What my travel sketches will not reveal about me

"You can't do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh." ~ John Singer Sargent.

watercolour and ink sketch of clothes for travelling
watercolour and gouache map of trip in travel sketchbook

As you read this, I will be basking in the warm sun on the Costa del Sol. With all the rain we have had here lately, sunshine will be a pleasant change for us.

My sketchbook and a few art supplies are ready to be packed.

Here are five things you will not find out about me in my sketchbooks:

1. I have a healthy fear of flying but I fight it because I want to see the world. There is so much more to fear these days it seems: being bumped off planes, or more specifically, dragged off and missing my entire holidays as I heal a concussion from the overly zealous militia-like officials. We know from the nightly news that this is not a far-fetched possibility anymore. I fear passenger rage as we are crammed tightly into small spaces. I fear turbulence and any kind of unexpected bump in the night.

2. Speaking of night, contrary to all my friends, I cannot and have never been able to sleep on a plane. As I make one of several trips to the washroom, I see that I am the only one awake along with the air attendants. How I envy all those people who are snoring with their mouths open, the drool running down their chins.

3. I will probably never visit some countries because they are just too far. Recently, we inquired about a trip to Vietnam and our travel agent told us we could travel over the north pole and we would be seeing not one but two sunrises. She seemed excited about that but that was a turnoff for me. Ten hours is the most I can stand confined to a metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere at 30,000 feet above the earth.

4. My friends Sally and Jill who live in different areas of Australia will probably never see unless they meet me half way. Hawaii is a nice place to visit and I might be able to handle that with a stopover on the west coast. Sally and I have been friends now for five or so years and have never met in person whereas I met Jill on our Scenic cruise last fall.

5. For some odd reason, I am not as nervous on the flight back home. I can't explain why that is, it just is. I am always happy to be back even when we have had the most wonderful time.

I will post any sketches I manage to complete while we are in Spain when I return home.

Cheers everyone!

Sketches on the beach

"A drawing is simply a line going for a walk." ~ Paul Klee, was a Swiss artist who taught in Germany until his art was seen as indecent by the Nazis. He returned to Switzerland where he died in 1940.

quick pen sketches on the beach

These line sketches were completed under a scorching sun while enjoying the beach last week near Puerto Morelos, Mexico.

I discovered that...

.....I should remove my sunglasses when I am painting as the colours are inaccurate when seen through smoked or tinted lenses.  My flower should have been pink rather than orange.

painting on the beach

remnants of beach wedding

.....I should expect that a curious bystander might comment on my drawing, in this case,  a Colombian woman who stood next to me as I became increasingly flustered and messed up two drawings while she kept exclaiming in Spanish how lovely they were.

If I understood her, I believe she was an artist who paints with oils.

I am not used to having a spectator, but in some online courses I have taken, particularly at Sketchbook Skool, the teachers have insisted that we go out in public and draw. I have resisted doing that in my own city but I was itching to draw, and there was so much material nearby that I just had to satisfy my creative urge at least a few times during the week.

.....It's not very pleasant drawing when a crazy lady is feeding seagulls by the plate full.  At first she was flinging the fries in the air but then she decided to leave her entire plate on a nearby chair.  The birds swooped down among the beach chairs and were fighting for the fries while people were ducking and running for cover.

I did not draw that incident...

quick sketches on the beach

.....people move very quickly and it is difficult to capture them exactly. I will have to sketch on the go  more often. This might be an excellent exercise to loosen up.

After I had finished sketching people on the beach, I discovered a downloaded tutorial on my iPad from some time ago.  

For those of you who might like to try line drawings, you might watch this excellent free PDF file download including a video demonstration by Montrealer, Marc Taro Holmes.

 "Drawing People in Motion" is available at www.citizensketcher.com  , an excellent website for quick  line drawing tips.  


Here is the beach on a beautiful day when we enjoyed a refreshing breeze.  You can see Cancun in the distance.  Our resort, the Royalton Riviera Cancun was only twenty minutes by bus from the Cancun airport.

Puerto Morelos - Royalton Riviera Cancun beach

...and here is the beach when it was very windy and the waves brought in mounds of seaweed.

seaweed on beach

I also discovered that...

.....seaweed is beautiful to draw but awful to swim in.

I heard people in the water yelling as they must have thought some fish might be wrapping itself around their legs when in fact, it was probably a piece of seaweed.

For some reason, seaweed is a problem on the Mexican beaches this year. Not every day mind you, so we were still able to enjoy swimming in the ocean.  Hotel staff tried to clean it up but on some occasions, it was just too much for them to remove with sunbathers and swimmers on the beach.

sketch of seaweed

.....even on holidays, art is very relaxing, very therapeutic as long as it is not taken too seriously.

I had brought one of my Moleskine sketchbooks, travel watercolours, Neocolors II,  water brushes, and a couple of black Pitt pens with me in my suitcase. I forgot a pencil and this forced me to accept the lines that I inked in and that I thought were wrong and work with them. Some sketches became doodles.  The Neocolors started melting in the sun and I had to put them away before I ended up with mush.

It is not an easy for me to accept "mistakes" although many would argue there are no mistakes in art, only learning opportunities.  

I also decided that I would not rework or adjust the colours of the sketches when I got home.

I am just leaving them exactly as they are....wonderful memories of a much needed holiday...sketches on a beach.

purple flower painted on the beach

painted shells on the beach


Seeking a gift from the sea

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea."

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001). Lindbergh is an American author who was also the first American woman to obtain her glider pilot's license. The quotation is from a favourite book of mine, Gift from the Sea, written by Lindbergh in 1955.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This is my aged copy of Gift from the Sea. It is a quick read and whenever I pick it up and glance through it, (often over the decades), I find something meaningful, some life lesson to take to heart.

It's time for a temporary escape from the routine and the Christmas hype for one week.  I will be bringing Gift from the Sea along with me to read on the beach.

This year has been a difficult one with the loss of my mom in March.

She always lavished me with encouragement and praise regarding my art. All the crafts I had given her over the years which included a wooden key holder with painted pansies, an antique washboard I had cleaned up and painted with roses above the washboard section, a family tree, angels, and painted pots were always proudly displayed in her home.  It surprised me that she never returned to the painted sceneries later in life that she so loved doing as a young mother. 

I miss her terribly especially at this time of the year.

Hubby and I haven't had a holiday together since April 2014 and the time seems right just now.

It is a gift we are giving ourselves at this moment in our lives.

It is a gift I need.

open sea shell

We are flying to Mexico today to soak in some sun and relax on the beach.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes that for a while, when one first arrives at the sea, books should remain unread, and there should be no writing, not even any thinking. (I guess that might mean no art as well...)

"One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. [...] One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings."


I am trying very hard to get excited about this trip. More than ever, I know I should take her advice seriously and  just let the sea soothe me and forget about everything else.  

sea shell

I love walking along the beach, looking for treasures.  Polished stones and glass find their way into my home.  I have started photographing various objects I find washed up on shore.  Shells fascinate me with their creamy pearlescent interiors and concentric whorls on the outside highlighting sometimes subtle, sometimes vivid colours.

Even though I live nowhere near the sea, it's not surprising that shells have been part of my life.  They have been the subject of my art and crafts time after time.  

I first painted a shell in 1987 when I used words to create art long before there was software that could make image poems in seconds.

A university professor had asked permission to use the shell on a cover of a book he was about to publish. I had made him a copy and the image below is my yellowed copy.

image poem sea shell


Bowls of particularly beautiful shells are displayed in two bathrooms in my home. My parents were "snowbirds", the name given to retired Canadians who spend the winter months in the Sunshine State (Florida). They brought back shells for me so that I could use them in my crafts and they started this shell craze of mine.

At one time, shells and pieces of coral framed a mirror in our powder room, an idea I had seen in a home decorating magazine and I decided that I could easily replicate the frame which became a conversation piece when guests visited the powder room. After I got tired of it, we discarded both frame and shells.

Over the years, I collected shells from all the places I visited.

This past September, I gathered beautiful black and grey shells, colours that I did not have in my collection, from the Jersey Shore near Strathmere. When I want to feature shells in my sketchbook or elsewhere, I have an impressive collection as inspiration.

shell on Jersey shore

the Jersey shore at Strathmere

journal sketch, watercolours, of shells of the jersey shore

Last year, I painted shells and coral in my sketchbook when I took an online watercolour sketching course with Jane Lafazio. http://www.janeville.blogspot.ca

sea coral in sketchbook

sketchbook sea shells

In the sketch below, I selected a few of Lindbergh's passages that are personally significant and I used them around more painted shells.

When I first sketched the page of shells and quotations and emailed it to close friends, they  expressed their appreciation for Gift from the Sea as they too had read it or had someone close to them who had read it.

The shell is intricately woven as a metaphor throughout the life lessons in this little gem given to me by a dear friend in 1984. I wonder if she knew the impact the memoir would have on me? 

seashell sketch with quotations from Gift from the Sea

Lindbergh writes at the end of the book that shells remind her that "the sea recedes and returns eternally."

Through the ebb and flow of life itself, one must learn to accept the gifts as they are revealed and remain open to the present, not delving too much in the past, not looking too much to the future.

For the gift is truly found only in fully living in the moment. This is a little more difficult for me this year.

How will you "live in the moment" this holiday season? What books have left the greatest impact on you?