What if by going on holiday you could “10x” your sketching skills in the matter of a few days, and meet some new friends at the same time and explore a new place in a different country?
Urban sketching is growing tremendously in popularity with many people from all walks of life picking up sketchbooks to record the world around them. Now, you can even take an urban sketching vacation and join other like-minded people to make (and sketch) unique travel memories.
I was booked on a trip to sketch in Germany with Ian Fennelly which unfortunately I could not get to due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions. However, in the process, I researched many of the companies now offering travel experiences to learn from the top talent in urban sketching and I thought you may find this interesting so you can consider an urban sketching holiday of your own.
The information below should save you a bit of time when looking for an urban sketching vacation by suggesting a few of the best companies to check out, some of the destinations on offer and the price range of each.
I feel somewhat qualified to write a post such as this and give you sound travel advice as I have worked in the travel industry for a few years myself, specifically organising adventures and special interest trips such as these, usually to very ‘hard to reach’ countries.
I hope this post inspires you to consider planning a sketching-specific trip with a known and trusted travel operator specifically geared towards providing awesome artistic adventures. You can immerse yourself into sketching every day without feeling guilty for doing so (as you may when travelling with family and friends) and with instruction from top urban sketchers in the field. You will come home with a sketchbook full to the brim and hopefully, a creative soul invigorated.
What is an ‘urban sketching vacation’ ?
Many companies offer trips which cater to specific interests. For example, if you are interested in photography you can take a safari that focusses on the skills required to improve your wildlife photography skills, or if you’re interested in landscape photography, you could take a cruise to Norway to photograph the Fjords. While increasing your skills in your favourite hobby, you are also enjoying a holiday surrounded by other guests who are interested in the same activity as you.
Urban sketching vacations are focussed on the specific skill of urban sketching. It’s a vacation to a specific location that has been identified by experts (the travel company and the instructor) as particularly fantastic to practice the skills they wish to teach. Each vacation will have a different location, with a different instructor who usually likes to focus the vacation on specific skills, like a very long workshop. If you take a vacation somewhere famous for its coastline, then the instructor may focus the overall vacation on capturing seascapes, boats, reflections in water, beach scenes etc.
For example, a vacation in Croatia with Stephanie Bower organised via French Fusion Travel focusses on architecture and the specific skill of perspective drawing. Stephanie is an architectural illustrator herself, who has written books on perspective. The learning objectives of the vacation are listed as:
- Where to start a sketch
- How to shrink a vast view into a tiny sketchbook
- Locate the vanishing point
- Using an architect’s approach to depicting spaces
- Watercolour techniques: painting in layers
Who is the instructor?
Urban sketching vacations are usually lead by one member of the travel company who is there to deal with the logistics of the trip, and an instructor who will teach you new skills or help to improve your existing skills. As mentioned above, depending on which destination you choose and which instructor you have may determine the skills you focus on. This will be clearly identified in the vacation description.
When considering my own urban sketching vacation, I did not take the location into account too much as the main attraction to taking the vacation was the instructor, Ian Fennelly. I wanted to learn from Ian specifically and therefore the location of the trip was a secondary factor. As long as I could afford to get to the country (which happened to be Germany) then it was fine.
As you start searching for your own vacation you will get a feel for what is most important to you, the instructor or the location. You may spot a sketching trip to a city or country you’ve always dreamed of travelling to but none of your family or friends have wanted to or been able to visit with you. Or, you may spot a trip with your urban sketching hero! And you will go to whichever location the trip visits just so that you can meet and learn from them specifically.
What’s the size of the group?
The number of spaces available to book on an urban sketching vacation can really vary but I rarely see a trip that has more than 15 places available. If the trip is long or involves logistics that restrict the number, such as the capacity of vehicles or accommodation then groups may be as small as 8.
Usually, sketchers are paired up to share a hotel room to save on accommodation costs. If you want to bring a non-sketcher with you, you usually can do so for a slightly reduced price on the understanding they will not be involved in any of the sketching instruction or activities each day. If you don’t like the idea of sharing a room with someone you don’t know then, again, usually you can pay a bit extra to have your own room.
What sort of places/countries do urban sketching vacations visit?
Urban sketching vacations are focussed on locations that hold the most potential for teaching certain techniques. The location could be somewhere the instructor knows well and therefore can teach based on places he/she knows intimately.
It’s likely that urban sketching vacations are planned to locations that are visually striking, obviously. Countries that have incredible architecture are popular choices. As such many trips visit European countries. Liz Steel hosts her own travel sketching trip to Italy each year. For vacations taking place in Europe, most trips will be planned between May and September as the climate tends to be the warmest between these months.
It also depends on where the tour operator are located. A company located in Germany is likely to focus heavily on European destinations, a company in Australia may focus on Australia, Japan and other Asian locations and another operator in the US may just focus domestically.
What is the cost of an urban sketching vacation? What’s included?
The cost of an urban sketching vacation can vary wildly depending on what is included.
For example, there’s a 5-day urban sketching trip in Germany with Danny Hawk (one of my favourite urban sketchers) coming up (August 2020) which is only 499 EUR (approximately US$580 at the time of writing). I wondered why this didn’t seem to be a very high price and the answer was because accommodation is not included. This is fine and something an operator would absolutely highlight to you when you book but my point is that you just need to make sure you look into what is and is not included as all trips are different.
As another example, 10 days in Greece with Shari Blaukopf could cost you 3450 EUR (approximately US$4000 at the time of writing) but that includes accommodation (sharing a room with someone), all travel within the country, 13 sketching sessions with the instructor, a tour manager, all breakfast, 3 lunches and 3 dinners).
When looking at prices you need to ensure you are comparing like for like and be really clear on what is and is not included. You also need to factor in the additional costs outside of the trip price. You will always be responsible for booking and paying for your travel from home to and from the trip, as well as things like travel insurance, medication, your sketching supplies and any little fun trinkets you want to pick up along the way.
One further thing is to always ensure that the trip is confirmed before you book any flights. Trips such as these have a minimum number of places they need to fill in order for the trip to go ahead. If the minimum number of people does not book, it’s likely the trip will be cancelled. Always check with your tour operator for the go-ahead before booking flights.
Can I just arrange my own urban sketching vacation?
You can, of course, arrange your own urban sketching vacation. In fact, check out my post here about how to organise the ultimate urban sketching trip. There are a number of factors or benefits of booking a place on an urban sketching vacation with a company however.
- You get to meet AND hang out with one of your favourite urban sketchers (the instructor).
- You get sketching tuition every day, sometimes twice a day in an exotic location
- Group sizes tend to be small to you will get hands-on tuition
- You will get to understand what to look for in a scene and how to tackle sketching it
- You should come home with a full sketchbook
- You will meet a whole group of people who are as into urban sketching as you because they have also committed time and money to come on the same trip
- You will learn things form the group members as well as the instructor
- You will get to explore a new place
- You get to sketch every day without feeling guilty towards people who don’t sketch
- You may find new friends to go on future sketching-specific vacations with in the future
While I encourage you wholeheartedly to go on your own urban sketching trip, even if it’s only a few hours from your house, booking a dedicated urban sketching vacation is in another league!
Companies that offer urban sketching vacations
Please note I have no affiliation with any of the companies I am going to mention and derive no benefit from mentioning them of any of their trips. This is just my research from my own search for an urban sketching vacation.
FRENCH FUSION TRAVEL
French Fusion Travel (FFT) is run by an Australian lady called Kate. She is an experienced tour guide, a historian and speaks French and Italian fluently as well as being an enthusiastic travel sketcher! Who better to be your tour manager on an urban sketching vacation?
FFT specialise in organising creative holidays and have some outstanding options available to book at the time of writing (2020).
For example, In June/July 2021 join Ian Fennelly for 10 days of travel sketching throughout Ireland. Ireland is an incredibly beautiful country and Ian is a super charismatic guy – this trip would be top of my list!
If you’re feeling particularly flush with cahs there is a run of three consecutive vacations in 2021 that you could take back to back:
- 1st – 11th September | Romania | Ian Fennelly | €3200 / approx US$3710
- 12th – 22nd September | Croatia | Stephanie Bower | €3100 / approx US$3600
- 24th September – 3rd October | Greece | Shari Blaukopf | €3450 / approx US$4000
I believe the price tag for FFT’s trips is at the more expensive end of the scale, however I think this is intentional as the company aim their trips at the higher end of the market. I think, in this regard, what you get is what you pay for. I have not attended one of FFT’s trips but I can intimate from the level of information given and Kate’s experience and qualifications in running such trips, as well as guest feedback, that a vacation with French Fusion Travel is worth every cent.
The company was created by four friends from across Europe who craved more time on holidays to spend on their creative hobbies. As such, they created the travel experience they wanted for themselves and thus their travel company was born!
Artistravel is the market leaders when it comes to German-speaking creative holidays, lucky for us English-speaking folk, they created Artistravel International, to cater to an increasing interest in creative vacations.
The company offer a wider range of creative activities, such as photography, painting and sculpture but they also offer specific urban sketching tours with instructors such as Ian Fennelly, Danny Hawk and Renata Lahalle.
Artistravel’s prices are a little more accessible than French Fusion Travel, which is what lead me to book the trip with Ian Fennelly to Germany (that I can no longer attend – damn pandemic)!
Affordability of such trips will always depend on where you are starting from in the world. Currently, I am in South Africa so I was bracing myself for the cost of a return flight to Germany. However, when I factored it into a return visit to my native land of the United Kingdom to see family and friends, the price of flying to Germany from there became much more doable.
For example, the cost of the trip in Germany with Ian Fennelly is €1199 for one week, which includes accommodation and breakfast. Another reason why this vacation is more affordable is that the group will stay within one area of Germany and not move around the country like some of the other more expensive trips mentioned. Therefore there are no transport costs involved. The trip also does not include meals outside of breakfast which some of the others do.
I think this trip makes an excellent place to start as it’s a bit cheaper overall (if it doesn’t cost you a fortune to travel to Germany) and you can see whether an urban sketching vacation is for you.
Studio 56 is a newer company to start offering urban sketching vacations. The company is run by Brenda Murray, who actually used to sit on the board for the non-profit ‘Urban Sketchers’ as the Communications Director, so she is more qualified than most to organise awesome urban sketching trips with some of the most prominent urban sketchers around.
Brenda is based in North America so she’s better placed to serve the North American market and has hosted urban sketching vacations in locations such as New Orleans and San Antonio.
At the time of writing, the company’s efforts are focussed on online workshops due to travel restrictions, however, some new dates for travel workshops have recently been confirmed.
Stephnie Bower will be instructing a workshop in Seville, Spain from 1st – 5h May 2021. Brenda will attend as the tour manager and the price is US$1499. This does not include accommodation. You can see the detailed itinerary here.
You can check out Studio 56’s online workshops here.
Artists that offer urban sketching vacations
Liz Steel – Palladian Odyssey
A few artists run their own urban sketching vacations directly. The first (and another of my favourites) that springs to mind is Liz Steel. She runs an annual two-part trip to Italy with the assistance of Mike Botton as the tour manager, called Palladian Odyssey.
There’s one trip exploring Veneto and another exploring Umbria. The trips focus on the skill of sketching quickly (something I definitely need)! Between sketching sessions, you get to enjoy the local cuisine, fine local wine and take guided tours on points of interest. Everything is included in the price (all meals, all accommodation, all transport).
I know for a fact these trips usually book up super quick so if you are keen to join make sure you’re on their specific email newsletter to make sure you’re the first to hear when dates are announced. You can sign up on the website here.
George Butler is an award-winning reportage illustrator. He is well-known for his on-location sketches capturing current affairs and conflicts. George has captured many human-interest stories across the globe in countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Syria, Azerbaijan and Mynamar to name but a few. His illustrations have been published by mainstream media outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, New York Times, CNN and Der Spiegel.
George has started to offer travel sketching workshops to join him in Iraqi-Kurdistan. Not only will he teach his approach to illustrating on-location, its an opportunity to explore a poorly understood and little-visited part of the world.
George’s next trip is planned for October 2020, although it’s unclear if that’s confirmed. It’s a 10-day trip including food, transport and accommodation for US$3780. You can find out more here.
I absolutely want to join this trip in future, I’m a huge fan of George’s work and the stories he tells through his illustrations.
I hope you have enjoyed this post about urban sketching vacations. I encourage you to go and check out the respective travel operators I mentioned in this article to see if there’s a trip you may like to take. If you do book something, let me know on Instagram, tag @urbansketchingworld or DM me!
I have big travel plans already “sketched in” (did you like what I did there?) for 2021 so I’m not sure time and money will allow but I certainly have an urban sketching vacation in my sights for 2022.
Oh and join my newsletter so you’re the first to hear what my next sketchy adventure is going to be…I think you’ll like it…