By this point, many of us are almost as familiar with our local green spaces as we are with our own homes – and that’s saying something. And yet with a little guidance, that daily plod around the park could become a mood-boosting creative outlet. We called on an inventive gang of sketchers, photographers, foragers and architecture experts to help us take the first step in the right direction…
Elevate your everyday snaps | Haarkon
Exploring the world through photography is our way of archiving daily life. Sometimes we choose a specific approach; paying attention to the variety of textures to be found on a single street, or how the changing seasons and time of day alter the appearance of a certain tree.
It can also be a very meditative activity. We often find that focusing our attention in this way has a calming and grounding effect, and enables us to develop a deeper connection with the world around us.
Any camera is good enough. Photography, for us, is about observing and noticing things much more than it’s about anything technical.
Change your perspective. Sometimes we walk the same route over and over, and switch things up by homing in on specific elements: blue things, arrows, overgrown greenery or typography and signage. We enjoy taking the time to give the often-overlooked details some recognition. An open perspective gives us the freedom to see street furniture, such as bus stops, waste bins and lamp posts, as sculpture.
Comfortable shoes are key. We always try to anticipate the terrain we’re exploring (and the miles we tend to cover!) and don’t like to be held back by our choice of footwear.
We don’t shy away from the rain. Wet weather provides new layers of texture and can paint the world in a different light. We notice that colours seem brighter and the way that light (natural or otherwise) interacts with water can bring unexpected surprises.
Experience first. Recognise when it’s time to put the camera down – choosing to not take a photo can be powerful. India Hobson and Magnus Edmondson are the Sheffield-based duo behind online photojournal Haarkon and its ‘Haarkon Adventures’ book series, of which the latest edition is ‘Cornwall’ (£15). haarkon.co.uk
Pull out the pencils | The Shoreditch Sketcher
Urban sketching grants you a completely new way in which to engage with a city – to sketch a city is to truly see it, whether it’s experiencing a new city on a completely different level or seeing a familiar place through fresh eyes.
It’s very different to studio-based drawing such as life drawing or still life, as you’re out in the environment, part of the landscape and embedded in your surroundings. By embracing the freedom it provides, you’re rewarded with unique combinations of static buildings and ever-moving people and vehicles.
Travel light. Some artists prefer to have lots of kit, easels and large-format sketchbooks, but I find the less encumbered I am, the easier it is to focus on the job at hand. If you always travel with a small selection of pens and an A5 sketchbook, you’ll be able to set up camp and get drawing quickly wherever you are.
Pick a subject that interests you. You’re more likely to get a great result with something that gets you excited or catches your eye.
Get comfortable. I like to draw standing as it gives me space and the impetus to work quickly, but for beginners a seated position is more comfortable and allows for greater accuracy. Find a wall or bench to sit on to give yourself more time to capture the scene.
Choose your medium. I love drawing with pen – straight in, with no pencil. But start with a medium you feel comfortable with. This might be pencil or charcoal, both of which are quite forgiving.
Keep at it. Practice makes perfect, and a sketch a day is a great way to train your eye. Draw mundane things such as sandwich shops and drab buildings. You’ll quickly become adept at looking for interesting views and turn your sketchbook into a travel journal.
Phil Dean, aka The Shoreditch Sketcher, is a professional urban artist and author of ‘TATE Sketch Club: Urban Drawing’ (Octopus, £12.99). shoreditchsketcher.com
Plot your own architecture tour | Open City
When visiting a new place, we’re much more attuned and alert to the city around us. The same ordinary details we overlook in our home cities become fascinating, worthy of carefully photographed Instagram posts. Yet exploring from home, be it with a friend or solo, can be an equally adventurous and joyful experience.
This year, when the world came to a standstill and shops, cafés and restaurants closed, many of us broke with routine and discovered community gardens, interesting buildings and public art that had never previously caught our eye.
Take the long way. Many of us rely on navigation apps to find the quickest route to our destination, but the journey is part of the experience. Pay as much attention to small details as grand vistas.
Pick your sources. You won’t find the most fascinating stories about your neighbourhood on tourist websites. Seek out specialist books and sites that celebrate the unsung parts of the city.
Relish the residential. The most appealing architecture isn’t always at the heart of a city. Head in the opposite direction to discover housing estates with amazing heritage and other lesser-known gems. Cycling is a good way to increase your radius.
Seek out new neighbourhoods. Dust off an old A-Z and head to somewhere you’ve never been. Urban exploration is safer than it’s often portrayed, but perhaps share your live location with a friend.
Join an organised tour. A great guide can unlock an area, or try one of the new printed or audio tours from Open City as your guide to some of London’s hidden treasures.
Hafsa Adan is assistant curator at urban design charity Open City, which shares local London knowledge via architecture tours, talks and a new podcast. open-city.org.uk
Forage for wild winter food | Handmade Apothecary
Winter is by no means a barren time for foraging. Urban walks can uncover young green shoots, berries, nuts and mushrooms for delicious nourishing recipes. Just use a botanical guide to ensure correct identification before consuming any wild plant. Here are four ingredients to track:
Rosehips (Rosa sp.). These round or oval-shaped ruby parcels full of tiny golden seeds are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Use them in syrups, jams and cordials.
Chickweed (Stellaria media). Found growing in disturbed ground, this has small, oval leaves, with a single line of hairs along the stem and a star-like white flower. Chickweed is a nutritious leafy green that can be cooked like spinach. It contains soapy chemicals that need removing first, so blanch for one minute, then discard the water.
Turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor). Find this attractive fungus growing in tiers on dead wood. Its multicoloured caps resemble a turkey’s tail and it has visible pores on the underside. Use it for making stocks for the base of soups and stews for an added immunity boost.
Cleavers (Galium aparine). This is also known as sticky weed. In winter, you can find the young shoots starting to pop up, which make one of our favourite tonics…
CLEANSING CLEAVERS COLD INFUSION
This is a mineral-rich, refreshing drink used for glowing skin and aiding the body’s natural detoxification system. It’s best made fresh every evening to sip throughout the next day.
• 2 big handfuls of fresh cleavers
• 1/4 cucumber • 2-3 slices of lemon
• 500ml filtered water
Wash and finely chop or crush the cleavers. Finely slice the cucumber into ribbons (a potato peeler works well). Place in a glass or ceramic jar with the slices of lemon and leave in the fridge overnight.
Herbalists Kim Walker and Vicky Chown are founders of Handmade Apothecary, and authors of ‘The Handmade Apothecary’ and ‘The Herbal Remedy Handbook’ (Kyle Books, £18.99 each). handmadeapothecary.co.uk
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2021
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