Illustrator Mike Lowery to Publish 20 Years of Travel Sketchbooks
Children's book illustrator and frequent world traveler Mike Lowery answers our questions about his upcoming publication called Slightly Jet Lagged.
Mike Lowery travels around the world and never leaves his sketchbook out of reach. For the last 20 years, he's been compiling a collection of sketches that illustrate his travel experiences. He shares how he got started, his favorite places to draw, how the practice has enriched his travel experiences and more as he prepares to unveil his work to the world in his upcoming publication, Slightly Jet Lagged.
How did you develop such a distinct style?
When I was little, I had a grandmother who was an artist and she encouraged my brother and me to keep sketchbooks. Later, I had a college professor who required we draw in one every single day. It really forced me to draw a lot. I used my sketchbooks as a place to experiment with how I draw, what I draw and what materials I use to draw. I’ve been keeping one daily now for about 20 years, and I slowly started to see my style come out of those sketchbooks. I still keep one every day. Even when I’ve been drawing for clients all day, it’s that important to me. It was in these daily sketchbooks that I really found my voice.
What inspired you to start recording your travel this way?
Travel has always been incredibly important to me. My parents and grandparents were always taking us on the road with them, so as I got older I started to feel anxious if I hadn't been on a trip in a few weeks. I initially kept sketches when I traveled as a way to record what all happened, but I eventually started making comics about the trips and even little mini travel guides for friends.
Do you create your drawings on the road or once the trip is over?
Both! But mostly when I’m on the road. Though, I tend to do a lot of drawing before I leave while I’m daydreaming about what all will happen when we get there and planning the trip.
What’s your favorite location to doodle and why?
I absolutely love drawing in Japan. I love the architecture and the food and even the little trucks that we never see here in The States. I am constantly taking pictures and notes and drawing when we are there. I’ve also spent a lot of time in very small villages in Germany (my wife who is also an illustrator is from one of those small villages) and really enjoy that as well.
What do you want readers to take away from your art?
I hope they see that it’s not my goal to just make notes of the top ten most typical sights in a town, but I like to focus on the small interactions with locals and the more unique experiences that come with travel. I like pointing out moments where I’ve done things wrong accidentally and clearly look like a tourist. It’s why I named the book Slightly Jet Lagged. I wanted to show off that I’m not really a pro at travel, it’s just something I really like to do. I also hope readers will get a good laugh or get inspired to go somewhere new.
There’s so much to take in while traveling. How do you decide what to include in your sketches?
That’s a tough one. You’re right, traveling is such an all-senses way of experiencing the world and it’s just not possible to capture everything in a sketchbook, but I constantly make notes while I’m on the road or overseas when stuff stands out to me. It might be about looking for a dentist in Vietnam when I broke my tooth in the jungle or something as simple as trying a new food on the street in Vietnam. Keeping a sketchbook like this has also pushed me to try new things and step outside of my comfort zone with the hope that it would make for a better comic later.
Doodle journals are becoming increasingly popular. What advice do you have for someone interested in starting their own?
My biggest bit of advice is to make a point to draw for at least 30 minutes a day. For some, that seems really tough (it seemed impossible for me at first), but I think it’s incredibly important. You’ll find your voice and figure out how you like to work and draw. It’s also a great way of recording your progress as an artist.
Did you intend to publish your work all along or was it initially for fun?
Definitely not. When I started them 20 years ago, I had no idea other folks would be remotely interested. Even later, when I’d made a career for myself as an illustrator, I assumed my experiences would be too niche or personal for a big enough group to be interested in them to warrant publishing a book. When Instagram started getting more popular, I decided I’d post some of my drawings from trips and sketchbooks, and the response was really great. So, I figured it was time to collect some of my favorite pages into one volume.
How did this work influence your personal growth and how do you make time for sketching?
It’s been huge for my personal growth. Once the idea to put the book out became more solid, it really forced me to start digging through old sketchbooks and to figure out what would fit in the book. It also started putting the idea of really chronicling trips into my brain, so I started making a lot more time for drawings about travel. I don’t watch the cheesy movies on the airplane anymore. I wake up early to draw a bit before the day begins, and I try and find as much time as I can to sit and draw without getting in the way of really enjoying the places we visit.
What are the biggest advantages of having sketches of your trip in addition to photos?
I think it’s easier in a sketchbook to tell a sequence of events than with just a photo. It’s why I like drawing little comics when I travel. Since I like to focus on some of the weird or funny things that happen, sketches are a great way to do that. And I don’t just do drawings in my sketchbook! I treat it like it’s a journal/diary/scrapbook, too! I add stamps and stickers and make random notes throughout the day.
Do you have a favorite travel activity?
Well, drawing (obviously), but I also really like to take those super touristy bus tours with audio guides. I’ve also been using apps lately when we drive somewhere that do audio tours as you go along. I like learning about the history of a spot, and this is a great way to do that. I’m also constantly looking for new foods that I haven’t tried.