Traveling for Creative Inspiration

It goes without saying that traveling to new and exciting places can give you endless amounts of inspiration for your artwork. Simply, just going somewhere, however, isn’t all that’s required. You could go all the way to Paris, but if you never left your hotel room that probably wouldn’t be very exciting. Of course, it’s unrealistic that would happen but my point is that making the most of your trip depending on where you choose to go is essential.

(Left) A lighthouse in St. Martins, New Brunswick, (Right) The Brooklyn Bridge, New York City. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

I recently went on a trip to the province of New Brunswick on the Eastern coast of Canada as well as New York City. I had never been to either place before and this certainly was a trip that ticked a lot of things off my bucket list. Both locations on the trip were beautiful in their own way but also extreme contrasts of each other. The small village of St Martins, New Brunswick has a population of around 386 people while New York City has over 8.6 million! Life is clearly very different in both of these places not even including the fact they are also in different countries.


Packing for this trip required planning for all 4 seasons. When we left Calgary it had just snowed and in New Brunswick and New York they were experiencing weather that resembled what I would consider summer temperatures plus humidity, and rain. Despite our best efforts to pack light, that just wasn’t going to happen. Traveling as an artist also requires a special list of items in addition to everyday items you would normally take with you. Because part of the point of going on a trip for me is to actually take a vacation, I still try to pack pretty leanly however some of the downtimes on planes and hotel rooms or even just great locations can be a great time to draw. If you plan to be outside and drawing as well, these are things you need to take into consideration.
When I was packing my travel kit, I thought about what seasons It was, and what subject matter I would likely want to draw. That helped me narrow down the colors I wanted to take with me and general media. I decided I didn’t want to work in watercolor for this trip and also my dedicated travel sketchbook doesn’t have paper suitable for this anyway. Other essential items included a point and shoot camera with an extra battery and iPad.

A certain amount of planned and spontaneous activities, in my opinion, is great on any trip. The planned stuff give you specifics things to look forward to while the spontaneous is like sprinkling little bits of awesome throughout. Trips like this are always prime reference photo taking adventures for me so I always have my camera with me and try to plan to see places I think will be great for taking photos of things I normally wouldn’t have access to. This could be specific locations, architecture, animal reserves or zoos and museums.

I sometimes get so excited while on trips I feel like I’m taking photos of basically everything and anything. I’ve tried to curb that urge recently, for the simple fact that it leaves A LOT of photos to sort through in the end and not all of them will be worth it.(I still took over 2200 on this trip.) Another very important point is that you don’t want to spend so much time behind the lens of your camera that you forget to enjoy your trip and really experience it.

A rare selfie of me and various beaches along the Bay of Fundy in St. Martins, New Brunswick. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

For the New Brunswick part of the trip, I focused on taking photos of the beach and coastal scenery that landlocked Calgary has none of. St. Martins in on the Bay of Fundy, which if you’re not familiar is known for its extremely high tides. At various points, throughout the day when the tide is low, you can walk out onto the beach which is essentially the bay floor.  In areas like Brown’s Beach various shells and seaweed are exposed and clinging to life until the tide rushes back in. This was such a fantastic experience and made for excellent shell collecting. Although, you had to make sure that they didn’t still have occupants before you picked them up.

Various shells including an empty crab shell found on the beaches of the Bay of Fundy in St. Martins, New Brunswick. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

Another beautiful thing about the East coast was the mixed of deciduous trees that in the fall change into a perfectly mixed canvas of colors. From the brightest red leaves I have ever seen, to varying greens, yellow and oranges its a sight to be seen with your own eyes to truly be appreciated.

The history and architecture of this part of Canada is also significant. A rich shipbuilding history and being among the first settled areas in Canada the architecture there harkens back to neoclassical and Victorian styles in a time when the luxuries we take for granted today weren’t even in existence. The house we were staying at, in fact, was built in 1850 by a Captain of a ship complete with door hinge details that are rarely seen even in modern luxury homes.

Architectural details of buildings built in the 1800’s in St. John, New Brunswick. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos
A few of my sketchbook drawings from the New Brunswick part of the trip. Drawings ©Barb Sotiropoulos

The New York end of the trip was an architecture lover’s dream! The city is of course renown for this but until you actually see it, its hard to really appreciate. In general, New York is sensory overload and I was loving every minute of it. The mix of architectural styles at times doesn’t seem it should fit and yet somehow, is exactly what you would want an expect from a place with this kind of history and reputation. It pays respect in so many ways to the old while also embracing the new. Every street is lined in buildings with incredible intricate stone facade details and brickwork.

Details of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Brooklyn Bridge, Radio City Music Hall, and random buildings in New York City. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

Our time was limited in this great city, but thanks to a good friend of mine who grew up there giving us the insider’s tour we saw so much more than I could have imagined. We even went to two museums The MET and The American Natural History Museum, Both of which could easily spend every day at if I lived there. Not only were these museums both very well curated and designed, but they also are great places for artists to sit and draw.

Selection of images from various periods in history in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

The American Natural History Museum, in particular, has dioramas, unlike anything I have ever seen. I’m not a huge fan of taxidermy animals, but the ones in their displays look as though they could come to life at any moment. Perhaps this aspect of it is where the inspiration for Night at the Museum movies came from, being that is was also filmed in the same location.

Selection of images from the American Natural History Museum in New York City. Pictures ©Barb Sotiropoulos

I can’t stress enough, that if it’s within your ability to do so, that you travel. You don’t have to go to famous cities across the world or country to get enriching experiences but if you also get the chance, don’t pass it up. There was part of me that was scared of this trip because there were elements of the unknown that made me uneasy. Having gone through it now, it was one of the best possible experiences I could have given myself and I would do it again in a second. From a creative perspective, I’m full of ideas now that I can’t wait to explore and have a renewed sense of excitement for creating. It’s a big world out there – get out and see it!

Have you traveled somewhere that inspired you creatively?
Share with me in the comments!


Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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