Watercolour caravans

As part of my ongoing project to use up my sketchbooks and paint/draw more, I started a project at the beginning of August, called the caravans. I had a handful of Sennelier Urban sketchbooks with the green cover, accordion, so I decided I would do caravans. I’ve done a bunch of caravans in the past (in fact, found a few more in the “Missing” sketchbook today) but this was a sketchbook Just For Caravans but with a few pages less than is in sketchbook Just for Lighthouses, of which I will write later.

Anyway, basically, the accordion sketchbook is a single page and no doubt, when I eventually get good at comic strips, I’ll regret using what is no doubt going to be impossible to get in a few years time on something as trivial as caravans. Either way I intend to paint both sides of the sketchbook and am half way through the entire process. Here are some of the caravans todate:


I think this is my favourite ambiance so far. The van isn’t perfect but I just love the sky.

I learned a lot from this one too.

You can find the rest of the caravans here for the time being.

Caravans represent freedom to me and I’m fascinated to see how much art there is flowing around now. Especially of Airstreams. I liked the Airstream vibe so wanted to make one look a bit Airstreamy but I think it came out steampunkish instead.

Anyway, I expect this project to be finished in a few weeks’ time although who knows given the way my time management goes.

Lost sketchbooks

Back in February, I lost my handbag and it took with it my then every day carry sketchbook. I was pretty devastated as there were sketches from my most recent holiday in it. I had to lie to the loss of it, plus the every day sketchkit

But I got really irritated this week because I mislaid an A4 large sketchbook. I run god knows how many sketchbooks at the same time but two are fairly regular, one A4 which I take with me sometimes, and the little A6 which is always in my handbag. I searched the house several times and eventually found it under a pile of new books for which I do not currently have shelf space. I am not far from the end of it – I knew this much because even if I could not remember what was it (and when I found it, nice things were in it), the replacement was lined up which meant I was probably a dozen pages out from the end.

I’ve been tidying notebooks today. During the pandemic, I sketched daily, in or other of the sketchbooks. But in Brussels, the art supply and stationery shops were open so having nothing else to do, I bought notebooks, sketchbooks and art materials. I bought books and a few jigsaws as well. But I am now struggling to organise them and while I am doing better on using my sketchbooks and paints lately, it occurred to me I really need to figure out what to do with all of these notebooks (gift them? I’m not ready to give them up yet). The main answer of course is to use them.

Which still leaves with with the open question on how store them, organise them and all that. I never quite got to grips with that for the vast quantities of photographs I took. We’ll see.

Breithorn – Valais

Breithorn, Valais, Switzerland
Breithorn in watercolour

I was in Zermatt in Switzerland a couple of times last year. It’s a lovely part of the world and there are a lot of things to do and see there. The highest profile mountain in the area is, of course, the Matterhorn, star of Toblerone wrappers amongst other things.

Brussels to Zermatt is about 8 hours, depending on how much time you want to waste in Geneva. I usually have a run into the city and target arriving in Zermatt in time for dinner. I’ve generally arrived too late for Apfelstrudel from Fuchs Bakery. The train journey from Geneva to Zermatt is one of the most beautiful train journeys I have done more than once. It’s an InterCity to Brig – with a change in Visp onto the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. The journey to Visp, with Swiss Railways is mostly along the banks of Lake Geneva, and it is gorgeous. At the northern end of the lake, the mountains on the eastern side rise like cliffs. The lake is a gorgeous colour and then, outside Montreux, you have the Chateau de Chillon. The south eastern end of Switzerland is a truly beautiful area.

From Visp to Zermatt, you take the mountain railway. In parts, it is rack and pin, and quite steep. The carriages have big windows and the views are gorgeous. There are a few reliable waterfalls too. Whether you do the train in winter or summer it is very picturesque. It’s a 3 or 4 hour journey from Geneva but I have never been bored on it. The journey is just that beautiful.

Most times that I go to Zermatt, I take the cable cars up to either Trockener Steg or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, or possibly also, Gornergrat. There are a few places I haven’t tried yet. Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is at the top of Klein Matterhorn and it has a great view, sometimes, of two terrific mountains, the Matterhorn itself, if it’s not buried in clouds, and the Breithorn, a mountain which suffers a little in fame limited by the Matterhorn’s imposing presence.

I love both of them. I paint both of them from time to time when the fit takes me and yesterday, I did a credit card painting of the Breithorn. A creditcardsketch is where you fit everything into a window the size of a creditcard. Instagram has a hashtag. I based it off one of the photographs I took there myself last year. You can see it her.

Breithorn, photograph

Social Media and why are we here, anyway

I have accounts on instagram (not so obvious) and Flickr (more obvious). I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, and during the week, apparently I celebrated 8 years on Reddit.

I also decided that what I really needed was a new blog. I have fond memories of things like boards.ie photography board, meet ups, World Photowalk Day and looking at people’s blogs, in particular. There were some great ones knocking around Ireland 10 years or so ago.

When I started painting, I decided to use Instagram. I had mixed feelings about it but it did seem to be where most art, and watercolour and illustration was to be found. Deviantart exists and I had been sort of not using Flickr which was mostly photography anyway. I wasn’t overjoyed about Instagram. It had been on the go for a while, but was almost unusable on desktop. As somewhere to quickly snap a not terribly good drawing of a VW campervan whlie I was learning, it worked. I’ve happened across a lot of great artists/illustrators on it and it doesn’t look like a lot of them are anywhere else.

The problem is, Instagram has been unusable lately. I say that not as someone who occasionally posts there (because hey now, I am posting to Flickr too) but as someone who scrolls. If you pay attention to the Instagram world, you’ll know that the creators are up in arms. They are losing engagement. Reels are being pushed. They cannot get their output in front of the eyeballs of their followers except via followers. It is killing their conversion to sales, for example.

I don’t run my business via the social media platforms so for me, this isn’t really the issue. What is the issue is, I don’t get to see the people I follow. I wind up scrolling for ages to find things I like. The recommender system for Reels is undeniably awful. I wind up scrolling for ages looking for stuff that interests me. There isn’t a lot of it. People are frantically trying to game the system to get their content in front of me and I am getting trash.

My instagram feed should be almost 100% a mix of watercolour, illustration, photography, mountain/water sports and travel. There is quite a bit of Brittany and Switzerland there. My photo/stills feed tends in that direction. I don’t mind the recommendations there.

For Reels – which has a separate tab – it has been a giant disaster. I have spent 2-3 weeks telling it I am not interested in foster kitten videos, meme videos targeted at teenagers, housecleaning hints. It got the message about bee keeping which for some God forsaken reason, it had taken to recommending to me. The clips have the same dozen songs playing behind them. I am SICK to the teeth of them. And then some of them have a soundtrack written by the same robotic voice that honestly makes me want to stab myself. So I spend less and less time on the site. This disadvantages the artists I want to actively look at, and it means I spend less time seeing sponsored posts. Both creatives and advertisers lose out when Instagram pisses off its audience.

At the beginning of the week (25 July 2022), Adam Mosseri explained that really I wanted all this crap. 15000 people told him on Instagram they did not. I told him on Twitter I did not. A few days, he temporarily rolled back changes to feeds and the UI. That word “temporarily” is kind of noteworthy. Mark Zuckerberg stated during the week that Meta’s objective was to have 30% of content not come from the accounts I have actively chosen to follow across Meta’s platforms. I use three of Meta’s main products to some extent, namely WhatsApp, FaceBook (increasingly rarely) and Instagram. Someone needs to tell him that if he makes those unusable/unattractive to end users, he’ll have nothing to sell to advertisers. I’m not interested in the Metaverse at this stage because I expect it to be a horrible sucking mess of ads for products I don’t want and shite I never agreed to follow.

I get like 20 likes on Instagram for most of my drawings. I can live without the adoration and it’s like I will post less frequently there. In the meantime, more and more stuff will get hosted on Flickr (which I pay for and have done for a very long time) so that I can feed it here where a) it’s desktop and mobile friendly (Instagram: not desktop or tablet friendly). And I can talk about the things that interest/annoy/fascinate me about travel/photography/art.

Ice Macro

Melting ice in the lamplight

This is one of my favourite photographs which I took. I had just bought a 100mm macro lens for my DSLR, a Canon 40D and I wanted to play with it. So I went looking for stuff, and it was a cold, cold evening.

I used to take a lot of photographs. It’s not yet obvious here but for a while, if you wanted kitesurfing photographs in Dublin, well I took them. I took photographs of kitesurfers in Australia, in Portugal, in Brazil, in Spain, in Western Sahara and in Dublin. I stopped around 2014. There were a couple of reasons, of which probably the main ones were:

  • My back was hurting from the camera bag. It weighed about 20kg on average, and I carried it everywhere.
  • Drones were coming on stream. I didn’t have the money to buy one, nor the patience to learn to fly one
  • In around 2014, I had pretty much achieved every photograph I wanted to do. There was no real challenge left unless I went to video or drone shots. Both would have required money which I didn’t have.

Not long afterwards, I started learning to draw and for a few years, most of the photographs I took, I took with a phone. It’s still the case today that most of the photos I take are with a phone, but at some point, after wrestling seriously with a JPG and Photoshop, I went into Saturn in Luxembourg to find a compact camera that I could keep in my handbag, but which had the capabilities of RAW photo files. I bought a Canon G7. It’s now the camera I use if I am travelling or want something a bit more than the phone and it generates some great RAW files.

Some of the kiteshots I took over the years will make their way on to this site as I start to populate it. But, in general, I don’t miss that so much. It was fun and exciting for a while but it was also a lot of hard work. And carrying the equipment was increasingly hard. Long lenses are heavy. I wanted to switch back to travel photography (which, I sort of did until Covid happened and we all stopped travelling).

But there are a few stand out shots from my past and they will slowly make their way here.

Small palettes…

Water colour palette with 12 colours and swatch
Fome water colour palette with 12 pans

Let’s be honest, the last thing I desperately need is additional paint. But (dangerous word, that) I wanted a carryable palette with some Danial Smith colours like the ones I have for Sennelier and Schmincke. The one carried by default is the Sennelier one.

There are some basic colours in here. There are a couple of extras on the blue/green front, and the Daniel Smith wisteria which I have notions of painting mountains. It’s an idea.

I love the little baby palettes. Where you find them prefilled, they usually have 8 pans in then. With a little effort, you can get another 4 down the middle. All of mine wind up with a Quinacridone Gold in there and this time, it’s got a burnt orange next to it. Most important is that I can mix some sort of warmish grey in addition to the Paynes grey which is generally in all my palettes as well.

Climate change, dreams and ice

Mont Blanc, Chamonix

In July 2022, the mountain guides in Chamonix are unwilling to do one of the main routes up to the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. You can see this in mountaineering discussions on Reddit, and also, there are newspaper reports.

In Switzerland, the met service saw a new record for 0 degree altitude. This is a thing, and it is a thing I did not know about it until during the past week. They send up weather balloons, and they measure the altitude at which they hit 0 degrees. It’s logical, I guess, to do this. Anyway, the previous record was set in 1995, and they exceeded it by about 70 metres this year. 0 degrees is well above the top of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. You can tell too. I was in both Chamonix and Zermatt in the past 12 months; several times in the case of Zermatt. There is almost no snow on the Matterhorn, and what’s on the Breithorn, my favourite mountain because of how it resembles a wave, is fairly slushy looking. Zermatt is a year round skiing resort whose snow and ice seems to be melting. The risk of avalanches in the French Alps is considerably higher than usual, and the mountain guides in Chamonix are worried about rockfalls.

For a long time, the nearest I came to glaciers was a) gazing adoringly at them via Google satellite imagery and b) flying over them on the way to Italy.

Glacier, taken on a mobile phone, from a Luxair plane in 2018

I grew up in Ireland. We don’t have glaciers there. There’s one glacial fjord there (and I probably wouldn’t swim in the water either cos it would be uh glacial) . So I see glaciers as magical, and amazing and there are seriously people who dreamed of seeing glaciers but probably never well.

So to go to Zermatt to see the glaciers was super exciting for me. And then also to see the Mer de Glace in Chamonix.

The Mer de Glace has a special place in my memory, not least because I hurt my ankle the morning I went up on the train, and then down on the gondola, and then down the 600 odd steps to get under the glacier. It’s really nice in there, by the way, ice sculptures, stunning blue colours, and slanted strata interspersed with sand and mud here and there. It doesn’t snow much where I live now or where I grew up so this stuff is really very amazing to me. Walking back up the 600 steps on the other hand, that was challenging. We will discuss that memory some other time.

But, when the train went there first, the glacier was at the level of the train station. It isn’t any more. When you start taking the steps down to the glacier mouth, every so often, there is a plaque in the rock face telling you when the ice reached this level. They are closer and closer, the lower down into the valley you get. As an indication of the price of global warming, it’s very, very sobering.

I very regularly take a look at the web cam at the Gornergrat not far from Zermatt. (those webcams are dead handy for travel dreaming most days). What has struck me is how much less ice there is this year, compared to when I photographed it in June 2021. It’s just..amazing.

And utterly devastating.

Gornergrat, June 2021

This is why we do what we do.

Not sure why, but this picked up 275 views recently. The photograph is like, 14 years old. And it took me four hours to stitch together. I sort of miss stuff like this but honestly, I’m not sure I’m up for 4 hours of this kind of processing any more.

The kitesurfer is Eamon Armstrong, Ireland.

this is why we do what we do.