A visual record of your trip

An artist promotes the idea of 'sketchbooking' – a vacation journal filled with sketches drawn on the spot

Barbara Stecher is an artist who likes to travel. And like most people who enjoy spending time in faraway places, she wants to share her experiences and her observations with others, after she has returned.

But how to do that was the problem.

She certainly didn't want to bore friends with the usual post-vacation slide shows or videos.

But taking her painting paraphernalia on trips didn't work either. Mrs. Stecher found that not only did it add weight to her luggage, but she rarely found a convenient time to paint while on vacation.

So she decided she would record her next journey in a travel journal. As she scribbled down her impressions of Germany, her husband, Bob, looked over and asked, "Why not sketch?"

It was as though one of those cartoon light bulbs went on in her head.

Within 10 minutes, she had done a delightful little sketch of Neuschwanstein Castle. Once she had returned home, she discovered that her quick sketch brought back much clearer memories of the experience than all the words she had written.

When something similar happened on a trip to China, she realized that "sketchbooking" was the answer to her dilemma of how best to record her travels.

Soon Stecher began teaching courses on the technique at the DeCordova Museum School of Art in Lincoln, Mass.

Not all of her students were artists. Professional-level talent isn't necessary, she insists: "In sketchbooking you will learn that there is a wonderful experience available to you regardless of what your drawings look like."

It's easy to get started. Select a hardcover blank book (about 9 by 6 inches, not spiral-bound) that appeals to you. Then buy a 2B or 3B drawing pencil and a pen with black ink. For a touch of color, add a small painting kit: a good-quality No. 10 watercolor brush, a small plastic bottle for water, and a sketcher's 3-by-5-inch paint box.

Then place them all in a fanny pack or shoulder bag so they're ready to pull out when it's time to sketch.

Stecher outlines the simple process in her paperback book, "Sketchbooking," which is available from the DeCordova Museum's online shop: http://participate.decordova.org/catalog.asp.

In it she writes: "The value of creating sketchbooks is more than you realize when you are first starting out.... You never know what good ideas it will generate in yourself or in others."

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