Liza Donnelly
Dec 21, 2018 · 5 min read

The possibilities are endless

When I travel, I try to draw the cities I visit. Recently I was invited to travel to Beijing by the China Women’s Film Festival to speak about political cartoons and women’s rights. I wrote about it here. In this, the second part of writing about my journey, I share my drawings of the places I visited.

I arrived at night and was was scheduled to speak in the afternoon, so felt I really should make use of my time and go see something nearby.

After looking at a YouTube video of how to use the subway in Beijing, I walked a few blocks to the station closest to my hotel. On my walk, I saw what was to be omnipresent in Beijing: little vehicles and motorbikes.

I had decided to go see Tiananmen Square, which was a few stops from my hotel. The square is very big, and appeared to be blocked off to visitors, but I could see it from a distance.

One guard among many at Tienanmen Square. Notice the camera-laden lampost.

There were a lot of tourists (which I did not draw), most of whom appeared to be from Asian countries.

The next day, I got up before sunrise to go to the Great Wall with a busfull of people. It’s always been my dream to walk on the Great Wall, and it was as amazing as I had imagined. I could not stop taking photos, it was incredibly beautiful.

But I finally put down my camera to draw. I was hesitant at first to even attempt it, because it seemed as if it would be impossible to capture — and it sort of is. But I tried. For me, it’s about the process of drawing. I love drawing something and being engrossed in the thing, almost like I try to feel what I am seeing. I focus on the act of drawing and listen to the movement around me. In this case, people were walking the stairs, chatting about the Wall, about their lives, their family. It’s almost meditative for me.

As I was finishing, I happened to see this person on the wall, sweeping. Hi job seemed to be a monumental task and I wondered if this was his section, that perhaps there were many sweepers on the wall that I just didn’t see.

A day later, I took a few hours to visit the Forbidden Palace — clearly not enough time. The buildings are so huge, it was also beautifully daunting like the Great Wall. The details on the buildings were exquisite, I could not do them justice (by any stretch), so I only suggested the colors in my rough drawing below.

My favorite things to draw are the daily things, the little things, such as these as I walked in the Hutongs:

In the hutong, there are countless little doorwas with people selling home made food.
This man made me a delicious pancake with egg, some kind of sauce and a waffle inside.
I saw many such people carrying large load on small bikes.
Two Beijingers dressed in style; a woman sells Chinese flags to children (or rather to their parents) on the street.
DIrecting traffic in and out of the Consulate

I met a woman from the US Embassy at a talk I gave, and she invited me to visit. While waiting to get admittance to the US Consulate, I drew these two on my phone. A man directing traffic, and a guard on a podium. As everyone, I was feeling under surveilance, there are police and cameras everywhere. I was careful as to when and where I took out my phone to snap a photo or draw, or when I took out my ipad to sketch.

I often sa guards often standing on platforms. This one was rather unassuming compared to some of the other ones I saw.

After a few days in Beijing, I traveled to Xi’an, a somewhat smaller city, but huge nonetheless. On the high speed train, I was fascinated by the women attendants, dress and serving customers much like on an airplane:

I visited the very large old city wall and walked for a bit. I saw this man sitting contentedly:

Later on the wall, I saw another person sweeping. It was a very common thing to see people sweeping and mopping.

Walking in the old part of Xi’an, I saw many beautiful and interesting sights…

The moat around the wall to the city of Xi’an

…and ate wonderful dumplings.

I bought some brushes and watched a woman pull something on her bike.

A woman selling brushes, paint and paper for caligraphy. A woman on her bike.

Xi’an has so many beautiful sites; unfortunately I only had time to see a few. One was the Bell Tower.

Finally, it was time to take the train back to Beijing and to the airport. This is the train station in Xi’an.

China was visually overwhelming and fascinating. I hope to return and draw more someday.

Liza Donnelly

Written by

Cartoonist/writer for New Yorker, CBS News, CNN, Author, performer, TED and SXSW speaker, Barnard Fellow. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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