From Prague to Pizza, David to the Duomo: Art Journal Chronicles European Vacation

A News's Doni Chamberlain has written about  the recent European adventure that she and I took during Thanksgiving.

This is my second trip with Doni to the Czech Republic, where Doni's son and daughter-in-law live in Ostrava.

An Ostrava street. Photo by Shelly Shively.

An Ostrava street. Photo by Shelly Shively.

This was my first trip to Italy.

The Duomo in Florence was another highlight of Shelly's trip.

The Duomo in Florence was another highlight of Shelly's trip.

Our identical twinship holds fast in our mutual love of travel, and we're lucky enough that we are also good travel buddies.  Upon reflection of my various previous travels, I was frustrated that I failed to have total recall of the details of each trip. I wished I'd kept some sort of travel journal to document each day.

Despite being a self-professed minimalist,  I'm one of those sentimental types who tends to resist throwing away travel mementos such as boarding passes, ticket stubs and even airline napkins, as reminders of that once-in-a lifetime trip.  Months or years later, I wistfully end up tossing those mementos away, when I realize the futility of saving a cocktail napkin or boarding pass.


This trip, November 14 through 28, I vowed to chronicle our venture by keeping a travel journal, with a place to tuck those boarding passes, ticket stubs and cocktail napkins: evidence of our trip to Prague, Ostrava and Metylovice in the Czech Republic, and Florence, Italy.

Initially, I'd intended to keep a brief bullet-point list of each day: something to jog my memory after the trip.  What I discovered, as a artist, was the cathartic benefit of doing sketches of each day that added to the experience and fullness of details that I wanted to remember.


Since art is prone to the perception of the artist, some of the illustrations gave way to more of how I felt, rather than what I saw, such as in the first page, that showed the story of my and Doni's drive to a hotel for its early-morning shuttle the next day.

Doni, a lousy night-driver, and an even worse city-driver, wasn't pleased to be driving through San Francisco at rush hour, in the dark to reach the hotel that I'd booked, located further than she'd expected. Not a great start to our trip, but once we were on the plane for Europe, all was well.


In Europe, my travel companions were Doni, her son Joe, his wife Marie, and her non-English speaking Czech mother, Eva.

Florence was just as beautiful by night as by day. From right: Eva, Marie, Shelly, Doni and Joe.

Florence was just as beautiful by night as by day. From right: Eva, Marie, Shelly, Doni and Joe.

At the end of each day they asked to review my daily journal posts.

Marie's mother Eva enjoyed seeing herself depicted on the pages of Shelly's art journal.

Marie's mother Eva enjoyed seeing herself depicted on the pages of Shelly's art journal.

Turns out that Joe is a stickler for accuracy, occasionally pointing out details in my journal that weren't entirely true, like his phone being an Android, not an iPhone, or correcting the fact that he had nothing to do with getting Doni and my airline seats moved to the right side of the plane, so we could have a view of the Super Moon. Those corrections were modified with little red asterisks.

Marie was the best, because at the end of each day she had total recall of what each of us ordered at restaurants, or the specifics of our day's excursions.

Every restaurant, every meal, every piece of pizza or scoop of gelato was documented in Shelly's art travel journal.

Every restaurant, every meal, every piece of pizza or scoop of gelato was documented in Shelly's art travel journal.

For Eva, the journal served as an illustrated account that didn't require reading English.


I enjoyed the process and outcome of my travel journal so much that I can't imagine taking any trip exceeding a few days without making an art journal.  I look forward to art journalling when Doni and I take our annual camping trip to Patrick's Point this summer, and will encourage our  grandchildren to keep art journals of the trip, too.

Though I am an artist/designer by trade, it isn't necessary to be an artist to compile an art journal, any more than one would have to be a professional writer to keep a travel journal. What a fun way over the years to review experiences that may otherwise fade with time.

Viewing the David statue in Florence, Italy, was among the highlights of Shelly's trip.

Viewing the David statue in Florence, Italy, was among the highlights of Shelly's trip.

I'd enjoy hearing from some of you about your travel journals, especially those with illustrations.

In the meantime, here are some highlights of our trip.

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Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or
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26 Responses

  1. I love this! I so wish I had detailed accounts of trips I’ve taken. I save silly souvenirs, too – but they really need a permanent “home.” The art journal is perfect. AND it’s something that your family will always treasure.

    I am facing boxes and boxes of  European vacation slides – photos my parents took during their trips in the 80s. They are both gone now, and I’m combing the photos for pictures of THEM – for any little hint of who they were and what they were all about.  I’d give anything to have a memento like your travel journal — genuine insight into the people behind the photos.

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Erin, I can’t imagine the treasure of going through boxes of photos of your parent’s European travels: daunting, I’m sure, but well worth the effort.

      In my art journal, I had acute awareness of my granddaughter’s Italian heritage through their father.  When I returned from my trip, my eldest granddaughter, age 9, was eager to hear of the country and people of her bloodline.  She wants to go with me someday.  She’s quite the artist, and I know she’d make an art journal, heritage worthy.

      Wishing you the best, as you revisit your parent’s European excursions.

  2. Darcie says:

    The first page cracks me up – have to show it my sister!

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Ha, Darcie, even the best travel buddies have tense moments that are later, fodder for humor.

      In this drawing of our first day, see the glove compartment?  Doni kept telling me to dig through her glove compartment to find some As Seen On T.V. anti glare glasses, which I couldn’t find.  Turns out, later, to find out that she has a two tier glove box: details in the drawing.

  3. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Love the illustrations!  I used to compile albums of my trips—mostly photos (this was back in the Miocene, when we had them printed), but also tickets, paper currency, and other mementos.  Now, in this brave new world, we upload the pictures to Facebook, and in a week or so they’re forgotten.

    Speaking of which, one of my favorite iPhone apps is called “Timehop.”  Daily, it shows you what you posted on that day in preceding years.  The downside is when you open it up on a morning like this one—when the thermometer outside says it’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit—and see that you were snorkeling in Hawaii on the same day the previous year.

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thanks, Steve.  I like the tangibility, especially in this amazing age of internet, to document and preserve memories on paper.  Thanks for the tip about Timehop: I’m going to check it out.  FB has the On This Day that pops up every day, going back years, which sounds much like Timehop.

  4. cody says:

    That is a great journal, and the illustrations are wonderful!  Thank you for sharing.

    The El Rancho in Millbrae is the best place to stay if you want a close shuttle ride to the airport, and even with the cost of the room – it is less expensive than parking at the airport (if you are gone for a few weeks).  I think the first 2 weeks parking are free!

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thanks, Cody, it’s fun to share travel experiences with others, through art.

      We were pleased with the Millbrae Best Western, once we adapted to the location: for $209, we had a room with 2 queen beds, and 14 days of parking.   Best Western Millbrae was the overall winner, based on comments on Doni’s FB post asking for advice about best places to park and ride to the airport.  On my next trip that flys out of SFO, I want to give Redding Airport a try, to avoid the hassle and expense of driving into SF.

  5. Barbara Stone says:

    Shelly, I love y our illustrations, especially the David…I believe I have my own sketches of the same statue somewhere in my past journals. You are really good at capturing the essence of your subject in a few strokes! Great idea to keep a travel journal. I kind of got out of the habit of keeping a journal.

    BTW…do you have illustrations in your food journal?

  6. Shelly Shively says:

    Barbara, not too unlike our Wednesday night Figure Sessions at the former O Street Gallery ; )  I read that the David pose is very uncomfortable to hold.  I’d love to see your travel journals sometime.

    I’m catching up on finishing my journal, as there was only so much time on trains, airplanes and evening down time, to draw.  The food, yes, such a notable part of travels, that it warrants illustration.

  7. Matthew Grigsby says:

    This is just the best idea ever.  You manage to capture the details that slip away over time, and keep the “mood” of each day.  Rereading your journal must be a little like going back each time!  I’m so sorry you didn’t have a similar experience as I did at San Miniato, but that just means you’ll need to go back and try again.  I’m happy to show you the way!

    Thank you for sharing this experience with all of us here!

    PS.  Using a spiral bound journal that lays flat is brilliant.

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thanks, Matt,

      The spiral type book makes it much easier to draw and write.

      Our visit to San Miniato wasn’t a total bust: how bad could a sunset walk on the cobbled streets of Florence, with a cardio work-out hill climb, sitting through part of an Italian Mass, come out to the breath-taking night view of the entire city below, and visit one of the other David’s (there are 3) in the square overlooking Florence?  We realized our error as we sat through the mass, hearing distant ethereal voices of the monks chanting their vespers, while we we sat on wooden benches Inside, the monks made their end of day vigil Outside.  Next time, for sure, when I visit Florence, will we know where to be to experience the ceremony of the brothers ending their day.

      It’d be great to travel with you, since you are nearly an expert on Italy, with first hand knowledge.

      …..I know a perfect Airbnb apartment in the heart of Florence.

  8. Karen C says:

    Shelly, what a great artist you are.  The journal is so precious…what a gift to children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews.

    We traveled for several years in our RV and I kept a travel diary each day.  I wrote down what I thought of the RV parks we chose, the spaces we were given, if they had views and the way we were treated.  I kept notes on where we ate, who we visited, the national parks we loved and just about everything.  Even  though we no longer have our RV, I still refer back to my book when talking with someone who wants to know about a place we visited.  It is fun to relive the trips.

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thank-you, Karen, I’m glad you enjoyed my journal.   Wouldn’t most of us appreciate travel journals from previous generations?  I like your method in citing best spots, views, national parks and places to eat.  I like, too, that it’s useful for others when you share your travel tips.

      Last summer, when Doni and I had our Patrick’s Point family camping, later were kicking ourselves for not taking note of the best camping spots.  We ended up figuring it out this week, as we booked this summer’s camping spots.

  9. Beverly Stafford says:

    What talent you possess, Shelly!  Thanks for sharing.

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thanks, Beverly.  My pleasure, truly.

      I have a belief that “talent” is  more like  an aptitude that gets worked: as I tell my granddaughters, “Practice makes Better”.  Then, resisting the urge to not share art, out of knowledge that there is “much better” art out there.  I’ve learned to get over myself and just enjoy what I do, and share my art, as is.

  10. Chuck Prudhomme Chuck Prudhomme says:

    Really great way to chronicle any trip! Love the whimsical art! Gives your narrative a very personal touch unlike with a camera! Awesome!

    • Shelly Shively says:

      Thanks, Chuck, not unlike you, as you document your travels through your inspiring plein air landscapes.  That’s art, whether wielding a paintbrush, pencil, musical instrument, writer, or performer:  perception and interpretation of  our worlds.

  11. Janet says:


    In my dreams my travel journals look like  yours but in actuality they are half finished with lots of ticket stubs, and notes that start strong but dwindle off. What a marvelous souvenir to bring back and love the art ?. You have inspired me to do better.


    • shelly shively says:

      Janet, sounds like you have a decent start to your journal.  I’m still working on sketches after the trip, which keeps me further engaged, long after I’ve unpacked.

  12. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Shelly, I LOVE your travel journal.  For me, one of the greatest aspects of this work is that you took the time to sit and reflect at the end of each day when the details were clear.  Sounds like other family members became involved in this project too.    I did some journals of mountain bike treks I went on for sometime.  Everyone would sign a drawing I did when we stopped to eat lunch.  You’ve inspired me to think about this kind of journaling again.

    Just living in Redding is a note worthy experience.  I think I’ll get a journal started.  I love your drawings and way  page is a work of art.   Thank you for sharing this treasure.


  13. shelly shively says:

    Joann, a high compliment from you, in your artist status: Thank-you!

    Do you still have those mountain bike journals?  I like your idea of having your journal entries signed by those that share the experience.

    Your observation about reflecting and processing the day through journal entry is the aspect other than merely retaining the memory: it helps fortify the entire experience.

    I agree that the Redding area is rich with journal material & inspiration.


  14. Jim Dowling Jim Dowling says:

    Talk about beautiful illustrations that convey so many humorous and interesting messages.  You’ve made journal reading an adventure in itself.  Nicely done, Shelly.

  15. Canda Williams says:

    Oh Shelly, this is fantastic!  Love the humor you added on your pages and in your article.  What a treasure this is, and I can’t wait to see your journal of your trip to Kalispell! 🙂 xoxo

  16. shelly shively says:

    Canda, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my journal! For sure, I’ll be keeping a travel journal when Doni & I visit you in Kalispell: any season except winter.

    Hard to believe:  it!s even snowing in Redding today!

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