Shetland Adventure

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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…

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Dunnottar Castle
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.

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Ferry Crossing
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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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Island Hopping
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.

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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.

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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.

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Ferry Home
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.

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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!

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Canadian Adventure

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Photo by Petr Bakus

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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!

 

 

 

Wilmington Expedition

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Back in January my Mum and I spent three days in a cabin in Sussex exploring and drawing on the downs! We stocked up on hearty winter foods; soups, crusty bread and cheese. We packed our warmest clothes our sketchbooks, paper and drawing materials and set off for the hills.

Hailing from Newhaven, my Mum has always felt a strong connection to this part of the world and has been drawn to the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington, something that she has passed on to me. There is definitely something about the place. An ancient chalk figure etched into the hillside, being able to see way out across the land, rolling greenery and patchwork fields. The feeling of being high up and catching glimpses of the silvery sea.

It was late afternoon when we set out on our first sketch-pedition. We walked up the chalky track that runs alongside the Long Man. Though icy cold, the sun was shining brightly, setting everything ablaze. It was hard going clambering up the steep track in our skiwear whilst juggling our drawing equipment and we quickly overheated. Underfoot, beautiful frosty patterns had formed in the chalk, the ice wrenching the track apart and churning up the ground.

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At the top, spectacular views across the valleys. The sun seemed to hook into you and draw you out of your winter shell. I always get a primitive feeling when I’m there. My inner cave girl rises up! I felt like I could have been a horse in a previous life as I had the urge to gallop and jump around. I wanted to look at all the plants and flints. Examine every bit of sheep’s wool caught on thorny bushes. Mum stood next to a large metal gate and discovered it was singing a strange melody as the wind blew through the tiny holes in its metal surface.

We made quick sketches. I thought about all the artists who have been inspired by the landscape over the years and the beautiful works they have created. Scruffy pencil marks, etchings, layers and textures. I found it quite difficult to draw the sparse landscape, but the feeling of calm that came from getting totally lost in the moment and absorbed by the surroundings was amazing.

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The cabin itself was our refuge from the cold. Lighting fires in the wood-burning stove became my job. A good little fire would quickly warm the small room and give off a lovely smoky smell. In the evenings we cooked our meals, settled into the comfy chairs with hot chocolate and dissected our drawings. Our soundtrack was Arch Garrison’s album ‘I Will Be a Pilgrim’ a beautiful piece of music with lyrics mirroring our experience of enjoying the wild, chalky land.

 

We spent two days like this, waking early, making crumpets then setting out to the hills. Drawing, getting cold, coming back to warm up and refuel, then setting out again. Collapsing into our beds at the end of the day, feeling that we’d earned our rest.

On the last day, it snowed. It had fallen quite thickly in the night and we woke to a silent, white world. The Long Man was lost in the freezing clouds of fog. We sat on the cabin porch and drew the view in front of us, our breath freezing in the air. We set out on a different route that day, the snow had completely changed the views and we had to stop every few minutes to photograph and gawp at how different it looked. The white contrasted against the dark sky and enhanced the many lines and furrows that cut across the landscape. They seemed to carve it up, scars on the surface of the world.

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We arrived at a little church and entered the graveyard. A giant, ancient tree was at its centre, reinforced by heavy planks of wood and bound by thick iron chains in an attempt to keep it together. Most of the snow had burned off by midday as we made it to the top. It was difficult to work on a drawing too long because of the cold but we put the effort in and both make sketches we were pleased with.

I enjoyed treading on the frozen puddles. Carefully displacing my weight a little at a time and watching the splinters and shards form in the ice until, with a squeaking sound, they give way and the brown muddy water gushes up to greet your wellies!

It was such a special weekend. Making drawing the focus of the trip meant that we really made time for it. If we saw something we wanted to sketch, we could change our plans to fit around it, something that isn’t always practical on a more usual sort of holiday. Being outside in January despite the cold made me very happy too. Shutting ourselves away from the modern world and keeping things simple. We definitely want to go back again next year!

On this trip we stayed at Jackson’s Cabin in Polegate, hosted by the lovely Alison.

 

Edinburgh

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I had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful city of Edinburgh. This was my first trip to Scotland as an adult and I took my sketchbook along to record the adventure. Good thing too as there was plenty of inspiring stuff to draw; from stunning gothic buildings to the cheeky airbnb cat ‘Minou’. Here are some of the other things that made my trip special:

Visiting Edinburgh Castle, climbing Arthur’s Seat, cobbled streets and ‘wynds’, The Elephant House, a battered Mars bar, bagpipe wars, crumbling graveyards, Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the National Museum, trendy cocktails, getting spooked in the catacombs, veggie haggis, quality whisky and vintage trousers.

 

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Devon

This summer my family and friends set off for a beachy holiday in beautiful Devon. The order of the day being surfing, with as much eating, exploring and board gaming as we could in fit around it. I did a bit of sketching too, here are some drawings from the beach and countryside and a couple of instagram snaps. Looking forward to next year’s visit already!

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Travel Sketchbook

I got to draw in some really spectacular spots while I was away and have some lovely memories of times sat sketching. A rainy day at a Chinese pearl market sheltering in a restaurant doorway. Hiding in the shade on a sandy New Zealand beach not realising my ankles were being eaten alive by sand flies. Losing my tour group in the mountains of Longji after staying behind too long to finish a drawing…actually the last two don’t sound that great but they really were good experiences!

Some pages are just super quick sketches but there are a few studies in there that took a couple of hours or more to finish. Plenty of pencil, some oil pastel and a fair bit of watercolour which is fast becoming one of my favourite mediums.

 

Exploring in the East

I’m back from two and a half months of travel in China and New Zealand. An adventure I’d been dreaming about taking for years and it did not disappoint! I’m afraid that I let blog and twitter updates slip while I was away. I really wanted to focus on the moment, just being there. Painting on the Great Wall, sketching sumptuous temples, drawing mountains and rivers in the wilderness of New Zealand. Exploring, being outside, getting away from screens and using my body. And it felt really good to do so!

Everyone says it, but I definitely learned more about myself whilst travelling. There were sides of my personality that came out that I didn’t know existed. Sometimes positive, other times negative. But I think my main takeaway, was reminding myself of something I already knew; I love to be outside, I feel alive when I’m outside, in nature, rooted on the earth and surrounded by plants.

Now I’m back I want to hold onto those things and keep them in my mind so I can continue to work towards them and make sure they stay a constant part of my life. I’ll be sharing my travel sketchbook with you soon, but for now, here are a few of my stand out photographs from the trip. Mainly plucked from instagram as I do love a good filter!