Need Inspiration? Take a Peek Inside a Painter's Travel Journal

Need Inspiration? Take a Peek Inside a Painter's Travel Journal

Missy Dunaway Travel Paintings
Melissa Dunaway
Missy Dunaway Travel Paintings
Melissa Dunaway

Can we please book a flight into the pages of this travel journal?

Filling a 100-page notebook while traveling is no small feat, but painting every single page? That’s extraordinary.

Over the past two years, Missy Dunaway, a 28-year-old artist from Maryland, has filled Moleskine notebooks with colorful cityscapes, cultural discoveries, and hand-brushed snapshots of memorable moments from Paris, Istanbul, the Moroccan Sahara, and New York City.

Each page of Dunaway’s pictorial travel journals contains a finished painting and an occasional caption—some cheeky, some straightforward, and some poetic. She’s got the feelings we’ve all felt while exploring and experiencing life away from home quite literally down to a fine art.

“My paintings focus on color because it describes how a place feels,” Dunaway said. “Not just mood, but also temperature, time of day, season, and even humidity. It takes several words to explain how a place feels, but a painting can describe it with just one color. It’s simple and immediate.”

Missy Dunaway Travel Paintings
Melissa Dunaway

As an art student at Carnegie Mellon University, Dunaway was required to keep a sketchbook, and when she made a post-graduation move to Brooklyn it was the only media her tiny living space could comfortably accommodate. As she began to travel more often and studied abroad in Barcelona, working in sketchbooks became not only a convenience, but also her preference.

Carrying a studio in your suitcase isn’t exactly practical, but with some help from duct tape, Tupperware, and Ziploc bags, Dunaway can easily transport her supplies with her. The real challenge comes when she wants to make a larger work outside of her journal.

“With every move, I make one trip in search of Masonite hardboard, which I cut into a heavy five-by-four-foot panel ... to fashion a worktable,” she said. “In Istanbul, a friend and I transported one home by way of a tram for an hour, walking half a mile, and pulling it up a winding staircase with no handrail.”

Missy Dunaway Travel Paintings
Melissa Dunaway

Dunaway has always been drawn to the appeal of new destinations. Growing up in a Navy family, she moved often and recalled poring over travel magazines, where stories from women traveling alone instilled in her the urge to one day do the same.

In 2013, she got her chance when she won the Fulbright Program Fellowship to study textiles in Turkey. “This experience was very different,” she said, “Fulbrighters are expected to be self-sufficient when finding an apartment, learning the language, creating a schedule, conducting research, and making friends. It was challenging, but I grew a lot and learned more about life in Turkey than I did in Barcelona.”

Now, this is the kind of experience she looks for every time she travels, which she often does through the support of art residencies or private organizations that host artists while they create site-specific projects. This way, she can spend more time in a place and engage deeply with the local community.

Missy Dunaway Travel Paintings
Melissa Dunaway

This ground-level cultural immersion is captured so well in Dunaway’s work—depicting everything from encounters with new friends to the introspective moments that come with finding comfort in an unfamiliar place—which comes together as a vibrant homage to how much travel can grow a person.

“When I [flip back through the journals], I notice changes in myself,” Dunaway said. “My themes and subjects change, as does my technical skill and style. I see a shift from painting about the past and dwelling on heartbreak to looking outward and painting about my environment. Over one hundred pages, I see a progression from inward melancholy to curiosity and joy.”

This summer, Dunaway and her books will travel to Scandinavia to attend a small artist residency on an island in the Finnish archipelago. You can follow along on her blog and her Instagram.

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