Sketching erodes cultural and linguistic barriers, as a picture and the process to create it can be universally understood

Artist Karen Neale was recently awarded the Churchill Travelling Fellowship, which invites UK citizens to travel the world and return with ideas that will inspire others. Neale travelled the world for five months and along the way she completed 106 watercolour sketches of World Heritage sites. Her book ‘A Fellow Traveller – A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites’ was published in 2015 as part of Winston Churchill Memorial Trust’s 50th Anniversary. “My sketchbook was my passport to people and places,” says Neale. “When standing or if lucky, sitting somewhere for several hours, simply drawing with just a black biro, I became a part of that place for a time. Sketching erodes cultural and linguistic barriers, as a picture and the process to create it can be universally understood. People were so friendly, informative, inquisitive and afforded me great hospitality. Humanity in its heritage and a journey of a lifetime.” She tells us more about the cities that stole her heart…


The Most Beautiful

San Gimignano, Italy

Nearly all the sites I visited were beautiful, but as I have to pick one then it is San Gimignano, and quoting from my sketchbook ‘…..across the beautiful Tuscan Hills I could see in the distance  the medieval skyscraper outline of San Gimignano….Quite unique and beautiful without stepping into tweedom.‘  This picture is sketched from the Torre Grossa, the largest and tallest of the 14 remaining towers of an original 72 in the Middle Ages, when San Gimignano was a prosperous little trading town.

san gimignano Italy 


The One That I Want To Go Back To 

Matera, Italy

Again, I would like to return to many of the cities and sites I visited, but it would be great to see Matera again…… Matera is apparently one of the oldest towns in the world. Originating as cave dwellings built into the rocky tufo hillsides, the old town has maze like alleys and carved steps leading to different levels. During the 50s many people were forcibly evacuated due to poor sanitary conditions. But not everyone left and this now semi-deserted area is increasingly dotted with freshly painted and restored dwellings. If I had the money this would be the place where I would invest in a little cave of my own. As you wander through this magical maze, dogs appear suddenly at the top of a building, overlooking you like  furry gargoyles and welcome you to Matera in comical fashion. This sketch is the view from Palazzo Lanfranchi, looking across to Sassi Caveoso, el Duomo on left, and San Pietro Caveoso and Madonna dell’ Idris set into the rocks… all quite amazing. The mad swallows swooping overhead in eternal circles like an airy whirlpool of mirthful mayhem – wonderful.

matera Italy


The Most Memorable

Arg-e-Bam, Iran

Arg-e-Bam in Iran is  I think the most memorable and appears on the cover of my book. Quoting from the words around the sketch – ‘Arrived yesterday from Kerman across the parched and remote desert to apparently three million palm trees forming the oasis around the town of Bam. The modern day city now lies outside the walls of the ancient city Arg – e Bam. The whole adventure to Bam has been quite magical, staying at Mr. Akbah’s little guesthouse and made to feel so at home  Met some wonderful people in Bam and discovered that Iranian sense of humour is very similar to British – very dry with a hint of wit and irony. The citadel is quite out of this world and completely compelling, and one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen, even while drawing this at well over 40° early in the morning, melting away in my long black oven of a dress. The only inhabitants now in this amazing ancient city are the restoration workers, the ladies at the teahouse in the gatehouse to the citadel (great cooked eggs!) and the odd inquisitive lizard and bird.’ Although badly damaged in the 2003  earthquake, Arg-e Bam is being gradually and sympathetically restored.

arg-e-bam Iran


The Most Unusual 

Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu was the most unusual for me for its amazing architectural and cultural richness – ‘Ancient history is fresh and youthful here, as stone Buddhas and Incarnations, stupas and other edifices nestle in among the washing lines and ‘Internet access here’ signs.  Medieval and modern life combine in a wonderful vibrancy in some amazing characteristic Nepalese adaptation. The apparent randomness of the religious and secular buildings belies a wonderful complex and intricate network. In every ‘chowk’ (residential courtyard/ marketplace with business enterprises mixed in on the lower floors) are stupas and Buddhas or even temples, which you can often glimpse from the street. It is a maze of delights. Although with as much poverty, if not more proportionally than India, it has a much gentler, calmer pace here and every which way you turn, there is some little architectural or ancient monument gem set right within the every day life and bustle of this capital city, and Durbar Square is seemingly strewn with shrines, temples, statues and the rest – it is a spectacular place, pure inspiration  for architects and town planners I think… Monkeys and mosquitoes making mischief, a monkey climbed one of the roofs and threw down tiles, smashing on the ground, whilst the mosquitoes simply concentrated on me!’ So much has been destroyed in the devastating earthquake last year and so much help is still needed in the aftermath to rebuild lives and basic shelter, let alone the buildings which have stood for centuries….

Durbar Square kathmandu Nepal


The Most Difficult To Visit

The Hill Forts in Rajasthan, India

I had been travelling for well over three months through Europe, Turkey, Iran and Uzbekistan before arriving in India where suddenly culture shock well and truly hit me! It is a country of extremes where heaven and hell exist like oil and water – karma chaos.  I was simply overwhelmed. I was used to having people sit or stand near me while I sketched, but now I was surrounded by crowds and could not see beyond all the faces around me. So this was the one country where I did change my itinerary significantly as my objective was to draw amazing places and someone suggested that the city of Udaipur might be a little calmer than other areas in Rajasthan… and thankfully it was….. ‘.. from the top of the Haveli, where I am staying, and I’ve been drawing this in between rain showers and hot sunshine. This haveli has been my sanctuary and Udaipur the city which has made me stay and not run away back home. I still find it hard going, but have met some lovely people here who have made it easier. I find it difficult to marry such a beautiful view as this with some of the hard things just around the corner.’

udaipur India


To find out more about Karen’s work click here. Her book ‘A Fellow Traveller – A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites’ is available on her website and via Amazon


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