Travel journal. Catch the evocative details!

We reminded ourselves previously how much it is important to include wide views in our travels (and everyday) journals….

But, I am pretty sure that only such big wide views like that couldn’t make a the greatest travel journal on their own. That’s because memories like to hide in simple things, small details and apparently insignificant experiences!  

  I admit I especially like this spread, because of the sardine bones that were here on the page when I sketched this streetscape that I thought was rather successful. Together, they really tell the story of Alvor, a lovely Portuguese fishermans city. ☺️

Thus, it is essential to include these kind of evocative details drawings in your sketchbooks. And I am going to make a confidence… These are often my favorites sketches!

  Just a few pieces of local plants (and some colorful porcelain fishes decorating a restaurant wall) can set the mood of a place really well!
The idea, for these drawings, is to take an interest of things you may not find on a postcard but that are really special of the country or the town you are visiting, the house or hotel where you live for a few days,the friends you spend some time with during this great time.

  I think this page is the first, in my journal, that conveys a real travel diary feeling. It shares so much things I loved during the Portugal trip! It reminds me the marvelous time I had sketching with friends, drinking “vinho verde” wine, and eating fish in absolutely lovely places. Watercolor palette, Portuguese “azulejos” tiles, delicious food, the nice outfit of my friend Evelyn… What a good combo, isn’t it?! I like the ephemera I was able to add on the page, too : the piece of paper where the waiter wrote the name of the fish I ate, the visiting card of the restaurant and even the amazing visiting card of Evelyn (to see her awesome sketches, search for @evelynyee on Instagram!)., attached with some Japanese masking tape.

I thought that I could make a list of ideas for these special evocative subjects, to keep it in my head for my next travels and, maybe, to get some more inspiration in my own neighborhood too. I hope this will help you too, for your own journals! 😊

  • Delicious food you happen to eat : specialities of the region (food or drink) or just something you liked to eat. And even your empty plates with the remains of some food (if it’s possible). One of the most fun subject I drew in Portugal was my fish bones (I like to eat warm ☺️😛).
  • Fruits, vegetables drawn after you made some groceries or in the market.
  • Plants you never saw before (on a window sil, in the street or in the countryside) or special by their size, like the huge agave I painted in Portugal (see my previous post), or really common in the region. I decided I couldn’t leave the Algarve without sketching a lemon tree! 😍😙

  So, here is my lemon tree sketches. I had to wait for almost the last day to find the time to paint one but I finally dit it!! 😝 Fortunately, the boat I sketched the morning before was bright yellow… What a good match isn’t it?! ☺️

  • Special urban features like the shape of the chimneys, the color of some houses, some particular cobblestone in the streets…. In Portugal, I tried to draw the special tiles called “azulejos” several times. Architectural details.
  • Juste some pieces of the sourroundings : a boat, a bicycle, a motorbike, a chair, a bench, a fountain… We don’t always need to sketch all the street and houses around! 😉
  • Some objects you often saw in that region. It can be a cooking tool like the “cataplana”, in Portugal, a special plate made with copper (see the page below)…
  • Traditional events are so interesting to sketch, too! In Portugal, we went to a fado evening (traditional music played with a Portuguese guitar and expressive singers) and it was a blast to hear, to see and to sketch!

  This sort of “beehive” copper dish (the “cataplana”) is very special of the Algarve, the region where we were in Portugal. As they put it on the table to keep the food warm in it, it was a perfect subject to draw, without even letting your meal become cool! 😜 You can see how the dish is on the photos I pasted on the page too. I was not sure I would be able to give it the good shape, along with some nice colors and the good “texture” but I was pretty happy with the result. 😊 Travels are an occasion to sketch non common things!

  Here is a special Portuguese subject again! It really had a great time sketching while listening to this gorgeous music. I especially loved the gestures of the singer (along with her voice 😍), this way she had to seem to cuddle a baby (without having a baby in her arms of course!! 😄) so I tried to show that in some of my sketches (not easy, straight with the brush but I was worth trying!). The place had a great decoration too and adding some of the elements to my page really helped to record the evening, too.

  • The animals you happen to meet, or even skeletons, shells, feathers etc. Did you know there were many storks in Algarve? I didn’t and I had never seen so many in my life! 😀 I sketched some fishes, too, of course, and some seagulls. I would have liked to draw one of these cats wandering or sleeping in the streets but I didn’t have the chance. I need to go back!! 😀😉
  • Search for anything special in the natural surroundings! Even the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, of the trees, the hue and structure p of the rocks…

  Fish bones again! I never tired of it! 😙😄 The fishes are so colorful, when you take the time to look at it and it was fun to try to make the bones appear, sometimes using negative painting like in this one (the bone is let white and I paint around it) and sometimes using positive painting, sketching it with a light color, like Naples Yellow. The plants painting was one of my morning sketches. They were there, on the sidewalk, and it was a really lovely sight. I tried to use a lot of colors variations in the background (the wall) to enhance the sketch and balance the green color.

  • Some clothes that catch your eyes, in the local people outfits or even in your friends or family outfits. During our trip in Portugal, I really liked the pink hat Sylvia were wearing, Evelyn teal slouchy beret, or Jennifer stylish hat!…. They were good subjects to draw!
  • Sketching gear are an obvious subject to draw too, especially if you travel with other sketchers. 😙 It will remind you good tips and nice memories. Draw your own tools too, particularly if there is something new you really liked to use during the trip. 
  • If you feel brave enough to tackle some portraits or people sketches, for sure, you won’t regret it! You can start with your family or fellow sketchers if there are some with you and why not try a quick portrait of an habitant you met?

  I was very happy to be able to sketch this lovely old woman, Irene-Maria. I would not have done it, all by myself, but, in a group, it’s easier (and Evelyn went for it so I jumped on the occasion too!!). The sketch is not my best one but I am proud I did it and I love all the details in it : the tiles, the hat, the dress with red spots, the stripped wool scarf, the special shoes and so on. ☺️ The other sketch is good to show a piece of context, as there were many yellow and white houses in this neighborhood (the wires and cobblestones of the sidewalk were really typical too). And this tree shadow was so appealing! 😊

Does my list give you some new ideas? 😊

I notices that we, sketchers, tend to often draw the same kind of subjects. For example, some Urban Sketchers always draw the buildings and others the people. Did you notice that too?! 😉 As it can only be a advantage to include more variety in our sketchbooks, it’s really interesting to wonder which are our favorite subjects but, above all, which are our neglected ones! ☺️


  Special lovely flowers, piece of cake, man cooking some fresh fishes on a bbq. Here is the kind of random association I like! ☺️

Btw, I try to show you my entire pages because I think that it’s often the associations of sketches that make the sketchbook more interesting and meaningful. I like to put together some subjects that can go well together but I really like, too, to associate very different subjects in a random way, like the olives near a sunset sketch, in the page below. The result is often fun and just as random as life is, quite simply! 😀

 Just after making a quick wet on wet sketch of the sunset on the sea, we went in a restaurant and I sketched the olives they often provide as a start (with their pits 😅). The association can seem random (or even weird, for some of you?!) but, in my opinion, the page is way richer and more interesting with this original Portuguese association! 😙

  The day before leaving, I sketched the door of our room, in the hotel, surrounded by plants. I think this setting conveys the atmosphere of the place very well and even the number of the room is an important memory, for me! 😉

Do you often think of sketching these evocative details in your journals or do you tend to forget it? Which subjects would you want to sketch more? As for me, I would say I would like to sketch people more, of course, and real life things I often forget to draw, like devices or objects (I never sketched my keys 😁)…

Your turn! 😝😜

14 thoughts on “Travel journal. Catch the evocative details!

  1. Amazing but then nothing more then what I would expect. It was a great journey and I enjoyed every minute watching you create these colourful, vibrant memories of Portugal. I am looking forward to doing the same in India

    • Thank you so much for your kindness, Nancy! 😀
      I enjoyed every minute of the trip too and I am really thrilled to paint India next year!!! :

  2. Thanks for sharing an amazing sketch book! One can tell that you know how to compose a picture, including special memories, in a very personal and interesting way. You really has given me something to think of 🙂

    • Pernille, thank you! I am happy to be able to inspire you.

      I usually don’t know how a sketch or a page will end up, when I start! It’s a sort of game. 😉
      I start to sketch, I grow the painting as I go and then I add another sketch and then a piece of writing and I try to keep the all thing harmonious until the end! 😀

      What an entertaining activity. 🙂

  3. Thank you for writing this blog post. It helped me to think about the broader view, meaning all aspects not just the landscape, or the food; but the people; the large and small scope of things. Your entry was so comprehensive. I enjoyed looking at your sketchbook, and sharing in your trip. You have inspired me to try new things. You can see my work on Instagram @terrylou

    • Hi Terry Lou ! Thank you for your comment!
      You’re welcome! I am really happy I inspired you and gave you new ideas! It’s not always easy to stay inspired… 😉

      I searched for you on Instagram but the pseudo @terrylou doesn’t show any drawings in the feed…
      Is it you (yeah, please show your sketches !! 😛 ) or have I to write it a bit differently, with a dash or something?! 🙂

  4. Wonderful post with equally wonderful paintings. Your pages are a delight. Thanks for the subscribe button too. Makes it so much easier for me to keep up with your posts.

    • You’re welcome, Ros! Thank you for following me! 😀

      Thank you for your awesome comment about my work!!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing these! I’ve just started playing with watercolor sketching while I travel. I’m curious how often you paint from memory or a photo and how often your sketches are done on the spot. So you have any thoughts or preferences between the two?

    • Hi Alyson ! Thanks for your kind comment! 😀

      Easy question, I always sketch from life. 😉
      I always sketch with this idea of recording life in an artistic way, live recording, you know, so I don’t want to draw or paint from a photo.
      Plus, in fact, I am a professional photographer so, when I take a pic, that’s because I think it will be a good photograph, so I don’t want to paint from it (I already have a photo I love !)! 😆

      That’s really great that you sketch while you travel, too!
      Do you know India? 😛

      I don’t know if you saw that on Instagram (perhaps you are simply not on Instagram 😉 ) but there is an amazing adventure that is going to happen to me… I am going to lead a watercolor workshop in India, next year!!! Painting India is going to be absolutely awesome! 😆
      I will share more info about that soon here on the blog but if you think you could be interested, as you like to travel and to paint and to make travel journals 😛 I could already share a few infos for you. 😉

  6. Love seeing your sketches here. I have signed up for the workshop in India and am sooo excited! I watched your video about a quick painting sketch of the Taj Mahal and felt like trying it myself. Such fun!

    • Hi Evalyn,

      Thank you for your comment and for the Indian adventure! I am so happy you decided to join us for India!!!!!
      I am sorry, I was so busy with Manchester and so on, I only saw your comment yesterday. ☺️

      I am glad that watching my Taj Mahal video made you think you would like to try to paint that loose way.

      Yeah, let’s keep in touch and see you in Delhi!!

  7. Bonjour
    Je viens de découvrir votre travail, c’est très intéressant et instructif ! Par contre je suis déçue que votre chaîne Youtube soit en anglais …. Je ne maîtrise pas assez la langue de Shakespeare pour pouvoir suivre correctement vos commentaires.. quel dommage.. cordialement

  8. Lovely page. I am enjoying your work. Can you tell me what colors (water color) you would recommend for a trip to Portugal? I saw that you mentioned Naples yellow for example.

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