The Best of New Zealand in Photos

How could I take all those photos and not showcase them?! Here are the best of New Zealand.

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Queenstown

I left Wanaka all of a sudden, because I was alone and that is one of the joys of travelling alone. I had booked a bungy jump for the next afternoon, and I decided to park up in Queenstown that night in preparation. 

The sun was beating down; the sunlight in New Zealand is bright white and strong, although the temperature was still mild and pleasant. I drove through the Cardrona Valley and up through the golden peaks of the Crown Range with my windows down, singing along to my favourite songs at the top of my lungs. The joy and freedom I felt on that drive made me giddy. I thought about the fact that I was going to bungy jump the next day and laughed out loud. I felt so alive; I thought “I hope I never forget this.” I’d like to think that I wont. 

I wonder if people noticed that I was filled with sunshine; it sure felt like my joy made me friends! I was greeted at the bungy place by Julius, and I think I made a friend for life. Somehow it was decided that I was going to get dunked in the Karawau River at the bottom of my jump, and I’m grateful I did; the freefall was over so quickly that if I wasn’t soaked through up to my middle, I would have struggled to believe that I’d really done it! 

That evening I got a burger with Julius and watched the most amazing sunset looking out over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. This was the start of a weeks worth of adventures with Julius and his friends; I experienced the nightlife of Queenstown and kept holding off from leaving the town. His roommate Denise took me out for coffee; I found another priceless friend. I got away for a day, heading towards Milford Sound. But the day I went, the road was closed. I felt flat, bored, disinterested in the scenery. I could have waited for another day, I think it was reopened not long after, but I knew where I really wanted to be, where I felt happiest, and so I went back to Queenstown and my friends. I left eventually, when I had to, but not before I promised myself that I would come back as soon as I could, long term. I’m moving to Queenstown.

West Coast

After Hokitika, I began to make my way down the dramatic West Coast of New Zealand’s south island. This drive is the most dynamic and impressive I think I’ve ever been on; you cross through mountains, past glaciers and waterfalls, and down onto flat plains threaded with turquoise meltwater creeks. I dipped my toes in the Tasman Ocean, and meandered through fern forests. 

I passed through from Franz Josef to Wanaka in a blur in order to buy a sleeping bag: The West Coast is so sparsely populated that the closest camping shops were hours away. Having lived all my life in the middle of the UK, this was a bizarre experience for me, as you’re never really more than about twenty minutes away from at least a village and most likely a town. After a day or two enjoying Wanaka (and my new, warmer sleeping arrangements – no more wearing three layers and a hat to bed!) I retraced some of my steps back up the coast, this time at a more relaxed pace. There were some lovely sights along this stretch, and there’s something wonderful about going through the mountainous roads like Haast Pass, but driving alongside Wanaka Lake is probably my winner. The water is so clear and blue, and the scale of the mountains is awe-inspiring. 

I really love Wanaka township, too. It’s a laid back little place, and it’s position looking out over the lake is spectacular. My memories of it are all vivid sunshine and warmth. But I was also having a bit of an existential crisis about my work. For most of the trip I felt like a fraud for claiming to be an illustrator. Fear of getting my career going and on the ‘right’ track has held me back since graduating. I work, I’ve had a lot of wonderful projects, but I still feel huge question marks about illustration whenever I think about it. Is this style right? What style should I specialise in? How do I find more clients? Is this what I really want to do? Generally, am I doing it right? It’s scary. I’ve still not figured all of this out. But I’m trying, and I decided in Wanaka just to go with the flow and do what the heck I like. 

Van Life

‘Van’ is generous. More like a large car with a bed in it and a camp stove in the boot; but it gives me so much freedom, and it’s a joy (most of the time).

I struggled to leave Christchurch. In part because it’s played an important role in my life, but it’s more than that; throughout my trip I struggled to leave places that I’d only been in for a short time, like every leaving was a tiny leap into a new unknown. This always dissipated the moment I left that place behind and a new landscape began to unfurl as I drove. There is no joy like being on the road and having total freedom over the destination.

I drove straight out to Akaroa, on the far side of the Banks Peninsula. This area is underrated, and missed by a lot of visitors, but that just keeps it magic for those of us who make it. Imagine driving up winding roads through green mountains, looking out on clear turquoise water, and exploring forests with hidden swings and treehouses. I shared wine with other travellers from across the world.

My plan was to drive through Arthur’s Pass, passing across the centre of the island. The long drive saw the hills of the Peninsula give way to the Canterbury Plains, with the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps approaching slowly on the horizon. I spent one lonely night in their midst, with a freezing wind keeping me confined to my car, and with no mobile service. For the next few days, it rained and rained. I had a soggy few hours in Arthur’s Pass, flattening the battery of my car and having a much needed break from the cold inside a cafe. I was glad to leave, although I enjoyed seeing my first Kea!

My next stop was Hokitika, where I got to see glowworms and the famous gorge. The incessant rain made life in the car unpleasant to say the least! I was lucky that these few days were the only time it affected me.

 

Christchurch

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I remember feeling pretty out of it when I arrived in Christchurch. I hadn’t got a lot of sleep, I’d changed time zones again, and I hadn’t even eaten yet (always a terrible idea, but I was in a rush!) when I finally tucked into a coffee and muffin in a highly recommended cafe around midday. It’s hard to look at the city without trying to imagine how it must have been before the devastating earthquakes of 2011. There seems to be too many gravel parking lots and large grassy areas on the edges of the town, and I wonder what stood there before. Although it’s been a while since the quakes, and dozens of big,glassy new buildings are dotted between the older buildings which survived, there are still reminders of what happened wherever you look. Shipping containers and vast metal struts hold up several historic buildings, including the famous cathedral, while they try to decide what to do with them.

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My favourite thing about this new incarnation of Christchurch is the way they’ve used art to deal with the disaster. There are beautiful murals adorning walls everywhere you look, and the optimism of the city is summed up by the neon lights on the side of the art gallery: “everything is going to be alright.”

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I was born here, this was my first home. I see landmarks which are familiar from the photo albums and family videos, including the flat we lived in. My parents loved this city, and I’ve grown up hearing stories about it. It was hard to believe I was finally there in the flesh.

I have a pounamu my mother bought for me when we were last here, 23 years ago. I found the man who sold it to her, and I bought one myself. I hike, and I try to come up with stories. I tend to limit myself to facts, and inventing things feel more challenging.

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The botanical gardens are visible from my hostel; everything is in bloom.

Melbourne 1

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I left home very early in the morning, and we drove to the airport while the sun was very low in the sky. Leaving was difficult; the hardest part is always saying goodbye. But I become businesslike in airports, always checking, double checking; nothing can be left to chance. When you’re as easily distracted as I am, you’d lose a lot of money on lost flights if you didn’t adopt this approach! The flight was less painful than I expected; 24 hours including two brief stopovers, but it’s easy to pass that time when you’re fuelled by excitement and distracted by movies and plasticky meals.

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I didn’t draw much at the start. I was busy and distracted by the novel, slightly terrifying concept that I was about as far from my home and family in the UK as I could possibly get. My first stop was in Melbourne, Australia; I stayed a few days, in theory to recover from the jetlag that never materialised. But oh boy, I made up for the lack of drawing by taking endless photos! My favourite subject, other than the skyscrapers, teetering and narrow like shards of glass, was the cities botantical gardens, spanning most of the half-hour walk between the CBD and my hotel in South Yarra.

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Otherwise, I don’t think I really fell for the city. Compared to home it seemed spread out and too quiet, and much colder than I had anticipated (It’s Australia! What kind of Brit gets cold in Australia?!). I was alone, tired and seemingly endlessly cold or lost, and I was excited to get to my next stop; the city I was born in.

Sketchbook Pages 2

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Today we have more illustrations from the telly! We’ve got more Celebrity Bake Off drawings and also dogs!!! For the Love of Dogs is one of my favourite shows because really what’s not to like;  you see dogs saved from sad situations and then paired up with loving new families! I especially enjoyed drawing Milly, a Shitzu who had a LOT of fun little costumes.

By the way, I apologise for the slightly dodge looking editing on these images. It’s tricky to get the background bright enough without losing the yellow pencil!

Getaway Back to the EU

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This was a big brief I worked on recently for the Suffolk EU Alliance. The piece is about encouraging people from all works of life and political alliances to work together to protest Brexit. It was done using Windsor and Newton watercolours on lovely thick, smooth watercolour paper.

There was quite a lot of tweaking in Photoshop afterwards, too, as the client had a lot of new requests for the painting.

Here are some close ups:

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And these are two of the preparation sketches. The first is an earlier one, and the second is the final before I began painting.

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The drawing was on A4 paper, but I wanted to paint it on A3 paper so I could get loads of detail in! So I printed it out at twice the size on two A4 sheets (I only have an A4 printer), and then used a light box to redraw it onto the nice watercolour paper!

(Try playing spot the difference between the final sketch and the final illustration!)

 

Belgium

I’ve been dreaming of going to Belgium for a while now. In all honesty, I fell in love with the idea of Belgium because I fell in love with its art; all it took was seeing the Arnolfini Portrait in real life and I was obsessed. I wrote my BA dissertation on the art of the Low Countries and I thought that would be the end of my love (how much can you love something when you’ve written 10,000 words about it?!) but instead, I learned that 10,000 words weren’t enough.

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Two weeks ago today I was in Ghent. The weather was awful, foggy and rainy and the wind was like a punch in the face… but I was delightfully happy. The city is beautiful and old and it felt as though it was bursting at the seams with history. I got to see the Lamb of God by Jan van Eyck, which I couldn’t stare at enough. I think if I lived in Ghent (and believe me, that is a tempting prospect) I would go and see it every other day. The lower panels on the interior side are currently replaced with replicas, as the real panels are being restored at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in the city. Being able to see the restoration process was also a highlight for me.

My art pilgrimage also lead to Bruges, which houses another van Eyck masterpiece as well as many other pieces of beautiful art from the Low Countries. I still find it tricky to put my finger on what exactly makes the paintings of this region so fascinating. Perhaps it’s something about the people; they so often seem to be holding onto a secret, and the calculated poise of the wealthy classes gives so little away; the total opposite to the far more popular art of the Italian Renaissance. I suppose this is the earliest European art which makes a convincing attempt to depict reality; suddenly there’s a sense of space created with the use of perspective instead of flat or even plain gold backgrounds. It’s also the first time we see real people; nobles and merchants, rather than purely religious scenes. It’s a window into a time which is entirely unfamiliar to us.

We stayed in Brussels, which is beautiful and interesting, but honestly was less exciting for me than Bruges and Ghent. In part this was because the city was destroyed in c. 1700 and therefore was entirely rebuilt since then, unlike Ghent which has barely been touched since the middle ages.

Unfortunately, the trip is also important to me as it marked the end of a relationship. These paintings were actually quite hard to paint, as they forced me to confront feelings which I would prefer to suppress. Looking at them now, however, I see them as full of hope for the future, and a willingness to focus on the very best of things.

It’s only been two weeks since I was in Ghent, and a lot has changed. Back home, the sun has come out today after the rain, and I feel the same. I hope you do, too.

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Snapshots from left to right: 1 (view from Hotel Queen Anne, Brussels) 2 (The bell tower in Ghent) 3 (Full Circle Coffee, Ghent) 4 (a church through the trees, Bruges) 5 (Palais de Justice, Brussels) 6 (a house in the main square, Ghent)

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