In the age of ephemeral digital images, drawing creates lasting memories
On the table in front of me is a glass of thick, sweet Turkish coffee and my sketchbook. All around me is the drama of Borough Market, buzzing with shoppers in central London. I’m tempted to photograph the bright bunches of fruit underneath colorful covered food stands before moving on to the next shot. But I’m committed to slowing down, connecting with the world around me, and being present.
So instead of swiping to snap a quick photo on my phone, I carefully observe the details of this historic market and use my pen to capture its personality. I carefully draw the Victorian curves of the upper stories of the buildings, and the awnings and stalls at street level.
The waiter hovers, looking over my shoulder. “There it is!” he says. “You have got the market there on your page! I love it!” He tells me his father was an aspiring artist who used to sketch, and he would like to try it someday too. We talk about art, his family, and the daily excitement of the market. Later, a plate of Turkish delight—infused with rose and lemon and dusted with powdered sugar—appears on the table, a gift from my new friend.
The sketches I create that day are not great art, but they strengthen my engagement with the setting and the experience of that day. I’ve sketched my travels for years, and it has become the instrument I use to make myself slow down and really experience the places I visit in the world.
I did not realize, for example, that the streetlamps in the Zona Romantica of Puerto Vallarta were adorned with carved griffins until I sketched the Calle Santa Barbara. I have sketched the faces of the guardians of The Grand Palace in Bangkok; the curving arches of Putney Bridge in London; the town hall in Vilshofen in Bavaria; swimmers on the beach in Mismaloya, Mexico; and passengers waiting for a bus in New York City. In every instance, the sketches amplified my memories of those places.
The camera is an efficient way to record images, but it creates distance and prevents us from directly experiencing the sensory richness of the often-amazing places we visit. When you look at a view with the intention of drawing it, you are directly involved in the act of recording. The intensity of the focus required imprints the vision in an indelible way.
When I travel solo, I always plan time to sketch. I’ve also connected with several welcoming sketching communities around the world, including Drawing London on Location and Urban Sketchers. Drink and Draw runs meet-ups in pubs, sketching together over pints in places like London, Lisbon, and Los Angeles.
People are looking for more meaningful travel experiences these days. By sketching our adventures, we can get to know the world in a deeper way. It’s meditative, totally absorbing, and the result is an enduring connection with each destination we visit.