Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Adventure 37/50 : Travel Journaling Workshop

If you read this blog you know I do a lot of journaling when I travel. But I have always wanted to add sketches to my journals... despite not feeling like my sketches are "good enough".

Several months ago I attended an adventure writing workshop with Charlotte Austin at the Mountaineers Club in Seattle. Amusingly, I had first met Charlotte the previous year when she was a speaker at a "Learn About Climbing Mount Rainier" talk at REI. See, Charlotte spends half the year as a mountain guide (and badass climber -- she climbed Everest earlier this year!), and the rest of her time as a freelance writer. She's funny, smart, a great speaker, and a great writer.

So when I heard that she was leading a Travel Journaling workshop with artist Claire Giordano (that's her work in the poster above), I signed up.

The evening started with a brief history of travel journaling, showing examples through history. I especially loved this image from the journals of Lewis and Clark of a sage grouse.

image of "Sage Grouse" from

What's so lovely is that, well, it's not a great drawing of a bird, but it was still valuable, and still part of observing and recording what they saw.

We also saw examples of Claire's work, and photographs of her working outdoors. I especially loved her "Glacier Portraits" images of her painting glaciers on Mont Blanc.

We moved the tables into three clumps, with each clump being taken through a mini workshop for about 20 minutes. My group started with writing, and specifically "the question" -- part of Charlotte's "formula" for developing great stories. See, rather than writing "nature is pretty", writing "how does spending time in this landscape help me get over my grief" is much more interesting. Likewise "an essay about sherpas" is much less interesting than "how western climbers outsource risk by hiring sherpas to carry loads up and down the Khumbu Icefall".

So we were challenged to think of an experience, and ask questions about it... so our hiking the Carros de Foc led to these questions:

  • How did we get here?
  • Why didn't we come up with an exit strategy?
  • How did the circuit get created?
  • What expectations did we have? What didn't we have?
  • What did the experienced hikers think of these inexperienced people?
  • How did we change over the course of the week? What did we learn?
I think asking those sorts of questions during the writing process are useful; and I think that asking more questions while I am in a place is also useful... questions such as:
  • What does it smell like?
  • What can I hear?
  • What textures can I feel?
I don't do enough of that while I'm in a place. 

We moved to another station and did a mini-workshop on sketching, where Claire led us through a lot of activities, all very quickly. This section felt really rushed -- I would have liked a little more time to play with these. Note the spectacular 15-second blind contour sketch of my hand on the top left; the 30-second blind contour sketch of a neighbor on the bottom left; a 15-second semi-blind contour sketch of my pencil case on the top right; and a 5-second gesture sketch of the room on the lower right. Note that I did not ask permission to post the sketch of my neighbor, but I figure he is unrecognizable. But I should point out that in real life he had both a nose and a chin...

But my favorite section -- which was also the hardest, I think -- was the watercolor station. Paintbrushes, cups of water, watercolor palettes, and pieces of watercolor paper were laid out, with these instructions.

I chose a photo from the crater rim on Mount Fuji and decided to give it a try.

I decided to zoom in to just a part of it... and then realized that I probably haven't painted with watercolors since, oh, preschool... Though I understand colors and how to mix them, I didn't really know how to make anything lighter ... so I struggled with a lot of the colors. But I enjoyed making a little sketch in pencil and filling in some of the spaces with color ... and trying to capture colors and mix them.

For the record, no one would think these were the same place. But it was still really enjoyable:

It makes me want to get some watercolors and brushes and watercolor paper and do some more playing. So many crafts, so little time!

I left feeling like I will at least add sketches in my journal, and make time to do the sketching when I'm in situ. And I had the chance to play with watercolors for the first time in forever. And both of those things made for a worthwhile evening.

Charlotte often teaches workshops at the Mountaineers, there's already one scheduled for February 2020.

You can also learn more about Charlotte on her website,

And see lots of Claire Giordano's work on her website,


  1. WOW, Sunny, this sounds like such a cool workshop! I can't draw worth beans, but I love how art can be used with writing, and the questions to ask while writing really change it from travelogue to very personal. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. I love journaling, but still always forget to capture the simple things. Have you had a chance to look at Claire's paintings? They're remarkable!