Sketching the Family Voyage

It takes ages for Cecile Carré to work through the stacks of family sketchbooks in their Barcelona home. With five artists in the family there are a lot of pages. The dark lines and bright watercolours trace their family travels around the world, a remote village in Bali, markets in Morocco, a monastery in Ladahk. The images show the colour and texture of the places they’ve seen, but just as importantly, they chart the growth of their three children, Gaspard (13), Louise (11) and Gabriel (7).

Since the year Bruno and Cecile spent as newlyweds traveling around the world, the family has committed to regular, one to two month voyages, and to drawing what they see. Nearly every day on the road finds them sitting, sometimes separately but most often as a family, for 45 minutes to an hour, drawing the scene in front of them. There’s a sense of obligation to the task, creating a daily rhythm that more closely resembles the patterns of normal life. You wake, dress and eat, then work. The kids can paint or not, says Cecile, but they have to respect the moment and the time. They don’t ask to leave.

  BALI, 2008. “Our first big trip with the kids. Only Gaspard and Louise at the time; Gabriel not yet born. They were five and three, and followed us everywhere, trusting and safe! It was a gorgeous and easygoing trip in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Wonderful, kind and gracious people. Beauty was everywhere, and though we didn’t move around much, I still remember the morning we traveled from Bali to the island of Lebongan. A crossing in a pirogue on a very, very rough sea. Somewhat reckless and unaware, and feeling like something was wrong. We put armbands on Gaspard and Louise in case the boat returned. Halfway across Louise falls asleep, armbands on, waves rising and water pouring over her… we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the dock. People gave us weird looks.” 


Drawing the scene before you is different than taking a photograph, says Bruno. He calls a sketch the opposite of a selfie. “Nobody takes the time to see and feel, when taking a quick photo. To draw and to sketch is three to four hours. We take the time to understand.” Rather than passing through a scene, snapping photos on the way by, sketching requires patience and a lot of time. You blend, to some degree, into the scenery. New things reveal themselves.

In the center of the page is Gaspard, blonde hair and ruddy red skin, a blue t-shirt with a pair of sunglasses hanging from the neck. Surrounding him on all sides, hemming him in, is a flood of strangers, all with dark hair, some wearing smiles but others looking shocked or bemused. The words “HAHAHA”, “WOW” and simply “?” are scattered through the crowd. Gaspard himself looks calm, resigned to his role as spectacle. You can’t tell if he’s enjoying the attention or not. He’s titled the piece “Les Gents Qui Nous Regardent”, the people watching us.

Gaspard made the sketch during a visit to Dawei, a sleepy coastal city on the Burmese side of the Malay Peninsula. With the country of Myanmar only opening to visitors in 2013, Cecile Carré, Bruno Conigliano and their three children made an impression during their stay. But as a family of five, habitually traveling far from the typical tourist path, each of them carrying their own sketchpads, watercolours and pencils, they were used to drawing some attention. But something had shifted for Gaspard on this trip. His sketches catch the journey into adolescence, and the challenges of growing into your own independence.

Traveling with children, says Bruno, may be physically more difficult when they’re younger, but it’s still easier because they don’t give opinions. At 13, Gaspard’s developing interests are taking shape, and they don’t look exactly like his parents had hoped. “We noticed during the last trip,” says Bruno, “that he was not interested at all in the local people. He doesn’t want to see the local market and the dirty things, the poor things. After ten monasteries he says enough. Now he wants to see modern countries, nice clothes, big buildings.” Gaspard’s favourite part of the journey through Thailand and Myanmar? The Apple store in Bangkok.

It’s difficult to see this, they say, to see him struggling to find beauty in the simple things of the world, the poor things. But Bruno and Cecile are taking the long view, allowing him to find his own way through adolescence without judgment. “His vision of poor people, right now, is not the same as ours,” says Cecile. “He’s just at that age where he has to process information. In a couple of years he will be able to think of it differently.”

Deciding on Burma (the kids wanted New York, Rio de Janeiro) may turn out to be the last time Cecile and Bruno choose the destination themselves. There was a sense of urgency to visit this newly opened country, knowing that change would come, as Bruno says, not in a moment but in a crescendo. “New York will not change so quickly.”

For the next trip, though, they will be looking to compromise. As the kids have grown the importance of common language has increased. “Whey they’re very small, like three or four years old,” says Cecile, “they can have a relationship with others which is about the gestures, the eyes. When they are 10 and 11 they are mostly just with the parents, with the family. But when they get to be about 13 it’s not enough to just be in the family. They need to interact with others. And they need to be able to communicate.” The kids, all three of them, speak French, Spanish and Catalan fluently. So there are a lot of options. But with each at a different stage of life, their needs are different as well. Louise has been asking for another hard-road trip, maybe this time to Sulawesi. 

And for Gaspard making new friends may not be enough. As he enters his teen years his friend group has become tighter, a circle, stitched together on social media, hand sewn by smartphone. It’s intense, and decidedly outside the bounds of the family. “In two years I don’t think he has ever called us,” says Bruno. “In fact I don’t think he has even one time used the phone as a phone…” Staying connected is critical to Gaspard, and a month away is a lifetime. On the next trip he’s asked if he can bring a friend.

Screen time and balance are active discussions in the house. Bruno, especially, finds Gaspard’s attachment to his phone frustrating. But the couple also remember their own teenage years, the desire to connect, the importance of having the same jeans as your friends, the pressure to keep up that continues into adulthood. I’m talking with them on Skype and Bruno is telling me that, though the tools were different when we were growing up, the pressures are the same and we need to be accepting of the way our kids will grow. Practically, we need to learn how to integrate the phone without it being too annoying for the rest of the family. Cecile throws her arms around Bruno, laughing. “I’m going to record Bruno saying this… he can get so hysterical!” Bruno smiles, grudgingly.

  INDONESIA, 2004. “Our first big trip, just Bruno and I, at 20 years old. We had studied vernacular architecture of the Sunda Islands and we were very serious about the trip. We had applied for a grant from the Mairie of Paris, in an effort to get funding for the journey. We were gone six weeks; it was such a long time for us! “


  FAMILY LOGBOOKS. “From the first day Bruno and I met, our notebooks have gone everywhere with us. Books with drawings, travel and exhibit logs, all kinds of notebooks. I love to cut, paste and keep track.. at home I keep a family album with photos and all the sweet and adorable things the children said when they were little. Today they love to go through them; it amuses them enormously!”


  GABRIEL IN SWEDEN AND NORWAY, 2010. “Gabriel is our little one, the sweetheart of the whole world. His first big trip was a tour of Scandinavian countries in a camper van. We would travel during naps, taking advantage of sleep time to drive on. I remember traveling through wild nature, camping by lakes where all shared the chores of washing dishes or preparing meals. We each filled our notebooks, however we have no drawings left of this trip; the bag with all our booklets and painting gear was forgotten on a night train between Barcelona and Paris, never to be found. This is the only drawing remaining.”


  FURTIVE NOTEBOOKS. “Once in a while Bruno and I steal ourselves away and go. We leave the kids, we pick a destination not too far away, and we just leave. We change pace, we draw and we let go. It’s like breathing anew, an inspiration that refreshes us and makes us feel alive. You can see it in the drawings, no?”


  LADHAK, 2013. “It’s a trip far from everything, probably the last one with our children tagging along and trusting us implicitly. A journey at the heart of a deeply spiritual country, but one that seemed to overwhelm Gaspard. He was shaken by the poverty in Bombay, the state the streets were in, everything to him was dirty and repellent. Things improved when we got to the Himalayas, but truly this was not a “vacation”, not quite like going to the beach for a good time. It was tough travel, rough landscapes, marvelous for us adults, much less comprehensible for a child who is starting to change. Nevertheless we came out with beautiful drawings, each different in style and rhythm. During prayers Bruno would draft the architecture and Gabriel, mesmerized by the prayers, would draw some pretty mystical stuff!”


  “This of the num is by Gaspard. As we were sleeping in a monastery, one of the nuns invited us into her cell. We stayed there quite a while, all five of us drawing the scene of the nun reading. The watercolour picturing the artists is Bruno’s. This is a beautiful memory of deep harmony. When asked about it the children answer straightaway, “it sucked… there were only rocks!”

What imprint will it leave on them, I wonder? Tolerance? Curiosity? Self-Confidence?

A suivre!”

~Cecile Carré and Bruno Conigliano

For more from Bruno and Cecile, check out this terrific article by Behomm, or click their names above to catch them on Instagram.