Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Sense of Place, Part 2 (Here There Be Magic)

I let my children pick their favorite places in San Antonio, and we went about documenting them

Journals have been part of my daily carry for decades. I carry them when I go to work, when I go shopping, and when I travel. But it's only been in the last 10 years or so that I've committed to creating journals dedicated in their entirety to a single trip or locale.

recording my son's last lesson with his favorite teacher (and the music he was playing)

This week's article focuses on one of the earliest dedicated journals (and one of the most ambitious) -- a record of our move from San Antonio, TX, to Annapolis, MD, in June 2004. At the time I was under the spell of the Book of Kells, calligraphy, and medieval scripting, and thought that the move would be a perfect opportunity to work on my own calligraphy skills while documenting a bit of our family's history. Well, (not knowing if we would ever be returning to Texas, and wanting to experiment a little with pen & ink, and watercolor) my first decision was to document some of our favorite haunts in San Antonio. I purchased a large Punjab journal filled with very rustic-looking sheets of handmade watercolor paper and we set out to document the town. (This was also an excellent excuse for a break from all the packing at home.)

no travel journal is complete without maps (I'm addicted to maps)

Next we set down a few operating "rules" for the trip itself: my son (who was just tall enough now) would ride in the cab of the truck with me while our daughter would ride in the car with my wife; in addition to lunch, we would make a minimum of two stops each day to visit points of local interest along the way and to stretch our legs; and we would stop around three each day to allow plenty of time for a dip in the pool, some family game time, and a bit of relaxation before bedtime. (This kept everyone happy and sane, and was worth its weight in gold.)

I like to think that my son enjoyed spending quality time with his "Poppy" as much as I enjoyed spending it with him

On our first day out (in fact, as we were leaving the San Antonio city limits) my son made a request that was to have wonderful ramifications on the rest of our road adventure; he asked if we could leave the radio off and just talk. So, for almost the entire trip we talked -- about the whether, what we saw, where we were going, and what we did at each stop along the way. It was sublime! (The only exception was a history lesson about the Civil War -- a radio broadcast by the National Park Service we listened to as we drove up the Shenandoah Valley. And my son, the budding history buff, just loved that too.)

another map, one of our culture breaks, and our daughter's studio-on-wheels

For those who may be interested in technical issues I include the following notes:
  • A pocket notebook and small sketchbook were utilized during the day to record details on and along the road (and my son supplemented my notes with his camera) and the journal itself was written and illustrated in the evenings. (I hate driving trucks, so the evening journaling was also a great way to "wind down".) 
  • The white rough-textured Punjab watercolor paper was "tempered" by dabbing over a Japanese "stencil" with a sponge lightly loaded with green watercolor. 
  • The layout of each page (or facing pairs of pages) was initially blocked out in pencil. Text was added using an assortment of steel dip pens with watercolor for ink. (I wanted to make certain that my materials were archival and this also gave me total control over color combinations.)
  • Maps and line drawings were produced with Sakura Micron pens and then colored with watercolor.  

state flowers graced a two-page spread, and my son's "Dutch oblique" 
of a Virginia farm added a nice compositional touch

This is part of a series of articles on travel journaling that I'll be posting through the end of October. The  series is running concurrent with an exhibition of travel and nature journals I'm doing for Central Library in Fort Worth, TX. During the exhibition I'll also be doing a series of four workshops on various types of journaling at venues around the city. So, if you find yourself in the area, please join us.

And if you'd like to create your own Punjab journal, but your local art supply shop doesn't have it in stock, you can find them on my "Art Supplies & Provisions Online" page.

Correction: Last week I inadvertently posted the wrong date for one of the journalling workshops. The correct date for the first (Botanical Gardens) workshop is Friday, September 20.


  1. What a gorgeous journal, and a real treasure for you and your kids. Thanks for sharing it and the process you used.

  2. Love this, and looking forward to the next instalments. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us! I love it!

  4. So inspiring. so many ideas to steal - er, borrow! Very nice. I have been combining photos with sketches in my travel journals for years, but not in personal stuff. Gives me a lot to think about.

  5. What a wonderful journal and like everyone has said, a tremendous treasure for your kids!! Love reading about your process and look forward to following along!