Monday 22 November 2021

a love affair with old buildings


Sketching Colegiata de San Pere de Ponts, Pyrenees, Catalunya

When I first started travel sketching in Europe back in 2007, I filled a book full of snippets, memories, stories and pasted in notes that documented all sorts of things from our 3 month trip through France and Spain. I painted landscapes, olive trees and flowers. There were sketches of the bikini I bought and the cup of green tea I had in a cafe in Barcelona. I included detailed illustrated maps and receipts and ticket stubs from places we visited. But even then, what fascinated me most were the old buildings.

South African born and now a New Zealander, very old buildings are not part of my history. To see and touch stonework made my masons hundreds of years ago is still a novelty to me and doesn't lose it's charm no matter how many I sketch. 

When we returned to Europe in 2008, my sketchbook included all those varied subjects that tell the story of a trip, but there were two big changes. The glued in tickets and receipts were gone. And there were definitely more buildings. And each subsequent year even more buildings. In fact for a few years I got asked often by friends - "Why do you paint buildings so much when you love the mountains? Where are your mountains?" Where indeed were my mountains? Well, they came out from my pen and brush in force a few years later (that's a whole other story!), but the love affair with old buildings in still going strong.

Here are a few of my favourite buildings from the last couple of months. 

The old (almost) abandoned town of Escuain, Pyrenees, Spain

Capturing the last bit of autumn, near Lleida, Catalunya

Trees and ivy taking over a ruined house near Lleida, Catalunya

Castell d'Alos de Balaguer, Catalunya getting some TLC from some workers

Precariously perched! Mare de Deu de Pedra, Ager.

High on the top of the Montsant range, Catalunya

Colegiata de San Pere de Ponts, Catalunya

Old ruin, Siurana, Catalunya

Real artistry in progress! Our friend Paul is restoring this beautiful old house in Cantabria, Spain

Back in New Zealand now and those buildings are million miles away. It's time to change gear to gorgeous, untouched landscapes. Or is it? I'm sure I can find a tumbled old barn somewhere ;-)


  1. South Africa has some of the oldest archeological and human fossil sites in the world, so to suggest human history there is “short” is certainly an interesting take. Even in New Zealand, one of the last land masses to be populated, human history goes back more than “hundreds of years”.

    You appear to have meant “history of western-style architecture” which is very different; given the context of slavery and colonialism, that statement (about human history being “so short” in the regions specified) is jarring. I wonder if any non-white South Africans or Indigenous New Zealanders read this blog, and if so how that statement would land with them?

    1. You're right. I guess I do mean "history of western-style architecture". Sorry that wasn't clear from the title, my story or the sketches I included. I'll remove the bit about history being short in those regions and hope I've corrected the offense I may have caused.