I’m Andrea England, and I live on a little yellow sailboat with my husband Jim. We’re currently cruising the North Island of New Zealand (follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and visit my website! You can also check out my shops at Redbubble and Society6). I’ve always loved art, though making it part of my everyday life hasn’t always been smooth sailing! I was delighted when Charlie asked me to write a guest post here at Doodlewash – I love the community on the World Watercolor Group Facebook page!
Living on a sailboat is full of joys and challenges. I’m never short of things to paint – other vessels, anchorages, islands, sea creatures, shorelines, towns and of course Island Prism herself. Sometimes we’ll stay in a spot for weeks so I can really get to know it, other times I have to try to capture the essence of it in just a couple of sketches. In my sketchbook, I’ll record the weather, note forecasts and include maps of our routes or places we’ve anchored- it’s like a visual log book.
Island Prism is a 36’ (12 metre) boat so space is at a premium. I’ve squeezed in as much paper as I can, and store my paints, pens and other supplies in fishing tackle boxes to keep them safe and organised. When the boat heels over, there’s the risk that everything will go flying across the cabin, so I have to try hard to tidy things away when I’m not using them! We have netting rigged up so that my boxes stay where they are stowed. My studio is the table in the saloon (the living and dining area). Things can get a bit cozy sometimes, but as long as I can find a spot for a wet painting to dry, I tend to make it work!
The greatest challenge of making art on a boat is that even when the water is calm, we’re never totally still! I struggle to draw a straight line at the best of times, but when the boat is in motion or there’s a swell in the harbor, I just need to embrace the wonkiness. I like to think it adds character, and helps tell the story of the experience! It does seem right that the sea plays a part in how my paintings turn out- it is definitely a huge inspiration. When I’m not on it, I’m under it, diving or snorkeling. I prefer to paint from life, but taking reference photos helps me in situations where I can’t paint, or if I don’t have time to complete a piece. I’ve always loved watercolours, and they are a wonderful medium for catching the motion, mood and reflection of water.
I grew up with itchy feet and a love of drawing, fuelled by my parent’s travel photos, the ‘How to Draw’ books Mum gave me and the reams of used computer paper Dad brought home. When I was given my first set of Reeve’s watercolour tubes, I put them on the paper far too thickly, and fell in love anyway. A box of Cotman paints followed. I gained confidence in applying washes and mixing colours, and took the next steps on a learning curve that I think I’ll be on for the rest of my life!
Working life enabled me to start exploring the world. My camera was always my constant companion when travelling and though I’d sometimes paint from my photos once I returned home, I never really considered sketching as I travelled. I did try drawing in public when visiting Kathmandu. I ended up with a small crowd of elderly gentlemen peering over my shoulder and offering commentary.
I’d love to say I took it as a chance to get to know the locals, but my reserve kicked in and I stuck with my camera for the rest of my trip! From Nepal, I went to New Zealand, where I ended up changing my working holiday visa into a resident’s visa. I painted occasionally in between working and exploring, but put too much pressure on each piece- perfectionism stopped it being fun, and the lack of practice meant I was never going to get any better. My watercolour box languished in the back of a drawer.
I might have given up the art, but I kept on travelling. In Tonga, I met a sailor who followed me home. We got married in 2012 and for our honeymoon sailed from New Zealand to Thailand. My camera was by my side through Vanuatu, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Then Dad got sick, we extended our time off work to fly back to England, and Mum gave me a sketchbook for my birthday.
When we returned to South East Asia I had time on my hands, a memory of the joys of putting paint to paper, and a brand new book of clean white paper. I pulled out a pencil, dug out that old Cotman paint box and started sketching in Malaysia. My first watercolour washes were awkward, my pencil marks hesitant, but I started off drawing in cafes and quiet corners where I could fly under the radar. Eventually I got braver.
When people did notice me, I learned to embrace the opportunities to strike up a conversation. Everybody was very positive. I began to grow a record of my travels that was far more personal than photos could be, even if the drawings were wobbly. I started to really look at the places we visited, taking time out to sit, draw and feel. And when we returned to New Zealand, I was determined to keep up drawing and painting, whatever the pressures of daily life.
It was sometimes tricky to strike a balance between work, exercise and art, but I felt like I’d regained something I’d been missing. When we lost my Dad to cancer, painting gave me something meaningful to focus on. I signed up to Sketchbook Skool and felt myself improving, then joined Charlie’s World Watercolor Month and did what I could of Inktober. Trying to create something every day took the pressure off making it perfect, and I loved the sense of community from engaging with other artists.
Now I’ve said farewell to my lovely school and we’re setting sail again. This time we’re crossing the Pacific Ocean to Canada, exploring the islands of French Polynesia, Kiribati and Hawaii on the way. I’m sure I’ll still take photos, but I’m most excited about painting the places we’ll go. Hopefully drawing will keep me occupied on the longer passages too- it will take three weeks to get from New Zealand to the Austral Islands!
The plastic Cotman box broke when I failed to stow it on a particularly bumpy passage. Now I have a metal box filled with lovely juicy Sennelier paints, and supplemented with tubes of Winsor & Newton‘s pro range and Daniel Smith’s gorgeous granulating Primateks, which add beautiful textures to a wash. I sketch using fineliners, a Lamy Safari and a Noodler’s Nib Creaper, then wash and glaze with paint. I usually use waterproof De Atramentis Document ink or Noodler’s Lexington Grey, but sometimes the anarchic part of my soul likes to use watercolour over washable black Lamy ink and see what happens.
I’ve been exploring adding additional layers of coloured pencil, gel pen, Posca paint pen and Neocolor pastels. For the last few years, I’ve used Daler Rowney Ebony sketchbooks and Fabriano’s beautiful Venezia books with wonderful thick, smooth paper. I’m very excited about my traveller’s sketchbook from Elrohir Leather on Etsy- it holds four different inserts so I can have a mix of papers with me all the time!
We’ll begin our voyage to French Polynesia at the end of April, which gives us three months sailing- and painting- in the spectacular cruising grounds of my adopted home. It will be sad to say goodbye, but adventure awaits! I’ll be updating my website, Facebook page and Instagram as we go if you’d like to follow our adventures!