Tag Archives: travel

Ballpoint pen, an underrated medium

I love sketching with ballpoint pens. To be precise, it has to be a Bic Biro, nothing else works as well in my experience. They aren’t perfect. They can blob and clog up, and the lines and densely shaded areas can have a rather nasty shine. But nothing matches the way it feels when you draw rapidly on good paper. The drag of the point is just about perfect. Textures can be built up through rapid scribbles and crosshatchings. I rediscovered it on my tall ship sailing week in the Canaries last week, where I used it for sketching on the boat, in cafes and on the beach. All I needed were a book and a biro.

Back ashore at a life class this week, I used a bigger sketchbook, but the same biro to do some textured studies .


I do like biro.

Miniature drawing board

I bought a pack of A5 sized sheets of Indian khadi handmade paper and wondered how I would actually handle it when outside. I decided that a little drawing board with some bulldog clips might do. A piece of marine plywood made a light but strong back, but the clips got in the way. I replaced them with a couple of loops of elastic.

That worked, but the knots in the elastic got in the way, so I drilled the boards, ran the elastic through the holes and stapled the ends to the ply. That worked well.

I made a cover out of a sheet of a different, irregular Indian paper, which I painted with several coats of acrylic paint and medium on both sides. This makes it into an almost leather like material. It all slips into a bag, and I spent an afternoon sitting in the garden sketching various bits. The beauty is I can put any type of paper I like into it, so far more versatile than a sketchbook.

Austrian landscape


Brandalm near Ramsau in Steirmark. Based on a sketch I had made 12 years ago. I was just walking back from going up the Dachstein and stopped at this little Jausestation for essential sustenance. I had walked miles that day, having completely misjudged the scale of the map (and I was teaching that sort of thing at the time). This little stop was like paradise. I sketched the view in ink there and added the colour back at the hotel. Finally, after more than a decade, I have produced the planned painting.

(A scribbled note on the side of the sketch says “endless bloody pine trees”. I was very footsie at the time.)

San Vitale Ravenna

Carrying on with my troll through old travel sketches, I have one of Ravenna that I have always liked.


There are some big gaps in the sketch, which I made whilst we were having a coffee in a cafe. I had a look at Google Street view and found almost the same view, which will help me fill in some details. It does seem like cheating a bit, but I didn’t take any photos whilst we were in that spot.


I’m using one of my cheap canvases and I can see why is cheap now. Very thin, and it shows wrinkles easily. But it will do. First I sketched the sketch in pencil. Then I scrubbed burnt sienna over it and then blocked in the sky and the big pine tree.


Travelling with paper and pen, three sketches from three countries

These are three of my favourite travel sketches, all done on the spot with no tarting up afterwards. I think they were all done with a fine tip felt-tip pen, but I honestly can’t remember for sure. I keep changing my drawing media.


Our friend Viv buying matches at the bar in Les Templiers in Colieure in the south of France in 2004. The bar was half a boat, complete with figure head. Viv is so short she had to stand on tiptoe to talk to the bar man. This is the hotel the Fauves lived in early in the 20th century. The walls are lined with paintings and one of the bedrooms has originals by Matisse that he painted there


Our good friend Brian is an excellent pianist and always wanted to play the piano in a cafe in Vienna. One summer he did it, playing Tales from the Vienna Woods in the Cafe Sperl whilst my wife turned the pages for him.


A real challenge. This was one of my earliest travel sketches, in Zanzibar in 2001. We went to a “cultural evening” at the fort in Stone Town, which was in fact really very good. Dancing, drumming and food. I was trying to scribble pictures of the dancers, with a sketchbook on my knee, and them jumping around all the time. The lady in the middle was dancing towards us, banging her head from side to side as she came. The man on the left was the sergeant major, keeping time for the whole ensemble by blasting on a football whistle hanging around his neck. The drummer was beating out crescendos on a battered cooking oil drum. This scribble catches it better than any photograph.


I have always had a soft spot for camels. No animal makes you feel quite so unimportant. I always feel that they are the one domesticated animal which one day will say “We’re just not going to do this any more”. These were the ones we rode into the Thar desert in Rajasthan to view the sunset over the dunes. Along with 50,000 other tourists. The sunset was not good, but the camels were worth it.