Meagan was recently on an extended stay, visiting my daughter, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in DariÃ©n, Panama. Before leaving home, Meagan made a small sketchbook which she then filled with a visual travelogue. On returning, she scanned the pages of the sketchbook and posted them for all to see. The book tells a story of rural life far off the grid and the people she lived with there. Some of the pages are cut to the contour of the images, which then show layering of the three dimensional spaces in the picture. Creating a sketchbook like this provides travelers with an activity for the down times of travel, and later serves as a physical and visual record of the experiences of the trip. Below are some of her thoughts about the project:
Could you share your ideas about what it was like to create your sketchbook? Keeping a sketchbook while traveling is a lot like keeping a journal. I was just flipping through an old (completely text-based) journal I kept when I traveled to Paris in 2008. The stories bring back the days I spent there so clearly. Drawings enhance those memories… but also have made my adventure so much more accessible to friends and family. Even Peace Corps volunteers I met while I was in Panama flipped slowly through the pages and could feel my experiences. Most of them asked when they finished, “So, when are you coming to my site?” with a laugh. I wish there was a job documenting Peace Corps adventures.
Was creating your sketchbook difficult, easy, valuable? It was really easy for me to keep a sketchbook. A lot of people carry cell phones, iPods, or other electronics when they’re bored…and I do too, sometimes… but part of my artillery is always pen and paper. Recently I’ve spent a good amount of time drawing my favorite local band, Session Americana, performing live at the Lizard Lounge.
Did keeping a visual journal start conversations or otherwise change the dynamic of your interactions? As my sketchbook began to grow, so did my interactions with everyone in the village. It was a conversation piece, something for them to discuss and laugh about, and they asked me more questions. It also felt good to share something so personal with them, because without knowing the language, it was difficult for them to get to know me. I was able to stand out a little more than just another gringa. I was an artist.
Are there favorite images? The image of Jaime, Chonculo, Cochoche, and Chiricora is a favorite because the comic book style that is used on that page. My next favorite would have to be the series of children. I loved playing with the children there because it was less embarrassing not speaking their language with them. They are more eager to communicate through actions and games than words. One day, I taught them all how to swing dance and after that they all loved me. So when I asked if I could draw them they were excited and crowded around me. They sweetly poked fun at each others flat noses, goofy smiles, and strange haircuts, and even though I don’t understand Spanish they were still able to communicate that to me. It was quite the experience.
I have never fully merged a journal and sketchbook before. When I traveled to Paris in 2008 I kept a large sketchbook and separately kept a journal of my experiences there. In 2009 I kept four small accordian style sketch journals with Catherine Aiello on a one week adventure to Boston. You can find some blurbs of stories in these pages as well. Both of those sketchbooks can be found on my website, along with my panama sketchbook.