Turning the places that we encounter and engage with into art is the next best thing after the act of travelling itself. It elevates the experience while you’re out exploring and keeps one going when an unprecedented crisis forces borders to be shut and travel to be scrapped. It’s a brilliant way, moreover, to go back to our fondest travel memories—the amusing details on a building that the eye of the mind stowed away, the delightful pastels of a street, the speakeasy where you friskily undertook a late-night detour…
We spoke to freelance artist and ‘travel sketcher’ Maxwell Tilse about his love for travel, architecture and sketching on-the-go. Tilse’s cut-out illustrations of iconic buildings, neighbourhoods and architectural marvels of the places he travels to, are drawing hordes to his Instagram profile and soothing the fernweh.
Tell us a bit about how you started out with sketching while travelling…
Travel has always been my ultimate goal. It's what I enjoy the most and it's what inspires me the most. I found that when I travelled, drawing was a great companion. Sketching in new locations, putting down memories with pen on paper... So, I suppose that I've always had a strong interest in travel sketching. Now I'm lucky enough to be able to do it.
How do you choose your subjects? Do you look out for a lot of detail in the buildings and the urban landscapes that you do?
I like architecture and history. So, if a location has a good combination of both, then I'm immediately inspired. Somewhere with a rich history and loads of character. The details are what make a scene come to life.
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How long does it typically take for you to do a sketch? Can you do it on the go, as in, while travelling on a train, with a photograph for reference?
For a typical street sketch, I usually take an hour or so. If you're sitting in a cafe or bar, there's more time to relax and take in the scenery. I also work on commissioned drawings when I travel. That's how I make my living. Those require time and patience. So, I can easily spend up to three days working on one drawing. As you mentioned, my work has many details. So, drawings can take up to 50 hours.
While we can't travel due to the ongoing worldwide health crisis, how important is it to engage better with the individual destinations that we visit? Would you agree that utilising all this time to create art about travel helps express oneself and address the ‘fernweh’ a bit?
Obviously, nobody can travel now. If people are able to focus on new hobbies at the moment, drawing and painting is a great one! When I draw, I get to transport myself to another world. I wish I could jump around from Mumbai to Paris, but for now I have to do that through my art. It's an amazing tool for exploration in that regard. Similarly, [it can be an outlet] for expressing your worries and frustrations. Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper or canvas can be massively helpful to one's mental health.
A lot of your sketches—especially the ones you cut out and have posted on your Instagram—have a three-dimensional feel to them. Did you ever consider making little installations out of them?
I would love to make models or put on a gallery show where my drawings can be displayed in a 3D interactive way. I have many ideas… it's just trying to find the time. Life is busy and I have to keep working. One day.
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What does travel mean to you?
Travel is the freedom to move and meet new people and cultures. Exploring the incredible natural landscapes of the world. Learning about other people’s histories and world views. Appreciating one's place and identity in this massive and ever-changing world.
Any tips for our young artists out there who want to do similar good work?
Absolutely! Firstly, and most importantly, keep drawing as much as you can. Find subjects that interest you. Look at other artists who you admire and try and learn from their techniques. Eventually you will develop a strong unique style. Make an Instagram page for your art and try to share it as much as possible. Self-promotion is key if you want a wider international audience. Draw things which you find most difficult. If you don't push yourself to learn, you won’t grow as an artist.