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Was It In Tahiti?
A look inside my travel sketchbook & other insights
I went to the South Pacific and I have a sketchbook to prove it.
Hey, look, I made you a video! I took two sketchbooks but only filled one, I took six extra vials of ink and needed exactly zero of them, and yet I still wished I’d had a few more art supplies with me! (what I wished for most were pencils and markers in more shades of green.) What most people do with clothes—pack too much of some things and not enough of others—I do with art supplies.
The most memorable moments of the trip were too amazing (or too damp) to sketch—or I was too blissed out and in the moment to record anything. Namely:
Swimming in Tahiti. That water is warm as bathwater, amazingly clear, and even in the shallow, public beaches there are little coral reefs populated by tiny iridescent fish. We probably spent an hour in the water each day, and I would just like to keep doing that every day for the rest of my life. I got the best sleep of the trip ( and the best sleep I’ve had in years) in Tahiti, after drifting around in the warm Pacific long enough to lull my overtaxed brain into submission.
Swimming in New Zealand. Are you detecting a theme here? In New Zealand we went out with Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura—this time in wetsuits, the Pacific was not warm, although the wetsuits did their job—and I got to bob around in an ocean absolutely teeming with friendly little dolphins. We were warned before we went in the water that the dolphins would make us smile, but smiling would wrinkle our faces and cause our snorkel masks to fill with water, so try to keep a straight face.
Well, you try it! There I was floating along on the astonishingly relaxing gentle ocean waves, when four or five dolphins surrounded me, swam circles around me, and rolled around to look me in the eyes, from only a few feet away. I laughed out loud, and sure enough, my mask filled with water and the moment was over.
But even when the dolphins weren’t around, I just floated in my nice buoyant wetsuit and looked out, away from land, at the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean, and felt entirely at peace. Clearly we have some ancestral lizard brain connection to the ocean that likes to be renewed from time to time. I gotta find a way to do that more often. (Invitations to seaside cottages and beach condos eagerly accepted!)
This Was My Favorite Art Workshop
The real reason for the trip was to attend the International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Auckland. I took a bunch of workshops and met a bunch of artists (including some of you, readers of this newsletter!) but the most memorable was the class I took with Joaquin Dorao, on creating interesting sketchbook pages filled with text, maps, collage, and drawings like you see above. These look quite elaborate and professionally done (and he is a professional illustrator), but the idea is really simple, and I think you can do it, too:
First, do your big drawing, and let it fill about half of your two-page spread.
Second, go find a detail: a lamppost, a statue, a flowerpot, something up close, and do a small drawing, kind of far away from your main drawing.
Third, make a little map of the area. You can use a map on your phone or maybe you picked up a brochure somewhere with a map. Draw that, with notes or markers for the places you visited.
Fourth, do some lettering. (I teach a class on lettering for people with terrible handwriting, but just draw it out and have fun.) And add some little notes!
Finally, grab a glue stick and collage in some found element—a leaf, a ticket stub, something you tear out of a newspaper or brochure.
You’ll be amazed at what a lively page you can make!
I was especially impressed that Joaquin travels with an A4 (8x11) sketchbook, fills them with pages like the ones you see above, and then publishes those sketchbooks as actual books you can buy! Just look at all these books! What a wonderful way to create a body of work. I’m sure the New Zealand book is forthcoming.
I’ve Been Sleeping To Art Biographies Lately and It’s Fabulous
Speaking of sleep…thank you, Libby, for giving me access to a never-ending supply of ebooks and audiobooks. (If you enjoy Libby as much as I do, consider making a donation to your local Friends of the Library to support this and everything your library does for you.)
Lately I’ve been listening to art biographies at night. I get into bed, put the earbuds in, turn on the audiobook, put on a sleep mask, and it’s lights-out for my brain. Doesn’t really matter what artist—I just need a book that’s at least 8 hours long.
If I wake up in the middle of the night, the sleep mask tells my brain, “Nope. Do not start looking around the room. Do not check the time. Back to sleep.” And then if that middle-of-the-night list of tasks and worries starts running through my brain, there’s this other voice in my ear, telling me about that snarky thing Picasso said about Cezanne a hundred years ago, and I pay attention to that, and pretty soon I’m back in dreamland.
It’s pretty great. I can tell you almost nothing about Helen Frankenthaler that I didn’t know before I slept through her biography every night for two weeks, but I do know that the lives of long-ago artists are just interesting enough to distract me, but also just far away and low-stakes enough for me to be able to drift off to sleep without adding their worries to mine.
I Finally Found a Good Plant Identification App
The Seek app, a collaboration between the California Academy of Science and National Geographic, is the best app I’ve found yet for plant identification. Rather than take photos and ask the app to guess, you hold the camera up and move it around, so the app sees a little video. You can watch it work through plant taxonomy in real time, eventually getting down to the genus and species—or, if it can’t figure it out, it tells you that, rather than offer up the wrong plant. Highly recommended!
What Are You Reading?
I was so excited to pick up this lively, illustrated book by an author I’d been following on Instagram. The illustrations and hand-drawn maps are just fabulous, and the way the whole thing is designed is just so clever and imaginative. I exchanged a few messages with her about how much I loved the book (she did all the design work herself, too, and if you really look at it closely, you’ll see what a feat that was), and I’d been looking forward to getting my copy signed next time she did an event near me.
Then…a few weeks ago…I was shocked to learn that this lovely 41 year-old artist, wife, and mother died suddenly of pneumonia, right in the middle of her book tour.
I never met her, but I was devastated. This book is so full of life! This is a woman who found absolutely joy in the world around her, and put an extraordinary amount of work into sharing that joy with you.
So…it isn’t the happiest way to end this newsletter, and I’m still having trouble making sense of it all, but her work—and her life—deserve to be celebrated. If you know someone who loves this part of the world, I hope you’ll share her book with them.
The Bit at the End
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