See the world through this artist’s travel journals

We spoke with Spanish creative José Naranja about why he quit his job as an aeronautical engineer to pursue his two passions, travel and art, full-time.

José Naranja takes time to create this beautiful notebooks. Image credit: José Naranja
José Naranja takes the time to create these beautiful notebooks. Image credit: José Naranja

In an age where technology is king, Spanish diarist and artist José Naranja is of a rare breed. While your typical modern traveler depends on their smartphone to record and share their adventures, Naranja can be found instead with a Moleskine diary, calligraphy pens, and watercolors in hand.

Naranja spends his life on the road, traveling from place to place and documenting his journey in intricate detail, through diaries filled with wonderful illustrations, sketches, poems, anecdotes, and found items. Each page brims with imagination and features anything from a flawless illustration of a Japanese sushi dinner to an expertly crafted collage made from an Indian 500 Rupee note.

Naranja chronicles his life of travel in an artistic and whimsical way, spending many hours carefully filling the pages of his many notebooks. Journaling is a time-consuming business and one which for many travelers has been replaced by the occasional Instagram post, or by storing masses of geotagged holiday snaps in the cloud. Considering the convenience of modern technology, Naranja’s commitment to his craft is something to be admired.

Some works by José Naranja. Image credit: José Naranja
Some works by José Naranja. Image credit: José Naranja

For Naranja, journaling is much more than simply a way of recording what he’s seen and done. He considers it a “form of meditation”, and the slow and careful process of journaling allows him to better think upon and perceive each place that he visits, giving him a more profound understanding of the world as a whole.

“My notebooks are like teachers,” he said.

While Naranja confesses to having a curious personality from childhood, his interest in art developed later in his teenage years. And when it came to choosing a career path, he put his artistic interests aside, making the decision to study aeronautical engineering instead.

Jose N working on an illustration. Image credit: Supplied
José Naranja working on an illustration. Image credit: Supplied

Travel was always important to Naranja, and he traveled with as much frequency as was permitted when working a nine to five job, often dictated by professional commitments and annual leave. He dabbled in creative arts, but only when time allowed.

Naranja worked full-time for many years, carefully balancing a career with his growing external interests. But his need for personal fulfillment eventually outweighed the benefits of steady employment and a regular paycheck. At the age of 37, he quit his job to free himself up to pursue his passions of travel and art. These days, Naranja has time on his hands and the entire world as a source of inspiration. 

“My job was quite good in other people’s eyes…(but) now I use my time traveling, thinking, exploring and notebooking,” he said.

Naranja’s journal entries are as varied as they are beautiful, packed full of surprises, splashes of color, random sketches, thoughts, and observations, but there’s one thing that’s constant – he always uses Moleskine.

Actually, it’s his 2005 discovery of the journal brand, in particular their high-quality leather-bound notebooks, to which he attributes his decision to turn journaling into an art form. While he had kept casual diaries and travel logs his entire life, he felt these particular notebooks were somehow more magical and deserved to be filled with more extraordinary entries.

Naranja only uses Moleskin journals to create his works. Image credit: José Naranja
Naranja only uses Moleskin journals to create his works. Image credit: José Naranja

“I fell in love with that style (of the Moleskine diary) and it pushed me to develop my artwork more seriously,” he said. 

Naranja travels slowly to ensure he has plenty of dedicated journaling time. An average morning for the artist might be spent on a sunny terrace soaking up his surroundings, leisurely filling notebook pages with illustrations, musings, and observations regarding his current location.

“Writing and drawing requires time, and it can’t be done in gaps while waiting for food or before sleep,” he said.

Drawing inspiration from Southeast Asia. Image credit: José Naranja
Drawing inspiration from Southeast Asia. Image credit: José Naranja

To make sure his passion doesn’t become a chore, Naranja avoids putting pressure on himself to immortalize every little idea or concept that floats by. This can be hard at times for the artist, who often laments those “lost ideas” that didn’t make the cut.

“I try to keep the process full of fun and freedom otherwise it’s impossible to put passion and love [into journaling] for a long time,” he said.

“The problem is they [ideas] accumulate so fast, and I have to select a lot. I feel pity for the lost idea. Poor lost ideas.”

Travel is in Naranja’s lifeblood and his primary source of artistic inspiration. While he’s journeyed to all corners of the globe, from New Zealand to Morocco, these days the artist tends to travel primarily in Southeast Asia. He loves spending time in Vietnam and Taiwan, where he finds his slow-paced style of travel is well-suited, but feels a particular affinity with Thailand, which he insists is “always in his mind and heart,”.

Naranja has a modest internet presence, which includes his blog and Instagram, where he posts regularly about his progress. He also has a small online store, through which he sells ‘The Orange Manuscript’, a published book compiled of 120 carefully selected pages, taken from the many notebooks he’s filled while traveling the world. 

For Naranja, a life well-traveled is a worthy investment, teaching him invaluable life lessons, and gifting him with many priceless experiences. While few of us are ready to ditch the 9 to 5 and follow our dreams with such unbridled passion, we can perhaps all draw a little inspiration from Naranja’s story.


Grace Catherine

Grace is a freelance writer and digital project manager from New Zealand currently based in Mexico City. She is an avid traveler who loves destinations with an eclectic history, a bike-sharing scheme, and plenty of cool animals.