The Art of Travel and the Design of Transport

Oct 17, 2021

From the dawn of time people have travelled from one place to another. We may move in centimetres, inches, yards, metres, miles, kilometres or, digitally, in pixels on a screen. Through developments in technology, modes of transport have evolved enormously: from wheels to wings, on water and under water, for individuals or groups. At a time in history when travel has become an issue due to the global pandemic, it’s good to reflect with our children and our students on how we got here and how we might get out of here! 

Why we travel 

The purpose for wanting to get somewhere has been a motivation to invent new devices and equipment to reduce time and effort and improve efficiency. As individuals, we move to get things we need - relating to food, water, shelter, a comfortable place to sleep, our work, education, exercise and to stay connected with those we love. Travelling in a group could be as a family unit, work party, sporting team or a class cohort. 

What is transported 

Transportation is not just for people to get from one place to another with the destination as the focus. There are vehicles equipped to carry injured and sick people, to fight fires, or for moving all sorts of materials - solid, liquid and gas; animals - from birds to elephants; vegetation - seeds, plants, trees and rolls of lawn… Some vehicles are unmanned robots, controlled remotely to go into places that are too dangerous or difficult for humans to enter like outer space, volcanoes, and disaster sites. These robots are transporting data. 

How we travel 

Modes of transport evolved to accommodate changing needs influenced by location, climate, resources, need and knowledge. This video clip gives a simple timeline of some inventions: An Animated History of Transportation (2.33 mins). There are now so many possibilities. 


Narrowing the focus for activities and studies with children could lead to inquiries into:

  • Why different options for current land travel are preferred
  • How space travel became possible for humans
  • What changed so the first manned flying machines were successful
  • How transport was modified for use in battles and wars
  • What benefits there are in non-motorised water vessels. 

Art is the key to Design

 No matter what the area of interest, when people started thinking about new ways to travel, invariably someone was sketching ideas. Sketches are rough drawings that are visual forms of brainstorming. They can be added to and modified by others and redone quickly. The feasibility of design features can be considered without worrying about the final finishes.

These are some websites that show sketches and the importance of technical drawings. In some cases, there are artworks for sale reflecting the value placed on such drawings.

Some of these technical drawings are for model trains and boats. Rather than drawing these forms of transport, perhaps an activity you devise for your students or homeschoolers could be either a craft focus or a design technology lesson. It’s fun to find lessons in Artventure that help us draw cars and trains and boats. However, we could also have a go at building models of buses to put all the soft toys in, or trucks that can actually tip the garden dirt out, or boats that will carry our toy farm animals down the creek. Many real structures start as sketches, become blueprints, then scaled-down models or prototypes before full-sized versions are developed. 

Flying apparatus designed by Ada Lovelace, in 1827 

At the age of only 12, Ada drew plans for a winged machine. She wrote to her mother, “I have got a scheme to make a thing in the form of a horse with a steam engine in the inside so contrived as to move an immense pair of wings, fixed on the outside of the horse, in such a manner as to carry it up into the air while a person sits on its back.” Ada became known as the first computer programmer. You can find her initial sketches and learn more about this amazing girl through this link.

Land transport - art activities

When kids first start drawing transport, it is usually what they know best - a car. This can be a simple bubble with wheels. In many neighbourhoods today, cars are the most common form of transport for groups of people like families. While travelling in the car, children can play games that build their observation skills spotting similarities and differences between models and makes. Discussing why cars have certain shapes or features can help them when you then encourage them to draw their own version of a car. It could be simple things like drawing:

  • the windows and doors to fit the number of people in it
  • the streamline bonnet for faster movement
  • roof racks for carrying the snow skis
  • a towbar for pulling the caravan.

Which of these features would have been on the first cars built, and how similar or different were they? What features did these early models have that are no longer found on modern cars? Students with a keen interest in, say, racing cars could create a pictorial journey over time with a focus on features lost and gained. This might be their own drawings or labelling of pictures found.

Buses, trams and trains may be another form of land transport they are familiar with. How might aspects of a drawing differentiate between a tram and a train, or a bus for that matter? Quite often, when drawing a train, we draw the old steam engine. This is probably because it has a distinctive shape about it, whereas the modern train engine doesn’t look much different to the carriages it pulls. 

Water transport - art activities 

Not everyone has the opportunity or need to travel by sea or on the ocean. However, a river, canal or lake may be more accessible. From single-user kayaks, dinghies, surfboards and jetskis to multistoried cruise ships, tankers, ferries, yachts and submarines the diversity in shape, size and purpose is huge.

Drawings and paintings of water vessels may take some research when they are not something we see in our daily lives. What are the features that set a ship apart from a motorised or sailing boat? How are they powered and is this something that is depicted in the drawing? Would drawing people in or near the vessel help indicate how big or small the vessel is? How might the weather affect the look of the sea or the position of the sails or smoke? How can a painting be more than just a boat on water? 

Air transport - art activities 

Travelling by air can be the fastest way to get from one place to another (jets and rockets) or extremely slow (hot air balloons). The shape of planes, especially the early models, mimic the birds who are the masters of flight. Research into the shape of wings and how they help keep birds and planes in the air can be tested somewhat by making paper planes. But what more is there to keep such a heavy machine full of people up in the sky?

Over time there have been many variations on the design of aircraft although the passenger planes of today all seem very similar. Some early planes had two sets of wings. Why don’t rockets need wings?

Maritime Art and Aviation Art

Searching for these types of artworks can be fascinating, even if you’re not into boats or planes. Maritime Art tends to refer to artworks connected with human activity on the sea and because this has been going on far longer than travel by air, there seem to be more paintings and drawings to find - viking ships, Egyptian boats, sailing ships. Aviation Art often reflects the many planes used during the World Wars - much more recent in history.

Whether it’s sketching ideas for new and better forms of transport, developing the detailed design plans for blueprints, drawing dad’s fishing boat, painting memories of travelling by plane on your last holiday or finding lots of the pictures of cars and creating a collage there are so many opportunities for being creative when thinking about travelling and transport. 

Travelling in Tough Times 

In times of a global pandemic restricting our movement, travel and transport can come down to the individual personal level - bikes, skateboards, and scooters; kayaks and surfboards. Air travel has become specialised - not for pleasure so much as essential work and emergency needs.

Although planes have transported the COVID virus from country to country, they have also been able to transport much needed vaccines to all corners of the world with the hope that soon we will be able to travel across continents and borders and venture out around the globe once again. Until then, we can use our creative skills and imagination to paint a picture of travelling and draw designs of new possibilities for transport!

Teacher and Artventure Blogger