Armchair travel


Girl reading by fireplace
We create rooms from our dreams. This is an image from an old post. To see the whole post, click here.

I often dream of plein air-painting trips to exotic lands. Tracing the curve of the Amur River through Mongolia. Filling the pages of a worn watercolor journal with sketches of women in cerulean blue saris or rippling grass-green áo dàis. Painting the song of a skylark as it ripples across blue Irish skies and the howl of a monkey crashing through deep Guatemalan jungles.

Those are my dreams. I would have gladly traveled like that when I was young, a happy vagabond artist sleeping in hostels and riding on trains (and I did, some, but without the artistic skill and drive—or money—of middle age).

But would I do it these days?  I am not so sure, especially when the sun warms my studio, or I curl up in our den with a book. Andrew Loomis’ Creative Illustration would be awfully heavy to carry in a back pack.

But sometimes ultramarine blue and viridian green precipitates onto the paper and glimmers like the ocean. Those are days I long to be on a cargo ship headed to Greece.

This post is in response to a prompt from WordPress University Writing 101: A Room with a View

Can a painter travel lightly across the land?

Painter's travel kit

I haven’t been posting much lately, because I’ve been painting! Painting and traveling.

We took a trip to Chicago in the spring. Despite the Chicagoan’s fanstasies that the weather was springlike, it was a bitterly cold city. (Where I’m from, we complain when we have to put socks on in the winter. Any temperature under 59 degrees F., and I’m done.)

It was also a city where, I was advised, we wouldn’t need a car, since the public transportation is epically transportational.

What? No car? I’m a person who chooses automobiles based on the amount of nooks and crannies on the passenger side. When I travel, I need a rolling art studio. I paint while my husband drives.

The best car I ever used was a Dodge van we rented for a camping trip. Cubbies in the door held paintbrushes, pencils, and pens at the ready; 4 drink holders between the front seats kept steady two cups of water and two cups of coffee; the deep, wide dashboard displayed paintings that were not yet dry; and the open door of the glove box made the perfect mobile easel.

You can imagine how much stuff I brought on that (or any) camping trip. Several sketchbooks, a folder of watercolor paper, a couple of Arches watercolor blocks, and a lined notebook. I even brought the laptop and Wacom tablet.

But in Chicago, traveling by bus and subway, I had to pare down. Way down.

Homemade travel journal

What you see in the photo above is what I came up with.

I’m not a book binder, so I couldn’t stitch together anything fancy; instead I cut to size a variety of papers: Strathmore drawing paper, BFK Rives printing paper (tan colored), and Arches 300-lb cold and hot press papers.

Then I got the local copy shop to drill holes in the paper. They couldn’t—or wouldn’t—move the bits on their drill, so I was lucky my notebook fit in the 8.5-inch slot on the paper-drilling machine.

They wouldn’t drill the covers. They said, what the h*ll is this stuff? It was merely illustration board covered with acrylic gesso, but I guess it looked like some strange building material to them.  I had to drill those with my trusty hand drill (it used to belong to my grandfather. It’s probably 60 years old, and still works like a champ.)

Binder ring journal

The paper was all held together with binder rings.

It was perfect for the trip. I could paint or draw on whatever type paper I wanted that day. I didn’t have to work sequentially, because at the end of the day I could reorder the paper as I liked. And to reduce weight (and protect the already painted pages), I would only bring part of the journal each day as I shivered my way around Chicago.