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How travelling inspires my illustration

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

This year, following Covid restrictions ending, I've been really fortunate to travel. I've written before about how lockdown and being in one place inspired me to look more closely at familiar things. This is still true, and I love my local area. However, after so long away from really different experiences, it was very inspiring to go away.

What I love to do most while I'm on holiday is draw. I wanted to share why with you in this latest blog. When I was in Ghana, my partner's cousins and their friends were maybe even keener on drawing than I was! Here we are in action, painting at Grandma's house.

I normally like working in an A4 sketchbook or larger, as I feel I make freer marks in there. But for travelling, I wanted something more portable so was working in this smaller A5 sketchbook that my friend gave to me a couple of years ago. This helped me be able to take it around just in my handbag, and took less effort to 'set up'.

I brought my portable paints to Ghana, mainly because I thought I'd need more colour options, but also because I suspected I might have some children interested in sharing them.

A fresh perspective

Everything has a shiny newness to it while you're on holiday. It's not just the out of office and lack of commute, it's also all the differences to what you normally see. I think this can make us more observant, trying to drink in all the new visual information and wonderful sights of a new place. If I had my way, I'd walk around with a mini sketchbook and basically always draw. Maybe I should!? It almost feels like there's too much to draw.

Seeing new people, experiencing different cultures, food, language, traditions - this is important to anyone who wants to write, and I think illustrate too. Of course, we can make are about what we know, but how fun to see other possibilities.


Those of you who know my work a bit can probably tell that colour is important to me. When I was a child, I would see colours for numbers and some words - I found out as an adult this is something called synaesthesia, and it's got fainter as I've got older but I think might be partly why colour is so important to me. I don't know much about it. But I think we all might have some colour associations with certian things.

Places all have colours - think about your favourite place and I'm sure you could tell me what colour it is. This might not always be the colour you see most of there, but the colour that just feels 'right'. This means artwork made in or inspired by a new place will have its own set of colours, or a colour that keeps appearing and you're not sure why. I noticed this started to happen in some work I made on my trips this year.

In Gran Canaria, where I was for a short weekend, the colour was pink. I drew this on my 30th birthday.

In Porto, another short trip, there were two colours, deep blue and warm ochre.

In Ghana, I think of a bright yellow when I think of there.


Pattern is another love of mine - and there was lots of it on my travels. I made my partner laugh by asking if we could stop to look at all the tiles in Porto, which really are something special. I was amazed by how these beautiful artworks were just 'normal' there. A friend from Porto who we had dinner with while there told us that the tiles are used because of the rainy climate, and the tiles keep the water out. What an amazing coating they make! It seems like a very glamourous solution to an everyday problem, which is fantastic. Here's a church covered in tiles, and a selection of some that covered the streets.

In Ghana, the patterns are wider ranging and appear on fabrics more than buildings (though there are some great murals and patterns on walls too). This year was my second visit to Ghana, having been there 4 years ago when I first met my partner's extended family. The colours and patterns were just as I remembered - amazingly vibrant, bold patterns and colour combinations. I had to try very hard not to come back with rolls and rolls of fabric. Here's why:

As you can see it's almost too much to look at at once! Each fabric is so beautiful in its own way. I am making a quilt from some offcuts I brought back with me in 2018 - I haven't finished it yet but hope to soon.

I have had lots of lovely messages from people saying they really enjoyed seeing photos from Ghana, maybe because most of my contacts are in the UK and Ireland where it looks and feels very different. It is a very special place and I'm lucky to be visiting there, hopefully more regularly now we can travel. It's been a really big inspiration on my work since I first went there, particularly the colours. One day I'd like to set a picturebook there, but until then I'll leave you with one last photo.

I'd love to hear about your travels and where you get your artistic inspiration from.

Want to stay up to date with all my blogs and updates? I've now got a newsletter where I'll be sharing things like this.

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