Road trip sketches

Train rides make a good opportunity to read or be productive while traveling. Planes and buses are OK too. Sketching is a good way to use this time. Changing scenery stimulates ability to visualize, and works out your drawing chops. Drawing as a passenger in a moving car doesn’t seem like a common activity though. It takes stamina to resist motion sickness (don’t do it in the back seat or you might barf on your sketchbook.) It takes a lot of concentration to take a mental snapshot, scribble a quick impression, then improvise the rest later.


In a moving car, you have 15 seconds to throw an impression on paper before the scenery has passed. It’s impossible to fully complete anything from one view. It calls for referencing consistent features the landscape can bring. If you missed filling in a cool shape of tree, vegetation or texture, details can be gathered from different ones down the road. These drawings are composites of landscapes and impressions passing through time.


These pages from my sketchbook were done last week on a holiday road trip. We started down the Central Valley of California. We hit Santa Barbara on the coast above L.A., and turned inland to Lake Isabella (a tiny town on the edge of the Sierra National forest.) Then we returned back up the valley to the San Francisco Bay. Altogether, something like 1000 miles.


I don’t get nearly as much opportunity to draw as I would like, so I was really into this. Quick gesture figure drawing is rewarding for an animator, and in the same way, I think thumbnailing landscapes is great practice for storyboard art.


Each thumbnail took a few minutes to rough out in blue pencil. A moving car doesn’t allow controlled lines (in fact a bumpy road can be very challenging), so it has to be scribbled as impressions. They’re laid out with compositions done in the moment, to highlight whatever interesting details catch my imagination. After the trip, I spend a lot more time carefully inking with brush pens, and knock out the blue in photoshop.


The blue thumbnails come out lively yet imprecise, calling for improvising. It helps reduce work that feels too labored. Inking impressions in sequence helps get me out of a natural tendency to get stuck in details, so I can get into a groove.


When I want to ink, it doesn’t matter if a lot of time has passed since I sketched. I can recall details with a series of roughs that would give very little information to anyone else. Some roughs are naturally incomplete, and need more interesting details and textures than they have. That stuff is referenced from other drawings or invented to fit.


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