I’m back from a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevada (not the one in Spain... it turns out there is one also in California!). It was gorgeous.
We had no phone reception, no electricity and no running water. But we had stunning wildflowers, curious horses, bald eagles, waterfalls, patches of snow, dazzling lakes and green meadows. Unfortunately we also had mosquitoes. So many mosquitoes. And you know what? Mosquitoes ADORE me.
The trip was fun and beautiful, but also uncomfortable and a little wild (did I mention we went camping with two toddlers?). It got me thinking about unrealistic expectations in both life and art.
As I always do before going on a trip, I looked through my (many) travel sketchbooks to choose one that was just right… And I found it. Surely I could complete nine pages (therefore finishing the journal) in four relaxing days, couldn’t I?
It turns out I couldn’t. I drew only four pages, and they weren’t even that good! I was disappointed… My brain started to play a well rehearsed song: I’m not as productive as I’d like, not talented enough. A failure, even on vacation.
However, instead of telling myself off for failing my own expectations, I’m trying something new. I’m thanking myself for aiming high, for expecting the best possible outcome, and for giving myself room to grow.
“It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.” – James Clear
Things don’t need to be perfect to be successful. I hiked, I read a book (the camp-themed graphic novel Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol), I sang songs with my niece, I played boats in the creek, I looked at the stars, I drew a little… Less than I hoped, but still a triumph.
So with all of these new and old learnings (I’ve been keeping travel journals for the last ten years!), I’ve compiled a list of tips. I hope they are helpful to you, and I hope they’ll remind me to avoid the pitfalls I’ve fallen into in the past!
Advice for a successful travel journal experience:
Draw because you want to, not because you think you should. You won’t always feel like sketching, and that’s okay.
Choose to draw places, people and moments that you want to remember. I have a lousy memory, but anything I paint gets recorded onto my brain… Whenever I see an old drawing, I remember how I felt, where I was, who I was with. My travel journals are my personal time capsules.
No one will judge you if you don’t sketch “enough”. You shouldn’t judge yourself either.
Let yourself explore. Try out different styles, techniques or approaches.
Aim for joy, not for perfection. Not every drawing can be your best. Yes, some pages will look better than others. Some pages might even look messy or ugly. That doesn’t mean the effort was wasted. You were there, and you created something from nothing.
You are allowed to make any creative changes you want. Your travel journal is not a non-fiction chronicle.
Let go of how it "should look”… How it looks right now is enough. This moment is enough.
If you need to move on (e.g. your partner is giving you side eye) and can’t finish a drawing, take a photo and keep drawing later.
However, don’t asume you’ll be able to finish every drawing later (says the girl who is now finishing some sketches from her trip to Hawai last year). You’ll forget what you were trying to capture. Accept that we can’t draw everything we’d like… There is just not enough time.
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