Making travel sketches was a standard artistic practice in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when observational drawing was considered a fundamental skill of artists and architects alike. Impressions of scenery glimpsed from the deck of a ship or studied in the natural environment were quickly recorded by artists in pencil, ink, pastel, or watercolors for future use in painting compositions or to strengthen their graphic techniques.
Violet Oakley combined her passion for drawing and her love of travel by sketching scenery wherever she found herself. In addition to filling dozens of sketchbooks, she produced more than 220 landscapes of places she visited in the United States, Europe, and North Africa. Her preferred medium was pastel on tinted paper. Oakley interpreted landscape in a way that emphasized the sublime qualities of high mountains, dramatic skies, and roiling waves. While attending the League of Nations from 1927 to 1929, she became fascinated by the luminous view of Mont Blanc from Lake Geneva and returned to draw the scene at different times of day. She also enjoyed depicting the picturesque Roman ruins at Timgad in Algeria and the Montserrat monastery in Spain.
Oakley was also attracted to the warm palette of the arid mountains of Morocco and Spain. She drew the distinctive Moorish architecture of Tangiers that she encountered while visiting English relatives and incorporated it into the backgrounds of her biblical scenes in the Great Women of the Bible mural series at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.
Closer to home, she made landscapes of Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where she and Edith Emerson held the summer workshop of Cogslea Academy of Arts and Letters in the 1930s and 1940s.