Sketchbook Illustration: Draw a Personal, Colorful Travel Map | Mike Lowery | Skillshare

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Sketchbook Illustration: Draw a Personal, Colorful Travel Map

teacher avatar Mike Lowery, Illustrator and Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (27m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Drawing as Discovery

    • 3. Tools and Materials

    • 4. Planning and Research

    • 5. Sketching Your Map

    • 6. Adding Color

    • 7. Finishing with Ink and Text

    • 8. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Do you find yourself doodling in the margins, daydreaming about your next vacation? Combine your love of travel and drawing to create a quirky illustrated map! 

Take an adventure into your imagination with illustrator and children’s book author Mike Lowery! From first sketch through final polish, you’ll learn how to draw a ready-to-share map that captures the personality of a place you love. Whether it's your hometown or dream destination, Mike’s step-by-step guidance guarantees that you’ll be transported while learning essential illustration skills you’ll return to again and again. 

Use your tools of choice to follow along with key lessons:

  • Researching to discover the personality of your place
  • Drawing simple icons inspired by your location
  • Layering color and ink to stylize your sketch
  • Building the bravery to tackle a blank page

Plus, each lesson is packed with tips and tales drawn from Mike’s 20+ years of using a sketchbook to practice and develop his signature playful style. 

Whether you’re looking for a new creative outlet or a fun prompt to get drawing, this 30-minute class will help you make the most of your imagination. Follow along to expand your skills, explore your style, and discover the power of creativity to connect with the world around you! 



Artful is the quarterly subscription box for people who love to create. Receive premium art tools and see yourself grow as an artist with every box. The Artful box is curated by Ohh Deer, the home of all things fun and quirky! Find award-winning designs across greeting cards and stationery, illustrated by talented artists from around the world.  

Meet Your Teacher

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Mike Lowery

Illustrator and Author

Top Teacher


Mike Lowery is an author, New York Times bestselling illustrator, public speaker, and an avid sketchbook-er.

He's been keeping one every day for more than TWENTY years, and he's on a mission to get you to keep one, too.

Ready to learn how to make digital illustration on an iPad? Check out the



Want to START a daily sketchbook habit? Check out 

ALWAYS DRAWING, part one. How To Start and Keep a Daily Sketchbook

Not sure what to draw? Check out:
ALWAYS DRAWING, part two. 7 Creative Exercises to Jumpstart Your Sketchbook.


You can see his daily sketchbook posts on Instagram:  @mikelowerystudio

Mike is an author ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: I think you should take this class. Why would you not take this class? It's going to be a lot about travel and drawing. It's going to be fun. Hi, I'm author and illustrator and sketchbook enthusiast, Mike Lowery, and today we're going to be creating a hand-drawn Illustrated map together in our sketchbooks. I'm really excited about this class because it combines two of my favorite things, traveling and keeping a sketchbook. I think that this project is great for experienced illustrators who want to work on their rendering or hand lettering. But I also think that this project is great for beginners because I think one of the scariest parts of even keeping a sketch book is that blank page. Not knowing what you're going to draw or what you're supposed to do with it, and this project has these outlined rules, these guides to get you started. We're going to start at the very beginning, from the research phase to how I figure out what to put on the map, all the way through sketching, all the way through the final stage. Today I'm going to be using acrylic markers and a pencil and pens, but you're more than welcome to use whatever you're more comfortable with. Maybe its watercolor, or maybe you even want to do the project digitally. At the end of this project, you're going to have a completed illustrated map in your sketchbook. But more than that, my hope is that you will leave with skills that will get you more excited and encouraged to be keeping a daily sketchbook. Maybe it's when you travel, but maybe it's just all the time. Are you ready to take this illustrated journal journey with me as your guide? I think you are. Let's get started. 2. Drawing as Discovery: When Skillshare asked me to teach a class, I knew right away that it needed to be something about sketch bugging. I'm a big sketchbook enthusiast, a carry one with me everywhere I go and I draw on mine every single day. So I knew that it needed to be in a sketchbook and I decided to do an illustrated map. Over the years of keeping a sketchbook with me when I travel, I've developed my way of keeping a map for places that I've gone or that I'm going to go. I don't try to make it this overly detailed, very complicated, representation of everything about a new country or new place that I am going, it's just a little bit more about the personality of a place and keep some of the major landmarks or some things that I just find interesting about a place. One of my favorite parts of taking any trip is that stage before you leave, where you're planning things out. What you're going to eat, and where you're going to go, and what you're going to see. I like combining that with drawing in a sketchbook because it's just another way of getting really excited about your trip. Maybe you don't have some big overseas trip planned coming up, it's fine. The point of the project is not to wait until you have some big trip coming up to make a map. What really matters is that, it's just a place that you have a connection to. Maybe because you've been there and you loved it, or because it's a place that you've always wanted to go, but that connection will come through in your final drawing. Today I've decided for my map, I'm going to do a drawing of a country that I went to recently that I hold very close to my heart, and that's Ireland. When I say I hold it close to my heart, I don't mean that figuratively, I mean it literally. In fact, under my shirt at all times, I keep this little locket with a reminder from my trip to Ireland. I will put this away now for safekeeping. See you guys. I get to work. For the next step, I'm going to show you some of my favorite tools to draw with, but you can use whatever you feel comfortable with. After that, we're going to talk about the research phase, where you'll figure out what you want to draw and what you'd like to include in your map. After that, we'll sketch it out, and then we'll add color, and it will take you right to the final piece. Now you need to pick the plays that you want to draw. I've chosen a country, but maybe you've got a city that you want to draw, maybe it's a place that you will be going to coming up soon, or maybe it's a place that you've been before. You do not have to have some big expensive fancy overseas trip coming up. It can be any place that you've been or maybe you're headed somewhere for a holiday that's coming up, to visit family, or whatever. So pick a place, follow along with me, and then in the end, you can share your project and the project gallery. 3. Tools and Materials: I've been doing this for awhile, and over the years, I've experimented with different ways of making an Illustrated map. Sometimes I have been traditionally using pen and watercolor or paint markers like I'm going to show you later. But you could also do this digitally as I've done on some other travel maps that I've made in the past. So as you can see the way of making a map like this, you can do it with a lot of different types of material. For mine today, I'm going to be using a collection of supplies provided by Odeo in their artful box. Look at this beautifully designed box of supplies and all these drawings, they put it on the box just for you. All right, we've got a couple of Posca brand acrylic paint markers. I like these a lot because they lay down solid color and it's very opaque and very flat. We're going to color our piece with this later. An eraser from Tombow, and we've got a pencil. There's a couple of different pens here. I want you to try these out. This one is my favorite. Again, this is from Tombow, let me show you what it looks like. It's got a hard brush tip, but it's got a little bit of variation in the line, but it's not a turn, it's really nice and fine. So if you can see that, whereas these other markers have these big really thick brush tips on them, and then this one has just a little bit of value. So you can color with something like that later. This is the Mono Twin, and it's got a harder tip to. It's got a stiff felt tip to it. It's nice. You have to be really careful with which pens you travel with, especially if you go on an airplane. Pens don't always travel well, I've had a few instances where pens have exploded on me while traveling. All right, so grab whatever supplies you want to use for this project because next up is the fun part, research. 4. Planning and Research: So before I get a map started, I have to figure out what to draw. So we're going to talk about probably the piece that you have been the most excited about, it is the research. A lot of these maps, I've done them before I've ever been to the country or the place that I'm going to draw. So I have to read some books and things. I like to use some things that I have lying around the house. So probably some typical things that you have in your home. So since mine is the Ireland, you might want to go ahead and take out now your vintage travel guides to Ireland. Here are just a few of mine. I had these just lying around. My house is full of all sorts of treasures. I don't know if you noticed the bookshelf behind me. Those are definitely the real books and if you're wondering if they're real, they are real books. They're not props. They're not prop books. I want to make it very clear that those are real books. So here are a few travel guides and I also have from a vacation that I took in Ireland in 1978. I was 26 years old, I took a tour through Ireland and I bought this book called Vacations in Ireland. Here's another one. This is Personally Yours. They only made one copy and it was personally for me. What I also like to do before I travel is I like to immerse myself in the culture of another country. So sometimes I'll read outstanding works of literature and this is one that I recently read. This is 500 Best Irish Jokes and Limericks. It's a classic. It's well known to be an Irish treasure. So that's one of them. What I do is I look through things like this and I try and find some highlights for a country or the place that I'm going. You might have one of these at home too. This is an old vintage map of Ireland. This is handmade. This was scribed by monks in a monastery in Ireland. Maybe you've already purchased some travel guides, more recent travel guides for the place that you're going. You could flip through those and at the beginning of the book, there tends to be a top 10 of that country or things that you need to see for that country. Sometimes I'll go through those and I'll start making notes about where they would be in the country. What I really like is at the beginning of the book, there are little suggested itineraries. I have got a couple of them and on those itineraries, they show little map where these different sites are. I like to use that when I'm doing my planning for what's going to go on the map. So I have this one and I picked up another travel guide that I use. So these are like the more up-to-date things that you might want to use. But of course, you can also look online. You can look and see. One thing that I really like to do is I like to look at travel agency itineraries because like the maps that they showed at the beginning of these books, travel itineraries from travel websites, they tend to have this really great point-by-point introduction to different places, and then below that, they have listed out all of the things that you'll see in that town. So you might go down and look through at what foods you might try, maybe they're going to take you to some cultural celebration and there might be a great costume for people in that area, something like that. So that's a great way to get started. Since this is your map, you're going to look for things that get you excited. What are the things that you're looking forward to seeing? I tend to visit a lot of food related things when I go to another country, so I want to see if maybe there's a certain food tour in an area. Maybe there's a popular dish from the town or the country that you're visiting. I'm going to have a piece of paper now. I'm going to start making a list of some of the icons I want to include. So I knew before the trip that I was going to land in Dublin. So I knew that I want to highlight Dublin which had this great little tour of the Book of Kells. So I'm going to put that on my list here. I'm just going to keep making a list of some other things here. The Giant's causeway. One thing that really stood out for me while I was there was this Irish breakfast. So I might draw that. I'm going to try and include that. I might try and draw some of the instruments that I saw. One instrument in particular that I saw, I went into this old music store and I saw a walking stick and it had a handle on it that you could pull something out which I thought was maybe is like a sword or something and it was a little flute was inside this walking stick which I thought was pretty nice. You guys be like walking these rolling hills and then you just sit down and you're just exhausted, you need to sit down, and flute for a while. I don't know if that's a word or not. So one thing that I really like to do while I'm making these lists is I keep tabs open on my computer or I make bookmarks in the books that have the pictures of the things that I might want to draw. That way when I go back to it, the drawings later can be really small. They're not going to be super realistic, but then that way I can go back to them later and do my version of those icons. This map is not intended to be an all inclusive everything about Ireland. There's no way that I could do it. I'm not an expert on that. I have been there once for two weeks. For this one, I'm going to start with, let's say 15 or 20 icons. Now when I start drawing the map, I might run out of room, I might not have room for all of those things, or I might find new things while I'm working on it. But let's say 15 to 20 is a good starting point. Now, it's your turn to do the research. You've already picked a place, now you need to go read about it and make some notes about what you'd like to draw at that location and I'll meet you in the next lesson where we start sketching them out. 5. Sketching Your Map: All right. The first step in the actual drawing process is we're going to do an outline, a really light, loose outline of the country or the city that you're working on. It doesn't have to be exactly accurate. As I've said before, this whole project is your version of a place, but you want to get some of these things right because later you're going to end up putting in some cities in different pieces. So you want to spend a little bit more time with us. You can do it a few ways. You could use a light box and transfer the image that way, you could print it out, cut it out, paste it down, or something like that. But for this one, what I did was, I made myself a little sheet here, I found a really simplified outline of Ireland, I'm going to put it off to the side, and then I'm just very lightly going to start sketching out this outlines. This is what I'll do now. In here, you're going to go a little loose at first just trying to get into some of the basic shape of it, it goes in like this. There's a little indention here. You're going to have to erase these lines later, so you want to work really lightly. This is real loose, but it gives us a good start. So I'm going to start with some major landmarks here in Dublin. They've got this great exhibit where you can see the book of Kells, and this is great castle that I found. One thing that I really like is, if there's these open sections over in the water, I like to draw ferries or maybe some aquatic animals that might be off to the side. So right now, I'm working in some of the really well-known stuff like here's the ring of Kerry, down over in this area is a city called Cork. It's got this great old building that I liked. So basically right now, what I'm doing in my brain is I'm just working in here from the list the stuff that fits. Some of them were outstanding stuff, but then, a lot of it's stuff that I wanted to draw, so I'm going through and trying to see what fits where. I like working hand-drawn type into my maps. Maybe yours has no type on it at all. The one thing that I would definitely recommend is that you focus on, instead of trying to make it look fancy, just try to make it look very legible. Just right come slowly, make it clean, and to me, just well done, really simple hand-drawn type is better than hard to read fancy-looking type. Again, it's not my goal to make 100 percent totally accurate map, but I do want to spend a little bit of time in this planning phase to get things laid out somewhat close to where they would be. So this is going to take me a little bit of time. So I'm going to keep working on mine, I'm going to clean it up, and I'll see you in the next step where we're going to start coloring the project. Let's get drawing. 6. Adding Color: So by now you've sketched out the outline of the country that you're working on and the place that you're working on, you've got a few icons on yours like I have on mine. Now it's time to start adding in some color. This is where we're going to get over to these posca acrylic ink markers, acrylic paint markers. If yours has not started, if it has a white tip like this one, you can push it down and you hold it until the ink starts to flow. I've got a little scrap sheet of paper next to mine. When you're working with these markers, you're going to have a scrap sheet next to it, something that can handle wet media like this. I like to do from my maps, I like to work with a limited palette, meaning typically two colors, and then I'm going to go over those colors with pen. I'm going to start by drawing a loose shape here around my map. Then you're going to go through, and you're going to start coloring the same. You don't have to push really hard on these markers, but if it starts to run thin, you can tap it over here and make sure that you push that point in. The only thing to really keep in mind is, you want this to be a color that will contrast with the ink that you end up laying down over top of it. So I'm using a nice light color because I'm going to put a black line over it later. So I've rotated it now so that I don't have to set my hand over here in this wet acrylic paint. So you might not want to add an outline to yours like this. You might take years all over the edge of the page and honestly, once I get some more of the colorant, I might end up filling this one and all the way, but for now I'm just going to make this shape around it because I would like to have a little structure to the drawing. Okay, so this is our first color. I'm going to come in here, I'm going get another one, again I'm going to test it out over here before I start drawing, and this seems like a good banner color. One good thing about this acrylic paint is that it's so opaque that sometimes, unless you have a lot of smudging stuff, that a lot of times it'll just cover up your pencil all the way. If you're seeing that you're getting a lot of graphite coming through, then you can go through and really lighten up your drawing, do some more cleaning up and erasing. I like to have these little blocks of color because I'm going to draw over top of them, and I would like to have a misprinted look with my pen so that the actual outline, some of these shapes, I can be a little loose with them. So you can color as much or as little as you want. I feel like this is a good spot for me. I left a little bit of the white, but I've balanced out the colors that I have got. So I think right now I'm ready to move on to doing some inks. Okay, so this part might be a little intimidating, but you can do it, I know that you can. Go add color to your drawing, and then when you come back, we'll start inking it. 7. Finishing with Ink and Text: Okay, before we lay down the ink, we're going to give this a minute to dry. Depending on your pens and the altitude at which you're drawing, it can take longer or shorter for it to dry. Mine has taken about 20 minutes and it's already gotten pretty good. You'll notice some of these little crumbled pieces that are bumped up here, you can go through and smooth that out, especially in these big wide areas, it doesn't really matter, but in the areas where you're going to be inking later, those little bits can be a problem. So I'm going to go through now and break some of those up. Then what I'm going to do is, this is a real relaxing part of the drawing process. If you're looking at your finger and you're seeing that there's ink just popping up from these, then you really going to wait. If you do this stage too early, you'll start to smudge the paint. So give it some time. Then I'm going to go through, I'm going to use my little eraser that came in my kit and I'm going to go through and lighten up some of these pencil areas a little bit before I ink. We can erase some of this stuff later, don't worry about erasing too much. There was a pen that we saw earlier, it's the calligraphy pen. This pen is great because it goes over top of the materials that we've used so far, this acrylic, it goes over that really well. It also works well over top of watercolors, so if you if you decided to use for your background layer, the first layer you decided to use watercolor, this goes over top of that really great. So that's this. If you don't have this calligraphy pen, you could use any kind of really opaque ink. You could use a brush and India ink, but I like this one a lot. All right, now what I'm going to do is I'm going to go through and to start and get some of the stuff out. So sometimes when I'm drawing this, especially some of the earlier ones, I stuck it really close to the pencil line that I made. With this one I'm being a little bit more playful with it. I'm not that worried about it being exact, but if stuff overlaps weird or I just don't really like it when I go to draw it, then I might leave something out or not stick to it exactly right. I don't want to just start with the outline of the country because it might overlap some of these other icons that I've drawn. One good thing about working on icons this small, is that it's up to you to boil them down to something where they're still recognizable, which are not overly focused on trying to get them exactly right. So I'm not trying to get the ink to line up exactly with the colors that I set down earlier, like I said, that's just a general guide, but I don't mind if it has this off-print-looking feel to it. One thing that you can consider while you're working, since our pen, the more pressure you put down, it's got a variable weight on it. If you're using a pen like mine, you can maybe thicken up some of these lines around the coast that'll help some of these edges stand out a little bit from the interior lines. Okay, you notice that I left here the banner on the top of mine blank. This is a pretty focal point of this drawing. So what I'm going to do now is, since we covered up that pencil line when we inked it, I'm going to just really lightly make sure that these letters are spaced out. Well, see this one? See, I'm going to do that because I gave myself a little too much space at the front. Here we go. All right. So I penciled it out so that I knew that I could make the type look a little bit better. Now I'm going to make it a little bolder. Let's give this a minute for the ink to dry. If you don't wait long enough, you're going to smudge your drawing. So give it some time. But I've waited a while now and I'm going to start really lightly, just in case maybe there's something that's still a little wet and I'm going to go through here and start cleaning up some of those pencil lines. If you've inked yours in a way, where maybe you don't have a lot of pencil line, of course, you don't even really need to do this step. You don't want to push too hard when you're erasing, especially in the areas where the ink is over top of the acrylic paint. You can sometimes erase away the ink and make the line not as strong. Now it's time for the finishing touch. I'm going to take my pen and sign my name at the bottom. I don't always do this because it's in my sketchbook and it seems a little weird to sign every page in your sketch book, but since I spent all this time with you, I'm going to sign this one. So you can see as I was finishing mine up, I added some extra stuff in here, I added a little bit more of waves, I added some texture, I added a few more trees, I added a couple of marks here on the banner, I just wanted it to seem a little bit more full. I don't know that there's an exact science to knowing when yours is finished. Maybe work on it until it looks pretty good. Sometimes I've worked on them until it's a little past looking pretty good. Then I know next time to stop at a certain point, but I think that sort of looks pretty good to me right now. Okay, so now mine is all inked and it's your turn to go and finish your map. I guess after that, all that's left is to pack your bags and go on this super awesome vacation that you've been planning. 8. Final Thoughts: All right. You've done it, you've made it to the other side. You've now inked your map, which means you picked a place, you did the research, you sketched it out, and now you've got this great map in your sketchbook. You can share yours. You can share it in the project gallery. If you're not crazy about it, it's the first one. Do a couple more, get a little bit more comfortable with it, and then do one that you really like, and then you can share that one. But there's a space for you to share it in the project gallery. So here's my hope for you. My hope is not that you just walk away from the class feeling like you've accomplished this one map that you like. But my hope would be that you leave inspired or excited to do maps for future places that you go to or places that you've been that you've really liked. But honestly, it doesn't even have to be centered around a trip. You don't have to wait for sometime. It could just be next time you see a blank page in your sketchbook and you don't really know what to do. You could do a project like this, making a map. My key thing that I want you to do is just find reasons to draw something in your sketchbook every single day. This one's travel-related, but maybe tomorrow, you just do some drawings of things that you ate or you make a little note about something funny that happened to you in the grocery store. It doesn't matter. Whatever it is, just find a reason to put 30 minutes into your sketchbook every single day. Then slowly, not right away, but slowly, it will start to feel more natural and you'll get more comfortable doing it and you won't be afraid of the blank page and sketchbook anymore. Thanks again for taking the class, and I'm excited to see what you make.