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Exercise 5.3: Travel guides

For this exercise, I was asked to create covers for three travel guides for the cities of Istanbul, Helsinki and Milan. This was a very open brief, with the client only requiring that the cover should bring together several elements in a diagrammatic way and that the typeface should be hand drawn. I was also asked to write myself a more specific brief that would be challenging but still achievable and after thinking about what direction I could move in, I came up with the following new outline for the project:


Create three fully hand drawn covers for a series of travel guides that each focus on the cities of Istanbul, Milan and Helsinki at a size of 8.5x11 inches for each cover. The covers should be reflective of the local buildings and tourist attractions that best represent the history and culture of each area by capturing the personality of each location in a way that appeals to potential tourists.

The name of each city should also be included in a hand drawn typeface in a prominent position and any included images should be diagrammatic in nature. As part of the same series of guides, the covers should share a similar visual language and overall composition that will make them appear as part of the same series.


I expanded upon the original brief with some extra limitations such as a specific size for the guides and extending the original hand drawn requirement to now include the entire piece. This way I could play to my strengths while still leaving things open enough to give myself breathing room in the design process. During exercise 4.2, I mentioned some of the frustration that came from developing multiple outcomes with different target audiences in mind at the same time, so to avoid similar issues of fatigue in this project I gave myself the extra advantage of a brief that required the covers to share the same visual language.

My strategy for approaching the covers as a collective was to try and come up with a single formula for a shared composition that I could then adjust to each individual city. I also wanted to develop my ideas simultaneously along each stage of my process, rather than to go from start to finish for each city in order. I began by researching each location as broadly as I could online, noting down the most important visual landmarks while learning about the historical and cultural aspects that could contribute to my drawings.

Progression through brainstorming, mood boards and the initial sketching stages.

I’ve always thought my sketching style to be better suited to natural forms and sometimes I have difficulty capturing the geometry of man-made objects, so as I was sketching buildings from the mood board, I made the conscious decision to draw quickly and loosely to give an impressionistic rendering of the building rather than a fully accurate representation.

By this point I felt that I had found an understanding of each cities personality, and found it helpful to write out short descriptions for each that would encapsulate the main features they have to offer to tourists as guidelines that I could then refer back to as I developed my designs.



As one of the most populated cities in Turkey, Istanbul is a location that holds over three thousand years of rich and complex history. As the only city in the world that stretches over two continents, this unique seaport was coveted by several ancient empires. Today, visitors can explore and learn about the city through architectural marvels such as The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or by visiting the bustling markets of the Grand Bazaar for a taste of local Turkish cuisine and craftsmanship.


Resting by the southern coast of Finland, Helsinki is the northernmost capital in continental Europe and the heart of the country’s industry as its position brings strong transport links to the country both inland and from across the Baltic sea. Visitors can explore the city’s cultural offerings with a visit to one of its theatre venues for a night at the opera, or learn about Finnish history and design at one of its numerous museums and art galleries such as at The National Museum Of Finland. The natural beauty of the archipelago islands nearby are just a ferry trip away, including a visit to the Suomenlinna fortress.


The city of Milan in northern Italy is world renowned as the leading location for the fashion industry. As an economic powerhouse located in northern Italy, Milan has many neoclassical buildings to explore either on foot or accessible by bike, including the shopping district of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where visitors can find souvenirs of the latest fashion trends between coffee breaks. A visit to The Santa Maria delle Grazie offers an opportunity to gaze upon the legendary artwork The Last Supper as depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci and the piazza at the centre of the city provides an open space to marvel at the detailed architecture of the Duomo di Milano.


On the right you can also see a fourth column for travel related images, where I went through a similar process of looking for existing symbols for travel that I could potentially include. At this stage I also looked at existing travel guides to see what I could do to set mine apart as unique, but I found that most of the travel guides on the market don’t have drawn illustrations at all and instead have photographs alongside text. A notable exception I found was the Monocle series of travel guides that break this trend with atmospheric illustrations of characters exploring different locations by the illustrator (name) which I really enjoy and find to be a much more dynamic approach.

With this in mind, I moved on to try blocking out my own covers to figure out where the text would be in relation to the images and any other icons that would be needed.

Blocking layouts

I toyed with some ideas around including the cities border, changing the design to landscape or imitating a passport stamp, but none of them felt clear enough until idea 8, which I fleshed out a bit more in the bottom right of the above image from my sketchbook. The city title would sit roughly in the middle with around six scenes of icons from that city surrounding it. The bottom of the page would be sectioned off for icons that indicated what the guide would offer the reader. A plane for travel advice, a table setting for food, a cocktail glass for drink and a museum to represent culture and these would be the same across all the three covers.

My earlier building sketches had also reminded me of the pacing and loose lines that are commonly found in travel sketches by other artists and I wanted to adopt a similar approach by diagrammatically representing the landmarks o be recognisable, but without feeling any pressure to nail down every brick and window perfectly. This style of presentation for a location is also in fitting with the theme of travelling and chronicling a journey through notebooks and sketchbooks on the go.

I then set up a Photoshop document to choose font styles for each city. For Istanbul I looked for something reflective of the multitude of fonts found in the market bazaar signs in the city. For Helsinki I wanted something understated, clean and practical in a similar way to Finnish modern design and for Milan I wanted to interpret either renaissance era designs or modern fashion brand texts.

From this list I chose Lucida Calligraphy for Istanbul, Code Light Regular for Helsinki and Rage Italic for Milan as each are clear to read but still offer appropriate personality to each area. I put everything together to make some small colour visuals for each design using the blocking and texts that I had decided on for each city.

In these drawings I hadn’t yet finalised what specific buildings and scenes I wanted to include and just wanted to test if the overall feeling I was going for was coming through so once I was satisfied with the direction I was heading in, I shortlisted what I wanted to include and why, with each of the 6 objects or scenes that I chose for each city representing something about its identity.


  1. The Blue Mosque - A large and historic mosque built by Sultan Ahmed that has become synonymous with representing the city as a whole.

  2. Glass Lanterns - A popular shopping item from the Grand Bazaar.

  3. Topkapi Palace Museum- A significant tourist spot with natural beauty in its gardens.

  4. Istanbul Tram - A distinctive tram design and common method for travel in the city.

  5. Stuffed Muscles - A local delicious street food, freshly brought in from the sea.

  6. Ortaköy Mosque- A popular tourist spot and showing the waterfront side of the city, with the intercontinental Bosphorus Bridge shown in the background.


  1. Helsinki Cathedral - A large cathedral at the centre of the city,

  2. Uspenski Cathedral - A smaller but arguably more distinctive cathedral that

  3. Cooked fish - Finnish fish canner

  4. Helsinki Ferry - Providing transport to the surrounding archipelagos, including Suomenlinna

  5. The Sibelius Monument- Dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and representative of the music and theatre of Helsinki and Finland.

  6. Art Deco Statues - From Helsinki Railway station, these imposing statues are one of the first things you see if arriving by rail.


  1. Ill Duomo Di Milano - The iconic cathedral of Milan is at the very centre of the city.

  2. Milan Streets - Even the less specific locations here are attractive as rows of neoclassical architecture as a backdrop to rows of restaurants and coffee houses.

  3. Sforzesco Castle - Evidence of the City's 15th century history and home to nearby parks and gardens to explore.

  4. Ice Cream - A famous treat from Italy, Milan is also home to many gelato shops.

  5. Rental Bike - To avoid traffic and pollution, travelling around by bike instead of has become more encouraged.

  6. Santa Maria delle Grazie - Home to The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

  7. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - Milan's historic shopping centre and symbolic of the fashion industry.

With these locations shortlisted, I created a final template for each final composition of reference images in Photoshop for me to then draw by hand styled as travel sketches.

Final compositions of reference images

On paper, it was a simple but surprisingly time consuming process to sketch out all the buildings and scenes that make up each cover and to ink and colour them using a combination of pens, inks and watercolours. I stuck to the loose style of travel sketching and painting as I mentioned before, but as I am still not typically comfortable drawing this type of subject matter, I think I lingered a bit too long in some areas rather than keeping at a steady pace. The overall finish doesn't seem to have suffered from this through, as each element is bright and recognisable and flows together with a strong hierarchy around the central text.

As the last stage for the covers, I cleaned up and created mock ups for the designs in photoshop as full book visuals with complimentary colour accented spines.

It felt good to return to a traditional approach for the final composition of my drawings in this project. I usually prefer to do the arrangement side of things digitally, but there is something to be said for the organic feel that that comes from a single drawn image that brings together a lot of elements like these do. I feel that I've met the original brief and my own modified version for this project and hope that the lively travel sketch style for these guides would be an attractive alternative to the others on the market at the moment.



ArrivalGuides (2020) The Best Travel Guide To Helsinki At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

ArrivalGuides (2020) The Best Travel Guide To Istanbul At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

ArrivalGuides (2020) The Best Travel Guide To Milan At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Brindley, A. (2018) Istanbul Was Once Constantinople At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Britannica (2020) Helsinki At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Britannica (2020) Istanbul At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Britannica (2020) Milan At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Davey, L. (2014) The Work of a Travelling Sketch Artist: Watercolour Observations of the World by Candace Rardon At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Helsinki Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia (2018) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Istanbul | Flow Through the City of Tales - Turkish Airlines (2015) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Malafronte, A. Working From Home with Travel Sketch Artist Erwin Lian At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Milano Expedia Destination Video (2016) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Monocle Travel Guides (2020) At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

Travel Sketch: Barcelona #2 (2017) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

TRAVEL SKETCHING: Andalusia, Strasbourg, Malta & Trieste [Online Video] At: (Accessed 02/07/2020)

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