Sketching from the Back of a Motorbike

I have a fondness for travel sketchbooks which I always carry with me wherever I go.

I maintain that taking the time to do a quick drawing while sightseeing is way better that taking a snapshot with the camera (which by the way, I also do). Sketching makes you stop that bit longer and really look, taking in the details, the light and the colours, perhaps even start a conversation with the locals.

When the manner of travel – trains, buses, planes – prevents you from stopping, you can always resort to mental sketching. A couple of years ago, the memory of the coast of Labrador in Winter seen from the plane’s window sparked off a series of drawings that kept me occupied for many months.

Mental sketching is a skill that can be developed with serious training. It’s the capacity to fix in your own mind the impressions generated by observing lines, forms and colours of a particular subject and to store it away for later use. Of course taking a photograph could achieve similar results but it’s a very different process. In my experience the act of drawing engages the senses in a way that allows for a transformation to develop.

When sightseeing I take pictures to record but I draw to understand.

Traveling around Puglia in the South of Italy, as a passenger on a motorbike during the Summer, I experimented with mind-sketching and experienced a new way of seeing. Perched on the back seat with my head tightly held in the helmet and the sound of the engine roaring in my ears I could after a while, forget the discomfort and concentrate not only in seeing but also in smelling the landscape and enjoy the experience.

While traversing miles of olive groves I would marvel at the gnarled trunks, knobbly and twisted with age; study the rich red-brown of the earth but also smell the dry and warm air rich with a sweet aroma. And when we coasted along the salt producing lagoons tinted in gorgeous purple and dotted with pink flamingos the breeze was fresh with the unmistakable tangy smell of the sea.

Long, tedious stretches of motorway was made more bearable by taking pleasure in looking at the alternating patterns of the intense cultivations: regular rows of vines followed by fields packed with multitudes of cheerful-looking sunflowers or bright red tomatoes wrapped up in intense dry heat.

On my return home all I have to work from are impressions and images stored in my mind’s eye and I know that before I put brush to canvas, I have to wait until those images have matured long enough to be ready for the process.

Years of art making thought me to wait for the right time and thankfully I’m not in a hurry.