The Faroe Islands are a breeding ground for creatives. Whether its music, textiles, pottery, poetry or podcasting, people like to express themselves artistically. We found a similar creative energy in Iceland. But why? What is it about these islands? Is it the influence of the landscape or the sea? Is it the lack of distractions? Or a case of keeping up with the neighbours?
A knit and a natter
On the Iceland leg of our trip we take up knitting. It’s something of a national pastime and we keep seeing other people amuse themselves in this way, and so we think why not?
But as we can only source one ball of wool and one needle (a circular one) we are limited to knitting a family scarf. In violent pink and snot green. With a strange twist in the middle. And stitches slipped at random. It is possibly the worst scarf ever knitted by a family of five. Or indeed the only scarf ever knitted by a family of five. But it does pass the hours travelling around Iceland and by the time we reach The Faroes, our homemade buff is just about finished. And as the Faroe Islanders also seem to be obsessive knitters, we feel comfortable with mentioning our crafting achievement to a few of the locals. We show our scarf to Bjorki, the manager of The Aquarium while he is showing us his lumpfish.
One thing leads to another
He pretends to be wonder struck by our artistry then picks up a book and flicks through it, pointing out some even more beautiful knitted works of art. I’m surprised at his enthusiasm as I didn’t have him down as someone who likes a knit and a natter. He’s not, but coincidentally his wife is quite a famous textile and graphic artist who has exhibited her work all over Scandinavia. Soon events get out of hand and we have an appointment to show her our scarf. This is how we end up in the toasty warm Torshavn kitchen of internationally famous artist Astrid Andreasen, while the wind howls outside and her dog and cat glare at each other from the hearth.
She’s better than us at knitting!
As soon as Astrid shows us the first piece that comes to hand, we know we have been out-knitted. Her work lies in a basket on the floor, as though she brought it in with the laundry. She pulls back the lid that’s keeping the cat out of the basket to reveal a substantial coil that took her a whole year to knit -working at a constant pace of one metre a day. Every day. For a year. That’s what I call committing to knitting.
The colouful coil will soon be part of ‘the oar’ -a work of art that will hang on a public wall on another of the Faroe Islands. Astrid nips upstairs to get some other samples and soon the table is filled with knitwear, in various traditionally inspired Faroese wildlife designs.
Stumbling into the artistic life
Astrid specialises in wildlife art but stumbled into it. Her Danish degree in embroidery and weaving took her down an occupational therapy route before she studied art and got offered the role of scientific illustrator at a biological station. She was to research the animals at the bottom of the sea on an inter-Nordic project. “There were all those strange things under the microscope,” she says. “I got the job because I could see the detail. They wanted somebody who knew how to look at the animals properly.” After ten years she went on to become resident artist at the Faroese Museum of Natural History (Føroya Náttúrugripasavn). Nowadays she draws both plants and animals and her achievements include a massive range of postage stamps. We visit her studio at the museum; an intimate space, filled with paints, paper, natural objects and books she has illustrated or is working on. “If I am working on an illustration, I would usually have the fish or animal here to look at,” she explains, “to see the details.”
But, to the relief of the kids, there’s no animals on her desk today. She flips through drawings, lifts sketches from filing cabinets, showing us pictures of delicate plants and not so delicate fish. Today she’ll be drawing seaweed, and the researchers often bring her fish from the trawler to put in her freezer until she’s ready to sketch them.
But her work doesn’t just focus on literal interpretations of the marine kingdom. We drive to the Faroe Marine Research Institute Building where a 4 metre tall multicoloured tapestry hangs in five separate panels on a wall. Made in 1990, it depicts marine life from the top of a cliff to the bottom of the sea and resembles a psychadelic underwater zoo, with embroidered sea creatures glistening in gold, purple and blue.
“Now when I see it I think ‘did I really make that?’” laughs Astrid. “But I’m happy because the colours are still there after all these years.”
Further into town, in the hallway of part of the University, another of Astrid’s fish communities hang from the ceiling. This time they are wire and knitted wool creations, dangling from fish hooks. “One of them is a king fish so I gave him a golden crown,” says Astrid.
How prolific is this woman? She confesses she never stops creating things. When watching TV she is constantly knitting, cutting out shapes or sketching. Apparently programmes like CSI Miami are particularly good for keeping the mind occupied while the hands are busy. “I don’t like to be bored. It’s not funny to be bored.” Now in her sixties, she talks animatedly talks of her mother who lived to be almost 100, recalling life in a traditional cottage with mud floors, and no electricity or TV. But it wasn’t just the lack of distractions that made her the creative person she is today. It was her connection to the landscape and the sea, and a strong sense of what it is to be Faroese. And maybe it was the Faroese culture of creativity. The fact that other islanders were also knitting, sewing and making works of art around her? As the proud co-knitter of a slightly twisted, stitch slipped, rather rubbish family scarf, I can identify with that. I wonder if I too could knit a fish?
Do you have a creative compulsion? Does your environment stimulate your creativity? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to Smyril Line for help with transport, to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey. And to Gjaargardur Guest House and Visit Faroes who helped us out on the Faroes. All views and opinions are as ever our own. You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.