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Heritage in a sketchbook

London-based watercolour artist Karen Neale is ready with A Fellow Traveller, a title on her sketchbook art of over 100 impressions inspired during her travels to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other stunning locations

Q. How did this idea emerge?
A. My passion is sketching and painting the world around me. Since leaving school, I have kept a sketchbook with me, all through my training, qualifying and working as an architect. Then, in 2000, while working as an architect in London, I realised I wanted to do more with my passion for drawing in my sketchbooks and if possible do some good along the way.

San Gimignano, ItalySan Gimignano, Italy

Having made that decision I came across the UNESCO World Heritage List, which designates sites as having properties of outstanding universal value. Inspired by the list, I soon began to plan my adventure with a few self-imposed parameters to make the journey viable. These included my limited budget, the length of time I wanted to be away from home, and the fact that I would always try to travel as much as possible in a continual direction on ‘terra firma’ and a little ‘aqua’ so as to see the cultural connections gradually unfold.

From Jagmandir Island, Udaipur From Jagmandir Island, Udaipur

A few weeks before departure, as I was about to go on bended knees to the bank manager for my crazy, but carefully organised plan, I had the good fortune to be awarded a Churchill Travelling Fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT). This not only took away financial worries, it also opened doors and gave my journey more purpose.

Udaipur from Lake Pichola. IMAGES COURTESY and copyright/ KAREN NEALE
Udaipur from Lake Pichola. Images courtsy and copyright/ Karen Neale

Q. When did you set out and how many regions did you cover?
A. I left London in April 2001 with my first stop in Paris and travelled for five months through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, India and Nepal. During this time, I completed 106 annotated, watercolour sketches recording my experience.

Venice, ItalyVenice, Italy

Q. What were some of the learnings and unlearnings along the way?
A. This truly was a journey of a lifetime. My sketchbook was my passport to people and places. When standing or if lucky, sitting somewhere for several hours, simply drawing with just a black BIC biro, I became a part of that place for a time. Sketching erodes cultural and linguistic barriers, as a picture and the process to create it can be universally understood. Everywhere, people were friendly, informative, and inquisitive and offered me great hospitality.

Khiva, Uzbekistan
Khiva, Uzbekistan

Q. Tell us about your other projects.
A. Since my return, I have had some wonderful projects, such as being ‘artist in residence’ in the Houses of Parliament and then the Athenaeum, as well as MCC Young Cricket Artist 2004-2005 at The Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.

Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu, Nepal

Two of my London sketchbooks, London in Landscape (2006) and London in Landscape Volume II (2009) were published by Methuen. In 2010, after the arrival of my son, we moved to lovely Lincolnshire, and so for now most of my projects are local with one of my local sketchbooks, Stamford Sketchbook being published by Walkers in 2011.

Front cover of A Fellow Traveller depicting Arg-e-Bam  in Iran
Front cover of A Fellow Traveller depicting Arg-e-Bam in Iran

A Fellow Traveller will be published this year (2016), which is also WCMT’s 50th anniversary and UNESCO’s 70th anniversary. I think there are so many more places I would love to visit and sketch in the future including the region of Nepal, north India, Tibet and Bhutan.

Karen Neale
Karen Neale

Log on to: www.karenneale.co.uk

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