unfinished work in your sketchbook. I started this street scene before breakfast (again, sneaking out of the crowded room) but never got around to finishing it. That used to bother me, but I have come to terms with the idea that things in my sketchbook CAN be unfinished. It’s a sketchbook, after all. The important thing for me with this one was that I captured a typical bit of a New York corner on a quiet Sunday morning. Drawing time: 20 minutes.
Fill a page with smaller drawings. We spent quite a bit of time on Sunday morning at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, walking through the exhibit titled Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away. Every museum has different rules about drawing, so I checked with the cashier when I picked up my audio guide. Since drawing was permitted in the exhibition spaces, I used a water-soluble brush pen and a water brush to draw with in the show. Due to the sombre subject matter, colour didn’t seem appropriate anyway. Drawing time: 5 minutes per sketch, spread out over 3 hours.
Stay close by, but do your own thing. While my family was shopping, I chose to sketch instead. I was lucky to find a bench close to the store, and sketched the iconic pretzel cart. Since I wasn’t sure how long I would be waiting (or if I had time for colour), I did this direct watercolour with Sennelier Payne’s Grey and my Rosemary Travel rigger brush. Drawing time: 20 minutes.
Be prepared for failure. Not every sketch will be successful. There will be some stinkers in your sketchbook. Resist the urge to glue a clean sheet of paper on top of the sketches you dislike. A sketchbook shows a process and journey, and should include all forms of exploration. I really wanted to sketch Calatrava’s The Oculus, but I guess I was just too tired, and a bit cold, at the end of the day. All I could manage to fit on the page was the entrance and a bit of the base of the building. The sketch does nothing to convey the white bones of the structure within the space, but hey, I did have a few good conversations with people sitting on the bench next to me. And I resisted the urge to get out that clean sheet of paper and some double-sided tape.