Saturday Sketchy: Vacation Artist

The weeks before Christmas were a flurry of packages arriving on our doorstep. Avoiding crowds and malls we’d done much of our shopping online, tho less shopping than usual overall. Not all those packages were gifts, however. I’d snuck an order of some sketch supplies into my incoming parcels, including a fresh moleskine watercolour book and a pack of new ink pens.

I had a plan and a goal for vacation. As the first trip out of the country in almost three years, I was determined to document it in art.

Now to be clear, dreams and ambitions aside, if anyone googles this post wondering “can you sketch in Disney” or looking for “urban sketching tips for theme parks” up front I’m going to suggest it is impractical… unless that’s why you went there.

If you don’t care about rides or are committed to be the guy who sits holding a spot on the curb for the fireworks or a parade, maybe you’ll have lots of time to draw.

My family never sat still long enough to do that. I had discussed my interest in doing this with my wife prior to our trip, but boots on the ground in the Magic Kingdom that first day, even tho I had my sketch supplies in my backpack, I would have had a couple sketches of her tapping her foot impatiently on the ground while reminding me how short the day was. Reality did not align with my vision.

Unlike a quiet travel holiday to a beautiful city, I would posit, vacation in a theme park is not about quiet contemplation while sipping a cup of coffee, pencil in hand.

Instead I opted to start looking for things to sketch later from a snapshot. Admittedly this was a bit cheating on the strict urban sketch rulebook, but I always drew stuff on the same day I saw it and I think in my “still just learning” mode that’s okay.

(On a side note, outside the parks, I did do some situational drawings live from a bench or table, so I’m satisfied with the chance for that opportunity at least.)

As it turns out I found strength in drawing a couple specific things: signage and wide scenes with people in them.

Signage is a curious thing in Disney World. There is a blend of actual and meaningful directional and informational signs on one hand, while on the other there are countless signs that are purely decorative and part of the theme for whatever “land” you happen to be in. This makes for some very geometrically interesting walls or signposts that are fun to sketch but also subtly unique to the place and space. For example, in one part of Animal Kingdom there are areas devoted to Africa and Asia where signage is designed to advertise make-believe tours through the jungle or made up vendors in a marketplace facade, but mixed in among that is a real sign for mobile food orders from the kiosk or directions to the washroom. A blend of fake and fun and real makes for a very Disney subject.

As far as crowds and people go, it’s fair to say it’s been tough to find strangers to sketch these days. I find myself very limited in the groups I’m around and for the last couple years lacking in opportunity to sit somewhere public and sketch real live humans. For better or worse, or whatever your opinion of the state of the world right now, Disney seems to blur the fear that many seem to feel about gathering these days. There were crowds in abundance. This added to the complexity of finding a rare seat from which a sketching opportunity might have occurred, but my photo-now draw-later approach netted a positive number of crowds in cool places scenes worthy of an hour or two of drawing back at the hotel.

Over the autumn I’d bought a book called “Drawing Expressive People” which offered some useful if somewhat vague, learn-by-example guidance and has let me leap into the rewarding realm of drawing people in public. As a result these are still rough but are among some of my favourite sketches from the vacation.

The results are the best part tho.

I’m back home with that moleskine notebook now three-quarters filled with vacation art, and in person holding it in my hands there is no comparison between the pics I’m able to share of that art folio and the real thing. It is a unique and beautiful souvenir of a weird and crazy vacation, created almost entirely as a result of being somewhere and finding moments to sketch and paint those things.

It makes me want to improve and repeat and keep creating more like it. Precious and priceless, perhaps just to me, but a perfect vacation artist effort just the same.

Doubled Down. Do You Carry Multiple Cameras, too?

I have a habit that I have not completely decided if it is a problem… yet.

It results in lots of great photos, hours of video footage, heaps of social-media ready content, and nary a missed moment.

It also results in a sore back, full hands, and often being the guy standing back recording the action rather than fully participating.

The maybe-a-problem is that I usually carry multiple cameras on vacation.

Actually, while these days I’m often lugging a dSLR with multiple lens, an action camera (like a GoPro) with a video stabilizer, and a smartphone (for snapshots or panoramas, and because it’s a phone), I only occasionally doubt the practicality of this approach.

After all there are some pros to having more than one camera:

The Pros.

  • I usually have the “right” camera or lens for the scene.
  • I’ve taken some amazing pictures over the years and often this comes down to having appropriate equipment.
  • All the tech I’ve invested in gets a turn.

On the flip side, I have been known to just bring a single camera somewhere so I can focus (no pun intended) on a single style of picture-taking.

This makes me think of some of the cons of carrying too much equipment, such as:

The Cons.

  • I only have two hands, and spend a lot of time switching or juggling gear.
  • It’s tough to travel light when you’ve got so much technology and an extra bag for it all.
  • I’m likely a higher target for crime or theft.
  • As a photographer I’m not growing as I’m taking the easy way out of switching to the easier equipment for the scene, rather than getting better with what I have in my hand at the moment.

And to be honest, it’s probably writing down that last one that hits me the hardest, the idea that I’m becoming creatively stagnant because I’ve shifted my focus to gear over improving my technique. Learning happens, after all, because we challenge ourselves to solve a problem that we haven’t encountered before.

I don’t want to make any grand gestures or statements here claiming to forever shift to one way of doing things, but I do wonder if I’m in good company with the multi-camera approach to photography… or if I’ve instead shifted to a kind of photographic FOMO: fear of missing out on some perfect shot.

It’s something to pause and think about next time I set out on a photogenic adventure: should I take just one camera, or a whole bag worth?