In the last few years, I have made a point to pack my travel journal and watercolors on our trips, and this practice has helped me hone in on how best to teach my travel journaling classes. I have fine-tuned a process that works well for me and thought I'd take a moment to share it. Here are my steps...
1. I want to be fully present in the moments with my family, so I don't typically paint en plein air, though it is really fun when I get the opportunity. I take photos with paintings in mind and then find time later to paint in my sketchbook using my reference photos. I'm an early riser, so often I will paint before anyone else has rolled out of bed.
2. I sketch my drawing into the journal, thinking about what to include, what to edit out, how to layout the page if I want to include a label or a whole paragraph, and where I want the edges. Sometimes I paint to the edge of the paper, sometimes I tape off the edges for a crisp frame or loosely draw in a frame, and sometimes I keep them loose.
3. I then decide if I'm going to outline everything in a micron pen for a more illustrator style or if I'm going to just paint.
4. When the sketch is satisfactory, I start painting. Getting the sketch right, with all the proportions and angles, is important so it doesn't look weird at the end. It's easier to erase pencil than watercolor! Watercolor is done in layers, so having a hair dryer or craft heat gun is handy to speed up the drying process between layers.
5. The final step is to add the writing. I often just label and date the page, but many people treat it more as a journal, including weather, people, and descriptions.
Here is my most recent sketchbook of a quick trip to Colorado for a family reunion. I included the reference photos so you can see how I edited colors and removed people/objects that I didn't want to include. I was able to complete a page a day, which made me very happy!
I usually say YES when it comes to new artistic opportunities, because I not only learn new skills, but I break up the routine and often find new ways to creatively apply what I've learned. As I painted long hours in the quiet church gym this week, I listened, among other podcasts, to a TED Talk on "Jumpstarting Creativity," in which speaker Tim Harford talked about a powerful technique to unleash new avenues of creativity called "disruption." Mixing it up. Doing something ridiculously different than your usual.
I realized that my current disruptive activity was painting a gimungous canvas backdrop for my church's VBS program, which has the theme of "ROAR" this year. My talented friend, Amy, who designs sets for television, designed the backdrop. I had to learn how to project it, sketch it, and properly paint it. I messed up a lot, improvised when I couldn't see the shape of the elephants, and continually dripped on finished parts. Cringe! But stepping back, one can forget about the little mistakes and see the magic!
Thanks to custodian and former sign painter Brad Higgins for his good advice, starting with reminding me to pour the paint over the drop cloth instead of the gym floor! And thanks to Pastor Brian and the whole team for pouring your hearts and time into transforming the church into an African savanna and preparing wonderful messages and activities for the kids! VBS "disrupts" the normal routine at our church and ushers hundreds of kids into the mystery and roaring power of God's love.
I had a most unusual request from a friend recently. Six month ago, she and her family adopted a daughter from China, who would become their 5th child and 2nd adopted child. This 10-year-old girl is spunky and curious and soaking up the language and culture. She is also deaf and has the wonderful ability to express herself through art. Her art is full of manga-style princesses, rainbows, ruffles and glittery crowns. She carefully labels the portraits with her new English name and the names of her new brothers & sisters, and mom and dad. She is finding her place in the world through art.
Throughout these 6 months, as she works to bond with her daughter, my friend has also been caring for her mother, who had late-stage cancer until she died a week ago. How do you explain death to a young girl from a different culture who has limited sign language. How do you explain the belief that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?
My friend asked if I could help...if I could somehow draw this concept. As she talked, I formed a vision for the painting, and then, startlingly, my friend described what I was picturing...the bed, the hand, the body, the spirit. It was a Holy Moment that made me shiver!
I said I would try, and the next day I laid the watercolor on their kitchen counter. The picture was of a manga-style grandma, rising from her final resting place into the heavenly realm and toward the hand of God. I'm glad I clothed her in a rainbow gown before I even knew how much this girl loved rainbows.
She quieted and studied the picture. Her mom signed "grandma." She nodded knowingly. And I thought to myself that God, the Grand Designer, paints around and over and through us all grief and joy and beauty and love and hope.
Jill Pearson, owner & instructor at Riverwood Studio, Oronoco, Minnesota