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An open sketchbook with a sketch of a gas station, partially colored in, with various black pens, a set of car keys, an open Folio Palette lay on a white background.

Blind Contour Sketching on a Road Trip

A portait person, with a orange headscarf sitting in front of a green door, looking at the camera.

Nakaia Macomber-Millman

Content & Social Media Coordinator

Inspiration | March 30, 2023

I love travel and I love routine, but I had never realized quite how well the two go together until I set off on my annual West Coast road trip this February.

From day one, we settled into life on the road with a repetitive series of daily happenings punctuated by the occasional spontaneous side trip or an unexpected encounter with friendly strangers. Every day we would pack up camp, get on the road, stop somewhere for coffee, visit a rest stop (or two), stop for gas, and pull off at a beautiful place just to look. This sustainable routine kept us fed, entertained, and moving down the highway. Then, the next day, we would do it again!

An open Folio Palette with paint-filled pans and Mixing Pans of various sizes.
(Row 1) Hansa Yellow Light, Hansa Yellow Medium, Pyrrol Red, Quinacridone Rose; (Row 2) Cerulean Blue Chromium, Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine, Perylene Green; (Row 3) Buff Titanium, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Paynes Grey, and Neutral Tint.

Before leaving the Quimper Peninsula, I packed my A5 Art Toolkit with a new Hahnemühle sketchbook, a Folio Palette, and lots of sketching tools to use along the way. Once on the road, I enjoyed a few nights painting at campgrounds and in the homes of our hosts, but I missed the daily exploration of putting pen to paper and sketching on the road.

My solution was to find a time to make art that wouldn’t slow us down but could easily be incorporated into the daily drive. Our gas station pit stops were the perfect opportunity to pull out my sketchbook for a few minutes and scratch that itch to sketch!

I explored a variety of waterproof pens—a fine-tipped Sharpie, Permapaque Marker, and a Brush Pen—by making a series of blind contour drawings in my new sketchbook that roughly mapped our route between states.

A collage of three photographs including 1) An artist holds a sketchbook on their lap, open to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station, with sandaled feet poking out, 2) An artist holds a sketchbook out in front of them, open to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station with the station in the background, and 3) A person with braids stands a few yards back from a gas station facing away from the camera, dressed in shorts and a tank top, holding a sketchbook.
Soaking up some sunshine at the ARCO in Newport Beach, CA
A collage of three photographs including 1) An artist holds a Sharpie and an open sketchbook to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station, 2) An open sketchbook with a sketch of a gas station, partially colored in, with various black pens, a set of car keys, an open Folio Palette lay on a white background, and 3) A person with braids stands a few yards back from a gas station facing away from the camera, dressed in bell-bottoms and a tank top, holding a sketchbook.
Sketching before sunset at the Petro in Santa Nella, CA
A collage of three photographs including 1) An artist holds a Permapaque marker and an open sketchbook to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station, 2) A sketchbook lays open on a white table with a Permapaque marker in focus, and 3) A person stands a few yards back from a gas station facing away from the camera, dressed in shorts and a tank top, holding a sketchbook.
Broad-tipped blind contours at the Chevron in Novato, CA
A collage of three photographs including 1) An artist holds a Brush Pen and an open sketchbook to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station, 2) An open sketchbook with a sketch of a gas station and a black Brush Pen lay on a white background, and 3) A person with a ponytail stands a few yards back from a gas station facing away from the camera, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, holding a sketchbook.
Braving the wind at the ARCO in Chico, CA
A collage of three photographs including 1) An artist holds a Sharpie and an open sketchbook to a page with an imperfect line drawing of a gas station, 2) An artist smiles into the sun and wind while sketching, holding an Art Toolkit, and 3) A person stands a few yards back from a gas station facing away from the camera, dressed in leggings and a sweatshirt, holding a sketchbook.
Fueling up at SeQuential Biofuel in Eugene, OR

Blind contour sketches are one of my favorite ways to draw because they don’t take long, they’re loose and inexact, and sometimes they make me laugh! It can be quite the mind trip to look at something and then peek at your page and see what your brain and hand have come up with sans supervision. Once the imperfect outline was down, there was no pressure to add color or fix mistakes; simply having the sketch meant that I could revisit it whenever I pleased.

Next time you’re on the road, pull out your sketchbook and try a few blind contours. Trace the landscape with your eye, mirroring its movements with your hand. Leave perfection at the door and go sketch!

Photos by Tomoki Sage.