How to make a drawn logbook while hiking

Using a sketchbook to draw stories when hiking can be an alternative to taking photos

By Frits Ahlefeldt.

Drawing from a moleskine sketchbook, from a hike
Drawn logbook, sketching along the trails


Video, photos and notebooks, there are many ways of recording and making a logbook from the trails. One of them is making a drawn logbook, with sketches from the adventure. I’ve been working with drawn logbooks for many years, and here are a few of the things I have learned. And I few examples from the drawn notes I’ve done along the trails

Drawing of watercolor sketching gear
Classic logbook sketching gear: watercolors and brushes

Drawing gear – keep it light and fast

Over the years I’ve learned the importance of keeping my drawing gear simple,  and as light as possible. Earlier I used to bring along an easel, tons of heavy paper and many different kinds of drawing tools. But more and more I have come to rely on only a few selected tools that I keep in a little bag, easily stored and reachable in the top-pocket of my backpack.

The three tools I use the most are watercolors, ink and pencil. Relying mostly on brushes to do my logbook drawings of things happening, and the pencils to jot down notes and fast sketches in places where I can’t use water and brushes etc. For my water I use a standard little plastic Nalgene bottle

Moleskine sketch of footsteps in the snow
Walking in snow – Logbook drawn note

Forget about technique – just draw something

When working, to my experience, the best is just to start drawing something, the place and the story, down in the logbook.

Don’t think too much about it, your style or if the drawings are at a high standard – it will slow you down and often ruin the spontaneity about the drawings. Just do them, like nobody will ever see them.

If you spill coffee on them, accidentally make wrong lines or get the perspective wrong is only part of the expression and the log. There are lots of digital photo apps for getting everything correct – and this correctness is exactly why photos can be so boring an impersonal – anyone can take a snapshot of the Eiffel tower in Paris, or downloads thousands from the web of some granite rocks you passed by on a coastal hike. Only you can draw your experience up in your own personal twisted drawn note-style, the day you where there.

Drawing of a coastal hikers in rocks, with huge waves passing by
Coastal hiking along some wild rocks

Correct drawings are boring

Drawings that are correct are not that interesting, what is more interesting is the impressions, the feel, the place and the story that took place that brought you there. If it rained small drops of water will be part of your work, if you ran out of blue color that is part of what happened there. That is not a problem – that is much more an extra dimension that  gives authenticity to the work and moment you recorded your drawn logbook note

Posting the drawings on social media like Instagram etc. 

Drawing of a man in snow, moleskine sketchbook
Watercolor of a freezing man, made in blistering cold, snapshot in the square Instagram format

When  the sketch is finished or later or time has run out,  there is the option of adding your sketches to various social media – like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. To my experience – at least now. Instagram is the best option at the moment ( 2017 )

Instagram let you both post in private, so only a chosen few can see your scribbles – or the whole world.  And it is very fast and easy to use. Letting you add a few tags and a description too, if you like. And it gives people a way to connect, and also add comments to your updates and drawings.

When taking snapshots of your visual notes, drawings and scribbles, don’t insist on always getting everything in there in the photo-format. Instead pick a good part or a detail that you think is worth sharing. And leave the rest in your sketchbook for later – but take a quick snapshot of the whole drawing – just for having it, in case you should lose the sketchbook ( I’ve lost / forgotten a few drawn notebooks on different hikes and trails, and it is great to still have the sketches from those hikes in a digital format )

Here are an example from my Instagram account ( )

Making drawing a habit

Drawing up sketches should not be something you do when you are sufficiently inspired, but rather. Like a fitness exercise or getting up in the morning, also something you do on the days when you don’t feel like drawing or painting.

Sketch note by Frits Ahlefeldt of some characters
Quick sketches of not so happy people on a grey day

Writers often say that they just have to write, then sometimes their writing will be good, other days not so much, and to my experience there is no way you can predict if you will make good work, before you put the pen on the paper.

It is the same with logbook drawings, you can be down and tired and not feel like drawing at all, and still make great drawings – or you can feel very inspired and ready – and then end up doing something very pretentious.  Strange thing that is.

Drawing of a bridge pencil in Moleskine sketchbook
Pencil sketch from a river hike

Make it fun

When I draw up things I often look for what can be a good story or situation, a funny detail from the day, an interesting angle.

I work to tell the stories, in images of what I experience and wonder about. Maybe that is just my way of doing things. But after drawing countless of places, houses, trails and impressions. Trying my best to get them “right”. When I look back at them. Those drawings are not the ones I keep most dear.

Drawing in moleskine sketchbook of live concert
Sketch from a live concert in a small village along the trail

The ones I like the most are the ones where things went a bit off, the ones where the stories of the time is in center and not the geometry or the correct amount of windows, or correct amount of street lamps at a certain location.

Looking back – Nobody really care if there where 9 or 11 pigeons on that square – just that you where sitting there in the rain looking at them because the museum where closed and you were stocked there for several hours before the next bus came.

Years later, when you look at that drawing, you will be right back there with the pigeons on that plaza. Smiling, remembering it as a special day. Not a wasted day.

Getting in contact with people is a bonus

Often when i sit and draw, something very different happens, from when I sit and write or stand with a camera. People come over and ask if they can see the drawing. And are very friendly and start to talk and tell stories. That very seldom happen when you take photos of people. To people, to be pointed at with a camera feels rude, and people often get offended if you start to take photos of them without asking for their permission first.

Sketching up special places, tower in a zoo
People often get curious when you sit and sketch

When drawing you are much less likely to experience people being offended by you drawing up the scene, the market, the show or the scenery. People instead come over to connect with you and see what you do. I have met so many people and have gotten so many stories this way… if you don’t want to be disturbed, just put some earphones in ( even without sound) It is the international sign for leave me alone I’m busy 🙂

All in all

Drawing of a hiker sitting on a bench
When sketching up your logbook, you get to be in the picture 🙂

Drawing up a logbook while hiking is a unique way to remember and record your impressions and experiences along the way. It is also a way that can be done continuously without worry about spare batteries, powerbanks or flashing expensive equipment.

Nobody is very likely to try to steal your pencils or worn-out sketchbook. So also drawing up the impressions is much more safe compared to if you flash an expensive Canon Eos 1 camera or smartphone… it can be a very different story.

Man walking at night
Hiking at night in lonely places are more safe when not flashing expensive gadgets, using drawings instead to capture impressions

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