No.17: Paris is Always a Good Idea
My other favorite city and my Paris sketchbook pages over the years
I am currently gearing up for my seventh trip to Paris. It is my fiftieth-birthday trip—all I wanted was a few days in Paris with my husband and our two sons.
The first time I went to Paris was right after graduating from college. I had been accepted, along with my close friend, Laura, into a fifth-year exchange program through Cooper Union to study design in London. I had never been outside the United States, and I was beyond excited to be going to Europe for a whole three months. I would get to go to Paris! Laura and I rented a little apartment in North London, and we spent the money we had saved for the months away from home on weekend trips to nearby countries. One of our first adventures was to take the train to Paris.
My anticipation to visit France, Paris specifically, had built up for years and years. My mother has a bachelor’s degree in French and was a French teacher when I was little. She sang songs in French to my sister and me and read French storybooks to us before bed. I loved the way she sounded—it didn’t matter what the words meant. She loved the language, the culture, the art, French style, and she sounded so beautiful when she spoke, so the idea of this magical place so far away seemed out of reach . . . until I was finally on my way.
I have a lot of vague memories from this first trip to Paris, but one thing that stands out is how completely overwhelmed I was by how stunning, grand, and spectacular things were. At every turn I was flooded with thoughts of my own smallness. How was everything so big? It all felt bigger than it does today, but still, to this day, when I turn a corner in a big city and see a grand monument or an urban plaza, I remember that first trip to Paris, and my old feelings resurface. I also remember being struck by a sense of time: How was everything so beautiful and so old? The art and architecture, the parks, the shops, the doors within doors that people go through to get to their apartments, the key
The first time I went to the City of Light with my kids was in 2013, about eighteen years after that first trip with Laura. Ian was nine and Theo was five. My husband came with us but had to leave early to return to work, so I was alone with the boys in Europe for about three weeks. We had made the decision to travel during the summer instead of going to the beach or sending the kids to camp. At this time I was just writing in a blank journal and slowly introducing some drawings here and there. I hadn’t really drawn since college, so getting back into it was a process.
I only have a few photographs from that first trip with the boys. My focus was staying on track without a navigation system on my phone but by using an old-school paper map (the joke is that I don’t just have a bad sense of direction, I have no sense of direction), keeping my kids fed (and alive), and finding our way back to our Airbnb at the end of the day, all while speaking only a few words of French. The next summer we went back again, and by this time I was more comfortable traveling abroad, and so were the boys. I had figured out how to load directions on Google maps to use when we set off on our walks. By this time, I was also getting into a real rhythm of drawing my days. I had found the square Moleskine sketchbook that I ended up using for years (I no longer use it because it’s not made for wet materials, and instead make my own), and a handful of Micron pens. That was all I used that summer. I didn’t sketch in pencil but just played around with copying signage and adding a few notes about what we did, ate, and saw. In 2016, the third time we went to Paris together, I was in even more of a groove.
I had a fifth, shorter trip to Paris in 2017. I had planned to rendezvous with my husband in Belgium while he was in Europe for business, and had one night alone in Paris before taking the train to meet him. This was my only time in Paris alone, and I remember feeling a sense of calm, as though I was coming back to a familiar place where I could just wander the streets without any agenda.
Fast forward to 2021, when I visited Paris again, this time with my husband to celebrate our twentieth anniversary. By this point Draw Your Day and Draw Your World had been published. My sketchbook was now an integral part of any vacation I went on, and this trip was no exception. I had bound a small 4-inch-square sketchbook and filled each page with small moments and memories. It’s a sketchbook I will treasure for years. Below are some of the pages. You can see more of them here. And you can see some of the painting process and a flip-through here.
I am so excited to once again meander through the streets, look up and feel small, eat some crepes and falafel, window-shop, visit museums, and work on filling an accordion sketchbook with bits and pieces of it all so that I can remember the trip forever. I will post as much as I can on Instagram, and share more here when I return.
Incidentally, my trip coincides with a particularly volatile time in the French capital, where, on June 27, a 17-year-old of North African descent was killed by police, sparking violent protests. This piece from The New Paris Dispatch helped me to understand the situation. I’m curious whether and how these events may show up in my work when I’m there.
I have carefully selected the tools and materials I am bringing on the trip, and created a guide to share what I have found works best without taking up too much space. I don’t have a paywall on my posts very often, but I have to create some content for my loyal paid subscribers, and this took some time to put together. If you would like to know what I am packing for a week-long trip overseas, please consider upgrading your subscription.