The Essential Sketchbook

When on a painting trip, the importance of the on-site sketch can’t be overemphasized. The on-site sketch conveys the mood and re-creates the feeling of a place. To paint abroad is to be beguiled by exotic peoples, places and things. As artists, we’re faced with the dual tasks of absorbing and simplifying what we see and feel. Here enters the indispensable sketchbook! As we acquire the sketchbook habit and commit marks to paper, they become the means for almost total recall. To sketch on site within the smell of the sea, the sound of church bells and in the company of like-minded folks is to lay up riches for a lifetime of painting memories.

Sunlit Boats (watercolor, 20 x 28)

Our word “sketch” derives from the Italian schizzo, which means “squirt” or “splash.” Schizzare disegno is to do a sketch, a spontaneous, necessarily incomplete drawing that describes the chief features of a scene or a subject. A sketch can be of words, as well as of images. In my sketchbook, I note the weather, my lunch menu, informative comments from bus tour guides, the results of shopping excursions and any other asides that portray the day’s experiences. For instance, on a bus trip in rural Greece, I made the following notes about the farmer’s typical workday:

6:30 to noon: Work in the fields (People live in small villages and work their farms on the outskirts. It’s a society that enjoys living close together.)
Noon to 2:00: Return to village to visit, drink, play backgammon
2:30: Lunch
lunch to 6:00: Nap
6:00 to dark: Work in the fields
10:00: Supper

What a lot these notes tell! The daily log reveals what’s important in this culture: what people value, what gives them pleasure. If we, as tourists, record words and images in a sketchbook, we’re on our way to understanding the spirit of a place. The sketchbook is what we take home. As such, it’s a symbol of the experience of travel: a journal that will trigger memories?of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes?and ideas, too.

Joe Garcia received his formal training from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He now lives and works in Julian, California, and is a member of the Society of Animal Artists. Garcia?s work appears in numerous private and corporate collections across the United States and Canada, and he has over 130 limited edition prints available. To see more of this work, visit his Web site at

You may also like these articles: