North India Explorer sketchbook.


Our summer holiday came early this year, the unconventional timing determined by the destination. India has been on our wish-list for a long time but unless you have a particular enthusiasm for apocalyptic monsoon rain, then two weeks in August – our usual escape slot – is out of the question.

The trip was another gem organised by tried and trusted adventure tour company Explore, who have yet to disappoint. The North India Explorer involved a very full-on 15-day itinerary starting in the capital Delhi and travelling to Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and finally ending in Kolkata.

It was a lot to take in; we’ve been back almost a week and my head is still spinning somewhat from the experience. It’s a country like nowhere I’ve been before, throwing up a relentless succession of extreme and unfamiliar images, from the sublime to the downright surreal, with no pause to process what you’ve just seen before the next WTF tableau presents itself for your slack-jawed consideration. If you’re a remotely visual person, it’s an absolute blast.

Needles to say, India is a snapper’s wet dream and I came back with my memory cards stuffed. I’m still editing the results and could be at it for some time yet. As ever though, I also packed my sketchbook – a fresh Moleskine no less – and whipped it out whenever there was an opportunity.

The pace of the tour was such that there simply wasn’t time at most of the sites we visited to sit down and draw. However the trip did, by its nature, involve a lot of travelling – by train (including three sleeper trains, an experience in itself!), bus and boat – and it was during these stages that I would attempt to capture whatever was in front of me. Unsurprisingly, this consisted mostly of my fellow travellers killing time with books or mobile phones. Also, Indian roads being what they are, the sketches were often made in conditions more akin to a roller coaster ride than the zen-like serenity of the art studio. No matter – for all their jerky imperfections and repetitive subject matter, the following sketchbook entries still evoke the exact conditions and environment in which they were made, and with a Proustian vividness that a split-second photographic snap of the same subject could never aspire to.

The occasional odd gaps on the pages are where I’ve deleted diary notes – you really don’t want to be burdened with those – and the flat tone was added in Photoshop after scanning. There’s also one easy-to-spot iPhone finger-drawing included and you can, as always, click on any individual page to enlarge.


22March14(150dpi)24March14(150dpi)24March14_2(150dpi)25March14(150dpi)26March14(withTone)27March14(withTone)27March14_2(+Tone)28March14(150dpi)29March14_(combo)(+Tone)29March14-Ajmer-Jaipur_bus(iPhone)1April14(+Tone)1April14_2(+Tone)2April14(+Tone)2April14_2(150dpi)3April14_3(+Tone)3April14_4(+Tone)3April14_4 1(150dpi)5April14(combo)(+Tone)7April14(+Tone)

193 thoughts on “North India Explorer sketchbook.

  1. These are wonderful as always! I’m not as diligent as you are but my sketchbooks also have many back-of-bus/train/plane sketches, so the perspective feels very familiar. :) After your description I was expecting your lines to be even wigglier but everything looks great. And I especially like the little groomed-moustache detail. :)

    1. Thank you! That three-quarter rear view is quite a useful one for sketching a subject unnoticed, don’t you think? Really enjoyed making these, in spite of the adverse conditions which, I assure you, really were as bumpy a described. Indian pot-holes are something else!

    1. Thank you. I find the sketches always bring back memories far more vividly than photographs as they require a much longer engagement with the subject. The technical accuracy of the sketch hardly matters!

    1. It was our first ever trip to India and we found it extraordinary in so many ways. Probably the most vibrant and visually stimulating country I’ve ever visited. Would love to have done a lot more drawing but it was a packed itinerary!

  2. Your drawings are incredible and so inspiring! I remember an art teacher in college many years ago writing a note in my sketchbook, “DRAW, DRAW, DRAW!” … and I try to. Mainly I doodle, but upon seeing your work, I feel like I WANT to get back to drawing my surroundings. Thank you!

    1. Your art teacher was right! As with any activity, the more you do it the better you get. If you can get into the habit of keeping a small sketchbook with you at all times, you’ll always be prepared when you find yourself with a few spare moments to fill. Just draw whatever’s right there in front of you – don’t wait for that ‘perfect’ subject to appear!

      1. I draw in a small Moleskin sketchbook every night after dinner, but it’s more free-form doodling while watching TV … and I always travel with it. I started this as a distraction and relief from chronic back pain, and it works! (I’ve uploaded some to my site)

        You are RIGHT though, if I can remember to take my iPhone with me everywhere I go, I can certainly remember my sketchbook, and get back into the practice of drawing from real life.

        You are an amazing artist, thank you for replying.
        – deb

  3. As an Indian its always fascinating to see how someone from the outside looks at things that we Indians take for granted. I am so glad you felt the way you did, and you are right you have not even scratched the surface.

    1. Interesting, because I assumed the artist WAS Indian, as he was able to observe & draw the subtle details I missed on my trip. You see I had traveled to Agra, Jaipur and all over India.. flying out of Heathrow, as he did (my origin was from Los Angeles).

  4. This is brilliant! Love the pages of your sketchbook on North India! I’m from Mumbai, India. We just visited Ranthambore and Jodhpur in March. Better then than now because of the current scorcher of a summer!

    1. Thank you. We’re already talking about returning to see more of India sometime in the future and Mumbai would definitely be on the list. Did you see any tigers in Ranthambore?

    1. The trip ended in Kolkata and we only had a very brief stay there. It looked like an amazing place and it’s a shame we didn’t have had more time to explore. Loved visiting the flower market and the amazing Hindu Icon workshops in the Kumartuli area!

  5. You have made an expat’s life more interesting. Seems like home was never far away. Oh yes and the bumps! :) Having been used to them all this while, driving in France seems so incomplete. Amazing sketches and thanks for sharing. Will look forward to more.

    1. Glad you like the sketches. Some of the road surfaces are incredible but it’s true, after just a couple of weeks we were starting to get used to them. Smooth roads are SO overrated!

  6. Very interesting sketches, as architecture students we were packed into buses early morning and unpacked in front of important building, before the crowds set in to sketch, so I do get what you are saying, and the bit where a bystander gets too curious.

    1. Thanks. It’s true, an audience can be very off-putting when you’re trying to draw and make you too self-conscious to continue. I generally try to avoid those sorts of situations. Finger-drawing on an iPhone, if you can get the hang of it (it’s not for everyone), is actually a great way to make a drawing in public without attracting unwanted attention. Passers-by who see you tapping away at your phone will assume you’re checking emails or some such. It really works!

  7. I love these drawings! you really seem to capture ‘the moment’ – people sitting around and waiting is something I wouldn’t normally pay much attention to, but you bring it to life in a perspective that would never be achieved by photographs…. Although I would love to see some of your shots of India!!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I did come back with hundreds of photos but the blog is really just intended for drawings. Having said that, it’s probably the most photogenic country Ive been to – full of life and colour!

  8. Outstanding! remarkable actually. Loved your sketches and the narrative it brings out. India can be overwhelming though am glad you enjoyed your experience and thank you for sharing it with us. Congratulations and do visit soon again!

  9. Your sketches are wonderful, I am amazed that in 15days journey with so many places and so much of travelling, you sketched so much and so well.. yeah, you should have also come to Maharashtra state, that includes Bombay (Mumbai) and Goa.

  10. Man, this is just awesome:) Have no words. Excellent work !! I myself had been to Rajasthan a few months back.. But I’m not as gifted:) Good luck! Do more and post more. I’ve already bookmarked your blog:)

  11. amazing have shown a lot about india in these short sketches. I am from delhi and just want to say that there are a lot more things in india to be do visit again and discover more. GREAT WORK…….

    1. Our trip started in Delhi which was an amazing introduction to India. Riding in a tuk-tuk through the streets of Chandni Chowk was an experience I’ll never forget! Thanks for the kind words.

  12. Thanks for sharing these, you have quite a knack for catching the setting details and human expressions. I’m inspired to stick with improving my abilities especially since as you say, it keeps one longer engaged with the subject than does a photo. I’m years out from your skill, this is true – so I’ll just have to visit your blog to keep me going ; )

    1. Thanks, Jess. The tools are nothing special; The line-work is done with a 0.3 Unipin Fineline pen (pretty widely available I think) and the areas of black are blocked in with a Pentel Brush Pen – an excellent drawing implement that should be an essential item in any artist’s toolbag, IMHO. The grey tone was quickly added after scanning in Photoshop. Good luck with your studies!

    1. Cheers, Jason – appreciate it coming from a fellow scribbler. Just been looking at your blog; illustrator, sketcher, cyclist and beer enthusiast – we’re not related, by any chance? ;-)

      1. On a tiny IPhone screen?! That is a feat in and of itself! I really enjoy the drawing style, but to see that you did some of that on a phone just makes it all the more impressive.

  13. Very Good Art-work, Geo! You have captured the Essence! If You could also have taken in the Sound (Killing!) and the Heat (Also Killing), it would have been Awesome! As an Indian, I know how tiring it is to travel in our country. Sorry You had to go through all this. Hope things get better in the Future. Regards.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. It’s true, the travelling was tiring but it was the only way we could have crammed so much into a couple of weeks and it was SO worth it.

    1. Thank you – very kind. And fingers crossed for Liverpool; like many fans of other clubs (Bradford City for my sins), I’d LOVE to see them win the title this year. It can still happen!

  14. Part one of my first published travel memoir, “Just the ticket” was about my first visit to India in 2011. An invitation to attend a Sikh wedding in the capital of the Punjab, Chandigarh, prompted my visit. On completion of the 5-day nuptial event, I went on to visit Goa and tour the Golden Triangle. I fell head over heels for India so much so that my then long-term Indian boyfriend (now husband), Kuldip, and I returned to Chandigarh to live for three months last year during which time we bought the unit which we returned to, for a 12-month stay in January this year. I loved your sketches. They are a fluid visual snap-shot of my new second ‘home’, India. Thank you for posting them.

    1. Thank you for the comments, Lynnie. Your blog sounds really interesting; I just had a look and there’s a lot there to read. I’ll definitely check that out properly as soon as I have a quiet moment. We saw enough in just two weeks to appreciate how easily one could fall in live with India!

    1. Thank you – there was something almost tangibly spiritual about the atmosphere around the Ghats in Pushkar. One of our most vivid memories from the trip – a lovely spot!

    1. Thanks, Rosalind – much appreciated. As for being drawn, it’s a painless process – many of my subjects have no idea they’re being ‘done’. ;-)

  15. really nice pictures. I loved India. I remember when i was on a bus from Amritsar to McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala) and an hour into the journey a car car slammed into the back of our bus. As it was India the driver shrugged as if to say “No-one died” and continued the journey….

    1. Ha – excellent. That sounds so typical if the attitude we saw throughout our tour. Saw so many near misses but amazingly, no actual collisions. Got the impression that anything non-fatal would have been treated as no big deal though, as you said!

    1. Talking subjects tend to be more animated and therefore harder to draw so I probably instinctively choose the more static ones. Wouldn’t want to give the impression that there’s no conversation in India – nothing could be further from the truth! Thanks for looking.

  16. I love your sharp observations. As a north Indian, I could identify places and trains in your sketches without reading anything written on it. When we have cultural differences every kilometer, this is great success, you can sketch them.
    I will love to translate and reblog at my Hindi blog. May you allow me?

    1. Thank you so much – coming from someone who actually lives in the region, that’s a compliment indeed. You’re more than welcome to translate and reblog – it would be an honour! Do send me a link as and when you post a translated version; I won’t understand a word but it will be fascinating to see.

  17. These sketches are awesome. I traveled in India for 3 weeks in 1999 and loved it. Wish I could draw. I’d have my own sketch book. One of my favorite sites was driving through a Sikh village on hair washing day. Everyone had their hair down letting it dry in the sun.

      1. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s visited India and hasn’t just loved it. The Sikh hair-drying ritual sounds great – we didn’t see that but there were so many other other sights that will forever be imprinted on my memory. An extraordinarily visual country. Thanks for visiting my blog, Gloria!

  18. That’s definitely an amazing sketchbook you have there.They are the ‘true’ pictures of how things are here and you have got them perfectly right. You have indeed captured few exquisite details which are so a part of India which i despite being an Indian would have maybe ignored if i were to draw these sketches specially the God idol on the dashboard. I hope you had a nice time here :)

  19. It’s always pleasing to hear praises about your country. Thank you!
    And yes, your sketches are brilliant!

      1. many thanks. Are you an animator too? I have a number of 2d projects and have the blog to keep the drawing going and the thoughts alive! I think your artwork is stunning and so pleased to see another moleskin publisher on here!

      2. I’m an illustrator but I’ve been hugely influenced by animation over the years (see for the evidence of that!). I keep the blog and an active sketchbook going for precisely the same reasons as you – it keeps things fresh and in working order. A gymnasium for the mind, if you will!

      3. I see immediately the animation influences! Your figures have stunning LIFE!! I also enjoyed the Tintin references! (do you know the work of Daniel Torres?) I love what you are doing!

      4. I certainly do know Torres’ work. i used to be kind of obsessed with all those European ‘Clear Line’ artists: Joost Swarte, Serge Clerc, Ever Meulen etc etc… I still love all that stuff even now. All big inspirations.

        Thanks again for your comments!

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