Friday, 10 April 2015

The 'Art' of Climbing

I had an idea a couple of weeks ago to start running a series of 'guest style blogs'. I figured it would make for a nice change and provide a cool insight into other peoples climbing lives.
First up we have Karl Smith who shares with us a little about his passion for the world of painting. I've known Karl for a couple of years now, having route set on numerous occasions at his wall over in Shropshire. He was very quick off the mark in volunteering to join me, and give us the tour out in Margalef last month, which I was super grateful for. 
Stashed away amongst his climbing gear was a small hoard of paints, pencils and paper and I was psyched to be able to watch him at work. It was mightly impressive seeing how quickly he could bring a few simple, quick sketches to life! 
Drawing has always fascinated me from a very early age. I find it incredible what people can do with a just a pencil and blank piece of paper. I just wish I could do it myself!  

Below you will find a showcase of just a small selection of some of Karls work over the years. He sure has been to some pretty stunning and fascinating places. Enjoy!


How did you get into painting, and why this style? 

Like many people I was successfully put off art by a bad teacher, but did a little in my early twenties before work got in the way. My dad was a watercolour painter, and a member of the Lake Artists. I watched him doing a lot of paintings, but that is pretty much the only form of instruction I’ve had. When he died seven years ago I inherited his studio contents, and thought that I would have another go at painting. I had masses of good quality paper, good brushes that were older than me, and tubes of paint in varying degrees of usability.
It was fairly inevitable that watercolour would be what I would try my hand at, given the materials I now had, plus the complete lack of knowledge of other types of painting such as oil or acrylic.

My early stuff was terrible, but there was just enough- small sections or particular effects- in the paintings to keep me trying, and I have really just stumbled along from there, with the help of books and youtube videos. I keep wanting to try oils, but don’t really have the space to deal with what is quite a messy form of painting. At least with watercolour I can carry it in a sack quite easily wherever I am going.

I try to paint a range of subjects, but find I tend to get drawn to landscapes, particularly mountainous ones - not surprising given that is where I choose to spend most of my spare time.

 If you had one place where you could go to paint...?

An easy one to answer! The Alps without a doubt, it has everything. I’ve been to lots of mountain ranges around the world, but the alpine landscape has fantastic architecture and farmed land as well as the peaks and glaciers. I remember how disappointed I was the first time I went to the Canadian Rockies and saw the emptiness and lack of human impact.
Fortunately, getting to the Alps is hardly the impossible dream, it just seems that my climbing trips over the last few years have been elsewhere by and large.

Is any of your work online? 

I’m not good at online self-promotion, so mostly not. I did a blog of my trip to South Georgia and Patagonia a couple of years ago, which has paintings and sketches of the trip, including some of the Petzl Roc Trip venue at Piedra Parada:

 New Year’s day, yr Glyderau
This was during the last really heavy snowfall winter we had (3 winters ago?) and a brilliant start to the year.

Summer evening, Snowdon.
I’d been working over in North Wales doing some guiding, and it was one of those fantastic warm evenings when the light was magical. I’d often thought of doing a painting from near the top of the road that goes up to Dinorwic from down by the lake, so headed off up there and did a quick sketch. I later did this large painting from the sketch.

Roches Moutonees, Cwm Idwal (pastel)
I love the shape of the glaciated outcrops around Ogwen- I hope to paint lots more of these in the future. This one is on the top of the slight ridge when you go from the shingle shore at Lyn Idwal down to Ogwen Cottage via the narrow quarry (whose name escapes me)

50 degrees South
Not a climbing-related one, but the emptiness of the southern Atlantic left a lasting impression. We were followed by various kinds of Albatross for the entire journey south to South Georgia.

Hajar Mountains, Ras al Khaimah

I’ve done quite a few short contracts working in Ras al Khaimah over the last few years, and am quite attracted to the landscape. At first sight it is completely barren, but after a while you start to appreciate the occasional tree or date palm oasis and it certainly grows on you.

North Gaulton Castle
It looks a bit more substantial from this view than from further north. I took a few days off and stayed up in Orkney after guiding a couple up the Old Man of Hoy- he proposed on the summit. Fortunately she said yes or the descent would have been uncomfortable.

No prizes for guessing this one! I tend to gravitate to this section of cliff when drawing rather than climbing.

Stanage popular end
Easter this time, we were staying down at Litton and bumped into Zippy at the crag- neither of us were climbing but just happy to enjoy the snow.
Wadi Rum
This is actually a view from high up on Inshallah Factor, where it does the long traverse left to the exit chimneys. I wanted to capture the haziness of the distant towers rather than focus on detail too much. I climbed this with Andy Long so was able to relax and enjoy the scenery knowing I was in safe hands!
Unnamed Peak, King Haakon Bay, South Georgia
Unnamed, and probably unclimbed as well. The number of spectacular peaks is quite incredible- literally the whole length of the island. It’s a pity it’s so difficult to get to.
The former refuge, Siurana
This was where we stayed when we first climbed here many years ago- the perfect location with bouldering traverse in the dining room. Painted on a rest day during a trip with Simon Lee and Robin Barker-I was recovering from broken ribs at the time after slipping whilst out painting and falling onto the plywood sketchboard I was carrying.
Britain’s most impressive piece of unclimbed rock. Overhanging, solid rock, several hundred feet high and in an amazing position. It’s crying out for someone like Steve McClure to visit!

Lastly, no prizes for this one either! Quite early in the season, and the path round to the back of the towers was closed by avalanche.

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