Freycinet – from the sketchbook

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During my recent visit to Tasmania, we were given the opportunity to stay in a beachside ‘shack’ for a few days. Nestled in the Freycinet National Park, a short distance from the beginning of the Wineglass Bay walk, close to Fisheries Beach, it was a delight to settle in there to enjoy the peace and scenery. It was an opportunity to read, walk, relax and for me, to draw. (See my previous post for more of the sketches.)

As a small thank you to the owner of the shack (actually a very comfortable house!) I have made up a drawing using my sketches from the local area, adding little annotations of names and places. Hopefully it will remind her of the peace and quiet of Freycinet when she is far away.

It is drawn using pen and ink and watercolour, on Arches Aquarelle 300 gsm paper, hot-pressed, 26 x 36 cm.

Sketching in Tasmania

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In the middle of December I flew down to Hobart to join my partner who had taken the car over on the ferry a couple of weeks before, as he had work to do at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. After a few days there, of course visiting the wonderful MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), we spent a week in a friend’s beach ‘shack’ in Freycinet National Park, one of the most beautiful places in Tasmania. We walked – one walk that we HAD to do was a climb up to look down at Wineglass Bay, then down the other side, a long loop across a marsh, another beach and through the bush back. About 11 km it took us 5 hours and was a good workout, but worth it!

On other days we drove to walk on the Friendly Beaches – the sea intense turquoise blue and sand white, with rock pools at the water’s edge, The Gardens with the same coloured ocean and sand, but massive boulders covered with orange lichen … and numerous others. In between we relaxed, read and I drew. From Freycinet we moved up the coast to St Helens, a small fishing town in the Bay of Fires, then camped at Policeman’s Point a bit further up the coast, still in the Bay of Fires. A beautiful spot for bush camping and walking on the beach until it rained … but we weren’t daunted and took ourselves to Bridport on the north coast. An unexpected delight, the coastline composed of numerous small beaches bordered by rocks. And the sun shone again!

Our last stop was Launceston, another pretty small city, hilly like Hobart, with elaborate Victorian architecture. We watched the New Year fireworks from a park by the Tamar River – a delight to be so close and walk back to our hotel in a matter of minutes, very different from Sydney! On the ferry back to Melbourne we had a very comfortable cabin, the Bass Strait was a millpond, so a simple and uneventful (thank goodness, I am a very bad sailor!) trip. Then towards home, catching up with friends along the way.

I only had time to sketch between Freycinet and Bridport, but took every opportunity I could, walking around with my eyes on the ground looking for any attractive little object!

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Scotland – from Stirling to Blair Atholl

 

 

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After a month in Stirling we took to the road, heading west. Above is Stirling Castle, overlooking a field of Highland cattle. Our first stop was Oban, including a day trip to the Isle of Mull (don’t sing it, it never goes away …) then to Skye via a small ferry. After a loop around Skye we continued north, hugging the coast all the way. This meant travelling on single lane roads over mountains and along the coast, avoiding sheep and Highland cattle wandering the roads oblivious to any danger. Then across the top, down the east coast and back into England. We were blessed with the weather, mild and sunny nearly the whole way.

There were many highlights – breathtaking and unexpected scenery, a variety of castles in all states of repair, from ruined to still inhabited, a guitar festival in Ullapool, seeing stags and does late one night, and hearing the stags roaring in the night … we stayed in regular B and Bs, Airbnbs and even a castle, which happened to be in the right place on our 35th wedding anniversary. The photos below were taken on my phone, so please excuse any quality issues, and are just a selection of a great many!

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Inveraray
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Standing stones at Lochgilphead
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Easdale – this small town was on a slate mine. All the houses were built of stacked slate.
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The only bridge over the Atlantic Ocean!
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Oban
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Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull – note the rather creepy horse-hoof candlesticks.
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Evening across the harbour at Oban
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Glenshiel
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Unusual cloud on Skye
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Dunvegan Castle in the north of Skye
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Skye – waterfall and organ pipe rock forms in the background
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Inverewe garden – although a long way north, the warm Gulf Stream winds mean that this garden can support a wide range of plants, including Australian tree ferns.
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The Highland cattle were completely unfazed by traffic close by.
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Graveyard with a view at Ullapool
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Achiltibuie

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Talmine, on the north coast of Scotland
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The Stacks at Dunnet Head. There were seals resting on the rock ledges at the base of the Stacks. This is the most northerly point on the mainland, not John O’Groats as we are led to believe.
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Ackergill Castle where we stayed for our 35th wedding anniversary – it just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
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The dining room in Ackergill Castle
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Dunrobin Castle – the holiday home of the Dukes of Sutherland. In the garden was a summer house full of trophies from hunting trips, including heads of an elephant, a giraffe, buffaloes, tiny deer, tails of elephants, rhinos, not to mention the stuffed birds and human trophies from Neolithic graves. Deeply shocking.
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The walled garden at Blair Atholl Castle

 

Sketching on trains


Having a sleeping or otherwise occupied person in reasonably close range is a golden opportunity for sketching. So a train journey is pretty good – the best position is across the aisle, so my subjects are in seats facing the other way. I don’t want to be observed so sometimes have to pretend I’m doing something else, but as soon as they are asleep again or immersed in their laptop, then I can continue. These were done between Stirling and Edinburgh or Glasgow, in my small square sketchbook with a Staedler pigment pen. 

Drawing in Stirling, Scotland


At the beginning of September I arrived in Stirling for a month. While my partner is doing a sabbatical at the university, I decided to treat my time here like an artist’s residency, and build up a body of work inspired by the area. Stirling is a beautiful small city, with large, gracious Victorian houses and a castle overlooking the town. It is in easy reach of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and surrounded by lush green countryside. There is a deep sense of history, with the site of the Battle of Bannockburn when the Scots beat the English in 1314 close by and castles in easy reach in every direction, so plenty of enjoyable distractions to explore.  

However, I am not interested in depicting landscape or architecture, my inspiration tends to come from the small details found in the environment, so I have been wandering around with my camera taking photos of unusual or interesting plants, leaves, berries etc that I find in people’s gardens or in the hedgerows. 

When packing to come here, I deliberately limited my materials, partly because I didn’t want to be carrying a lot of extra stuff, and partly because I wanted to force myself to concentrate on just one or two mediums. So, I brought a number of different black ink pens, a selection of graphite pencils and my travelling watercolour set. I tore up a large sheet of drawing paper into 12 pieces each about 25 cm square, and that completed my kit, along with a small sketchbook to carry with me.

So, two weeks in I have completed 3 drawings, all using my Rotring EF Art Pen. It has a nice fine nib and is satisfying to hold. The three drawings are all based on plants, but all enlarged and exaggerated, no intention of botanical accuracy, there was more thought given to playing with form and texture, and building up shape with line.

Six days in Iceland

The idea of the Northern Lights, the drama of short days and long nights, snow and ice inspired this short trip to Iceland. Having just had a big birthday, this was a treat that I couldn’t resist when it was suggested. So, since we were going to be in the UK for Christmas this was the ideal time. Just six days, but that was enough to drive from Reykjavic to the eastern side of the island, along the southern coast. We booked a self-drive tour which provided a detailed itinerary and hotels booked along the way. The first night was Reykjavic – an old, small city with narrow streets leading down to the harbour, lit up with Christmas decorations, busy and vibrant.

After picking up the car, a small 4-wheel drive with studded tyres, we made our way east. There was quite a lot of snow, unusual for this early we were told, but the roads were clear – at least to start with! First stop was a geothermal power station, architecturally beautiful, providing power and hot water efficiently to the area.


The further we travelled, the more build-up of snow and ice on the road, but the car hung on. It was only stepping outside you realised just how icy it was, your feet threatening to shoot away from beneath you.


Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The main fall was still flowing, but all around were icicles frozen in mid fall. When we returned two days later, most of the snow had melted, giving us a view of the intense, dark colours of the landscape.


Sunrise at Geirland.


Skaftafell National Park – we walked as close as we could get to this glacier – I love the semi-abstract shapes that appear in it.

 

   Jokulsarlon, the Glacial Lagoon was the most extraordinary place. A glacier flows down to the river mouth, where large blocks of ice break off and float down to the sea, or are washed up onto the jet black volcanic sands. Some of the ice is intensely compressed and clear as glass, some of the blocks are full of oxygen and bright turquoise.

Iceland is a memory of roads that are only defined from the sky and landscape by small yellow posts, majestic scenery and the inexplicable beauty of the Glacial Lagoon, sunrises and sunsets of intense colour. Landscape in intense, deep tertiary colours. It won’t leave me for a long time.

2015 has been a year of big events, some happy, others quite the opposite. One daughter bought a house, the other got engaged, my mother died, we took our big trip around Australia for three and a half months, now Iceland and a wonderful family Christmas in London, but just before Christmas my brother died. I am thankful I happened to be in the UK for my mother’s funeral, and that I saw my brother, and will be here for his funeral. Thank you to all my blogging friends for your encouragement and wonderful support of my art, it makes such a big difference to me, and you all inspire me constantly. So, here’s looking forward to a peaceful and happy 2016 for all of us!

100 days under canvas – home again!

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So now we are home again … in the end it was 98 days under canvas, but who’s counting? Extreme heat (high 30s C) then heavy rain prevented us lingering in the back of New South Wales, but that will be easy enough to revisit at another time.

Now to collate the photos, sort the memories and compile the data. The statistics are Neil’s job, but basically we travelled over 16,200 km, used just over 2000 litres of diesel, and camped in 61 different places. No major breakdowns, no flat tyres, a few small wear and tear breakages – switches, catches, that sort of thing. There were highs and lows, times when were ready to chuck it all in and go home, and times of astonishing, mind boggling beauty that made it all worthwhile. Roads that were kilometres of boredom, and others that we had to stop frequently because the flowers and bushes at the side of the road were so exquisite. So for a list of highs and lows, let’s start with the lows:

  • The first two weeks were cold and wet – the moral to this is get out of the Eastern states as soon as possible when travelling in winter!
  • Wind – way too much of it, but as someone said to us that is what you get in Western Australia at this time of year. We were driven mad by canvas flapping and tent poles creaking all night long, and the worry that the whole camper would blow inside out. We had sand blown into a vortex underneath, so that a deep hole formed beneath on one side and sand poured inside on the other.
  • A few scary driving moments, my particular one was when I was stuck behind a three-trailer road train and had to overtake. The road was narrow, the road train was over the centre line and the sides were soft. I got it past but nearly lost control. NEVER again! It didn’t help, just a few minutes later seeing workmen gathering up the remains of a caravan that was smashed to pieces on the side of the road.
  • Some of the places we very much looked forward to were disappointing – Cape Leveque, north of Broome was one. The beaches were still beautiful, but the camping area was dirty and crowded.
  • We had one night that was very hot, still 29C at 10.30 pm. But surprisingly, that was the only one that made sleeping difficult.
  • Someone stole one of our sheets from the washing line in Broome, and my favourite shorts were taken from the washing line in Albany. We have never experienced this travelling before.

And the highs:

  • The big one has to be the flowers – we knew that we would be likely to miss the orchids, travelling in late spring, but we were astonished at how broad the variety of flowering plants was, and from much further north than we expected, right to the far south coast. Beekeepers Reserve, outside Mullewa was an incredibly rich area of plant diversity. As we walked, every step showed us new and different plants. Another treasure trove was near Ravensthorpe, along a route with designated points of interest. it was partly normal road, partly 4 wheel drive, great views of the area, and this was where we saw the strange but beautiful Tennis Ball Banksia.
  • The Painted Desert – extraordinary landforms, with layers of colour. A feeling of being in a really ancient landscape.
  • Station stays – camping on a working cattle or sheep station is almost always a great experience. Simple showers, often in corrugated iron sheds, but plenty of hot water, very often a communal camp fire and always good company, sitting around the fire in the evening. We got many tips of places to go and things to see from people we met.
  • Fossicking. We had never done this before, but have now got the bug! First we searched for garnets – seeing the deep pink sparkle in the sieve as they appear is so exciting! Then we searched for zircons, and the same story.
  • Middle Lagoon – we camped there after Cape Leveque, and it restored our faith in the Dampier Peninsula. The spot we got was on the edge of the cliff above the beach, the most perfect view. We watched humpback whales playing right in front of us.
  • The landscape from Port Hedland to Exmouth, via Tom Price and Wittenoom (a sad, strange abandoned asbestos mining town, with signs warning of death from asbestos) and along the northern edge of Karijini National Park, where the scenery was as striking as it is inside the national park. At the beginning of this road is where we first saw the Sturt Desert Peas.
  • The birds – we didn’t see a huge number of animals, but lots of birds. Flocks of green budgies, butcher birds singing their hearts out, the strange call of the blue-winged kookaburra, a bustard running down the road ahead of us, emus, carnaby black cockatoos, ring neck parrots and many more.
  • Snorkelling at Coral Bay – just floating amongst masses of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes, going about their normal business on the reef was a magical experience. The coral was mostly not very colourful, but had wonderful shapes and textures.
  • Elle’s beach – this was a mixed experience as the wind was very strong and constant here, but the beach was one of the most beautiful we have been to. It was on a sheep station called Warroora, and we had the beach almost to ourselves. The sea was quite wild but a wonderful deep turquoise and the sand white, covered with more giant clam shells than I have ever seen. When the tide went out, we could walk on the reef and see fish, anemones and urchins in the deep, clear pools left behind.
  • Bush camping in the Toolonga Nature Reserve by a series of small pools – dozens of flowering bushes, eremophilas in every colour, birds everywhere but otherwise so quiet! In the morning we waited quietly by one of the larger pools to see the birds coming down to drink, including three emus, grunting to one another.
  • Hamersley Beach in the Fitzgerald national Park. We reached this beach after a bush walk of half and hour or so, on a day threatening rain, dark heavy clouds looming. Walking around a corner on to the beach was jaw dropping – all along the beach were sharp, angled rocks jutting up, the sea was turquoise in the shallower parts and purple in the deep, and there were masses of tiny pink scallop shells scattered all along the white sand beach. The colours and textures of the rocks were rich and intense. I think the dark skies enhanced the other-wordly nature of this place.
  • Mt Ive station, in the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. The people provide mud maps of several 4 wheel drive tracks around the property, which we took advantage of. Amazing scenery including Organ Pipes, which are rock formations which look just like their name, tall pillars, some tipping over, others lining the path of waterfalls. They also gave us access to Lake Gairdner, a massive salt lake. Pure white, it was an impressive sight and a very strange sensation to walk on.
  • There were towns we enjoyed too, in particular Albany and Broken Hill, both of which require more time spent there.

There are so many more things, but this has turned into a marathon! As I digest all the experiences more will come to mind, and different feelings emerge. Already the difficult parts are fading and the memories of the good bits getting stronger.

To finish for now, here is a gallery of the last of the sketches. Click to see them full size.