In July with five friends, most of whom enjoy painting wild landscapes, I visited Svalbard to paint some of the most spectacular and remote scenery in the world. Our objectives were to sketch and paint polar bears, walrus, birds and other wildlife, as well as the outstanding Arctic scenery. As there are no roads outside the few settlements the only way to reach the areas we had a chance of finding all this was to go by boat, so we chartered a 49-foot yacht, the Jonathan, out of Longyearbyen.
Sailing is not my forte and I dreaded the thought of ploughing through wild Arctic seas in below zero conditions with frozen rain hammering us every time we went on deck, not to mention the constant rolling making work a nightmare. But I felt I had to put myself through the nautical mangle in order to get the images. The first few days were fine, the mountains, fjords and glaciers bathed mainly in clear, sunny light. On day two we spent hours ashore sketching and photographing a colony of bull walruses – an amazing sight.
The ability to get very close to the subject without disturbing them was a great advantage. These Walrus took absolutely no notice of me and the Polar Bear was viewed from the safety of the boat and merely viewed artists as a potential meal.
We explored old whaling stations, came across a few whales – not easy to sketch – and then our first polar bear appeared against the stunning backdrop of glaciers and snowy peaks. She posed and performed almost as though she knew what we wanted, and was an absolute joy to watch, and we had a grandstand seat from the boat. Strangely enough, no-one wanted to go ashore to get a closer view!
Because of heavy pack-ice we were not able to reach our planned location, but nevertheless achieved everything we’d set out to do. The snow cover was much deeper than normal which certainly made the impressive scenery even more picturesque, and I came back with well over 100 sketches. The return journey down the coast was accompanied by some rather vigorous weather that threw us around quite a bit, but was not as bad as I had expected. A truly memorable trip.
I took the video camera with me so we have produced a DVD of the trip including still photos and sketches.
All sketches and photographs on this page are copyright of David Bellamy