At school I earned pocket money making sketches of “The Fab Four” (The Beatles you young readers!!) for my mates at school. I loved to draw and to paint. I would skip sports and joyfully work away creating paintings in the garret art classroom in the attic of our ancient school building in Kent. No Art School for me though . . our family didn’t do higher education. No – for me it was straight to work in the busy and bustling City of London.
I saved and saved and at 18 I travelled overseas for the first time . . a cruise so cheap that I swear the cabin was next to the booming, endlessly stinking engine. But nothing could detract from the joy of new places, new sounds, sights and smells. Our ship called at the Azores where the mountains were a green I had never seen; to the Canary Islands . . Tenerife – virtually unknown to travellers in the late 1960s – where black volcanic sand was a revelation. .. Las Palmas where the azure ocean and white sand glowed in the burning sun. We called at Casablanca where the souks and alleyways held sacks of spices – reds and ochres – and exotic oils and perfumes assaulted the senses.
I guess the die was cast then and there. I was fatally bitten by the travel bug and wanted to paint what I saw. And so I have, in the four decades since that cruise. I tried never to miss an opportunity to travel and took myself to the USA in 1970 where I wandered along Park Avenue, strolled through Central Park, ate my first bagel and pizza (yes, really!!) and took a Greyhound bus across the border into Canada where I painted the view from a log cabin in the Laurentian Mountains surrounded by towering peaks.
Returning home to pick up the threads of my London life I met David, now my Welsh husband of 45 wonderful years. He too suffers from incurable wanderlust . . we had a lot in common. He took me to discover Wales where I wondered at ruined castles, white sand beaches, rural villages and industrial wasteland – and visited the puffins on Skomer Islands. Oh those puffins . . a painter’s dream! We visited Swansea, as Dylan Thomas described it .. “an ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”. I didn’t know it then but like Dylan, very soon ‘this sea-town was my world.’
David, a recently graduated Pharmacist, had already volunteered and soon headed off with Voluntary Service Overseas to work in a Jamaican hospital. How could I resist? With camera and paints at the ready I headed to the Caribbean to stay with him in his tiny house in the hills. David loved his work and I loved the adventure. We explored the island, and flew to Mexico and to Guatemala – now on the tourist trail . . then unknown to all but the most intrepid! I have painted Negril beach . . a place we loved in Jamaica. I have painted it as I knew it . . the only residents other than villagers in 1973 were American boys sleeping on the beach avoiding the draft and an unwanted trip to fight in Vietnam.
Married in 1975 we soon got another attack of the travel bug and took ourselves on a tour round USA and Canada on a Greyhound Bus. The year was 1976, the Bicentennial celebrations of independence from Britain in 1776. Our unlimited mileage, 3-month, bus ticket cost $99!! . . but we still managed to run out of spending money. Penniless we called on every American we had ever met – and one we hadn’t – David’s great uncle who had run away from the family farm in Kidwelly in 1914, boarding a boat for the States and never returning.
The generosity of our hosts was extraordinary. So were our adventures, we had our money and passports stolen . . and returned by the police .. !! in Washington DC; we lived on one meal a day and put the leftovers in our backpacks against gnawing hunger late at night. Some of the hostels we stayed in were an eye-opener even for us . . by now fairly seasoned young travellers. I particularly remember the one in San Diego which was so cheap we stayed there despite warnings from our Greyhound bus driver. He was right . . the strange noises in the night puzzled us until we learned we were staying in a brothel.
This was before digital cameras had been invented, and way before the internet offered us clouds for photo-storage. We couldn’t afford much film, still less developing – so photographs were few and precious. Sketches were free though, and I made plenty – The Rocky Mountains as we drove through them at dawn, the stunning Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Calgary Stampede and the bison wandering in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We have all seen them now . . back then they were real wonders to our young eyes!
Returning home David took up a post at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, South Wales, while I worked and studied at evening classes to become a lecturer in office management. I qualified and co-incidentally noticed a vacancy advertised in the UK Pharmacy Journal – in Papua New Guinea!
In January 1977 we flew via Moscow (snow and ice, shudderingly cold), Kagoshima (Japanese airport so efficient we sped through as if on wheels) and finally arrived in Port Moresby (steaming hot). We lived in the Highlands for our first year. The highlanders dressed in grass, feathers and little else. They adorned their bodies with tattoos, piercings with animal bones and paints made from berries and natural pigments. Photography, painting, paradise!
We were there at the world famous Highlands Show . . me carrying the lenses, David snapping away with his adored Pentax. So excited was he that on the second day he forgot to wind on the film! I stayed remarkably calm !! David was promoted and we were sent from the cool highlands to the coast – to 90% humidity and true tropical conditions . . and beauty. Our first child was born here . . an extraordinary experience. No entonox, no pethedine, but the very best care we could have been given. Papua New Guinea has always attracted medical researchers – and there were some of the best doctors in the world available for us and our baby girl. Fortunately they were not needed, she made a graceful and calm entry into her bit of tropical paradise. She proved to be very popular with the local girls too who loved to cuddle her . . no shortage of babysitters!
Back home and to raising a family in Three Crosses, I developed a love of gardening and of cultivating flowers. And of digital photography . . no National Trust Property, Welsh Castle or captured wild fowl safe in a sanctuary escaped my lens . . and they were duly committed to canvas.
Years later when the last of our three daughters had headed off to university and the nest felt somewhat empty, David took up an offer of a post in Victoria, Australia. We loved the country, even the crazy emu who stole our barbecued chicken! Spot the greedy emu in the “bird” category among my creations!! We had more than two years to wander the country every spare minute we had. We saw it all – from Perth to Sydney, Adelaide to Uluru. I joined an Australian Arts Society and was made welcome by some very gifted artists and produced work in oils for the first time.
Trips to Bali and New Zealand offered more wonders to see and record. Then a trip to Sri Lanka and two further to India . . one south to Kerela and the other to northern India thrilled us both. David headed to the Falkland Islands for his last year as a pharmacist before retirement. I spent three months there and though a bleak and inhospitable place, the Falklands boasts some amazing wildlife. Seals at courtship and penguins at play . . even whales and dolphin close in to the shore – it is an extraordinary place to photograph – and to paint!
The Falkland Islands was home for a year when David was the only pharmacist on the Islands. We lived in a cottage built 200 years ago and explored in our little jeep. But it is the penguins I shall always remember, thousands and thousands of penguins.
The digital macro-lens was in constant use when we visited the Amalfi coast in 2013 followed by a summer visit to Iceland in 2015 – where the distance zoom was permanently turned on! In Venice the phone camera needed recharging nightly! What an experience!
For a Dylan Thomas-inspired exhibition held in Swansea in August 2015, I produced a portrait of him published in the local press . . It was so well received I was encouraged to put together an exhibition of paintings at a local gallery. Later, both in 2018 and 2019 I had work accepted at the prestigious and wonderful Glyn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea City.
From the culturally ancient to the geologically youthful . . so many contrasts and images to develop into ideas. So now, in 2020 and in a time of uncertainty I hope you enjoy looking at what I have created over the years and that you are inspired to create yourselves.