A Sense of Place and Space -– Travel Sketches

I discovered enjoying sketching for fun and self-expression some decades ago when I arrived in the United States. In the Philippines, sketching was an essential tool in my pursuit of a degree in architecture. It was not as pleasurable then.

When I visited some places in the decades later, I carried a supply of black Pentel pens, ball point pens and colored pencils, hoping to do plein air drawings. Selectively, I would save some drawings as they were, in black and white, and some I would enhance with colors upon reaching my hotel room or back at home.

In my travels, I was at time’s beck and call, and isolating and capturing a scene almost always needed a quick decision. Is it something interesting with a sense of place? Is the sun behind me? Are there too many people? Children especially? Is there a comfortable place for me to sit or stand with pen and pad on hand? Is it easy enough for me to finish within half an hour to an hour at most? These are the factors I consider before I focus on the subject and move and swirl my pen.

Re-entering the years of my travels, I proffer some sketches of some places.

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The medina of Fez was fascinating to watch and be in, engulfed by the cacophony of vendors, tourists, and residents inhabiting the stores, and its seemingly endless and mysterious pathways and alleyways to everywhere.

I took over a lonely 2 to 3 ft. high empty wood crate in an alleyway and moving it off center, I stood on it, balancing myself, and pulled out pen and pad. With an added height from the crate, I could see better. Minutes later, I became a bit nervous when a young boy started talking to me, slightly tugging at my jeans. Politely I responded in Tagalog to his Arabic. I thought perhaps he needed some compensation for my commandeering his crate, but his sign language said it all – he just wanted to see what I was doing or not doing.

 Standing on a wood crate gave me a total height of about eight (8) feet so that I could see above the throng. Inside the Medina Marketplace in Fez, Morocco.– Jul 1983

Standing on a wood crate gave me a total height of about eight (8) feet so that I could see above the throng. Inside the Medina Marketplace in Fez, Morocco.– Jul 1983

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The day was sunny and the temperature pleasant, the outdoors beckoning residents, guests, and tourists to celebrate life and being alive. Scanning the romantic city of Ronda and its surrounds, strolling its streets in search of some views or something that would arouse my interest, I found three (3) endemic vistas to sketch. Here’s one.

As the city moved into the night, I began to hear the song by a certain Julio Iglesias, “Noche de Ronda, que triste pasas, que triste cruzas…And I muse, why, the love story could have happened too in this city.

 A view from the bridge spanning the gorge in Ronda, Spain – September 1990

A view from the bridge spanning the gorge in Ronda, Spain – September 1990

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Our boat was just leaving Tangier for Spain. Standing by the bow and admiring the panorama, I started sketching a token souvenir to keep for a long time. As the skyline became smaller and smaller in the distance, I was imagining if the city I just visited, had as much historical drama, mystique, intrigue, and danger as when Bogart’s Rick experienced landing in Tangier en route to Casablanca.

 Tangier’s skyline in Morocco was slowly unfolding as we left land for the waters and it was a spontaneous and an instantaneous decision to sketch it.– Jul 1983

Tangier’s skyline in Morocco was slowly unfolding as we left land for the waters and it was a spontaneous and an instantaneous decision to sketch it.– Jul 1983

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I have not been to Baguio City in decades. Definitely its sights and sounds have changed. A chance came up to visit and thus, I took the long, climbing, winding, and sometimes dangerous bus ride to Baguio City. Four days in the Philippines’ summer capital and I produced two and a half sketches.

The day of my early morning departure for Manila, I was about an hour or so early when I started sketching the Baguio promontory from a bench at the bus terminal. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish the sketch because the bus decided to leave earlier without asking me if that was OK. On the way back to Manila, I was thinking I would go back someday to complete the sketch. I am still waiting for that someday to come.

 I began with the promontory as the focal point of the sketch. I was then circling it when the bus conductor issued a call to start boarding. Baguio City, Philippines – December 1993

I began with the promontory as the focal point of the sketch. I was then circling it when the bus conductor issued a call to start boarding. Baguio City, Philippines – December 1993

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Down below to up high on the mountain it took me an hour of hiking and climbing the steep pathway to reach the top of Chagri Dorjeden Monastery, also “easier” known as Cheri Monastery located in Thimpu, the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. From afar, I missed out sketching the 387-year-old fortress-like Buddhist Monastery solidly glued to the mountainside. But there at the top on the sacred monastery grounds was a spiritual feeling. I was high up on an absolutely serene and safe place with no one there except the monks, presumably meditating behind the massive stonewalls, some benevolent spirits, I believe, and my ordinariness. I bathed in the views below and beyond, ambled the grounds and chose something to sketch. No one came out to greet me as I settled on an easy corner view of the monastery walls to sketch.

Some time later, not wanting to accidentally meet up with the spirits of the departed monks, I gingerly walked down to my waiting tour guides, my sister and brother-in law. I was there for about a couple of hours.

 Cheri Buddhist Monastery in Thimpu - Kingdom of Bhutan – September 1999

Cheri Buddhist Monastery in Thimpu - Kingdom of Bhutan – September 1999

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Expectedly there were visitors when I reached the must-see Yosemite Falls of the National Park, which has been sketched, painted, drawn, and photographed on countless occasions. I almost talked myself out of sketching it but decided I should have my own version.

A little later I chanced upon one of the less popular images in the valley. No one was there. Standing on a patch of dry river bed I leisurely sketched the immense scenery before me. Still, I felt the generous stone bridge intruding unabashedly at the peacefulness and grandeur of the secluded valley. But I supposed being already there, she (Mother Nature) gave her permission for the intrusion.

At my cabin, I started putting colors as the drawings morphed into paintings.

 A living arrangement between man and nature. Stone Bridge at Yosemite National Park, California.– November 1981

A living arrangement between man and nature. Stone Bridge at Yosemite National Park, California.– November 1981

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Through all the many hours of outdoor sketching and drawing, whether sitting or standing, the most challenging occasions arose when children converged around me, talking and asking questions in their native tongues as when I was in the countryside of Bhutan. And the most relaxing instances were when I was by myself, as when I was up above at Cheri Monastery in Bhutan and down below in Yosemite Valley.


 Noni Mendoza

Noni Mendoza

Noni Mendoza continues to explore his artworks, consults in land planning and landscape architecture, and pursues his passion for Tai Chi Chuan. Visit his sites at www.artworks.nonimendoza.com andwww.nonimendoza.com.


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