Watercolouring her Way Around the World – Interview with Candace

“It’s been 12 years since my last art lesson, but recently I decided to spend less time in front of a [computer] screen when I travel” 

When I heard Candace declare this on a video a few years ago my interest was instantly piqued.

How many amongst us have also not drawn since primary school?
Yet are prepared to give it a go?

If you can’t see the video:  Click here http://youtu.be/MFE6lVpQmn8

She explained in the video how sketching… “makes me stop. As a photographer the images I want to capture are almost never-ending. With my sketchbook in hand I become the camera.”

As someone who takes way too many photographs I loved her concept of letting the places she visited adjust her aperture as she tentatively embarked upon her new way of recording global impressions… and within two years, Candace has published her first book of travel sketches – Beneath the Lantern’s Glow, which she compiled on a trip to South-East Asia last year –

So, here, as part my series of interviews with travellers who offer inspirational ways of recording travel memories, I asked her…


1. Why keep a travel journal?

I’ve always kept a travel journal for the same reason many people do – to remember the small details that fall away so quickly after a trip ends:

  •    the names of restaurants and new foods
  •          how long a particular bus or train journey took
  •                the sounds and smells of each city.

But then about three years ago, I began doing on-location watercolour sketches in my journal. Sometimes they were of a complete scene, other times a smaller snapshot.

Dublin sketch by Candace

“What are we drawing here?” asks the barman, Joe
“This,” I say, gesturing at the pub

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with travel sketching. One thing I love about it is that it has changed the way I move through the world – sketching slows me down and helps me observe a place with more focused eyes. It helps me pay more attention.

The second reason is that people are very quick to approach you when you’re sketching. There’s something about art that transcends language and cultural barriers; it opens the door to serendipitous encounters that might never have happened had I not been sketching in one place for several hours.

Candace Sketching in Japan

Sketching opens the door to serendipitous encounters that might never have happened had I not been sketching in one place for several hours.

In a way, my sketchbook also helps create the moments I record in it. I might head to a café to draw a street-scape, start talking with the man next to me, and then jot down a line or two from our dialogue on the sketch itself. Sketching has become both my muse and medium on the road – it creates the very stories I love to tell, stories of connection and serendipity, and I now can’t imagine ever travelling without my sketchbook.

Veli Iz sketch by Candace

“Isn’t it easier to take a photo with your mobile?”asks Stan

2. What do you include in your travel journal?

As much as I can!
Besides sketches and writing, I love including

  • ticket stubs
  •    maps
  •       postcards
  •          stickers
  •             pressed flowers
  •                business cards from hotels and restaurants
  •                   brochures for companies we used, and
  •                      any other ephemera that will trigger my memory in the future –
  •                         for instance, a used sugar packet from a favourite café.

Candace Journal - Porto

3. How do you keep your journal?

When I first started sketching, I still kept everything together in the same journal (usually an A4 spiral-bound sketchbook), and I mixed in pages of writing with sketches and ephemera. But about a year after I started sketching, I began sharing my sketches with other people – be it on my blog, on other websites, or even in magazine articles. This shift necessitated a change in sketchbooks as well – so I now do the sketches in their own book, and I carry a Moleskine for the writing and ephemera-collecting.

On the drawing side of things, I try to do all of my sketches on-location. Sometimes rain or nightfall will force me indoors, but I really enjoy doing the entire process – from outlining the sketch in pencil, to filling in the details with pen, to finally adding colour with paints – right there on the spot.

Candace sketching - Vienna

I try to do all of my sketches on-location.


For me, sketching is all about capturing the essence of a place and telling the story of your time there, and I find that finishing the sketch where you began it gives a nice sense of completion to that particular story.


Vienna sketch by Candace

‘The glass of water every coffee is served with –
“For dishwashing,”
our server Rene jokes’

In addition to the actual picture I’m sketching, I also enjoy including little annotations on the sketch itself – these are usually sensory observations, snippets of dialogue from either a conversation I had during the sketch or from one I overheard, and even small haiku-like reflections on how I’m feeling that day, or how the sketch is going. I find these notes add another layer to the story the sketch is telling, and that they take it beyond a purely visual creation.

4. How often do you update your travel journal?

I update it daily.
Now that I keep two separate books – my sketchbook and my travel journal – I try to do at least one sketch a day, but the frequency of my note taking varies. Some days, I simply paste in that day’s ephemera with a couple of lines in my journal; other times I sit down over a beer or coffee at the end of the day and write out a few pages of thoughts and notes. 

5. What is your favourite piece of travel journaling equipment?

It would have to be my Winsor & Newton watercolour field kit – a wonderful gift from two friends soon after I started sketching.

Candace sketching supplies


Although I also bring along a sketchbook, drawing pens, watercolor pencils, squirrel-hair paintbrush, and glue sticks for pasting in ephemera, nothing compares to bringing a sketch to life with colour.


6. Why does this type of travel journaling work for you?

Before I began sketching, I barely remembered places – because I let my camera do all the work for me, I moved through a city quickly and my journal tended to focus on personal reflections that unfolded during the trip. The reason that keeping a travel sketchbook works for me is because I myself become the camera. Sketching opens up my mind and imprints the intricate details of a new place on it.

There’s a quote I love by Frederick Franck:

“When I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.”

I feel the same could be said of travel sketching – that even when we’re drawing an ordinary scene, it has this way of becoming alive and full of meaning. The mundane is made magical.

Candace Sketching - Mostar

I never forget the people I met while sketching.

I never forget the places I sketch, because of how present I was during the process – and more importantly, I never forget the people I met while sketching.



Candace Rose Rardon is a travel writer and sketch artist originally from the state of Virginia, although she has also called the UK, New Zealand, and India home.

She recently released her first book of travel sketches, “Beneath the Lantern’s Glow: Sketches and stories from Southeast Asia and Japan”.
Her blog: The Great Affair
Connect with Candace on Twitter and/or Facebook:

                                    Candace Rardon on twitter  Candace on Facebook



Do you keep any form of travel journal?

Contact me if you’d like to share how *you* recount your travel memories –
Allow us to take a peek in *your* ‘journal 🙂


Share a few tips in the comments below


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41 thoughts on “Watercolouring her Way Around the World – Interview with Candace

  1. What an inspiration! Such a great way to take the time and really absorb the moment you are in – and the people there with you. I will be doing some sketching on my next travels!

    • We tend to assume snapping with our camera will preserve the memory – but often it merely perpetuates a scene – not our connection to that scene!
      The beauty of slowing down the pace to sketch means you’re in the moment for several hours soaking up the warmth of the atmosphere through all of your senses, as opposed to snap-freezing an image in passing as you dash off to your next location 😉

  2. I religiously keep a travel journal, but then I am a writer by trade and passion. I wish I had a bit more talent but sadly must limit my artistic endeavors to ‘word painting’ not with pencil, pen or brush. But that doesn’t keep me from loving the work of those who have such talents like Candace!

    • We all choose the medium we feel the most comfortable with and so enjoy expressing ourselves with the most –
      One of the joys of sketching is the fact you have to sit and observe and really take the scene in for several hours to reproduce your impression of it –
      I’m curious… Have you ever tried sitting in a place for an extended period to record the scene in words?

      • I so know what you mean, Jackie! I’ve always considered myself a writer first, especially as that’s what my degree is in. But I’ve loved experimenting with sketching over the last few years…as Linda pointed out, there’s something about it that anchors you to a scene a bit more. I’ve also found that while I err towards introspective writing in my journal, sketching a scene keeps me looking more outward to the world around me – but that’s just me 🙂 PS – I love the idea of ‘word painting’!
        Candace recently posted..Introducing the yurt: A little watercolor housewarming.My Profile

  3. Lovely wee interview Linda! I especially like the idea of sitting somewhere, observe and sketch a place rather than simply taking pictures. We sometimes do mistake memory cards for memory indeed and forget to properly soak up a place and its atmosphere… Along with the ephemera Candace mentioned and collects, revisiting these memories will become a much more vivid experience than simply combing through a folder of photos on your hard drive.
    Thanks again and take care!
    Oliver recently posted..Questions ~ Rainer Maria RilkeMy Profile

    • I so agree Oliver 🙂
      When in Venice I took a million photographs yet my most vivid memory of the place is the scene I stopped to sketch on the side of a canal looking across to some french windows that led out onto a balcony crammed with potted flowering plants, which I watercoloured with canal water!

  4. Candace’s sketches are so beautiful! I’ve always wanted to much to be able to draw, but I just don’t have that magic touch with the visual art stuff.

    • Hi Lisa ~
      Our schooling is so linguistic all communication-skills are focused on honing the left (language) side of the brain –

      Borrow from the library the latest (4th edition) of Betty Edwards’ ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” – And try just one of her first exercises of turning a printed line drawing upside-down (so your L-language brain doesn’t interfere with conversing about how you think it should look) and copy it – Then turn it back up the right way – I think you will be shocked to discover that you can draw!

      Our education system fails us by not putting equal importance on developing our brains in a more balanced way 🙂

      [That lesson is covered on this YouTube video between the 17 and 22 min mark Betty Edwards – Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Let me know how you get on!]

  5. This was fascinating! I can barely draw the outline of a bunny so probably won’t do this but may give it a grade school skill level try! She makes so many good points about really experiencing a place, people chatting with you, etc. that it makes tremendous sense. She’s a very talented artist and I’m glad she’s published her work. Thanks for letting us know about this!

  6. I really like what you’ve shown here about your travel journals. I attended a session at a writing conference that talked about travel writing. One of the recommendations was to not only take notes, but to do sketches even if you weren’t an artist. You look at things differently and notice other things in the process of sketching. This summer I took a trip with my sister who was sketching architecture we came across. Even watching her sketch helped me see more.

    • You’re so right Donna –
      The simple act of stopping and looking at something sufficiently to replicate it is the trick –
      There’s no way you’d notice the details in passing –
      It takes time to look, and under the auspices of stopping to do a scribble one can take in so much more even than the scene…
      And even create a few memories in the process! )

      • Thanks for your comment, Donna! And thank you as well for sharing about the session on travel writing you attended…I love that they suggested doing sketches along with your notes. As a travel writer myself, I can absolutely attest to the power of sketching to help me pay stronger attention in a new place 🙂 Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently is doing word sketches on a page – instead of taking notes linearly as we normally do in a journal, I got the idea to still take standard notes, but to organize them on the page as though we were drawing the scene. I’ve yet to try it out, but there’s something about imagining a scene visually that really sets it deep into your memory.
        Candace recently posted..Introducing the yurt: A little watercolor housewarming.My Profile

  7. Wonderful, i think if i had a journal like that with drawings and saved stubbs, I would definitely have this as a wonderful keepsake of my travels…great ideas

  8. I have a great appreciation for those who can paint and draw, 2 skills I do not possess. I have a good eye for colors, themes, textures, etc, but I cannot draw a straight line, sadly. These watercolor drawings are wonderful, I am envious.

  9. Cadace’s sketches are gorgeous! Sadly, my artistic talents don’t go in that direction. Although, they make for great laughter in my classes with my bad attempts at trying to teach English vocabulary with stickmen, etc.

    I do try and keep a journal, but I am not the best journal keeper. These days I do use the note app on my iphone to record where I’ve been, restaurant meals, etc. It helps when I’m writing posts, often weeks or months after the fact. However, still something I am going to start working on. I love the idea of keeping ticket stubs, etc.. I do keep them, but often just toss them when I get home…need to work on that 🙂

    • I feel your stickmen would be very evocative of travelling moments – So I say keep up with the practice Nancie!
      I’m a great believer in story-maps, which are a great combination of stick-figures, cartoon like renditions and notes to record one’s travels –
      It sounds like regular journal keeping is too much like hard-work for you, yet clearly you need some kind of method so you have the details to put in your blog posts at a later date –
      I’m hoping to create a bit of series of How to create story-maps – Stay tuned! 😀

      • I would love to see your stickmen, Nancie 🙂 And I too use the ‘Notes’ app on my iPod occasionally, but I guess I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to remembering trips…to me, nothing beats a tangible journal I can flip back through years later. As Linda said, it can feel a bit like work at times, but I’ve found that if I keep it up daily on the road, then it makes it easier (and I don’t end up with a big pile of ticket stubs and receipts by the end of a trip 😉 PS – Linda, I look forward to reading the series about story-maps!
        Candace recently posted..Introducing the yurt: A little watercolor housewarming.My Profile

  10. Thank you for introducing me to Candace’s work. I also visited her website and blog and was inspired. Like hers, my father was also an artist, but he decided that I was the music child, my middle sister was the drama/acting child and that my youngest sister was the only one with talent in the visual fine arts. Although I appreciated his support in my music studies, I wish he hadn’t quite so compartmentalized us. (Unfortunately, he also declared me hopeless at math(s), as he was, and not something to necessarily be remedied.) I enjoy doodling. Indeed, my notes from even legal conferences are covered with non-objective doodles. My father has been gone for 3 years now. Maybe it’s time for me to free myself from his pronouncement that I am not an artist and to give travel sketching a go.

    • Definitely Suzanne –
      I hereby free you from any non-artistic labels previously bestowed upon you!
      I love that your father at least encouraged you all to pursue your education beyond the 3Rs (Reading, writing and arithmetic) and from his perspective it was all covered with a very balanced visual, kinaesthetic and aural outcome – just not all in the one child!
      Like Candace who hadn’t taken an art class for 12 years, it does take practice – but having committed herself to that practice for a couple of years she’s now reaping the benefits with fabulous results –
      I look forward to hearing about your progress 🙂

      • Suzanne, I just have to second Linda here 🙂 It was really interesting to hear about how your father encouraged artistic pursuits in you and your sisters, but I hope you’ll give sketching another go now! When I was growing up, I was actually very interested in music as well, and took piano lessons for several years. It’s now interesting to see how all the different worlds overlap – I’ve found my love for music has tuned my ear to hear different sounds and melodies while I’m sketching, and I love jotting those down on the sketch itself as little annotations. Perhaps you’ll find the same thing happening as you sketch!
        Candace recently posted..Introducing the yurt: A little watercolor housewarming.My Profile

  11. Love the idea of sketching and doing watercolors during our travels – it sure would slow us down. Taking photos and being stuck behind a camera is very limiting as far as really immersing oneself in a place.

    • The next thing beyond loving the idea Viv and Jill, is to put the idea into practice 😉
      I’ve certainly fallen into the trap of being snap happy then almost feeling – was I ever there?!

  12. Love your sketches, and your blog!

    You’re right in that people will stop and ask an artist/sketcher what they’re working on. I’ve done that to artists I’ve met along the way. I’m not artistic in that sense. No good at drawing, but I love to play with words and pics.

    I do a separate mini travel journal for each trip I go on, and tape biz cards, and other small memorabilia into them to jog my memory on things. Cheers!

    • It is interesting though isn’t it that as an arty type one becomes other people’s property, yet your playing with words and pics in a cafe wouldn’t receive a second glance!
      So pleased to hear you keep individual mini journals of each trip –
      I love the way these mini episodes become chapters in your life’s story 🙂

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head Cindy that Candace takes that precious time to create her work –
      As while creating a sketch is fun, to hone her skills and perfect her craft, she does have to take that time to work on it! 🙂

  13. How wonderful! These sketches are lovely in their own right, but what a great way to be certain to take one’s time and see the details. It’s interesting, too, that this has opened Candace up to meeting people. (Writing, especially on a computer, has the opposite effect, doesn’t it?)

    • You are so right Kristin!
      While computers give us the illusion that we are connecting with people from all corners of the globe, the all important human connection is kept locked away behind the screen –
      Stopping to sketch on location opens up that warmth of human kindred-ness –
      Which is why everyone should try it! 🙂

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