Travel Journal: San Francisco and Hawaii (A How-To)

I love making illustrated notes. This summer, I immortalized our family vacation as a visual journal in the pages of my Moleskine. People think this is hard to do, but, it's not... I promise! It IS NOT about perfection -- it IS about documenting something you want to remember. Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at how I created this travel journal:

Hawaii spread #1 is almost finished!

Hawaii spread #1 is almost finished!

Step 1

I start by quickly jotting down some notes. Very messy notes. I scribble down what we did each day, something funny that happened, quotes, objects... anything I would want to remember. Ideally, I write down the notes at the end of each day so I don't forget anything, but, that doesn't always happen, especially when traveling with kids. I didn't write any notes until day 4 of this trip... whoops.

Super quick scribbles, just to remember.

Super quick scribbles, just to remember.

Step 2

I start on a clean page and draw the title -- usually in the top left corner, and then fill in the drawing to the right and down. There's no real reason why I do it this way, it's just my preference. The title can also go in the middle, and the drawing will fill in around it.

Draw your title a bit bigger than you'll draw everything else. Hierarchy is your friend.

Draw your title a bit bigger than you'll draw everything else. Hierarchy is your friend.

Step 3

Now comes the fun part! This is like doodling on the back of your notebook in 7th grade. I refer back to the notes and start filling in the page with detail. I try to make the details as rich as possible, so that the memory will be equally rich. Documenting the littlest of moments is what makes it interesting!

I write in different lettering styles, use words for some memories, and draw objects for others. I draw things close together because I like the density, and my drawings seem to get more dense as I do them. I fill in any holes with dots, expression lines, stars, and other random doodles. I play with scale by making the drawings larger and smaller. As I go, I use markers (list of tools later in the post!) to add shading and visually separate the objects. Think of it as a visual brain dump. There's no planning... just drawing.

Sometimes I finish a page or spread in one sitting, and sometimes the drawing builds over several days.

Detail from the San Francisco spread. 

Detail from the San Francisco spread. 

Detail from Hawaii spread #1.

Detail from Hawaii spread #1.

Detail of Hawaii spread #2.

Detail of Hawaii spread #2.

....And that's it! I keep going until I fill up the entire spread all the way to the edges, and then I turn the page and begin again. Voila. I got our entire 11-day adventure into these three spreads. My kids really enjoy exploring all the details and finding their cameo appearances in the drawings!

Drawing Tools

I use pens only (no erasing allowed!) I like Microns in varying weights for line, and Faber Castell PITT markers for shading (but sometimes I use a brush.) If I make a "mistake," I just keep going and work it into the drawing. The lines will be wonky, my renderings will be imperfect, I'll forget something and have to sneak it into the drawing later... but that's why it's fun.

I always use a hardcover Moleskine notebook -- either the regular unlined drawing paper, or the books with watercolor paper (the thicker, toothy paper is really nice.) A hardcover notebook is helpful when drawing in the wild, where I may not have a good surface to lean on.

Tips and Tricks

Are you ready to make your own journal this summer? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. I feel strongly that the travel journal should be completed while traveling, and not at home. The energy of travel comes through in the drawing. I work quickly so I can finish it all in the duration of the trip. And for my fellow parents asking, "WHEN the hell do you this while traveling?!" -- I feel you. My kids are at a good age where I'm not constantly running after them. I suggest you steal time when they are asleep on a flight, late night, or early morning. Or just hide in the bathroom with your sketchbook. :)

2. Don't be afraid of the gutter (which is the middle of the book, where it folds.) Sometimes it is tricky to draw around. Don't get nervous, just pretend it's not there, and keep going! I like to draw right over it, and have my artwork extend across the entire spread.

3. If you really don't know where to begin, draw yourself a tool box of elements you can keep reusing -- different types of lines, shapes, type styles. You'll see that I often use the same shadowed hashed line element to separate the days of travel. No pressure to think of something new. Just use what you've already done!

Finishing a drawing on an overnight flight. Thanks to the husband and family paparazzo, Matthew, for capturing it! xo

Finishing a drawing on an overnight flight. Thanks to the husband and family paparazzo, Matthew, for capturing it! xo

Now, go draw! I have more illustrated live notes and journals here for inspiration.