“Would it not be easier just to take a photo?” the tourist asked, watching perplexed as I hunched myself around my sketchbook, in a vain attempt to shelter it from the driving rain. I thought about explaining to him why I was there, why I had spent a day and a half cycling up the zig-zagging cliff edge road to the Rhone glacier, 2,400m above sea level, with all my luggage in tow, and spent the previous night shivering in my tent on the rocky slope. But, looking wearily about me at the swirling fog, I had to admit he had a point. The rain turned to hail, spattering onto my drawing and smudging the wet paint.
“Yes,” I answered with a sigh, “it probably would.”
* * *
Source to Sea is the product of a six week journey down the Rhone from its source to the sea, documenting its journey in drawings. I recorded the journey in a broad sense, drawing anything that caught my eye, from sweeping landscapes to minute textures on rocks, from city lights to flowers, from factories to local folklore. I’m going to post a picture every couple of days, following the river’s story from its source to the sea. After that I’ll post a series of handprinted fabrics based on my drawings.
Drawing for me is not about the finished product but the process of observation that it requires. In today’s highly pressured society, we are in such a rush to get where we are going and do what we are going to do that there is seldom time to look about us and to notice the details of our surroundings. We can travel so far so fast that journeys have become a means to an end, rather than a moving feast for the eyes. The task of drawing something focuses the mind on what is beautiful about it, or what its significance is in the context of its surroundings.
My aim in each of my drawings is to convey why that particular subject caught my eye. I decided to follow the natural course of a river and interpret it as best as I could to avoid basing a route on my existing preconceptions of what is beautiful.
The Rhone is a river of contrasts. Beginning at the Rhone Glacier, high in the Swiss Alps, it tumbles down rocky mountains and wooded valleys, through towering industrial complexes and the quiet vineyards of the Valais, through thriving cities and sunbaked plains, past clouds of flamingos in the marshy Carmargue and finally flows into the Mediterranean sea.
Before I set out, I pictured somewhat idyllic weeks lying on sunny river banks sketching the reflections while dragonflies darted around me, the days punctuated by sunrise, sunset and ice creams. In reality, of course, these moments were interspersed with nights of shivering in my tent on icy Alpine slopes, days of
sitting out drawing through rain and hail, snow and gales, clinging onto my brakes on Alpine Z-bends to skirt the drops dizzying depths, living off oats and bilberries when the food ran out, frenziedly fighting the clouds of mosquitoes that were on my tail from source to sea, sweating dehydrated in the Mediterranean midday heat and, finally, arriving at the estuary, thin and exhausted but creatively fulfilled.
The drawings are my take on the river’s story. I did them all in situe and they are shown in chronological order from source to sea. Scroll down to see some examples, and for more examples, see my blog.
To view a sample, Click here.