Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Documenting a place: Rio de Janeiro

Film it, paint it, map it, put yourself in the frame.

I’m a writer – that’s what I know, it’s what I love, it’s what I do best. But writing well is so hard – and usually keeps you chained to your computer. Sometimes I get tired of it.

Luckily, I have friends and family who also work in creative fields. They noticed I’ve been feeling burned out, and they had suggestions.

‘What you should do is keep a travel sketchbook,’ said one friend. He’s a professor at the New School and he’s the kind of guy who jets off to Japan and brings back five futuristic artists’ books to show me. I can’t live up to that, I thought. But then my sister said ‘you should travel with some pencils or charcoals.’ (Easy for you to say, I thought, you’re a real artist.) ‘I don’t paint or draw,’ I said, ‘you know I’m not good at that.’ She said, ‘that’s not true, and it’s not the point, anyway.’ She put a watercolor set into my shopping basket.

I took their advice on a trip to Rio de Janeiro last week. First, before flying, I painted a map of Rio (left). Then I painted the view from my hotel room in Ipanema (right.)

Painted map: RioIpanema watercolor

Not exactly award-winning artistry, but they were right – it was refreshing to look at a place and think about how to describe it with paint and pencil instead of with words.

Next up: the input of a friend who’s a fellow travel journalist (and soon-to-be sommelier, and lately, a frequent contributor to Conde Nast Traveler.) The night before I left for Rio, she said ‘download Hyperlapse, and just play around with it in Brazil. I want to see what you come up with.’ This was my first experiment with the time-lapse video app.

Finally, once I was actually in Rio, another piece of advice kept coming back to me – the voice of my own mother, and of every boyfriend I’ve ever had, saying things like ‘I love your travel photos, Bridge, but it would be even better if you were in some of them…’ (Ridiculous, I thought.) But the truth is, I do like to have human figures in my photos.

And on this trip, I had no travel companion. So when I found myself alone on the rooftop terrace pool before breakfast (left) or alone with a caipirinha at sunset (right), I used a self-timer, and I pointed the camera at myself. I actually like how it turned out. It was authentic. I was alone, after all.

Praia IpanemaCaipirinha

I feel inspired again. So, thanks, obrigada, dear friends, and mother, and ghosts of boyfriends past. This has been fun.

Don’t worry, I’ll start writing again now – but the watercolor set is going with me to Uruguay next week.