An Artist Afloat
Sailing and sketching
What do you think of when you hear the words 'Bora Bora'? My mind turns to a kind of ultimate luxury- movie stars with cocktails, gourmet restaurants and white sand that you're not allowed to sit on unless you've paid a hefty premium and have a name that's appeared on film credits. So I has a few reservations about cruising there for long- would we be able to afford to do anything? Would we feel out of place? Would we be allowed within a mile of any of the flash resorts? Would they move us on as soon as we dropped anchor, as I'd heard on some of the other islands.
It turned out that private boat was the best way to see the island and the motu fringing the lagoon. We could move between anchorages, find great views and carry out a search for the best chocolate lava cake on the island. White beaches could be ours for the cost of a drink and we could enjoy sundowners without breaking the bank. Whilst I'm sure I would love the luxury of an overwater bungalow, they're generally built over sand- so don't necessarily offer the best snorkelling. We, on the other hand, could swim off the boat to nearby reefs or take the dinghy to find the best spots, and then spend as long as we liked in the water without being hauled out by impatient tour guides keeping to an itinerary.
I drew a map soon after our arrival- trying to integrate two different cruising guides and recommendations from the Lonely Planet. It helped us get our bearings and create a rough plan- a couple of days anchored off the main island, then down to Motu Tupua in the South West, followed by a journey up and over to explore the lagoon to the east and the south.
After living in the boat yard on Raiatea, we felt like we had earned the incredible dinner and views at the Bora Bora Yacht Club. Fresh bread with melting butter, delicious tuna and of course that lava cake- my taste buds were in ecstasy. We also had the pleasure of watching the sun set behind Island Prism- and watched the other diners taking photos of her. We were pretty happy she'd been scrubbed up for the occasion!
We then moved a little farther south to Mai Kai. They offered mooring balls for $30 a night, which included use of their infinity pool. It seems very silly to enjoy a pool so much after months of world class snorkelling- maybe the relaxing poolside loungers helped, maybe it was the fact I could just float on my back and gaze up at the sky. The wifi was good enough to catch up on a few internet jobs, and we splashed out on dinner again (the lava cake wasn't quite as fluffy as the one from BBYC, but went very nicely with a glass of St Emilion). And the sunset really came out to play.
The anchorage down at Motu Tupua was lovely, The snorkeling was ok, and although the condition of the coral wasn't great, I saw lots of fish. The real draw was the view of the peaks of Bora Bora and the colours of the water in the lagoon. I pulled out my acrylics to try to capture the wonderfully intense shades or turquoise and blue. They're an interesting choice for a sketchbook- they can stay slightly sticky when dry, so it's not a great idea to use them on both pages of a spread, but the rich colours were exactly what I needed. And my beloved luminous watercolours found a home on each facing page.
The east side was one of the highlights of Bora Bora. The motu were home to some very exclusive hotels, so we didn't go ashore, but we loved the view and the amazing snorkelling just a short dinghy ride away. We spent hours swimming with manta rays- up to seven in a group- and clouds of up to thirty eagle rays. The underwater ballet held us mesmerised. The coral was beautiful and there were plenty of fish, including the majestic Napoleon wrasse, but the rays were the stars of the show. Every day we emerged from the water after hours of swimming, exhilarated and with fingers like prunes.
Of course, the rays appeared in my sketchbook, and were recreated in watercolour form. The patterns on their back reminded me of the swirling koru patterns of Maori art, so each of my mantas got a little Polynesian twist- as did some of the landscape!
We negotiated the route between coral heads to reach the very southern tip of the lagoon. We anchored off the Sofitel Private Resort and used the dinghy to get through the little pass to Matira Point. The resorts here were very nice, and a little less exclusive than the overwater bungalows out on the motu. We visited the Sofitel bar for happy hour, and were shown to a table that would have a great view of the dance show later that evening. I drew my drink and was soon asked to draw the bartender, who was very pleased with the sketch I gave her. The dancers were amazing- with their sinuous movements, I'm sure they have joints in places I don't. I tried some gesture drawings- the only way to try to capture the rapid motions of the dance, and snapped some reference photos to attempt some more colourful sketches later.
On the way back to Prism, the channel lights guided us and we thought we'd gone far enough into deep water to avoid the reef. Sadly not- we struck coral, I managed to lift the engine before any harm was done but we had a gash in the bottom of the dinghy. Thank heavens for our new dinghy pump- Jim spent the last portion of the journey bailing out. The next day we moved back round to our anchorage near the manta rays. Our friends Trish and John on Lumiel joined us and we snorkeled, followed by delicious coffee and bacon butties on their catamaran. They even let me use their warm shower. As the sign on their boat says, 'It doesn't get any better than this!'
So after my initial reservation, it was hard to leave. I hope I'll make it back one day- those manta rays and the chocolate lava cake at the Bora Bora Yacht Club are calling.
(If you're a fan of the manta rays, they're appearing over on Redbubble with some of the other wonderful creatures I've met through Polynesia. Take a peek at Redbubble, or contact me for information about the originals!)
Raiatea- where legend and history collide. Thought to be the launching point for the Polynesian voyages to Rapa Nui, Hawai'i and Aotearoa (New Zealand), it was home to heroes and adventurers. Priests blessed the launching double-hulled canoes and found messages from the gods in the cries of the heron and the kingfisher. When the missionaries came, the old gods were forgotten and the marae, used for centuries of worship, were neglected or destroyed. Today, the ruins of the mighty marae have been restored, though the old deities remain dormant (not a bad thing as one or two of them were rather keen on human sacrifice).
Bill, Jim and I found that traveling back in time to explore the ancient civilisation was remarkably straightforward. We motored through the linked lagoons of Taha'a and Raiatea, dodging the occasional reef on our route south until we anchored in sand near to the marae of Taputapuatea. We dinghied ashore and explored coral rock pavements and platforms looking out to sea, ancient walls consumed by banyan trees and a few carvings, last remnants of an ancient artistic heritage. Standing stones in the courtyards marked the spots where the tribal elite would have sat, and modern carved stele recalled the tall wooden totems which would have once decorated each marae. The tables for offerings of food were long gone, but we recreated the feasts of the past with some baguettes, blue cheese and steamed buns with our hunter-gatherer Jim rustled up from a nearby store.
Moving back up north, we anchored near to the Faaroa River. It was wide enough and deep enough for us to access by dinghy, so we motored up, through lush farmland fringed with hibiscus and ginger. The heavens opened, adding to the feeling of tropical adventure and making our later sail up to the main town of Uturoa rather damp.
We delivered Bill to the airport- the only airport I've ever seen with its own dinghy dock- before Jim and I turned our hand to hauling Prism out at the Raiatea Carenage for a few coats of bottom paint and a raising of the water line (apparently all the art supplies have left her sitting a little low in the water). I'm sure I should have been sketching boats sitting in cradles, waterblasters and tools but I just wasn't finding the boat yard inspiring- it probably didn't help that I didn't want to be there. My Sketchbook Skool kourse 'Imagining' was far more inspiring, so I turned my hand to ink blob monsters until Prism was afloat again and Bora Bora called.
It's looking like we'll have a good weather window on Friday or Saturday. Departure is getting near, the boat is well-provisioned and leak-free (for the moment anyway), and all that stands between us and French Polynesia is a load of laundry, a last shop for vegetables and rather a lot of sea.
I started drawing places I'm saying goodbye to. It's the people who are important, but the places are all tied up with the memories of the special souls I go there with and so it seemed a good way to approach leave-taking. So I've been sketching Pacific Bay and Schnappa Rock, a great little restaurant here in Tutukaka, and remembering fun sailing trips, swimming, post-dive beverages with Jill and delicious birthday dinners.
Then along came Brian Butler. He's teaching a class on Sketchbook Skool this week, and shared lively sketchbooks filled with busy drawings of concerts and road trips. He collages images together and paints enormous murals on the side of buildings to celebrate the communities he's painting in. His style is different and original, and you can find him at www.theupperhandart.com/. He challenged us to draw our own collected images of our favourite places. It seemed a perfect way to remember them and say goodbye.
His quirky style got me thinking, and gave me permission to be silly. (Why do I feel I need permission to be silly in my artwork? I don't have much problem being silly any other time. Does it all stem from the art teacher who just never got my drawing of the whale weigh station?). The result was an exploding Rangitoto spewing out Auckland landmarks, my running shoes, wine from Mudbrick vineyard and coffee from the shop across from the school where I taught. It's totally daft, it didn't matter that I can't draw a straight line and I had a whale of a time playing with bendy perspective. If I ever redraw it, I'll try so I'm looking into the volcano. I enjoyed it so much that as soon as I was finished, I started drawing a fish-eye view of the Poor Knights. I challenge you to see how many fishy puns you can find.
I used coloured pencils, which take a lot of layering but are very relaxing to build up and blend. I wasn't happy with the first shark I drew on the Poor Knights, so obliterated it with a cooler version in Posca pen. One of those mistakes that turns out for the best- I like the solid colour on the textured coloured pencil.
There may be more towns and regions to come- it's certainly a great way to reminisce! I'm not so sure about trying to create a mural a la Brian- I'm not much good with ladders- though I could always decorate the side of the boat!
I've posted my more sensible watercolours down below too (pretty happy with how the shadows are working out- a big thank you to Natalie Renotte on the Sketchbook Skool Facebook page for her advice on the dark foreground Schnappa Rock sketch)- now I'm off to distort some of the beaches on the Tutukaka Coast,,,
Dinos ahoy! They've taken to the seven seas. Slightly inspired by my upcoming sailing trip (I wonder where the yellow boat idea came from?), and by my little friend Ethan, who's having a birthday while I'm on passage.
They are over on Redbubble- click here- and can be found on stickers, t-shirts, cushions, swimming bags (perfect for togs or PE kits) and more! (I think the cushion or acrylic blocks would be perfect in a child's room!).
I've also created free printable pirates colouring page- just click the link below to download! It's A4 size and in PDF format, so it's easy to print and go! I'd love to know what people think of my colouring pages, and am thinking about making them a regular offering (perhaps along with some ocean colouring sheets), so please leave me a comment. (You can find a hatching dinosaur colouring sheet here)
I've been neglecting my sketchbook lately. I haven't stopped drawing altogether, but had let the daily drawing- which makes me so happy- slip. I think it's been a combination of things- the work in my current sketchbook just didn't seem to be up to standard, I wasn't happy with a number of the drawings and flipping through it made me feel lacklustre. I've still been drawing, but using A4 sheets instead of my book, aiming for a more polished finish- nothing wrong with that, but it brings in a bit of perfectionist pressure. I've also been sharing a lot of my drawings on social media, especially Instagram- another source of pressure. And then of course my shops round out the list of reasons to Have To Get It Right. I'm excited but nervous about the big trip coming up, and I think the swirl of emotions attached to saying goodbye to New Zealand and spending three to four weeks at sea has been adding a touch of creative block to the mix.
So I'm reclaiming my sketchbook. Remembering that it is my place to play, to make mistakes, to explore. And also remembering that, whilst I would like to be an Artist whilst we cruise, it is more important to be an artist- using my sketchbook as a way to record things I see, to look more closely, to engage with my surroundings. It doesn't matter if not every page is Instagram-worthy or good enough to post to my Facebook art page. It does matter that I practice, explore and play every day- the sketches I do are often the things that fuel the finished pieces, sometimes years down the line, and sometimes something I hate at the time takes on new meaning with a bit of time and a little perspective.
I do have a little help. Sketchbook Skool have released a new course (or kourse, as they would spell it). It's called Exploring- which seems very appropriate in my case. It's been just what I needed. The first week has been run by Danny Gregory. Before the making art began, we engaged in dialogues about what it is to be creative, how we are creative, what our creative goals are and what hampers them. I think most of the questions have been posed before, but considering them again helped. After all, our circumstances and positions are constantly changing, and so are our challenges and goals. By the time I got to the drawing demos, I'd done a bit of introspection and felt fired up. Sure, I'm not happy with a lot of the drawings in my current sketchbook- but every page is a new start. And the more I draw, the more likely I am to do things I'm happy with.
So this week I am working hard on my homework, practicing hatching and stippling and coming up with some stuff that I actually kind of like. Even if drawing on the boat does make some of it a little wobbly. How better to record the pod of dolphins that came and played around Prism on our way to Whangarei yesterday?
I won't be finishing the course before I go- and am not sure where I'll have the internet to be able to watch the final weeks of videos- but the teachers are a brilliant bunch and having a few weeks in reserve may give me a creative shakeup if I suffer another creative restriction farther down the track.
If you want to join in too, you can find Exploring here. In the meantime, I'm off to do some more hatching, in between boat jobs of course.
(Associate link- Danny has also written an excellent little book called 'Shut Your Monkey'. It's about silencing your inner critic, and I probably should reread it!)
First- I'm trying something new... The links in this post for the art supplies I love are affiliate links to Amazon UK. If you follow them and make a purchase- even something other than art supplies- it will help me to buy Jim the occasional cup of coffee (he deserves it after all this boat maintenance)! Rest assured, my site will remain ad-free and my link posting policy hasn't changed- I'll only ever post links to things I love. Now onto the art...
On Sunday morning, I painted a mermaid. The boat was rocking, I woke up early, and I was thinking about mermaids after seeing Colour Made Happy's mermaid challenge over on Instagram. So I decided to get creative, and this is who swam along.
Dolphins were a good reference- I used the video I took last week (watch it here if you missed it) to get an idea of how her tail might look. The foreshortening was the trickiest part as I wanted her to appear as if she was swimming up- it took a few sketches to get it looking plausible, and it's not as dramatic as the idea in my head. Something to add to my list of 'skills to practice'! The tail and water were fun, as I got to let my watercolours do the talking. I'm finding turquoise and indigo are great for showing the levels of light in the water, and a bit of yellow ochre seemed perfect for the sun shining through and the reflection on her face. I managed to take a step away from painting things the colour I 'know' they should be, and used the indigo and turquoise again for the shadows on her arms and body. Huge sigh of relief- it added to the sense of depth instead of making her look like an alien (although I guess mermaids could conceivably be blue)!
The hair was the most fun to draw (I do like sketching wavy, curly shapes!) and I painted it in a wonderful Daniel Smith paint called Moonglow. This paint is a blend of three colours, which looks like rich reddish grey. Building up layers, removing paint with a damp brush or letting the paint granulate all allow parts of the component colours to come through- this can create surprises but also makes it a very interesting paint to work with. It was another slight gamble, but I've played with it quite a bit when painting whales and the purpley auburn that I got tones in nicely with the rest of the paper.
I used Kaiser metallic gel pens for her scales, because of course mermaids need a bit of shimmer! I bought these pens on a whim, but love them- they're great for fine detail, and don't get absorbed by the watercolour paper. They're not waterproof, so washing a damp brush over them results in a sparkly wash!
It was a lovely relaxing morning, except for the fact that the boat was still rocking. Here's a small video snippet of liveaboard art (I do normally have the sense to position my brushes so they don't roll around, but I wanted to illustrate the point!). The background soundtrack is Jim fixing one of our leaky portholes.
Thankfully things have calmed down a bit today. Jim's been fixing a hatch cover and getting our Raymarine autopilot working, and I've been doing laundry ashore and researching the paperwork required for leaving New Zealand and entering French Polynesia. Things are coming together...
We've been back in Tutukaka with Island Prism for a couple of weeks. Jim's been working on fixing our leaky water tanks whilst I've been relief teaching at the school in Ngunguru- a welcome top-up to the cruising kitty! Once we get overseas, working becomes more complicated- generally we travel on tourist visas meaning that paid employment is forbidden. One of my boat tasks at the moment is checking that our visa info is up-to-date. Things can change quickly, especially the world's current political climate, and it's worth keeping on top of things, though immigration websites are not always the easiest to negotiate. Thank heavens for art to help me relax!
I've been going back to the sketches and video I took on our trip out to the Poor Knights a few weeks back. I'd love to go out there again, but Prism is stuck here until the water tank repairs have cured and we can fill both tanks (we're currently surviving with our smaller 20 gallon tank and are very thankful of our proximity to the marina!).
We haven't seen marlins in the water- just being hauled out at the game fish club. They are very tasty, but also incredibly beautiful, so it makes me rather sad. I brought the one above back to life, using some of the trophies inside the club as inspiration.
We've also been lucky enough to see Owha, the leopard seal. Normally they hang around the Antarctic, pestering penguins and being generally fearsome. Owha is enjoying a northern summer, first in Auckland and now on the Tutukaka Coast. She's been visiting the marina, and paid a visit to Island Prism whilst we we anchored in Pacific Bay. Very exciting- she's a beautiful creature- but we won't be swimming for a while!
I've been continuing practicing with my brush pen-I'm enjoying the way the style is working. I tried to use it for the textures on the rocks on the paintings of the pinnacle and the stream of knifefish below. It took a lot of concentration, but ended up feeling quite meditative as I tried to use the very tip. There seems to be a single hair that sticks out a little- it's a bit annoying but seems to be useful for very fine work!
I've been putting together an Etsy shop and think I'll put a few of these in there- more details to come but I hope to get it finalised over the next few days. I've been a bit hesitant over selling my originals- I think my inner critic gets a bit chatty, even though I've had my Redbubble store for a while now! But I've started to feel sorry for them just being filed away on the boat, so hopefully a few of them will find some loving homes!
In the meantime, I think I'll add a few more to this series- I'm playing with some compositions involving rays, so we'll see how those turn out! Plus continuing to get the boat ready- we have a month and a half left here in NZ before the big adventure, and I see that painting the cockpit has been added to my 'to-do' list!
Have you ever wanted to paint a night sky? It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon, especially on a wet weekend. Follow my step-by-step video tutorial below to create your own unique piece of art. Mine has a nautical twist (of course), but you could silhouette buildings, animals, mountain ranges... the only limit is your imagination! I've used masking fluid for my stars, but if you don't have any then a good quality gel pen works well too (see how I use mine in the final stages of my artwork). I'd love to see your results- tag me on Facebook or Instagram @andreaenglandart. Leave me feedback and questions in the comments below!
Sometimes life comes round in a circle. Right now we're anchored at Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island, which is where we spent the end of January last year. I know it's mid February now, but the time and place feel right for a bit of reflection.
I started my first class in Sketchbook Skool a year ago. It was called 'Beginning' (a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews/ Maria would agree). The first week was taught by Danny Gregory, and the homework was simply to draw, every day. It would be the perfect way to start forming a habit. So I drew Great Barrier- anchorages, birds, waterfalls, the store here at Port Fitzroy. Cups of coffee, the dinghy engine, kids playing and my husband mending the sail cover. My sketchbook changed from an occasional companion to a constant friend. I photographed my sketches, posted them and gathered inspiration from the other students as well as from the sketchbooks of our tutors.
A year on, I'm still drawing. The habit I started with Beginning remains, consolidated by half a dozen other classes taken through Sketchbook Skool. I've learned new techniques and, I hope, improved. So I pulled out my sketchbook from a year ago.
Have I got better? In some ways, yes. My inner critic wonders if I've lost a sense of delicacy, but I can still draw this way when I choose to, and my line work these days feels more confident. It's good to look back and see lots of things I like in my older work- the page with the birds and Jim stitching the sail is one of my favourites. But my more recent sketches feel more distinctive, more confident, more 'mine'.
The most obvious change in my work is the scale. My sketchbook of a year ago had numerous tiny drawings littering a double page spread, with copious notes about the weather and the day. Now I mostly have single images across a double page spread. Words have taken a back seat, though I do like the diary style of my older work.
My ultra-fine liner has been exchanged for a brush pen, at least for the moment. I love the expressive lines of the brush pen, and have been determined to actually stick with one medium for a while. Looking back, I like the delicate lines of my fineliners too, but the brush pen is working for me right now. I still can't draw a straight line, but my lines are less sketchy; they flow more and I think they give the drawings more presence.
My greatest improvement, I think, is in my use of colour. I've got better at shading with watercolours, introducing a sense of depth into my sketches and bringing in the dark darks that I've struggled with for so long. I mostly use watercolours alongside pen, but I'm making the watercolour do part of the work, giving value (light and darkness) as well as colour.
So what next? I'm sticking with the brush pen a while longer, and I'm going to keep improving my watercolour techniques. I'll try and bring back some of the written elements, and drawing the little details in life as well as the big exciting things. My older sketchbooks remind me of techniques that I enjoyed and haven't used for a while- such as sketching in coloured pencils or with ballpoint pens- and I'm keen to pull these out again a little further down the line, perhaps see how I can make them work alongside my brush pen and watercolour. I'm sure there will be more Sketchbook Skool, but it's good to have consolidation time.
My collection of filled sketchbooks is supposed to get exiled off the boat soon- it takes up valuable space and may suffer from the humidity of the tropics. But I might keep a couple of books with me- or at least scan them in, as a reminder of what I've learnt and a source of inspiration for the future. And I'll certainly try to keep up daily drawing, whatever form it takes.
Do you ever look back at your old sketches? What have you learned from them? Do you ever find yourself returning to old styles and concepts?
The Tutukaka Coast is alive with birds- we often see and hear tui and fantails I've been playing with layering watercolours, ink, paint markers and gel pens. I put down the watercolour wash first, then overlaid the black ink with brush pen. Posca paint markers and gel pens created the patterns and swirls- the gel pens give the ethereal metallics and the Posca markers are brighter and bolder. Finally, I used watercolour to add shading and a little softness to some of the pen detail.
I've uploaded the designs to my Redbubble shop- click each photo for the link.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.