A couple of winters ago, Husb and I went to Iceland. That’s the country, not the shop! It was amazing. I took sketchbooks, paper and card with me and loads of different drawing materials because I wasn’t sure what would stop working in that climate – my fingers as it turned out. It was freezing – 3 days of torrential snow taught me the meaning of suffering for my art.
I whipped my fleecy gloves off every chance I got but even with my miser mittens on underneath, I couldn’t manage to draw outside in that climate for more than about 2 minutes. Then I cried a bit as my poor, raw, red fingers warmed up painfully.
I prefer to draw when I’m travelling rather than just take photos because the memories are more vivid. It was an excellent trip, with Olafur The Guide and Otto The Driver (on a sabbatical from Springfield, obviously) and a gaggle of Babyboomer companions.
(courtesy of Olafur The Guide)
Q. “What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest?”
A. “Stand up.”
I guess you had to be there.
There are lots of forests in Iceland made up of the Arctic Birch, Betula pubescens tortuosa, but because of the climate the trees are generally very short, slight and contorted, (hence the joke ). The reddish brown colour of the bare trees combined with the orangey yellow of the grasses, splashed colour across the monochrome winter landscape.
The original Geysir, the origin of the name for all similar phenomena, no longer blows, but a few yards away Strokkur blasts every few minutes. It erupts with considerable warning and the tension builds until, like a Tsunami, it withdraws and then surges with tremendous force up into the cold winter air. Then the cycle starts again.
The landscape is ethereal and lovely and warm and covered in the local orangey/yellow grass. I scribbled the sketch in a couple of minutes using compressed charcoal, white conte crayon and soft oil pastel onto a small piece of pink mountboard randomly prepared with a grey wash of dilute Indian ink
Dawn On The Road
One day, we went off road in giant jeeps to the Gigjokull glacier. We set off in the dark, the day was dry and clear but brutally cold and the snow very thick. Our guides showed us how to walk on deep snow without sinking (you stamp on it) but once I didn’t stamp hard enough and sank up to my thigh!
We were many miles into the wilderness but saw a lonely hunter searching for ptarmigan, which is a Xmas delicacy in Iceland. It can only be hunted for personal consumption, not for sale. We didn’t get to taste any ptarmigan, but we ate wild greylag goose, very tasty.
Our most excellent guide told us about the hidden people, the Huldufólk, supernatural beings living in rock formations, rarely showing themselves to humans. Many Icelanders believe in their existence and there is an Elfschool in Reykjavik. (http://www.elfmuseum.com/home )
As we drew near the ‘tongue’ of the glacier I noticed a vast snow-covered fissure in the icy cliff which clearly had faces staring at our vehicles across the landscape. I kept pointing them out to Husb, but he couldn’t see what I was talking about. I snapped some photos through the bus window and when I got home and put them onto the computer, I could clearly see the faces, still staring out at me. The scale was enormous, people were like tiny ants at the bottom of the cliff.
The faces were so obvious to me;
I saw four, dominated by a rather imperious woman. There are many legends about their origin. The one that interests me most is that they’re descended from Lilith, the first wife of the biblical Adam, who ran off with the fallen angel, Samael, because Adam was a bit rubbish, but I hadn’t come across this Icelandic version before. This was very hard to draw, it took ages to make the faces appear, almost as if they wanted to remain hidden. The drawing is constructed in acrylic pigment and oil bars onto distressed paper.