The Joy of Wandering, in Imagination and Reality

Field trips for the body and mind

Place and space have long mattered to me, even more so during the last 12 months of restricted movement. Community and social spaces have been largely off limits, and the notion of the workplace has significantly changed for many of us too. For me – a large chunk of work time is currently spent in front of a screen or a sketch book. I count myself very fortunate to be able to squeeze in occasional studio visits when possible, and my work for Sutton Community Farm is an important connection with a group of lovely people and customers.

Beyond the farm work – which takes me fleetingly across Surrey and South London – travelling has almost completely disappeared. I’ve not been into London since we managed to briefly escape the UK for a holiday last summer, a holiday during which I continued some reflective illustrative journalling, sparked by some deep work on mindfulness with my GameShift colleagues.

An extract from a concertina sketch book travelogue, started in July with GameShift, continued in France, then slowly concluded over several months back in the UK.

Since returning home – our physical horizons have shortened. For example, although I walked over 500km during March and April this year, I don’t think I’ve been more than 10km from our front door on foot. It’s been strangely lovely – a sort of long distance micro exploration. During this time I’ve satisfied any desire for distance by wandering in imagination – visiting far off places while barely moving a muscle.

Wandering In Imagination. One in a series of imagined suburban landscapes, spontaneously sparked during a session of Chalk And Talk.

The regular local walks bring me closer to the little things. I’ve watched spring arrive in a totally new, close up way this year. As a kid I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club, and my interested in bird watching has been rekindled. Nuthatch, woodpecker, wren, robin, goldfinch, and as recently as last Friday – a beautiful rare encounter with a goldcrest, which sat on a tree branch just inches from my face and sang to me.

Colours too. I’ve seen leafy shades of green I never knew existed, and the sparkle on the River Wandle feels very alive. I’m bringing some of these memories back into the studio and thrashing them out onto sheets of A3 card, using my old RSA membership card as a blade with which to move the paint.

The freedom of movement in these hastily scored panels is a lovely counterbalance to my sketch book work, which is often much slower, more deliberate.

Leaf shots. Photographs from a local field trip walk in preparation for a recent Chalk And Talk workshop.

I’m distilling much of my recent explorations into a submission for the 2021 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The work is taking the form of a spell book – a series of visual incantations centred around my recent on foot local adventures. I notice I am much more aware of the process behind this submission than in previous years, and I can’t help but wonder, maybe after more than a decade of creative practice I am finally learning to go with the flow, to walk like an artist?

Spellbound : An extract from a larger work. From left to right we can see a meditation spell, one half of a woodland walk spell, and a crucible incantation.

Foot note: Chalk And Talk is a crucial part of my creative practice. It currently takes the form of a drop in drawing session once a fortnight on Wednesdays at 1pm UK time. If you’re curious about how creative practice can help you think and do things differently – please join in.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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