In Review: Term at Fine Art School in Groningen

Initially, I was apprehensive about going to Groningen to study Fine Art, anyone that knows me well knows around the time of applying to study abroad I was toying the with idea of dropping out of uni completely, then staying and getting three years done with. I am so glad I didn’t follow through with these as going to the Miverva Academy of Art in Groningen was one of the best experiences of my life.

Before deciding on photography as my main medium of art, I experimented with a lot of others, and focused for a long while on painting, and wanted to use this as a chance to go back and explore this medium and others within my work. I thought about “abandoning” photography and focusing on something new. But after advice I worked on mixed medium art using black and while 35mm film and paint. There was a strong sense of freedom in the structure also, which although daunting was freeing and gave my work a life that it had not had before, allowing me to see myself not only as a photographer but as an artist and an someone who is sitting in the international arts community. This is something that has helped my confidence a lot, enough in fact that I was the focus of my project which previously I would have been too shy to pull off. This has made a permanent impact on myself – both as an individual and an artist – and my work.

I even got to exhibit my work three times while in The Netherlands, one a set of mixed media pieces (including a portrait of myself which gave me a lot of nerves in showing), and a painting, and an installation. The installation is what I am most proud of as it is something I never saw myself doing, let alone pulling off and making an emotional impact on Syrian refugees (the work was based on the Syrian Refugee crisis) who saw it over Skype.

It was more than just the learning aspect that made this life changing (cliche I know). Living in a new country with people from all over the world gives you a chance to really step out of your comfort zone and learn about different cultures, which I found extremely beneficial. For example, the Dutch way of life is very relaxed. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, always rushing around, early to things and annoyingly organised most of the time. I slowed down, learned to relax more and that helped me mentally and therefore there was a domino effect on everything I done and my ability to think on a more positive side. The fact of being far away from home is also a learning curve. Whilst at uni, yes, you are no longer at home but its only a car or train ride away if you miss your dog or feel unwell. Being in a different country makes that a bit more difficult so you learn to deal with stuff more like a grown up.

What I loved was Christmas time in Groningen. Not only was I experiencing a traditional European Christmas (mainland Europe do it better than the UK) including a trip to the beautiful Kรถln, but I was sharing my Christmas traditions with people from different countries and they was sharing theirs. For example, we celebrated Sinterklaas which is a tradition just before Christmas where children get chocolate and presents in a shoe, and on the controversial side Sinterklaas and Zwart Piet come into the city through the canal on a boat. I also hosted a Christmas dinner where I cooked the staple of every British Christmas/roast dinner – Yorkshire puddings. My friend from Germany cooked up a traditional red cabbage, and we had Dutch Apple Tart for desert. For my New Zealand friends it was their first cold Christmas, so it was interesting seeing how my normal “movie” Christmas was so different to theirs which are boiling hot and spent at the beach. This is one of many times where different cultures came together.

All in all, this was the most amazing experience of my life, one I am fortunate to have had. What I love most about this is how it opened me up as an artist, opening me up to take more risks with my work, to view myself as a practising artist, and not be afraid to say “this is what I think, this is what I see” boldly with my work. I would happily go back to Minerva again, and back to Groningen as it is the most beautiful city. I even nearly stayed there for a whole year, before deciding to use this time to experience even more. I loved experiencing new cultures that people shared, which has changed my way of thinking, opened my mind to more possibilities than just my own predominantly British ideas. It has also helped me solidify what I want to do for a career, document and explore different cultures around the world, sharing my experiences through art. This is what the second half of this year has been, and a post summarising that soon!

To see all of the work I created, visit my website and take a look at What If I Told The Truth, Wonderland, and Home Sweet Home (of course look at my other work too!). alicesophieart.com

And to see more detailed experiences from my time in Groningen, and the trips I took from there, scroll back through my blog posts!

Take a Break

First things first – long term travel is completely different to a weekend break or a all inclusive resort stay. That is in my opinion of course. But the main difference between long term travel and a shorter trip/stay in one place for example is the time scale of how long you have to see everything. For example, when I went to Rome for five days last summer we was constantly busy seeing and experiencing everything the city had to offer. With long term travel, such as my current month long trip in the Isle of Lewis, you got time to relax and slow down a bit. A month rushing around for no reason is stupid, and will burn you out.

Don’t be go into a long trip thinking you need to be constantly on the move, constantly up early every day, late nights doing it all. Thats the great thing about a long trip – you got time! At the risk of sounding like the Airbnb slogan – you are living the place rather than visiting.

You are allowed to give yourself a few days to rest up. Whether that means sleeping in till lunch time, sunbathing, reading, watching Netflix – whatever! At the start through till the middle of my trip I was always rushing around seeing everything, working and doing everything I could to see the place. That was great, but tiring. When I moved to my new hostel in Stornoway (Heb Hostel) and there was a bath I took one then slept all afternoon and it was bliss. I have had a few more lazy days after that too, and thats fine. I am organised and not missing out.

The preconception that everyday travelling has to be a whirlwind of adventures is wrong, yeah most days of course. But you need to chill out a few days (especially if travelling with others, you may need some “me” time), so you can full enjoy everything.

Have fun, and embrace the lazy days as well as the adventures!

Sh*t Happens… And thats OK

After an amazing Easter Sunday sailing a boat and ending the day with a nice festive meal, I had a bike trip to a beach planned for Easter Monday.

Despite having to get used to the bike, and the steep inclines on my journey, it was going great. That was until I reached for my phone to check the time and realised it wasn’t there. Obviously, I spiralled into a panic, and traced by ride back three miles to where I last had my phone out. I was beginning to think it was lost forever, when I saw it scattered in four pieces across the road. It had fallen out of my pocket as I started riding again as I clumsily forgot to do up my pocket zip.

This for me is one of the worst things that could happen, and I freaked out, had to stop riding and went into a full on panic/anxiety attack miles away from town for a good half hour at least. After calming down a bit I managed to hitchhike with my bike back to town. Rushing around tech stores and iCloud to see if it was fixable and if I had lost much.

I still have no idea if its fixable, The state of it, in four pieces I doubt it. And I lost everything on it from my entire trip as I have not had strong enough wifi to back up to iCloud. This includes, work notes, voice recorded interviews, and a variety of snaps.

I panicked, freaked out and gave up on the day and my ride and went to bed in a state. After laying there for a while, I thought “what is this going to solve?”. Yeah, my phone was totally and completely ruined, and I had lost a month of work and information potentially, but what could I do at that time to sort it? I had done what I could.

More than anything I was annoyed that I had given up my ride. So I got back on the bike and headed out again, and despite aching and feeling tired I felt better than I did beforehand. Yeah I am gutted about potentially loosing work and photos, but theres nothing I can do now to sort it. Its sent off to be fixed, so no point dwelling!

This is something I have briefly touched on in a post ages ago about my Scandinavia trip where we was homeless at 1am after arriving in Oslo and had to sleep at the airport and booked the wrong flight. But shit does happen, especially when travelling. Not everything will flow perfectly, and massive things can go wrong. But thats OK, it will teach you lessons. Like triple check information, and make a point of connecting to wifi long enough to back up your phone!

Don’t let all the bad get in the way of the good, do what you can and get on with everything else – stressing and fretting will just make everything seem worse, take it from someone who compulsively panics and goes into anxiety attacks over the smallest of problems and situations!

 

Solo means Selfie

Despite the taboo surrounding solo travel, I have so far encountered no problems at all and had the best time. Solo travel pushes you outside of your comfort zone with meeting people, doing new activities and getting to spend more time with yourself. More on Solo travel coming in a future post!

The only thing I have found frustrating so far is that the only photos I am getting of myself are awkward selfies. Don’t get me wrong I love a good selfie, but there comes a time when you want a shot of yourself standing on the edge of a cliff or in the middle of nowhere for that perfect Instagram-worthy shot.

Now, there is the option for asking someone to take a photo of you, but the majority of the time when I have wanted that perfect shot, there was no one around. Just sheep, and they aren’t exactly camera savvy. Then there is the option of the selfie stick. Are these still a big thing? I haven’t seen one in forever, and I kinda hate them. They will just give me another selfie with a bit more height. Then there is self timer, which I would be up for giving a go, but anyone thats been to Scotland, the Outer Hebrides in particular will know that it is far to windy to balance a phone somewhere, or risk balancing my camera on something. I do have a tripod, but don’t carry it everywhere with me. And then I don’t want it to sink into mud which covers pretty much everywhere – you should see how my shoes are looking!

This hasn’t really gone anywhere in resolving selfie issues. So, my phone is full of awful selfies with a very few being OK and saying “yeah I was here!”.

I am also trying to be a bit creative with photos of myself in places, such as slightly tumblr-esque shots of my feet. Mostly this is to show how much they are sinking into mud/sand/water.

Do you have any solo photo tips? Share them with me!

 

Don’t Put all Your Eggs in One Basket

(Get the Easter post title reference? Eh? Its awful, I know, sorry, ha!)

So, week three of my exploration of the Western Isle is beginning, and onto a new chapter of the trip I go! As with all trips, not everything goes to plan, and once you arrive somewhere new small hurdles crop up that you could not have foreseen, even with all the research prior. This being my first “big” solo trip, I am taking many lessons from this time on the Isle of Lewis.

The plan for this trip was to stay for the duration of the tip in the same place, a hostel in Galson. The hostel is lovely, like a home from home. The experience of staying on a farm is also one for the books, especially this time of year for the lambing season! Its wonderful. But, I overestimated how easy it would be to get around without a car, being quite far from shops etc.

This, and the want to explore the island more, a change of scenery and the unfortunate need for wifi has led me to move to Stornoway for the remainder of the trip.

The lesson I have learnt here is that you shouldn’t secure yourself to one place, move around and explore a bit more! Especially if you are relying solely on public transport. Hopefully, the hostel I am moving to is as nice and welcoming as where I currently am, which is faultless.

So, if you are going on a long travelling trip check out moving around a bit, getting a chance to explore more. There was the element of research and work in choosing my location in Galson, the place my project is based. But while you have travelled a long way, make sure you see the place!

 

A Warm Welcome

I have been in the Outer Hebrides for just over a week now, and one thing that I have constantly noticed is how friendly and welcoming everyone is. No matter where I go, or what I need help with people are wonderful.

This is a big difference from what I have experienced back home, and elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I have not experienced people being awfully rude or anything. But here it reaches a new level of friendliness, a warm welcome that has made me feel at home in the community.

One thing I noticed straight away is how people walking/driving past always wave or smile, whereas in more built up city/town locations this would not happen – even if you know the person in some cases! This curtesy is extended so far as being able to hitch a ride if you are even in need. Although I have not done this myself, everyone has told me its fine and safe to do so, and I feel safe enough here to do it if I was ever in desperate need. The idea shocked me, as doing so back home you would either get ignored, or not have a clue who’s car you are getting into. Something that I would never dream of doing.

Another aspect is how hospitable people are. With my project I am interviewing and talking to various members of the community, most who have never met me. Under the advice of the hostel I am staying with I knocked on peoples doors. This is something that is usually only seen as okay on Halloween (for children and parents), and nowadays you gotta be careful then who’s door you go to. I was welcomed in to the homes by eager helpful people and given all the coffee and biscuits I could ask for.

These are just a few experiences I have had where people here have shown how friendly and welcoming the community is. People I have met have given me lifts, invited me places, and bus drivers even help with getting me to places I have no idea where to go.

If I get one thing out of this trip, and one thing reflected in this project, its the community and the people who make it.

Going Back to Basics

I have Wi-Fi! Hurrah!

I am all settled into my rural location on the Isle of Lewis. However, it was not as easy as I thought. Namely due to the lack of phone service and Wi-Fi. Although there is some Wi-Fi for me to use at the reception of where I am staying, being alone and without any service in my hostel room is harder than I thought. Not for safety reasons, I couldn’t feel safer, everyone is warm and welcoming, and my hosts are lovely. Its the reliance on internet to entertain myself and plan my travels that makes it hard.

My initial plan with this trip was to go internet free anyway, testing myself without a connection to social media to see how it affects me. I am quite annoyed to say it plays a big part in my life it seems. Being alone with no form of communication in the evenings is hard, I mean there is enough to entertain myself with. Its still light at 8pm due to my westerly location, a TV, and I bought art equipment and a ton of books to plough through, as well as getting on with my work. But its laying in bed or sitting watching telly when you nonchalantly check through Facebook or Instagram. ย As well as that it makes planning hard. Although the bus service is good and quite regular, having no car makes it difficult and I have to plan my times of going out and exploring. Planning to meet with people on the island for research is also dependant on Wi-Fi.

I am acclimatising to this situation though, despite initially not being able to cope (which I hate to admit). Shocked is an understatement to how I feel about my reliance of technology as I have always argued that we rely on it too much, and that I want to live without it for a while. Well, heres my shot and it was difficult. This just goes reinforces the idea that my generation are sucked into mobile phones and the internet, being too reliant.

This is only going to make my trip more exciting, and let me gain more. In a way using it as experiment on myself and my relationship with the internet and how much do I really need it. So far, not too much. Going back to basics with good old fashioned conversation with locals, bus timetables and maps I am making my way around fine and proving that when it comes down to surviving, life doesn’t revolve around the internet. Which sounds ironic, as I am obviously online right now posting this. Connection to the internet has become a treat rather than a necessity.

Looking back through this post quickly, it looks like a critique of the internet, and in parts yes. I wish I didn’t rely on it so much, and looking around and experiencing life more fully away from a phone screen is a whole lot better. I am finding out I am capable of more, developing important skills which will come in handy when travelling elsewhere, places that no Internet will be harder than Scotland.

In terms of my project, things are going great. Today I have spent my time at the Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, browsing through the archives of the community finding out fascinating local history – and present day information – that is driving my project along nicely. Cannot wait to see what it has in store.

Will post again when I get Wi-Fi to update you on my travels, which I promise won’t be a rant about connectivity.