This past month I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands through my job at Tahoe City’s AdventureSmith Explorations. I knew this would be the trip of a lifetime, so as I hurried to pack the essentials I made sure to think about how I would document my time cruising these remote islands: camera, iPhone, GoPro camcorder, and journal.
For the latter, I sought the advice of watercolor artist and Truckee resident Eva S. Nichols, who is offering a travel journal workshop at North Tahoe Arts on Friday, April 19. The workshop coincides with Nichols’ Detour to Tahoe exhibit (running through April 22), in which she shares paintings and photo collages that depict her path to settling down in the Sierra.
Nichols is an avid traveler (see her Wandering Native account of her Camino de Santiago trek here), and journaling has been an integral part of her journeys around the world. She uses a variety of techniques including watercolor, pen and ink, collage, and lettering to convey her thoughts and impressions of places. This artistic recording helps her remember more than just the locations she visits: “It helps me remember the feel of the places: the colors, atmosphere, smells, and soul — all the stuff that can’t easily be expressed in words.”
Being more of a words person when it comes to journaling, I challenged myself to try this technique in Ecuador. In Guayaquil, where I spent a day before my cruise, I drew all the different trees I saw that interested me (acacia, banyan, cebra), and I admit that it makes my journal much more fun to look through. Plus, it was quicker and easier to record them that way at the time. In the Galapagos Islands, I found myself drawn to sketching out maps of sites I visited. For example, on Floreana Island we landed on an olivine beach, walked to a lookout over a brackish lagoon with flamingos, and then crossed over the island to a white-sand beach used by nesting sea turtles. It was such a unique landscape that I felt like I wanted to map out the path, the change in landscape, and the color of the sand. I went back through my pen sketches with color when I returned home, and it was a nice way to relive the memories. Interestingly, I also consider the Instagram mobile app a visual travel journal for me, as I can add artistic touches to my photos and easily sync them to a blog where my friends and family can follow along.
But, that said, visual journaling is a much more intimate way to experience a place. Instead of feverishly snapping photos to capture views, taking the time to draw roots you down in stillness, allowing you to take in all the senses of a place. In that moment of creation, you can get a little lost in your thoughts and experience and, perhaps, create the unexpected.
As Nichols so elegantly suggests, travel is very much like art in its embrace of the unknown.
“One always has certain ideas and expectations of how it will be and what one will find. The wonderful thing is when you discover something unexpected, which usually happens if you are open to it. I feel it is a bit the same when I paint. I start out with an idea and a concept for the painting, but when I start putting on the watercolors and let them float, they will often take me in an unexpected direction. Both for travels and for painting I have the most fulfilling experience if I can let go of my expectations. There is a quote I love: ‘The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.’ I try to be a traveler, not a tourist.”
I challenge you all this month to be travelers in this world and to journal at least one moment along your way. Attend Nichols’ workshop on April 19 if you need further inspiration and tips. Wherever you end up, bon voyage!
Describe your journaling process. Examples from Camino de Santiago or elsewhere?
When I travel I always like to bring along my journal, which is usually one with a spiral back and watercolor paper. Size depends on what kind of travel. Since I often do more “primitive” travel, I keep it as small and light as possible. I will write notes, thoughts, etc. on the spot, and sometimes do some quick sketches. Later, either when I sit down at the end of the day, or maybe when I am in the airport or on the plane, I will add details and colors to my sketches. Or sometimes just leave them as is. They will serve as inspiration for future paintings, or just be reminders and memories of the trip. I like to glue in either an envelope of one of the clear bags for greeting cards inside the front and back cover of my journal. Here I can collect little mementos as I come across them on my journey, and use them later for collage in my journal. I collect anything from receipts to stamps and napkins. Anything that catches my eye, as long as it’s small enough to go into the “pocket” of my journal. Often I will have pre-painted some pages in my journal with light washes of watercolor. They can be sketched, painted or collaged on later, and often makes it easier to do a quick sketch, because it’s like the sketch is already started. I will skip around in my journal to find a page that speaks to the moment. I am not concerned with being chronological. I’ll often write little notes or quotes to remind me of a certain moment, experience or mood. I am currently working on a book about my travels, and my journals and sketches are a great tool to recapture the moods, thoughts and feelings I had at the time.
Can you share some tips for creating an artistic journal? Get a journal with a spiral back, good paper, and a size that works for you. If you choose a bigger size, you might want to divide some of the pages into smaller sections with artist’s tape, or just with a marker, so you have some small areas to work with. Paint a light wash on some of the pages or sections, so you have not just blank pages staring at you. A white page can be quite intimidating, so if you have some pre-stained, it might be more inviting to write, doodle or sketch something in. Leave your inner critic at home!! The journal is just for you, so don’t worry about perfection. A journal is meant to catch a moment in time, it’s not meant to be judged. You can sketch, write or collage anything. If the doors catch your eye – paint them – or the many variety of pots – make a little sketch of pots. Write a little note. For instance: “I never knew there were that many shades of terra-cotta.” Anything that catches your attention. Especially the little things. Those are the ones you won’t remember otherwise.
Especially for lightweight travel journals I like to paint little squares in on the edge of some of my pages with watercolor pencils. They work as color palettes and can be used to paint with as you go. No extra weight! A pen called “Elegant Writer” is wonderful to take along. The ink will dissolve when water is added to your sketch and create great shades of blue/green/pink when you go over the lines. Once it’s been activated, it does not bleed if you wet it later, so you can add watercolor without it bleeding out, once it has dried.
~ You can read more from Lis’ interview in the Moonshine Ink online exclusive “Visual Travel Journaling with Eva Nichols,” where Nichols details her journaling process as well as her tips and tricks of the trade. Comment on this column below.