I went to Iceland, and I had a fantastic time!
It was great to take time out from my current oil painting to sketch, explore and check out the arts in Iceland. This is my Iceland Report.
Here am I, AKA “Stealth Sketcher,” practically in disguise.
You can hardly see me, I have bundled up in so many layers: rain gear, insulated skirt, wrist warmers, earflap hat, and even a fur vest. But I am so happy to be sitting in the sun, sketching this gorgeous waterfall.
Thanks to Paul Bauman for the photos of me at work.
We usually picture Earth’s tectonic plates as hidden underground or undersea, but in Iceland you can sit right between the American and European plates of Earth’s crust. Behind me their sheer lava walls rise up on either side, with a walkway between them.
As they gradually pull apart, pressure from earth’s core pushes the crust upward to fill the gap. Luckily for me, it’s a very slow process.
Icelanders call this place Thingvellir.
Starting in 930 AD, and continuing for 868 years, Icelanders gathered here every year to hold trials, sell wares, find business and marriage partners, and choose their laws, leaders, and form of government. It is easy to understand why Icelanders have a strong sense of national identity. Thingvellir is now a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Center.
A waterfall at Thingvellir
I encourage everyone to carry a sketchbook when traveling. By making even a small, rough sketch of a place, you can hold onto all your memories of being there. Photos are useful for reference, but I find that they limit, or even replace my memories.
Your sketch will always bring back the feeling of that day, in that place. Don’t worry that onlookers will judge. People ignore me when I am drawing, except very little kids. They love to see someone draw, because they like to draw too.
A few watercolor impressions for my Iceland Report:
I sketch when I am on the move. Later, in the hotel, I do quick watercolors. After watching the landscape slide by all day, I have a general impression of color, vegetation, and geology. Without needing to put in details, I can be free with the brush.
I painted this after traveling past hills of lava boulders newly covered with mossy spring greenery. In the foreground, tufts of vegetation were greening up under the bare, russet limbs of small trees.
In a place appropriately named Geyser we explored a field of steaming fissures, and watched a small, but very dramatic geyser erupting. The boiling water bubbled, swelled, subsided, bubbled some more, and suddenly spewed out a huge plume, making us all jump!
In the seconds before the eruption, the water took on an ethereal blue. The memory stayed with me all day. I made this little painting that night.
I seem to have given this Icelandic horse funny legs. That’s ok, I simply wanted to capture my fleeting sight of him standing near the roadside, mane and tail swept by the wind. The next day I got to ride one. Yay!
My last sketches in Iceland, made at the airport and on the plane.
The two travelers stood patiently in line, and never noticed that I was drawing them. I appreciated that they stood so still. On the flight I used my photos of Icelandic horses to help me understand their anatomy. Combining photos with direct observation is a good way to learn.
The arts in Iceland:
The population of Iceland is about 332,000, of whom about 120,000 live in Reykjavik, the main city. That is not a lot of people, but in Reykjavik alone there are at least 11 major museums, and many galleries.
These include the National Museum of Iceland, The Reykjavik Maritime Museum, the Sigurjon Olafsson Museum, The National Gallery, the Kopavogur Art Museum, the Living Art Museum, the Museum of Design and Applied Art, The Nordic House, The Reykjavik Art Museum, the Arbaer Open Air Museum, and the Icelandic Phallological Museum (look it up!) The Icelandic Printmakers Association and the Reykjavik City Library also regularly exhibit original artwork.
The first three in that list had exhibitions honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Iceland. What a good idea! Ours comes in 2020, plenty of time to get ready.
I also found listings for two life drawing groups, one with an Apocalyptic theme, very intriguing.
Reykjavik is also rich in film, music, poetry, and beer festivals. It’s good to be among people who care so much about art, artists, designers, and artisans.
For those who declare “you can’t eat art”, I offer this link to an article about a prizewinning arts project in rural Iceland that has revitalized a small town, putting it on the map as a visitor destination. (It’s in a former fish facility. Heads up, Alaska.) When arts are a major engine of your economy, people do, in fact, eat.
I intend to go back, see much more of Iceland, and take a longer horse ride.
For this post’s entry in my ongoing series How It Looks in a Frame, here is a little greenery in honor of the coming spring.
Being a working artist has its joys and challenges, but, through it all, your support and encouragement sustain me. Thank you so much for being my audience.