Meet Quest Maker Barbara Stecher
Quest Makers are women in their 40s and beyond who've declared
"now it's my time," and then set off on their own journeys to realize their dreams. Every month a Quest Maker is featured in the FREE e-newsletter, Your Next Quest Chronicles. Click here to enjoy archived issues.
Quest Maker Barbara Stecher
From inventing sketchbooking
To a new way of remembering
"I am a traveler." That's how Barbara Stecher, who has visited every continent and 80 countries (so far!), describes herself. Her passion for painting led her to invent sketchbooking when she was in her 50's when she found that there was never enough time to paint on her travels. Since then, she has shared her passion for creating vivid memories on the go by teaching classes and leading trips and, in her early 70's writing the book, SKETCHBOOKING: How to Create a Delightful Journal of Your Travels at Home and Abroad.
Will you tell us a little bit about sketchbooking?
First, sketchbooking is an attitude. Sketchbooking is about your experience, your observations, your being someplace. It is a way to capture the moments you see on an adventure with sketches and writing.
A sketchbooking journal is set up like a published book with a title page, an introduction, an index and then chapters for your sketches. It's where you can put thoughts that pop into your head at that moment about the place you are sketching.
This is my sketchbooking technique: I quickly sketch something in pencil first. I don’t try to do it exactly. I just sketch it in really quickly. Then I take my pen and looking at the same things, I improve on them. I don't follow the pencil lines. I just make it better. Then I erase the pencil and it works. Later, when I have time, I add a little watercolor to brighten up some of the sketches using a little paint kit I travel with.
It doesn't take a long time to make a sketch but it does take courage to start one. It's very difficult if you are trying to take photos and sketchbooking at the same time. I say let your traveling companion take the photos.
At Easter Isand, photographers aplenty with
How did you get started sketchbooking?
When I lived in the Boston area, our granddaughter Julie, who was about 6 at the time, used to spend her summers with Bob and me. On her visits, I would make a little book about what we did. Julie would take it home with her and get all excited to come back the next year. That is really how it all started.
Julie with Barbara: "Let's glet Grandad to catch the frog for us!"
My husband Bob and I loved to travel. At about the same time as I was making little books for Jule, I was doing watercolors a lot and I would try to watercolor on our trips. However, there was never time to paint. In 1983, though, we were going to China. I was determined to paint a small watercolor on the Great Wall, so I took along a tiny watercolor set, some paper and a 6-in x 4- in. notebook.
Bob and Barbara from one of Barbara's early sketchbooking journals
When we got to the San Francisco airport enroute to China, the computer was down and we had to wait 4 hours to check in. I got bored so I started sketching in the little notebook.
At the Great Wall, I did paint a watercolor. I was thrilled! I was so excited that I had fulfilled my dream that I ended up making a sketch about the event in the little sketchbook I had brought along with me. I realized that I enjoyed making a sketch of what I was doing more than I enjoyed making the watercolor which wasn't so good. That was the day the idea of sketchbooking—a word I made up—crystallized for me. By the time I came home, I had 40 sketches for the whole trip.
Barbara's sketch of her sketching the Great Wall of China.
Our next trip was to India and I took a proper book. I had a wonderful time making the sketches. Everyone else was taking a hundred pictures a day. And these were slides in those days! I thought: They have the expense of getting slides made and the time spent to label them all. Here I have the whole story in my one little book.
Barbara's sketch of Monsoon Palace in Udaipur, India.
|Photo of Monsoon Palace|
That's how I really got launched. I have kept on traveling and now I go on tours. I have over 50 books from my trips.
How do you make the time to sketchbook?
That's the thing. Usually it just works out. I carry the sketchbook with me at all times. I bring along a pen, pencil and eraser. I just do it.
Waiting aT customs in Antigua
Then at night in the hotel or sitting by the swimming pool I will add paint to some of the pictures. On a 32-day tour of South America my book covered 14 countries. But, you know, it doesn't always have be a sketchbook about a trip.
Several vignettes of Peru
It can be for events too. I made one about my town once. I would take the book whenever I went to any events. In my museum sketchbook, whenever they installed a new sculpture at the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum, I'd go and watch them and make a little chapter about the process.
Above: Sketch of the installation of Marc Di Suervo's "Sunflowers for Vincent" at the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum in Lincoln, Mass.
I was even hired to create sketchbooks for three weddings.
"Then later off to the reception. Rain adds to the excitement."
Another book was called "Visiting Family and Friends." It has turned out to be just sketches of my visits to family who live around the country. I'd make a chapter about each visit. One chapter is all about a trip to my brother Ben in Maui, where he lived on a sail boat in Lahaina Harbor. That was a wonderful subject! We saw lots of things on the Island. This particular sketchbook is one of the best books I have ever made.
"Little Dimenuendo (the skiff) snuggles up to Crescendo (the sailboat). . .
At what point in your life did you decide to embark on writing SKETCHBOOKING?
I had done several sketchbooks and I was teaching sketchbooking classes at the DeCordova.
Sketchbooking was fun to do and I wanted to help people who would say to me "That's nice but I can't draw." I wanted to say to them "Oh, yes you can!"
I thought it would be fun to write a book and show them an easy way to draw so they could be successful. Bob and I tried several times to write the book but never got it done.
One time when I had got it all written out, a woman who was going to be my agent had me make 12 copies and give them to others to edit: I gave them all out including somebody who had tried sketchbooking, someone who hadn't, somebody at the museum and one to a librarian. By the time I took all their editing advice, it had been bleached out. So I threw all those away and that kind of slowed me down too. After Bob died in 1995, so did the book.
How did the quest to write the book continue to unfold?
Eventually I began talking about it again and my friend Mary Ann Hales said: "Well, either you better start writing that book or stop talking about it." My neighbor Janet Tobin volunteered to enter my notes onto the computer. She spent many hours with me in early 2001 and we got the manuscript done.
I asked the director of the museum at the time, Dr. Paul Master-Karnick, if he would write the introduction and he told me he'd be glad to. Then I asked him if the Museum would consider publishing the book. He agreed. It was the first book, other than catalogues, that the DeCordova had published in 50 years.
At first, the director didn't think I'd want to publish it that way because the Museum had no means of distribution other than the Museum store. Even so, I thought this was the easiest way to get it done. I had heard how hard it was to get a publisher and that sometimes a publisher would want someone else to illustrate it. I recently saw the woman who had wanted to be my agent. She told me that it was the best thing I could have done to have the museum publish it.
The book was published in 2001. The DeCordova sells it in its museum store. I sell copies of the book too. So do four stores here in Annapolis. I also have a friend who takes people to France every year to paint and he buys them for his students to use during the trip.
How did you make time for your dream?
Janet was very busy, so we worked around her schedule. It took maybe a month to catch her enough times. During those times, she typed a whole box of notes which I had written in longhand over a three-year period.
Once it was done and they decided to publish it, the Museum gave it to an editor who didn't change one thing because Janet had done such a good job. All the editor did was choose which sketches from my journals from 19 different countries to include that would illustrate what I was saying.
On the Nile: "Sailing by Luxor Temple"
What is one essential quality that you'd tell women to pack for their own journey?
I think just to be brave and do it! If you want to travel, go to a travel agent and ask for some pamphlets about trips. I had always wanted go to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Then here came a brochure for a trip to Petra and Israel and I signed up.
If you want to be a painter, well, sign up for some lessons. Leonardo DaVinci said that if you want to paint, take some lessons because that will make you paint. If you want to go hiking, join a hiking club. Find other people who want to do the same thing. I belong to book clubs. I also belong to the Annapolis Watercolor Club where you can get encouragement from other people.
"We climbed to a mountain top around Dhulikhel
Can you describe how you dealt with any obstacles on your adventure?
As an artist, I don't think linearly. It's why I found it hard to put my notes into a book. Thankfully, my friend Janet does think in a linear way. Without her, there would have been no book! She didn't know anything about sketchbooking and had no desire to make one. Janet had the desire to help me. With her talents and her patience we got it done.
As a traveler on my recent trip to Israel and Jordan, there was simply no time to even sketch. I had this nice oversized sketchbook and we were walking, walking, walking up hill and down hill. I simply couldn't sketch. I didn't have a camera so I improvised. I kept it like a diary and I left spaces. Along the way, I picked up pamphlets and when I got home, I cut the pictures out and put them in the book. Now it's finished and I have a sketchbook of the trip, just not like the usual ones. This was the first time in 50 books that I didn't have time to sketch.
What changes has sketchbooking brought to your life?
It has been a lot of fun. People love to look at the books especially if it is a place where they have been. I enjoy having them. There is a lot of information in them about our visit. They are memory gatherers. You know, when you take a picture, you take it. But when you sketch something, you really look at it. And when you really look at it, you see it better and you remember it better. And I think that is the main advantage.
What changes has writing the book brought to your life?
Having written it, I don't have to write it again! I have been written up in magazines, featured in the Boston Globe travel section. That always makes me feel good. So does giving book signings and meeting people. My daughter-in-law had wanted me to move down to Annapolis in 2001 but my book had just come out. I was having so much fun that I waited another two years before I moved down here.
What's been the secret to reaching your goal?
If you haven't got a way to do it, then you hope someone like Janet helps you. When we got the first draft all done, I remember telling her I didn't like it so much. And then she did a lot of it over. She was a very patient lady.
What's the best advice for your quest that you've ever received?
Mary Ann telling me to write the book or stop talking about it. That's what got it done. It's easy to talk about something but you just have to do it.
Is there anything or anyone that has sustained you?
My husband Bob always encouraged me to sketch. When we traveled, he'd go off and buy the picnic for the lunch or do a crossword puzzle while I sketched.
"The Big Meal": Barbara and Bob in Buenas Aries
People on a trip especially when you are traveling by yourself get interested in what you're doing. You become a personality they can talk to. It's an avenue for friendship.
What has kept you traveling and sketchbooking all these years?
I love to see the world. It's all so interesting. I have so much fun sketchbooking. I think, I wonder where in the world shall I take my sketchbooking next? I've been to all seven continents and to 80 countries. It's really because I wanted to see these places.
|From Icebergs in Antartica. . .|
to Haleakala Volcano on Maui
|To Iguaçu Falls in Brazil|
|to the train on the way to Macchu Picchu|
Do you have a new quest around the corner?
I'd like to go Cappadocia in Turkey but that is as far away as Israel was. After I came home from Israel, I said to myself that this might be my last trip. The next day, though, I got a new Linblad Expeditions catalogue in the mail and there were three trips that interest me:
"A Voyage along the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Wake of Lewis and Clark"; "Beyond the North Cape: Norway's Fjords & Arctic Svalbard" and "West Africa and the Islands of the Atlantic"—I know the two expedition leaders on this one because I have traveled with them before. You see things and you think that would be fun. Never say never!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me that we haven’t covered?
Over the years I led eight sketchbooking trips organized by a local travel agent when I lived in Massachusetts. We made trips to Bermuda, Jamaica, France, Ireland and a cruise from Istanbul to Rome.
Barbara and one of her travel groups in Paris, sketchbooks at the ready
Next month I go to Tuscany, Italy (my 10th trip to this country!), for a traveling watercolor workshop. Later in the summer, I am off to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. When I was in the 5th grade, we had studied national parks and I decided I wanted to visit all of them. Glacier National park is the last one. I am always open for a good time!
If you would like to get in touch with Barbara, you can send her an email. SKETCHBOOKING is for sale at The Store @ DeCordova (781.259.8692). If you would like to purchase the book directly from Barbara, the cost is $19 which includes shipping. Just send her an email to work out the details. (and if she isn't able to get back to you right away, you know it's because she's off sketchbooking on another trip!).