Nov 25, 2022 • 2HR 19M

Ep 55 - Travelling through History with Sunil Shinde

retracing an 1839 expedition through the biblical holy land.

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Dear listener,

Let us play a little game.

Imagine yourself as a freelance artist with a growing base of subscribers. Imagine going on an exotic adventure to paint all the things you see, to bring them together, and to serialize your work for an eager audience back home. Imagine becoming wealthy and successful. Imagine impacting the world long after you are gone. Now, open your eyes and tell me what year you think it is.

This story is not set in the creator economy of 2022 or 2010 or 1990 or even 1980. Imagine this happened in 1839.

This true story inspired my guest to travel through the biblical Holy Land, retracing the footsteps of British adventurer and artist David Roberts. Sunil Shinde then made a wonderful book from his experiences. His writing packs an impressive knowledge of geopolitics and art history, and through it all runs his pure joy as an artist and traveller.

Whether your interest lies in sketching, history, travel, or the Middle East, or if (like Sunil) you sit at the intersection of all of the above, this is an episode you will love.

In today’s post, find the best ideas from the episode. Listen to the episode on the Substack player, or pick a link below:

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🎙 Episode 55

This conversation is at the intersection of travel, history, and art. Seattle-based artist and traveller Sunil Shinde speaks about retracing the 1839 expedition of British artist David Roberts, and bringing words and lines together in an excellent book - From Cairo to Beirut.

In this respect, it is really about three distinct journeys - Sunil’s journey through the Middle East, the 1839 expedition of David Roberts, and Sunil’s effort to make the book.

Buy the book on (Amazon US) (Amazon CA)


🔍 Show Notes

It is interesting to look at this episode not as one long journey, but as three distinct journeys.

(5:05) The first journey - the origin of Sunil’s curiosities, his evolving interest in history and travel, and the efforts to document both.

What is the intersection of history and travel in Sunil’s mind?

The Siege of Tyre and Alexander the Great.

How did Sunil’s love of history grow from a young age?

In Petra, sketching the Al-Khazneh, and a chance encounter with a Bedouin.

(21:39) How did drawing become a part of Sunil’s traveling? Sunil traces the path of documentation through research and photography and the eventual shift to sketching.

And, you know, very soon I started to realize that photography, as much as it gave me, started to come in between what me and what I was wanting to see… I was looking at the screen more than I was looking at the scene in front of me. So there was a point at which I decided that I did not need this thing in between. I wanted to lighten my travel… I did not want electronics.

What does it mean to document with a combination of words and drawings?

In many senses, the word captures what I'm thinking, not what I'm seeing… It's an interpretation already, right? By the time I've seen it in Marathi, and then I translate it into English and pick out of the three words that I know that best describe this…

I think sketching is much more raw. I see a line, I draw a line.

(33:55) The second journey - retracing the 1839 expedition of David Roberts, to compare what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Sketching inside a mosque in Cairo, Sunil is able to suddenly connect backwards in time with David Roberts - urban sketcher to urban sketcher.

(42:20) How can someone today wrap their minds around the magnitude of the task undertaken by David Roberts?

Six hundred years after the Crusades, a Christian man once again is walking the streets of Egypt… Before him, no artist had sketched Egypt.

(54:40) The brown skin experience as a traveller, the advantages of an American passport with brown skin.

A description of David Roberts’ #artistlife.

Orientalism, and the biases we hold when we travel.

What are some useful sketching tips from 1839? Sunil talks about pushing himself to include people.

William Dalrymple - The Return of a King | Bonus commentary on War reportage

The paintings of James Atkinson

(1:40:00) Why have David Roberts’ paintings endured, even with the advent of photography?

Francis Frith

(1:53:40) The third journey - Deciding to make a book, finding a publisher, and then writing.

When did Sunil start to think of his expedition as a book?

How did Sunil approach publishers and literary agents?

What was the process of creating and designing the book after securing a publisher?

Has making a book from his journey changed how Sunil approaches every travel-sketching vacation?

“Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.” - Kurt Vonnegut, “Cats Cradle

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