The Grand Tour Part Three: ICELAND!

Part One: USA

Part Two: Dartmoor

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

And so: Iceland.

The Light Grey Art Labs residency was wonderful: small, active (very physically active!), interested, entertaining. And Iceland was… I couldn’t process it at first.

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I spent my day before the residency looking around the Culture House and worrying about whether I would be able to work out how to process the lava fields I’d seen that morning on the way from the airport.

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Because Iceland is, above all, an exceptionally new country. It is horrifyingly young, geologically and in terms of its civilisation. Journey to the Centre of the Earth makes sense here. We all got the theme for Jurassic Park stuck in our heads. Parts seemed like a recently terraformed planet, the rocks are raw and rough and new, steam pours out of the ground.

Iceland 2016 - bubbling mud

They didn’t get people until 800AD (give or take a few hermits), and didn’t use wheeled vehicles before the late 19th century.

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We looked at sulfurous pits of boiling mud and climbed down lava tubes studded with ice and alive with spectral mists.

Iceland 2016 - Lava tube

Iceland 2016 - Lava tube

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There were geysers, and everywhere people made little piles of stones.

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Iceland 2016 - cairns

Brown stones on clifftops, white stones in niches and arranged in little standing spirals below basalt cliffs.

Iceland 2016 - rocks

(This evidence of people marking, decorating, understanding, playing was one of my favourite things).

Page 23 Detail - Rocks

Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

The lakes steamed. We scrambled over crevasses and into ravines.

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Iceland 2016 - Thingvellir

We marvelled at the pleated fans of basalt columns, drew volcanic plains and details of moss. Climbed. Watched. Took photos. Thought.

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Page 25 Detail - Jarred

It was wonderful travelling with other artists. Learning from each other over wine in our cabin on Blueberry Hill.

Iceland 2016 - workshop

Iceland 2016 - workshop sketches

We all approached work and landscape differently, but it was grand to be with people who understood spending half an hour recording the texture of a rock.

Iceland 2016 - rock

Or marvelling at light, or pointing out the rare welcome smoothness of a glacial stone after the raw sharpness of all the others.

Iceland 2016 - looking at rocks

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We fell in love with moss.

Iceland 2016 - moss

Page 26 Detail - Notes

Iceland 2016 - River

 

It wasn’t like a fairytale.

Iceland 2016 - white water

Fairytales feel older than Iceland does.

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It has fairytales, of course, but we had to learn to look at the land differently. And you start to understand where fairytales come from.

Page 27 Detail - horse

Growing up in Euro-centric Australia, you know there’s ancient and continuous human history but don’t really see it. We’re not taught to see it. We see European history, barely over 2 centuries of it, and then we go to Europe and envy them their castles and forts and standing stones.

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Then to go to Iceland, and see their European history is longer than ours, but not by that much, relatively.

Iceland 2016 - farm

Iceland 2016 - Reykjavik

And before that? There’s no weight of human story.

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I hadn’t realised that I was aware of that, until I came home.

Page 29 Detail - Puffins

But Iceland was exceptionally beautiful, full of curious microcosms and great raw new-birthed slabs and extrusions of uneroded mountain.

Iceland 2016 - rocks

Ash-soft plains.

Iceland 2016 - plain with artist

New-cut gorges.

Iceland 2016 - waterfall

Horizon-capping glaciers.

Iceland 2016 - Glacier

Sheep and puffins.

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Then I was back in Reykjavik for one more day: museums and movies.

Iceland 2016 - costumes

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Then on to Oslo.

The Grand Tour Part Two: Dartmoor

Part One: USA

Part Three: Iceland!

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

I was on a round-the-world ticket so I guess that is why I had to sleep in Helsinki airport between NYC and Heathrow.

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Once landed, I picked up my hire car and drove directly to Dartmoor – unexpectedly passing Stonehenge in the evening sunlight. I spent the whole week in one town and it was of course wonderful, because it’s the sort of town where even the local scandals feel like the start of a Midsomer Murders episode, and it is full of many friends who are busy writing and painting and making things.

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I was there a few days earlier than originally planned, but Terri soon found me hanging over this gate, drawing sheep.

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I spent my first few nights at Greenbank B&B, a 10 minute walk out of town, and I highly recommend it. They had poultry and a bad-tempered parrot and dogs and a great big Aga stove and lent me Cold Comfort Farm.

Some notes on Cold Comfort Farm.

Cold-Comfort-Farm

I went back to visit several times after moving on.

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And this was the road along the back fence.

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When drawing English plants, Liberty prints suddenly make a lot more sense.

 

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Sheep-shearing at Greenbank.

Page 14 Detail - sheep

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And one night, on sunset, I walked up the top of Maldon Hill barefoot in the cold golden light, which was chilly but felt important, especially as I was thinking about Picnic at Hanging Rock for academic reasons at the time.
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Here is Terri’s beloved Tilly, being mystical in the woods.

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For Ruth’s birthday, we went to a ’70s space disco in a Devon field.


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After Greenbank, I moved in with the lovely Elizabeth-Jane, harpist and dealer in sugar-mice.

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Her house was full of music and books, and one evening we went down to the woods where Alex was living and owls hooted overhead.

Also, I finally visited Chagfarm!

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Page 18 Detail - Chagfarm

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At the farm I drew goats and pigs (for reference), and one evening I drove out over the moors and drew the Dartmoor sheep and ponies.

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Showing my sitters their portraits.

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You have to drive carefully over the moor – the sheep and ponies are unruffled by traffic.

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I did leave Chagford once to go to Moretonhampstead and see the Widdershins exhibition with Virginia (whose hand and art are shown here).

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One of the many things I love is that you can just go… walking out over the fields and the moor: up behind the studios with Terri and Tilly, over the common with Alan and Virginia after tea, wandering over to Todd’s for maps, traipsing out by moonlight with Elizabeth-Jane in search of standing stones which look deceptively like sheep.

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One last sketch of goats and parking inspectors, then off to Heathrow again. The last song to play on the radio as I reached the airport was, suitably, “Jerusalem.”

Then, off to Reykjavik.

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Next: Iceland!

The Grand Tour Part One: The USA

Part Two: Dartmoor

Part Three: Iceland

As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.

So: Once upon a time it was almost winter in Brisbane, as you can tell by… the shawl on the left hand page, I guess. Then I flew north. I am reliably informed that was the only cold week Brisbane had this winter.

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At the airport I drew various hi-vis dramas out on the tarmac. This is one of my favourite things to draw.

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On the aeroplane, I drew Cinderella-Die Hard mashups but that is for another post.

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In LA, I stayed with Katharine (aka The Fictator: a lot of you don’t know her but you should) and in a surprise to absolutely no-one we talked about books and stories and old movies. She was the best person to stay with in LA because she actively loves its geology, geography, history and likes driving. She took me to very odd museums, such as the cumulatively bewildering Museum of Jurassic Technology which feels like it was created by the protagonists of Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and had Borges in the bookstore.

We also went to the Last Bookstore.

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California is full of palm trees. Someone should have warned me. I got Josh Ritter’s California stuck in my head.

 

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NEW YORK! I like New York. I like the New York in which my friends live. Ellen and Delia sent me to the theatre (Something Rotten and Fun Home, the latter with Eliza and Karen), took me to the theatre (Shuffle Along) and to Klezmer concerts. I accidentally wandered into a theatre reading.

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I ate pastry with editors and lunches with art directors and found my pictures at the Society of Illustrators! (Thanks Irene, Miriam and Christine!IMG_0104
Genevieve took me to the Museum of the Moving Image and (almost as importantly) a grilled cheese cafe. We both promptly downloaded Ginger Rogers and the Mystery of the Scarlet Cloak.IMG_0079

 

Then a final evening of wine and chocolate among the New York rooftops before I caught the train to Massachusetts to stay with Kelly and Gavin.


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We had a lot of pool parties in Massachusetts. And writing, of course! It was a pretty productive week: workshopping novels and reading manuscripts and finishing illustrations off for Small Beer Press. I also met Cassie’s Scottish Fold, Maggie, a beautiful creature who regarded me with deep suspicion. And of course the writing barn which is even prettier than this article makes out.

 

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This were some of my notes from a workshop with Holly.

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Then: Readercon! It was my first Readercon, and I had a grand time, catching up with and meeting many very excellent people and lying around talking about theatre and Sayers, Broadway and Dunnett. If I try to list everyone I will (a) sound like I’m namedropping and (b) forget people.

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I moderated two panels, was on a third and gave a reading from my Masters novella-in-progress.

And the next day, I left for England.

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Next: Dartmoor

Vanuatu: To the Volcano – Part 2

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John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s sonnet “High Flight” begins “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…”.

I’ve known the poem for years, but never really understood the first line until we took off from Port Vila in the De Havilland Twin Otter, reputed to be very reliable, but the smallest plane I have ever paid to be in (I went up in a Cessna once, and saw a rainbow come down in the centre of a paddock, but that was a long time ago).

The airport in Port Vila is a large industrial shed divided in two: the domestic and international terminals. That’s the domestic departure gate on the right in the picture above.

Through the gate and on the tarmac were two very small aircraft. When it was time to board, our little group of passengers (laden with assorted luggage – bags and woven mats and cooking oil and bundles of fresh peanuts with their stalks tied together) walked out between the two. One had the reassuring words “In Emergency Cut Here” painted on the side near a dotted line. The pilots of the planes were leaning out talking to each other across the tarmac. A passenger ahead of me asked which flight was our flight number. The pilots looked blank and we milled around between the two planes until I called out, “Are you going to Tanna?” to one of the planes and the pilot laughed and said “Yes, that’s the right question!”. So we clambered up the stairs.

That’s the interior of the plane on the right. It seats 20. The stairs fold up into the plane (see the wriggly line about two thirds up the right side of that page? That’s the handrail of the stairs). There was no pressurisation. My elbow was pressed against an emergency exit door and cold air came in around the edges of the door. Cold air coming in around exit door pressed against elbow. From the back seat (where I was) we could see into cockpit. See the left-hand cockpit window? I’ve drawn the windscreen wiper there.

Twin Otters don’t need much of a run-up to take off. We leapt up and into the buffeting island winds. I could feel the plane strain and toss against the pull of the earth, and was very aware of the size of the plane and the wind whistling around the door. And then we pulled free and the engine didn’t seem to labour as loudly, and we were up above the island and the reefs and sandbanks, each circled by concentric rings of coloured sea.

Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…”. The words of “High Flight” suddenly made sense, and kept going through my mind, together with these lines from Judith Wright’s poem “The Idler”:

The islands ran like emeralds through his fingers
(Oparo, Manahiki, Tubuai)
till he turned truant, cleared the heads at dawn
and half-forgot the seasons, under that sky…

 

(Part 1 here).

Vanuatu: Sketchbook

My poor maltreated Moleskine. It is held together with duct tape now (on the inside, so I can’t pass it off as industrial punk) and has been soggy and dirty and flecked with volcanic ash and had a near miss in the Port in Port Vila.

But it survived and the picture pages are scanned and up as a set on Flickr: Vanuatu 2008 Moleskine.

This sketchbook has fewer receipts and brochures and tickets than the American one (although there are one or two pages of receipts and boarding passes I didn’t scan in), and is better scanned and – in the drawings at least – more colourful due to my acquisition of more markers. My handbag was (is) full of markers (and pencils, erasers, sharpeners, gel pens, blending pencils, etc).

But next time I will carry the book in a ziplock bag. Just in case.

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Now, so far I only have one question to answer about Vanuatu, and my answer is: no, to the best of my knowledge there are no longer cannibals in Vanuatu; that doesn’t stop the tourist trade trading on that piece of history; and from time to time startled linguists have been ‘discovered’ by anthropologists searching for cannibal tribes.

Any other questions?

 

What was learned – Part 5 of my travels with a sketchbook

USA Sketchbook 20
  1. I had an epiphany at a Turner exhibit – the importance of boldness. This was the biggest lesson: to be bold in terms of time, line and materials. I have always tended to pale, tentative sketches. The limitations of time and materials forced me to far less subtlety, and I think that is a good thing. You can get away with a lot more if you do it with confidence and flair. I’m still working on both of these, but I am aware of the difference now.
  2. To appreciate markers and coloured pencils. Not always like, but appreciate.
  3. The joy of having the book constantly up to date.
  4. Paying attention to little scenes. I remember places keenly because of a knitting girl or a moldy pumpkin.
  5. People complicate travel sketching. I am conscious of their possible reaction (both to my sketching and to others’ reactions), time constraints, the need to move at a joint pace rather than individual, the vagueness it lends my half of conversations. I need to practice drawing in company and to stop being rritated by conversations which on drawing time.
  6. I have become much more comfortable with drawing/sketching from life and have continued this in other sketchbooks since returning.
  7. I like having a visual record. It is more legible than handwriting alone, I look back at it more frequently than a written journal, and I think it is more self-contained and interesting than a photo album alone.
  8. I feel less self-conscious about inviting people to look at sketchbook than at photo albums. This is partly vanity and partly because I am never convinced people actually want to look at photos (and I have to sit there and explain them).

Knitting at Books of Wonder

Next time I will:

  1. Take less.
  2. Ignore perfection – better at all than never.
  3. Draw more.
  4. Be bold.
  5. Make hi-res scans the first time around (still, better at all than never).

Painting Ghandi
The other parts:

And the journal itself is up as a set on Flickr: USA 2007 Moleskine.

What was organised – Part 4 of my travels with a sketchbook

Alligator Rattle

In the grand tradition of not making up my mind until the last possible moment (as usual, some time after take-off) I browsed through travel journals in newsagencies and online trying to determine an optimum combination of categories – should I include expenditure? an itinerary? what about an address book? How much space should be allotted for each day? How did artists organise their travel sketchbooks, if at all? Were journal, diary and sketchbook incompatible?

I settled on the winning combination on the flight over: The debden notebook would retain its usual structure – infodump with index. I put all postcard addresses in there (indexed under “contacts”). Otherwise, it was used for directions, reminders and a futuristic science fiction story involving cryogenic sleep and prosthetic limbs and lawyers on motorcycles and mafia connections and the rule of law (the true hero) and consisting only of the bits in between the action.

The sketchbook was divided into two sections.

Section one was a planner: each page featured four hand-drawn boxes with the date (a sticker), month and day of the week. In these I jotted down a very minimal account of the day, and only missed the last four or so. For a random example, 17 October – Wednesday reads:

Up 9-ish.
Watched part of the Waltons and Little House (guest starring a very young James Cromwell)
Breakfast @ Free Port (“Good food, legal drinks”): cinnamon scrolls.
To North East to wait for Martha to get off work.
Lunch at Bova’s.
Back to Martha’s to drop off a sub for Nick.
Through Eyrie to Presque Isle.
Drove around Presque Isle, monument, lighthouses.
Stopped at visitor centre.
Back to Martha’s for pie. Spoke to C.O. on phone.
Back to farm.
Downloaded photos. Kathy & Mommy organised for me to go to Pittsburgh.

Section two was everything else (I micromanage content, as you can see). The date headers went in as each day came along. I sketched as I could through the day, wrote only a little, and at the end of the day added in any cartoons or drawings (often from photos on my camera or phone) or bits-and-pieces that remained.

I had an idea that if I wanted a list of expenditures I could start from the back, or keep lists of Things to Eat on the index cards in the back pocket, but none of these were necessary.

Driving to Pittsburgh

And the journal itself is up as a set on Flickr: USA 2007 Moleskine.