Last year my brother, father and I went on a road trip to the Shetland Islands. We’d all been keen to explore and to visit our friends who had moved there some years previously. They’d been tempting us with stories of epic scenery and wildlife. I packed my sketchbook, plenty of jumpers and warm clothes (it was May but I wasn’t taking any chances!) and booked us into a series of ‘Böds’ – buildings once used to house Fisherman’s equipment – now turned into basic accommodation for travellers.
We had such a brilliant adventure! I didn’t keep a journal at the time, so will share some highlights with you here, as well as sketches and photos made along the way…
Before taking the ferry to Shetland we visited the ruined, Medieval fortress of Dunnottar Castle near Aberdeen. Perched on the headland, it has serious Game Of Thrones vibes to it! The many crumbling windows and arches gave incredible views of the sea and coastline and provided plenty of inspiration for drawing.
We then took the overnight ferry to Lerwick, the main port in Shetland. It made me realise that I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for drawing modern fishing boats! Something about all the criss crossed lines of the ropes, the symmetry of their cranes and pulleys, the bold strips of colour and chunky iron fittings…Spending a night on the ferry was pretty exciting too. We had fantastic views of the choppy sea as we made our way north. And enjoyed several intense games of Canasta with beers and hot chocolates.
Arrival in Shetland
It was snowing when the ferry pulled into Lerwick. We spent the next few days staying in a Bod near our friend’s house. They were wonderful tour guides and hosts and took us to some of their favourite spots. At Sumburgh Head Lighthouse (foghorn pictured below) we were blasted by icy winds and saw puffins. A stones throw from our friend’s home we saw the washed up spine of a whale and spotted otters but the big treat came when we visited the lunar-esque cliffs of Eshaness…
Just as we were about to leave the cliffs, our friend bolted from the car and pointed out to sea. She had spotted a pod of Orcas! We were extremely lucky to have seen them on our first visit to Shetland and luckily had a pair of binoculars with us (nature nerds) but we could even see them with the naked eye; the tall dorsal fin of the male and a baby orca keeping up with the pack.
Coldest I’ve ever been whilst sketching
Though I made some drawings I was very happy with during our trip, there were several occasions where I was thwarted by the weather and had to admit defeat. Snow one minute, torrential rain and howling winds then beautiful, warm sunshine the next, quite tricky to keep up with! But I was determined to finish my drawing of little coloured houses across the bay and these fluffy Shetland ponies (chalk pastel sketch at the very top of this post).
We moved on from the mainland to stay in Yell. This involved another ferry crossing, though this one was so quick there was barely time to finish a Mars bar. On Yell we stayed in a Bod next to a ruined, haunted house. There were a few eerie buildings during our stay which was exciting – until you turned off the lights and let the fires go out!
From here we made little expeditions around Yell to see ‘The White Wife’, the figurehead of a German ship that wrecked near the island, some secret beaches and to drink in the Northern-most pub in Shetland (or so claimed the pub). We also travelled to neighbouring Unst for a day trip.
A grey day on Unst
Unst is one of Shetland’s North isles. We took another little ferry over to explore. It was a very grey and foggy day. On a quiet winding road, a Viking Longboat suddenly appeared from the mist! A complete replica perched next to a reconstruction of a turf covered Longhouse.
Later we took a walk to the cliffs at Hermaness Nature Reserve. We stuck to the wooden path to avoid falling into the saturated ground – very reminiscent of Tolkein’s ‘Dead Marshes’ – until the path ran out and disappeared into the fog. Knowing this was pretty close to the cliff edge, we decided it would be a smart move to turn back!
At the Keen of Hamar nature reserve we hunted for Edmonston’s chickweed. A small, yellow flower that can only be found in this little stretch of protected land. On a chilly, seaweed covered beach we were eyeballed by a large male seal from the water. We posed in the decorated bus shelter, an attraction straight from Craggy Island and marvelled at one of the moss covered Standing Stones.
It was a calm sunny evening when we took the ferry back to the mainland. There was a beautiful pink sunset and the sea had a milky quality to it. We stood on the deck for quite some time watching Shetland shrink into the distance.
There’s a lot more that we did and saw on this trip that i’ve missed out but these are some of my favourite memories. If you’re a nature lover that’s sturdy enough to withstand the constant weather changes and seeking somewhere untouched and remote to explore, then I highly recommend visiting Shetland. Don’t forget your binoculars!
I haven’t made a self portrait in years, probably since college which was…some time ago now 😉 I’m not a massive fan of drawing myself and luckily in day to day life it’s not really called for. However I recently had to face my demons in order to create my new profile picture for the Drawn Chorus Collective website!
It actually turned out to be a really good exercise for me. Not only did I need the image to look (at least a little bit) like me but I also wanted to create it in a style that tied in with the rest of my illustration work. So whilst some sketches looked like me, they didn’t necessarily have the sort of marks and expression that I try to get into my drawings.
I found that I ended up looking way too serious if I drew from a mirror, whilst drawing from a photo presented challenges too. Choosing the right pose (where I didn’t look like a prat) and trying to get my own likeness was quite tricky. I narrowed it down to these two images and in the end chose the warmer close up of my eye drawn in bright Crayola felt tip as it felt more ‘me’. I won’t be embarking on any more self portraits for a while but I was glad to be pushed out of my comfort zone again!
I’ve been enjoying working my way through Simogo’s beautiful mobile games. I’m a big fan of the Swedish developers who created Year Walk and Device 6. Their twisted storytelling, unique puzzles and high production values really inspire me to be a better games designer.
The Sailor’s Dream is a wonderfully crafted experience in which you take to the seas, exploring little islands in an attempt to discover what has happened to the story’s protagonists.
The side scrolling horizon is stunning, I’d love to know how they created the gently lapping, animated sea. Each island illustration is covered with minute details, the Secret Lighthouse, the Celestial Sanctuary; every time a new location was revealed I got a buzz of excitement.
Navigating through each location is unusual. Scenes are stitched together, fading to black as you shift between them. Dotted trails connect you and are roughly mapped to a floating compass.
They put so much effort into all elements of the game, secret sketches to be found, specially written songs that reveal parts of the narrative and without giving too much away…once I’d figured out what to do in the Transmission Horologe I was so excited about it I was telling anyone that would listen for weeks!
I have to admit I got a bit confused by the story for this one. Perhaps I didn’t uncover things quickly enough or in a good order to work out what was going on. But it didn’t really matter. Simogo always create beautiful experiences full of twists and delights – The Sailor’s Dream is no exception. Set your sail and weigh anchor!
I’m super chuffed to announce that I have joined the ranks of the Drawn Chorus Collective; a lovely group of illustrators and artists dedicated to making cool things! After meeting them by chance on Twitter a couple of years ago, I’ve enjoyed discovering each member’s work through their exciting exhibitions, books, comics and gorgeous instagram.
Working with them as a guest artist for the ‘Easy As’ alphabet book and the recent ‘There & Back Again’ show has really helped me to push my illustration skills and to learn the ins and outs of preparing work for an exhibition. I’m excited to see where they take me next and to be part of a drawing gang!
For anyone that couldn’t make it along to ‘There & Back Again’ the exploration themed exhibition I took part in this Summer – you can now see my illustrations and listen to the audio installation on my website.
I so enjoyed taking part in the show and got completely obsessed researching my chosen subject matter! I created four illustrations that explored key points of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Endurance expedition. From the ship becoming stuck in the Antarctic ice pack, to the men marching across the floes in attempt to reach safety.
As I was reading Shackleton’s journal ‘South’, I became so struck with how eloquently he described their perilous journey and incredible surroundings that I wanted to find a way to share his words.
With the help of my brilliant actor friend, Pip Donaghy and talented composer brother, Mikey Parsons, we created an audio installation that allowed visitors to the gallery to hear parts of Shackleton’s adventure whilst viewing the illustrations (these can be found by scrolling down the project page on my website).
I learned a lot in preparing for this exhibition and there are a few things I will definitely do differently next time, namely:
Order my frames well in advance of the show in case they are all smashed up when they arrive and I freak out and have to make a last minute trip to a nearby glazier to replace the glass.
But I picked up things that were really helpful too, such as not being afraid to ask your printer for advice and that creating geeky mockups of how your pictures will look when hung on the gallery wall is actually pretty handy!
All in all, I’m really chuffed with how this exhibition turned out and had great fun taking part alongside such talented and lovely artists. I still have a few prints available from the show, so do get in touch if you see something you like or have any questions. Massive thanks if you made it along and i’ll look forward to seeing you at the next one!
After a busy Summer of work, play and preparation for the There & Back Again exhibition (more on that soon!) something rather exciting happened…I went to Canada for a month!
I love to travel and after my 2014 adventures in China & New Zealand, I was itching to get away again and explore a new country. I found my way to the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and with sketchbook in hand spent time exploring the epic scenery.
Endless snow capped peaks, turquoise blue lakes, thick forests and majestic wildlife – it was simply magical. I won’t go into too much detail here as I kept up a visual travel log on my Instagram and Facebook pages while I was away (do check them out!) but I wanted to share a few of my favourite images from the trip here too!
I feel very lucky to have been able to go and cannot recommend Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper National Parks enough. I travelled solo, staying in hostels and travelling by Greyhound bus – if you’re thinking of going alone but are feeling unsure GO FOR IT! Canada is a great place for this, travel was very easy and comfortable and everyone is so friendly and helpful – just watch out for bears!
Photo by Petr Bakus
Photo by Petra Robinson
I’ll definitely need to go back! One month was just enough time to scratch the surface of Canada’s delights. Back home now and getting excited for my next projects!
Whilst working on the research phase for the upcoming ‘There & Back Again’ exhibition, I became completely absorbed by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Journal and the Endurance expedition of 1914.
As a result there has been much drawing of icebergs amongst other things! Here are a few sketches I made in oil pastels and pencil.