Originally posted by Laura Thomas on her blog
So—-where do you sketch, Laura?
I am frequently asked that question after people take a look at my watercolor sketches. Mostly they seem to think that I take photographs and then go back to a studio and paint there. I have actually tried to do that, especially early on when I could not quite get the right angle or I got tired of sitting on a curb. And just when I would get everything as I wanted, a delivery van always seemed to pull up right in front of me. But after years of traveling and sketching and trying to get the scene – the feeling, the light, the colors – just right, I have figured out that I must sketch and paint right there.
In order to do this, I have several tools that are critical to my creative process:
- A tiny travel set of Windsor Newton Watercolor pans and brushes.
- A small, sketch watercolor pad and a band or clip to hold the pages down in the wind. (Actually, after being stopped at airport security enough times, I gave up on the large metal binder clip and use just a wide rubber band.) I keep my sketchbook in a Ziploc bag while I’m traveling to protect it.
- Multiple great, Niji stylist black felt tip pens. I have learned that, unfortunately, my favorite fountain pen will leak on a flight, and traveling with bottled ink is a disaster waiting to happen.
- Two small travel size bottles of water that are TSA-approved–because you will forget to empty them before flying home!
- A few paper napkins or tissues for blotting.
In addition to these practical supplies, there’s a certain mindset I have when traveling. It is what I need to capture the scene, the detail you just can’t get from a photograph back in a studio:
A willingness to STOP and search out “the spot.” A sketch can take up to an hour, but it’s a great break from walking. I stop at a café or an outside bar table, I climb a wall, a hill or even, yes, a roof, and stop to really look at the scene. I now have a tiny folding camp stool and table that can fit into my carry on so I’m comfortable when I find “the spot.” (I am a big believer in carry on only travel—and my watercolors never, ever get checked!)
I settle in and LOOK. This can sometimes take a while. Sometimes I move slightly to get the angle I want. I look at the light and the colors. I study the shadows. Frequently my sketches are peeked at by fellow travelers and local children.I don’t mind the curiosity. The little kids are the best; they seem truly amazed at what I am doing and can just watch patiently and silently for minutes at a time.
Sometimes if I am lucky enough to find a café in the right spot (and I will search), I can also have a doppio macchiato and abiscotti, or a glass of wine while I work. Otherwise, I just sketch and paint and then, when I’m done and feeling satisfied, head off to my next adventure around the corner.
Laura Thomas is the founder and President of Melville Thomas Architects. She travels regularly and tries to visit Italy at least once a year where she sketches and paints.