Creative Layovers: 9 Hours in Dublin

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-15xLast spring when I was booking my tickets back to the states I found the best deal on Aer Lingus (did you know all Irish planes are named after saints!?!). At the time I had never been to Dublin before and so the 9 hour layover on the return flight seemed like the perfect excuse to see Dublin and catch up with my friend Emily who runs the blog From China Village – named after her hometown in Maine – which is a fantastic resource for any visit to Dublin, especially if you enjoy a twist of DIY. This whole leg of my trip was particularly amusing because I had just come from a 9 train ride from Pittsburgh to New York where I caught my 7 hour flight to Ireland. I was only slightly jetlagged and in need of a shower, but it was an adventure and we got really lucky with a beautiful day! Emily also happens to be a Vayable Guide (what I do in Paris) and has two offerings – Dublin Like a Local and Made in Dublin – so she gave me a special blend of the two.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-3First off, when you’re jetlagged, it’s really nice to have someone show you around so you don’t have to think too hard. I first met Emily through twitter, then featured her on Boarding Pass, and actually met her in Berlin during The Hive conference. Despite having only met her once before in person, whenever we’re together it feels like I’m hanging out with an old friend. (Funny, when I’m giving my own Vayable tours, it never really feels like I’m with strangers). My pace of life typically is non stop so there’s not a ton of time for research, so it was such a treat to have someone like Emily (below) to show me the ropes – and make me want to come back for a longer visit!

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-5The other awesome thing is having an insider who can show you the places you’d never think to visit – like the roof of this museum for a great view of the grounds below.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-6I’ve always been a street wanderer. You never know what you may come across.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-11Our visit actually started with a trip to The Design Tower, which is full of artist studios. Emily had called ahead to arrange a special visit with a couple artists. This is definitely something I wouldn’t have done myself had I not been with a local. By the time we left the space I was totally fascinated by the process of soldering.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-13We got to chat with Aisling Nelson of Ringnoli. She makes lovely hair pieces – often for brides.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-12We also visited the Alan Ardiff studio that makes moving jewelry (that’s one of his prints left), and the jewelry designer Breda Haugh. I was fascinated by the low-tech nature of her workspace (right).

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-14Along the way we stopped at the beautiful new design-forward hotel, The Marker. We didn’t get to see a room, but I can tell you the bathroom was gorgeous! I was really intrigued by the geometry of the interior.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-8Now I know this is going to sound weird, but the yogurt salad lunch was a total highlight of our day. The other perk of seeing the city with someone who lives there is they know the good deals and special happenings in town. This actually was Glenisk – Irish brand of organic yogurt – Upfront & Personal pop-up shop. Emily had received a couple free coupons in the mail so we decided to check out their “yogurt salads.” Emily and I still talk about it to this day.  We both had the smoked salmon with lemon juice, olive oil and capers on greek yogurt as our savory option, and berries, honey and granola for dessert. SO amazing! You can find the recipes on the Glenisk website.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-9Another highlight for me was the Irish Design Shop. First it was fun because Emily knows the owners. Second, I love that everything they sell is made in Ireland. (It reminded me a bit of L’Illustre Boutique in Paris). They’d just opened their second location so we got to scope them both out. Definitely great for a more meaningful souvenir.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-10We covered the city by foot which also meant that we got to see great details along the way.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-17And enjoyed a little bit of nature in Stephens Green to get from A to B.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-4There’s totally a completely other side of Dublin I need to come back and explore (for more than 9 hours).

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-2I also enjoy having someone help me learn the ropes of local public transportation.

pretavoyager-vayable-dublin-1We ran out of time to fit in a proper beer, but Emily made sure I got to the airport in plenty of time, where I chugged my first Guinness before boarding my flight back to Paris. A giant success, I do say!

For more Dublin tips, visit Emily’s blog, or better yet, book one of her Vayable tours!

One of the perks of being a Vayable Ambassador is that I get to go on other tours!
Vayable is open to anyone who wants to create their own listing, so why not create an offering in your own city?

Follow my adventures on Instagram + Twitter!

The Homeless Bird

pretavoyager-homeless1Today on my way to lunch I exited metro Bourse. The homeless man who is usually there was there as normal, but this time something new caught my eye. In the past I had noticed that he had created ash trays out of old soda cans (something I had seen done before), but today I noticed something new: animals created out of styrofoam. These were clearly made by hand, and these animals had personality. Particularly the bird who had a gold chain and metal hair. During lunch I mumbled to my friend Jenni “I think I may buy a styrofoam animal from the homeless guy at the metro on my way home.” She laughed, but when I get an idea in my head, I usually make it happen. And when I do it within the hour, I’m serious.

pretavoyager-homelessbird-bourse2I think noticed the animals when I first existed the metro when I saw the homeless man with a big square of thick styrofoam. I initially assumed he was using it as a seat, but then made the visual connection to the small animals and bird on its side. The display was far from glamorous, and wasn’t front and center (nothing like these dinosaurs that made my day yesterday), but seeing him with the foam square made me make the connection. Later I noticed the small remnants of styrofoam around him.

Thankfully it was the same metro I take home so it was a no-brainer. I know I’m guilty of walking by homeless people without giving them a second thought, nor attracting unwanted attention (or guilt). But today I stopped. I told him in French I liked the animals. At the time I hadn’t even realized he was working on one, because I figured I’d give him a few Euros and our interaction would be done. Instead I got an insider look at his process. While myself and many of my creative colleagues turn to the internet for inspiration he had a pile of hard cover colorful childrens’ books, mainly the Disney variety. He flipped through them and showed me what he found interesting. We chatted in French, but I couldn’t always understand him (or not sure that he was always making sense), but I think my enthusiasm and interest and genuine smile on my face made up for any miscommunication. Then he showed me the end pages with animals, pointing out the skunk that he was currently working on. I’ve always loved watching artists work, and it was kind of amazing in his ability to translate a 2D drawing into 3D, while adding his own style to it. He tried to convince me that it was nice as is, but I assured him that I liked how he added marker detailing to the animals.
pretavoyager-homeless2I still don’t know his full story, and have opted not to post his full picture on the blog. (I always feel weird posting pictures of strangers without their permission). I hadn’t noticed in person, but in the photos I saw that he had medals pinned to his jacket. It made me wonder if he was a veteran. I admit I got distracted by the bird which I was holding the entire time we talked. I realized after I left I didn’t ask him a price, but just paid him – probably not enough for the joy that happened afterwards, but I also know that I’ll be back and bring him a sandwich, or two. (I’m also happy to make a detour on my Vayable tours for anyone interested to support a local artist!)

pretavoyager-homelessbirdThe next thing that happened was also something I didn’t expect. I was still smiling from the bird, and knowing that I was able to contribute to someone less fortunate than I, but when I descended down into the metro at Bourse (which ironically translates to “stock exchange”) I didn’t expect everyone else would treat me differently because of my bird. The French are a much more private culture than Americans, and you tend not to talk, smile, or interact with strangers in Paris like you would in the U.S. (3 hours after arriving in the states and I have more interactions with strangers than I do in a month in Paris). But when you’re holding an awesome bird made by a homeless man, people start to notice. The thing is, when I was holding it and the way I was holding it – like a proud mama – no one realized who the actual artist was. Before the train arrived I would tell the people who smiled as they looked at me that it was by the homeless man at the top of the stairs by the exit of the metro. Then I got on the metro, and a few more people started to interact with me (this NEVER happens). The sweetest was a grey-haired woman, who smiled at me and the bird several times and she heard me recount the tale a few times. As the new unofficial PR agent for the homeless man, I was happy to credit the maker (realizing that my vocab in French to described whittling birds out of styrofoam by a homeless man was a bit lacking). I also think that people – and it was a diverse group intrigued by my bird – didn’t really understand what I was saying because it’s not every day you see a bird like this coming from a man on the streets. I never would have guessed had I not seen it myself.

There is a certain je ne sais quoi in what this homeless man outside of the Bourse metro that embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that the world needs. He’s not only being resourceful with the simplest of materials, but he’s developed a style that is nothing like I’ve seen before. (There is too much “copy & paste” these days, and where I think long term financial stability falls short). Clearly this simple bird got me excited enough to blog a couple hours later, during  a time when I’m lucky if I get one post up a week these days. Sometimes I think we try way too hard when the secret to happiness and success is right in front of us! It all kind of reminds me of Caine’s Arcade, where a 9-year old with a bit of cardboard and a lot of imagination helped inspire kids of all ages.

To visit the talented styrofoam animal artist, look for him at the rue Notre-Dame des Victoires exit of the Bourse metro. Don’t just buy something from him, let him show you what he’s working on.

Worth the Wait: JR Inside Out

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-1Something I’ve become very good at in France is waiting in line, and this weekend set a new record. I’ve learned to set my expectations low, but rarely are they low enough going into the situation. The Centre des Impôts [tax office] is one of the few exceptions in efficiency, but I attribute that do the fact that it’s because they’re actually taking your money, and lots of it. What Paris has to offer is lots of great stuff that is free though, and with the help of social media word spreads faster than ever.

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-13pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-9pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-10pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-12Last Thursday I tried to stop by the Palais de Tokyo (one of my favorite museums in Paris, and it’s open until midnight) to participate in the first day of JR’s #insideoutproject in Paris. I’d seen the announcement on Instagram, and made the note to get there early. It was a bit after 1pm when I got there, but the line – which reached around the fountain area, which tends to serve more as a local skate park – was already closed for the day knowing they could only see so many people through the photobooth truck. Instead I was happy to run into a friend and take pictures of the truck and project. I asked a girl how long she had waited, and she said they arrived 30 minutes before it opened and they waited 2.5 hours. I decided if I was going to do this, the wait would be more fun with friends.

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-6[left: line in front of us with photo truck clearly visible vs. line behind us, both trying to grab as much sun as possible to stay warm]

So you can imagine my surprise yesterday when my friends and I arrived an entire hour before the truck “opened” at 1pm to get in line. We started about 50 meters back so we were full of hope, especially as the line got longer and longer the more we waited. However, we never imagined that it wouldn’t be until almost 5.5 hours later that we would have our photos taken. (I beat my record of 4.5 hours waiting at the Préfecture, however, friends lately have clocked in at 5 hours and 5h45min for their recent status changes). While it looks like a beautiful day it was blustery and COLD (probably the coldest day we’ve had so far). Thankfully we decided to take a few shifts inside the MK2 movie theater, however, after about 3 hours our friend Lali had to call it and headed home. Ironically when she texted us much later, around 5:30pm, that’s when we had just gotten our pictures! Just as I’ve bonded with my line mates at the Préfecture, we definitely were friends with those around us in line by the end.

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-14I got to hang out with my friends Sophie and Christian. They’re actually the team that shot my David Lebovitz video a few years ago

There were a few saving graces during this epic wait. First, I was with friends and got to speak French all day (which doesn’t happen enough when I work as at home as freelancer). Second, there was sun, and it was not raining. Third, JR was there himself so it was awesome, and he was really generous taking pictures with everyone. I had a super short conversation with him, and long enough to say thanks by giving him a Tattly photography set. Sophie and I were also able to keep ourselves entertained for awhile after spotting Mathieu Kassovitz – a friend of JR and big supporter of his projects – who I adored as Nino in Amélie (which is fun, having heard the film’s director Jean-Pierre Jeunet speak this week too).

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-3pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-4pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-2We also lucked out because JR was manning the photo booth when we got up there. We had been moving millimeters a minute all day (apparently there were some printer issues, slowing the process more than usual, but lucky for us it started working just in time). All I have to say was, JR was efficient! He was able to fit in a fan shot while we each took our picture in the photobooth housed in the side of the truck. Of course the irony was that we moved so slow all day and this happened so fast we all felt caught off guard (and wind blown) in our pictures. But we made it – barely, and just after the sun set. You can view all the portraits on the official Inside Out website.

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-5pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-8Inside Out is JR’s collaborative community project that is happening around the world that came about after his TED prize. I’ve seen it when he took over Times Square, as well as posting portraits along the canal in Pantin, just outside of Paris. There are currently at least two photo trucks in the U.S., and the truck will be at the BNF [Bibliothéque Nationale de France] today and tomorrow (even if you want to go see it and not wait in line). The best way to find out what/where the latest project is to sign up for JR’s newsletters, and follow @JR and @insideoutproject on Instagram, and @JRart on Twitter, as well as follow #insideoutproject. JR truly is a master storyteller, and his Instagram is one of my favorites because of that. Next up: Tuesday his latest film “Inside Out” premieres at the MK2 Bilbiothèque (in the US, look for the HBO special). Check out the trailer below:

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-16pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-17pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-7Also at the BNF [Bibliothèque Nationale de France] is a large-scale JR installation. I arrived via Parc Bercy and crossed the Seine over to the library towers. They still have a few more panels to add but it’s close!

pretavoyager-JRinsideoutparis-15You know you’ve spotted JR if he’s wearing sunglasses (with small printed eyes where any brand name would go), and this black hat.

So while we may have been miserable and cold all day, we made it and only have good memories of the day. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you have a chance, I highly recommend seeing this project in action in a city near you! Better yet, wait in line and become part of the project.

A Memorable Thank You, Tattly Style

pretavoyager-tattlycards2All semester I’ve been teaching a wonderful, and very international group of juniors at Parsons Paris. My class is called “The Designer/Entrepreneur” and we’ve been looking ways to build a personal brand, the basics of running a business, and creating “side projects.” Over and over I’ve returned to Tattly as an example. The Brooklyn based temporary tattoo company was started after Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka Swissmiss) was frustrated by the horribly designed tattoos her then 6 year old daughter would ask her to put on her. So Tina called up a few illustrator friends, and Tattly was born. While the idea of a temporary tattoo is not new, the approach and design of the company is fresh, but most importantly fun [note: the cards arrived yesterday in an envelope filled with confetti! I may have had to vacuum, but it totally made me smile!] A trip to their DUMBO HQ unveils a world of entertaining props (inflatable unicorn anyone!?!) and office supplies covered in googly eyes [see stapler below]. The other awesome reason to love Tattly is that every Tattly artist not only gets credit for their work, but also receives a percentage from the sale of each of their designs. Sounds simple enough, but sadly doesn’t enough in the creative industry, and is such a great way to support designers, in every sense.


But I digress. The other exciting news is that Tattly has just launched a new line of letterpress printed cards. But they’re not just any note cards, they come with a Tattly inside! When I was visiting HQ back in October I got a sneak peek into the new line. “SO COOL” was my immediate reaction, which takes me back to the tales of my students. Just yesterday in class I was recounting tales of the importance of thank you notes. My first example was how I wrote a thank you note to the Apple store employee in Paris who spent hours with helping me get my images properly backed up. Customer service is quite rare in France, so the thank you note became extra meaningful. The irony is that he then found me on twitter, and then this week – months later – connected me to his sister who is studying tourism and interviewed me for a class project. Perhaps a more impressive example is that I wrote a thank you note to the wonderful Hotel Negresco where I stayed on an Air France press trip. Six months later I found myself being invited down to Nice again, but this time to celebrate their 100th anniversary. A pretty sweet reward for a simple thank you note, I do say. Now with the new Tattly cards I can hardly imagine what the power of a hand written note will lead to…

pretavoyager-tattly-mapskirtMy uniform for conference season last year. A map skirt totally needs a ship Tattly, and a Julia Rothman “late” watch! The lesson: BE MEMORABLE + HAVE FUN!

pretavoyager-jasonpaul-tattlyThe other fun thing is seeing what people do when you give them a Tattly, or four. Less than 5 minutes after giving some to my Parsons Paris colleagues, Jasonpaul McCarthy, the Director of Fashion Design, came to find me and show him his new styling arm! Even if a real tattoo isn’t your thing, you have to admit the “just add water” kind only can make people smile! :)

If you’re in Paris, you can usually find Tattly at PopMarket in the 10th, Millimètres in the 9th, Colette in the 1st, and BonTon in the 3rd! (Let me know if there are any stores you’d love to see carry them, and I can bring by some samples!) Tattly also ships internationally. Scope out the full Tattly line here + Tattly cards here!

Dancing in the Deep End

pretavoyager-underwater-3-titleToday I went for a swim at Piscine Pailleron. The experience was quite different than my first visit for the WATO underwater party back in August. WATO [We Are the Oracle] is an events, audiovisual and communications agency known for their clandestine parties (I first learned about them on Messy Nessy Chic). As soon as I heard about the Underwater Party, I knew I had to take my love of Paris swimming pools (see here and here) to the next level. So I recruited a bunch of friends and danced in the deep-end for the night. It was my first time dancing in a pool, and man, did my calves feel it the next day! Funny too that at the time I didn’t realize how shallow the shallow end was – today I couldn’t even flip turn on that end (only in France, but to their credit the pool was originally built in 1933). In any case, I decided to put together a little video of the soirée to give you a sense of it. The game of “keep up” with giant balls was one of my favorite parts (halfway through the video). And if you haven’t gathered from the pictures, the dress code was white – a challenge given my black dominated Parisian wardrobe – with a blue accessory. For more WATO events follow their Facebook page. It appears the next shindig is The Victorious Shelter, a 1940s style party in a bunker on November 16th.





The Future of Train Travel

Swell_Milano-©-M-Franke_MG_1475Last week was an exciting week. In a last minute assignment, I was asked to interview the new Creative Director of Eurostar, Christopher Jenner. The story was for Fast Co.Design, and was coordinated with my editor in Baltimore, her editor in NYC, Christopher’s press woman in London,  myself in Paris and Christopher was in China where he was working on a couple other projects. (Thank goodness for Skype!). I seriously think we all deserved an award for pulling everything together in less than a week. (The article was also trending at #1 on the site for a few days which is really exciting).

Christopher’s life is fascinating. Born in South Africa, he first discovered Europe through a 4-month train trip when he was 18. He’s been in London full-time – except when he’s traveling, which is a lot – since 1998, and opened his own studio in 2010. His work is centered around emotion and storytelling, with a high attention to detail and craft. The gig with Eurostar came about after a conversation with the CEO at an event (not some long drawn out applicant process!). I also think it’s awesome that Christopher will maintain his studio while taking on the new role as Creative Director for Eurostar, with the idea that projects are all mutually beneficial, even across realms and disciplines. You can read the whole article here. I for one can’t wait to see what is to come for Eurostar, and what it means for the future of train travel!

Images: Top: The Looking Glass House in Milan. Photo by Michael Franke. Bottom: Blue Sky rendering of Eurostar by Christopher Jenner Studio.


P.S. Check out this article my editor Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson wrote about this posters celebrating The Wire and the printing culture in Baltimore!

Map Project Challenge

pretavoyager-Paris-map-75009-retina1[click image to enlarge]

As most of you already know, I teach a map making class on Skillshare. Once you sign up you have lifetime access, and you can sign up any time. But because there are no official deadlines sometimes it can be a bit harder to motivate. Welcome project challenges! From time to time I’ll be adding extra incentive to work on your projects, and also win some cool stuff. The first challenge is to create a postcard-sized 4×6″ map of your favorite neighborhood. The winner will not only win printed postcards of their map, but they’ll also get a 30 min consultation with me (probably via Skype) to help finalize the map and prep the file, as well as a copy of A Map of the World According to Illustrators and Storytellers courtesy of Gestalten publishers! If you haven’t seen this book yet, I posted about it here. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The deadline to submit your map is Nov 18th!

amapoftheworld_sideJust because I’m the teacher doesn’t mean I’m immune to the project challenges either! In fact, this challenge was the perfect excuse to work on a map of the 9th arrondissement of Paris [top image] that I have been dreaming of working on for over a year now. (Turns out all I needed was one morning to focus on it to pull it together). I really enjoyed working on it and it was strange to get to know my old neighborhood through the streets – I hadn’t thought of how it all fits together before. I also like that it’s the perfect way to celebrate so many of my favorite local shops. I even got to use some new skills I learned in Brad Woodard’s Illustrator Skillshare course. Of course, I designed this map to be a printed postcard so it doesn’t display as well as it should on the screen (smaller text is far more successful in print than on screen, but now that I have a retina screen I’m having issues with saving it so it looks best – I recommend clicking to enlarge for now). Now I can’t wait to get this map printed and start handing it out on my Vayable Design Tour of Paris!

If you want to sign up to make some maps, just click here. Oh, and the code YOUROCK will get you $10 off :)

To learn more about how I got into teaching on Skillshare and how it works, you can read my Teacher Stories interview on the Skillshare blog.

P.S. In other exciting news, Joanna Goddard gave “Unglamorous Paris” a shot out on Cup of Jo yesterday. It inspired her to do the same for New York!

FRENCH LESSONS: Changement de saisons

pretavoyager-changementdesaisonsThe changing of seasons (changement de saisons) is something that exists in many places of the world, but in France it means more than just the changing of leaves and weather; it can also can represent a mental space. A few years ago I went to la pharmacie (the pharmacy) because I was feeling unusually exhausted and felt like I may need some vitamins. The pharmacist was not surprised at all by my fatigue, quickly explaining it as “C’est le changement de saisons.” I’ve had other friends experience and hear the same thing, and like clockwork, late fall every year it hits me. Maybe it’s all in my head, but has anyone else had this feeling from the changement de saisons? Is it just a French thing?

French Lessons is an ongoing series where I teach you French words and cultural lessons while beefing up my Illustrator skills.

Find me on Instagram + Twitter! I teach MAPS & InDesign classes on Skillshare!

Mattress Factory: Pittsburgh

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-7I first encountered the Mattress Factory through the NYTimes series 36 Hours: Pittsburgh. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the image of the white mannequins with red polka dots would forever remain engrained in my head until I saw it in person. Also, little did I know that my best friend, Felice, who I met in Paris 12 years ago, would be their Education Director, and that I’d get an insider tour. These dotted rooms may look big, it’s all mirrors: hence the title Repetitive Vision. Such an experience, and part of the Mattress Factory’s permanent collection. Focused on installation art, the Mattress Factory reminded me quite a bit of Dynamo, the contemporary art exhibition which is still on in Paris at the Grand Palais.

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-6But before you enter the red and white room, you’re in this playful wonderland! Dots are by Yayoi Kusama (who also did windows for Louis Vuitton/Galeries Layfette windows in Paris last fall).

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-5The awesome thing about museums is that they can do crazy things that a client would never agree to: like Sarah Oppenheimer putting a hole and cut through the floor and out the window.

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-3Artist Betsy Damon even put a river in the basement of the building (right). They were closing that part early to dry out the room before the next installation! The James Turrell room (left) was also trippy in it’s own way, and a good reminder that you should go and explore art – it’s not always what you expect when you get close!

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-2This room of words I don’t understand by Parastou Forouha was one of my favorites.

pretavoyager-mattressfactory-4There is also a delightful cafe on the main level where I ate a delicious black bean burger. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the Mattress Factory literally used to be a mattress factory – you can see some of the mattress springs on the right wall.

Every year the Mattress Factory holds an Urban Garden Party fundraiser. Factory 500 is for high level donors and involves great events to private collections (I got to tag along to one – great fun!).  They also offer a great summer camp for kids!

These photos are from my trip last May, and the temporary exhibit has changed since then, but it’s a good reminder that art museums are dynamic places and you should keep going back and see how they use the space each time. The Mattress Factory focuses on site specific art, so you can definitely expect a creative use of the space.

Mattress Factory
500 Sampsonia Way | Pittsburgh, PA 15212-4444
Open: Tuesday-Saturday: 10AM – 5PM, Sunday: 1PM – 5PM

For more on Pittsburgh, don’t miss Conflict Kitchen too!

Find me on Instagram + Twitter! Or sign up to take my MAPS or InDesign classes on Skillshare!

BOARDING PASS — Brittany Powell

After Brittany Powell lost her camera on a trip her husband jokingly told her she should paint all the photos from their trip. Little did either of them know it would turn into something more. Now Brittany paints “watercolor snapshots” of other people’s travels in what she’s dubbed Illustrated Vacation. Just look at her below with the sloth in Panama – totally adorable, right? I love that it tells a different story than a photograph, and really makes you want to have a conversation about it, and look at it longer than a normal photo. Brittany’s Low Commitment Project: Making stuff happen with little energy and time, which she keeps with an art school friend, also made me smile. I particularly loved the Native Dress series of animals with designs inspired by textile patterns from their native lands. The best perk is the research for these trips inspires wanderlust. Thanks, Brittany!! –Anne

panama sloth with brittanyPanama sloth with Brittany

last trip taken:
Panama.  When I saw we had just enough frequent flyer miles to get us to Central America, I began researching Panama because it is the furthest distance we could go.  Highlights:  Boquete, fish tacos, falling in with a serious birding crowd for a day, and sloths.  Bummer:  losing our camera.

Incidentally, when I lost our camera, my husband jokingly suggested I paint all of our trip photos.  I did, and that sparked my new project:  through Illustrated Vacation, I paint “watercolor snapshots” of other people’s travels.

panama rock formations on hike to boquetePanama rock formations on hike to Boquette

panama crocodile at summit botanical gardenPanama crocodile at summit botanical garden.

panama special bird in soberania natl parkPanama special bird is Soberania National Park

next trip on deck:
Hong Kong and Hoi An, Vietnam.  My mother-in-law recently moved to Hong Kong, so we’re visiting this winter.  The only absolute MUST DO on our list is Tim Ho Wan, the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurant in the world.  It’ll be our first restaurant with any stars, which is typical of our “cheapest of the awesome” traveling style.  After Hong Kong, we will fly to Hoi An for four days of sun, beach, and visiting ruins (or as my husband’s friend said, “you spelled ‘food’ wrong”).

panama flowers on waterfall hikePanama flowers on waterfall hike.

one place you would go back to again and again:
Argentina (see below).  More realistically, we repeatedly visit family in Italy and close family friends in Turkey.  There could be worse fates.  We love the cuisine in both countries, there are endless sights to see, and our family and friends are warm and welcoming (and lucky for us, they’re all wonderful cooks).  Our Turkish friends don’t speak English, so Google Translate has been our buddy.  Even so, we know our friends will say, “My daughter,” while hugging my husband, and they’ll call me their son.

Also, we keep ourselves interested in US travel by visiting one national park each year.  This fall, we’ll take a short road trip to Redwood National Park.

argentina iguazu falls rainbowArgentina Igazu Falls rainbow

place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
Argentina.  There’s no reason not to go.  It is an interesting and lovely country, it’s cheap for North Americans right now, the food is totally satisfying, Buenos Aires is a design-y city, and it is much easier than some other South American countries.  One of our favorite days was spent at a gaucho festival in San Antonio de Areco, grilled beef sandwiches in one hand and surprisingly tasty juice-box style wine in the other, cheering on the cowboys while chatting with a family of young dancers.

argentina san antonio gauchosArgentina San Antonio gauchos

preferred method of transportation:
Train.  I have an unnatural loathing for renting cars while abroad, plus I always work on my embroidery while on trains.  No matter where we go, this garners curious stares from grandmothers.

panama rainforest discovery center in soberania natl parkPanama rainforest discovery center in Soberania National Park

place you’ve never been but dying to go:
Scandinavia.  We always say we’ll go there when we find our benefactors.

pemba zanzibarPemba Zanzibar

place you’d never go back:
Zanzibar.  Not because we didn’t have a good time, but because it took six flights and 48 hours to reach our destination.  We spent most of our honeymoon on the island of Pemba, which made us feel absurdly fortunate, then a few days in Stone Town on Zanzibar Island.


most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:
During my four-month study abroad program in Germany when I was 19, I met my best friends, found out that different ways of doing things can be ok, drank more than my fair share, and took trips to Holland, the Czech Republic, Italy, and other German towns.  That opportunity cemented “travel” as one of my values and set me up for a lifetime of saving my pennies for the next voyage.

yay bulgariaYay, Bulgaria

how do you prepare for a trip?
I research the heck out of the place by dreamily reading guidebooks, travel blogs, and food blogs.  Then, I make rather exhaustive lists of sites, restaurants, and activities, sometimes coordinated with a map.  When we reach our destination, we bring the list with us but don’t worry one bit about sticking to it.  The list ensures we don’t miss anything by accident, but can choose what to skip in an informed way.  Also, when we reach that point of road-weary feet and hungry crankiness, I usually know where there’s a good cafe nearby.

turkish breakfastTurkish breakfast

how do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
I maintain a travel journal, mainly jotting down what we did, who we visited, and what we ate.

prosciutto di parma tourProsciutto di Parma tour

what is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
Food, animals, funny signs, and odd (to me) bits of popular culture.  Of course, if we are visiting people, I always want photographs of them, too.

nutmeg spice tour zanzibarNutmeg spice tour Zanzibar

on an average, how many pictures to you take on a trip?
Maybe 40 a day?  I pare them down each evening so it isn’t such a daunting task when we return home.

windswept paris dogWindswept Paris dog

olympic national forestOlympic National Forest

what’s in your “designer travel kit” ?
My husband and I love to send silly watercolored postcards of our trips to family and friends back home, so we bring a tiny watercolor set.  We have a Canon Rebel T3i, which is a fantastic camera for those of us who aren’t “real” photographers.

panama city view from parque natural metropolitano
Panama City view from Parque Natural Metropolitano

what do you do after a trip? how long after a trip does this happen?
I usually make a Picasa web album right away and try to put together a physical album within 6 months.  My food photos go on my blog.  For our Panama trip, I spent about 6 weeks painting our travel photos.

istanbul fish stallIstanbul fish stall

ice cream outside hierapolisIce cream outside Hierapolis


favorite souvenir/thing to bring back?
Food–We grocery shop whenever we travel, and tend to bring home a suitcase full of jars, cans, and packets of edible mementos.  Even if we spend a few dollars more than we would at home, this suits us better than a tchotchke that sits on a shelf.  During our last trip to Italy, we scored a giant hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and a special wedge-shaped tupperware container for it.  The TSA has taken just a few of our prizes, but let our 5 pounds of spaghetti and 10” diameter cheese ball through after inspection.

loot from turkey bulgaria france italyLoot from Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Italy

Clothing–I don’t spend much on clothes at home, but might purchase a couple cute things while travelling.  That way, I think about our trip every time I wear the striped dress from Paris or top from Buenos Aires, and nobody else in town has the exact same item.

Small Housewares–Even if it is easy to find similar pieces at import stores, I love knowing that my hand-carved wooden stool came from the streets of Zanzibar and that I bought my ceramic mugs in Bulgaria.


how does your travel relate to your artwork?
Illustrated Vacations grew directly out of our recent Panama trip–I painted over 80 4” x 6” “photos” from memory, and now I’m offering the service for other people.


One of my latest pieces for Low-Commitment Projects (a website I maintain with a friend) is called “Native Dress.”  I painted illustrations of animals with designs based on textile patterns from their native lands.  The research for this project gave me a serious case of wanderlust to see both the animals and the textiles in their homelands.  Shetland ponies in Scotland?  Chilean flamingos in Chile?  Yes, please.

magellanicpenguinMagellanic Penguin


BOARDING PASS is a regular column exploring the creative ways people see the world and record their travels. Find me on Instagram + Twitter! Or sign up to take my MAPS or InDesign classes on Skillshare!

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