This week I featured Elizabeth Briel , an artist who also travels a lot. I asked her how travel affects her art, and after she answered, I thought about how traveling as an artist is different than traveling for work or tourism.
Whatever your purpose for travel, you can borrow from artists to enhance your experience.
Artists will often take time while traveling to reflect on their experiences, rather than rushing from one thing to another. Take time after a museum visit or a shopping or exploring spree to reflect on your experience.
What did you notice or see that surprised you? What do you want to remember? Sketch or take notes of the inspiration you’ve gathered.
This is where your travel journal is your great companion. Bring an easy-to-carry journal with you and spend time with it. I’ve shared ideas on how to make time for your journal while traveling elsewhere.
Here are ten additional ways to tap into a place and experience it as a traveling artist does.
1 Fashion as art Artists often pay attention to what people are wearing and where they are shopping. Tracking down the second-hand shops is a way to step deeper into a culture’s taste rather than just visiting shops geared toward tourists. What inspiration can you take from a place’s style?
2 Public spaces Artists often tune into the communal spaces. I’m always drawn to shared/public space like piazzas, cafes and parks. I pay attention to how people greet each other and how they spend time together in conversation.
Notice, too, the advertisements you’ll often see plastered around a city. What do you notice about a culture from its ads?
These public places make great opportunities to capture impressions in your notebook. I sat for nearly two hours in this piazza in Florence and captured the occasion with this drawing.
3 Culinary expression Many artists pay close attention to food when traveling. What people eat, how and when – street food, comfort food, culturally iconic food (appelaart) can say a lot about a place and its citizen’s traditions. What inspires you about food when you travel?
4 Street art This may be seem obvious but there are places other than museums to tap into the local art scene.
Take time to enjoy street art. Sidewalk chalk artists, human sculptures and artists setting up their easels all offer ways to tap into how a place relates to art. Take a minute to talk to the artist.
Go beyond basic questions like “How long did it take you to make that?” (Actually that’s one of the most annoying questions you can ask an artist, but I won’t go into that here!)
Don’t overlook small galleries or boutique shops. While technically not street art, there’s often easier access to inspiration here than in big museums like the Louvre.
5 Artist studios Accessing an artist’s studio is a great way to get closer to the art making process so you can understand not only that artist but that artist in that place.
I’ve been in Cindy’s botanical illustration studio (with microscopes!) in southern France, Marcus McAllister’s delightful studio in Paris and Jacop’s shoe making gallery/studio/shop in Amsterdam.
To get into the artist’s studio, look in local papers or online for Open Studios. Tap into your network before you travel to find artists to connect with on the road.
6 Bookshops and art supply stores Step away from tourist shops and markets to see how local artists shop. I’m always curious about what people are reading and independent bookshops provide a peek into the literature of a place. Look for specialty shops like Boekie Woekie, shop in Amsterdam devoted to handmade books.
7 The musical soundscape Music can play an essential role of a culture. Music reflects our interests, our values and our particular style of expression.
Listen to what’s played in the streets, in clubs, in shops or in cafes. How does the musical landscape of a place reflect on the values and interests of a people?
8 The locals People are the heart of any place. What are the locals thinking, focusing on, and doing? Artists are curious and often will engage in conversation where other travelers won’t. Dig below the surface and strike up conversation with people you encounter.
Go further and seek to make appointments with people in new places so you’ve got potential new friends waiting for you.
9 Transportation How people move is a great way to understand a culture’s rhythm. Riding bikes, taking rickshaws, cabs or the metro and walking get you into the groove with the locals. How you get around has an impact on how you experience a place and what you learn.
10 Parks and other green spaces Nature offers a respite from the often-busy pace of travel. Take a break in a park or public square and observe how people recreate. Notice how they tend their natural spaces and draw conclusions about how that reflects that society’s values.
I’ve noticed that French parks and gardens are highly manicured and composed. This makes sense to me, since I think of the French as a very ordered and ‘comme il faut’ society. Of course they would take this sense of order and propriety into their landscape.
Traveling like an artist often has less to do with what you do and more how you do it. Artists are:
• attentive to detail
• observant and reflective of subtleties
• likely to make correlations between disparate ideas or experiences,
• able to record inspiration for later use at home.
Try these suggestions on your next trip and see how traveling as an artist enhances your experience.
I use these and other tools to make my excursions richly creative experiences. Next excursion: Curious Amsterdam: Tap Your Creative Juju, June 13 – 19th, 2010.