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Travel journaling -
Choosing a subject

by aisling d'art ©2006

The first step in illustrating your travel journal is to choose a subject. This may sound easy--and it is, once you get used to this--but at first it can seem overwhelming.

There are certain rules to composition, and I suggest that you ignore them altogether. Draw what you see, and what you like... forget about whether or not it will make "a good picture."

As Natalie Goldberg says, "When I was out scouting things to draw, I slowed down. I noticed doorknobs, light posts, the peeled paint of a gate. As I slowed down things became brilliant. Grass growing through a cement crack, a stop sign--its glowing yellow octagonal shape outlined in thick black--suddenly mattered, because I saw them."

Go out and look at things, and just draw anything. (I'll talk about technique later in this series about travel journaling.)

There's a classic rule that nothing should divide your finished picture in half. But, people instinctively divide their pictures into sections based (very loosely) on thirds, in most cases.

So, let's assume that you won't put the horizon right smack in the middle of the page, and you also won't put the subject of your illustration right smack in the middle of the page, either.

(If you read Natalie Goldberg's book, in the "Recommended Reading" section to the right, you'll see that few of her paintings can be divided into tidy sections.)

With that in mind, here are two rules that might help.

Rule #1: The horizon line

Most people are happiest if the horizon line divides the scene horizontally into 1/3 and 2/3 sections. Whether the horizon gives you 1/3 or 2/3 sky area is up to you... and relates to the scene in front of you, of course. And, it doesn't have to be sky; it can be wall, or something else. The point is, the energy and the focal point tend to be in 2/3 of the picture, and the remaining 1/3 usually represents the sky or a wall, or an open stretch of road, or something "less interesting," I suppose.

1/3 sky

2/3 sky

Rule #2: The big object

Another rule comes from photography: If you live in a culture that reads from left to right, don't put anything big, dark, or heavy on the far right side of the picture... nothing that causes the eye to halt as you study the picture from left to right.



not so good

So, you now know two big rules of composition, but they're not as "set in stone" as some art teachers pretend they are.

Mostly, it's important to draw stuff. Lots & lots of stuff.

Whether you sketch it or just draw the outline of it as if you're creating your very own coloring book... that's up to you, and we'll talk about drawing techniques in the next lesson.

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