#015 – The universal language of art; a travel journal memoir

Creative Collective are privileged to have the permitted opportunity in sharing an introductory extract of Missy H. Dunaway’s prospective published journal.


On a warm summer day in 2013, I pulled weeds from the garden of a Victorian farmhouse in Vermont. The house was up for sale, but for the past four years it was home to Nicole, one of the three friends sweating beside me as we tended to her vegetable garden. It was destined to sell quickly, with its brightly colored rooms, warped wood floors, and lush gardens. We spent the weekend appreciating all the charms of the house, knowing it would be the last time we gathered there. We chatted merrily as we washed rainbow chard and prepared dinner. I lit two candlesticks and suggested we raise our glasses for a toast.

Friendships formed at artist residencies, like ours at the Vermont Studio Center, often dissolve when fellows resume their normal lives. Rose, Amelia, and Nicole, as resident staff members, knew this better than anyone because they welcomed and waved goodbye to visiting artists every month. But after two years, we remained close friends and that was worthy of celebration.

Reflecting on our time together, we took turns saying what we hoped to accomplish in the upcoming year. Amelia, a poet, wanted to find a career that suited her nurturing personality. Nicole, a yoga instructor, wanted to find deeper happiness in her relationships. Rose, a writer from New Zealand, wanted to find a partner with whom she could enjoy life. And I wanted to travel the world.

Ten years my senior, my three friends had already accomplished my goal. They recounted years spent globetrotting, only to return home longing for something deeper: friendships that aren’t ephemeral, romances you don’t leave, a home in which you can invest. Turning to me, they cautioned that while I’m bound to have a memorable time, not to be surprised if I return home disillusioned. I didn’t doubt their prediction; we were alike in many ways and I trusted their opinion.

Months later, events unfolded that shaped a significant year for all of us. Nicole had a baby, Amelia found a job shepherding goats, Rose met her future husband, and I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Turkey.


When I accepted a Fulbright Fellowship to study Anatolian textiles in Istanbul in 2013, I didn’t think my side project –a travel sketchbook— would become my most passionate project. It was something I did for fun in my spare time, but I continued the practice in following years at artist­in­residence programs in central Turkey, the Moroccan Sahara Desert, and Scandinavia. I was initially attracted to these locations to study textiles, but while living there, fell in love with the diverse landscapes, warm people, and rich foreign cultures.

What started as nine months in Istanbul snowballed into five wondrous years exploring ten corners of the world, with a short diversion to establish a permanent home in Maine. Along the way I filled five journals with illustrations documenting my adventures. Each painting depicts a landscape or memory embellished with handwritten poetry, building a five-year narrative of what I discovered about myself as I discovered the world.

Moments that inspire me are often fleeting: watching seagulls dart past the ferry as I cross the Bosphorus Strait or glimpsing the Eiffel Tower while running to catch a bus. I capture these moments with a camera and revisit them in the evening, as it has become routine to close each day with a painting. I usually paint scenes from earlier that day, but sometimes I look back to the previous week, month or even a year.

Memory only stores the most important moments and, over time, exaggerates what made them significant. My paintings strive to capture this nostalgia, to create a cathartic painting experience for myself and a moving image for my viewer. Pages that record moments long-passed are often the most dramatically interpreted through exaggerated colors and wistful poetry.

My paintings strive to capture this nostalgia, to create a cathartic painting experience…

My travel journal is a colorful, five-year narrative of what I discovered about myself as I discovered the world. Early themes turn inward, reflecting on heartbreak, before pivoting outward to translate my environment, new friends, and radically different cultures into art. Mirroring my inner growth, my painting style matures along the way, showcasing the impact of daily practice over half a decade. My travel journal is not just a romantic, visual tour of beautiful scenery, but a personal testament to how much travel can change a person.

This journal was my greatest asset while traveling abroad. It overcame steep language barriers by visually communicating who I am, what I do, and where I have been. When holding a camera, subjects might cover their faces, turn their backs, or cautiously ask if their likeness would be posted online. Photography is commonly weaponized on the internet, so cameras are approached with suspicion, and image editing programs have done little to repair trust. Painting, I found, is a gentler form of documentation. Subjects who recoiled from the camera gladly consented knowing it would be used for a painting.

This journal was my greatest asset while traveling abroad.

Even though my creative journal wasn’t the subject of my fellowship, it was my favorite project to come out of it. My journal was always met with kind curiosity, wonder, and encouragement—qualities that defined my trip and were captured in its documentation. At times when there seemed to be no common ground, I could always find a mutual love and admiration for the arts.

It is what connects us.

Missy H. Dunaway is an artist and illustrator, receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Arts from Carnegie Mellon University. Missy’s paintings exhibit internationally and have been acquired into many public collections. In 2018 she was awarded the Educator Award from 1,400 exhibiting artists at the ArtPrize Competition of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a featured instructor on Creativebug.com and teaches workshops in her home state of Maine. Explore and follow Missy’s social media:
 /missydunaway   missydunaway.com   MissyDunaway