Contemporary Wilderness Artist Sam Gare depicts the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, explored overland and by foot, in her work. “Being outside allows me to push the pause button on the craziness of modern life,” she says. Here she explains why she quit her job to become an artist, and the sense of awe and ‘freeing insignificance’ she feels when outside.Hey Sam, tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
I’m a Contemporary Wilderness Artist currently based in South London, but also in the early stages of building a home and studio in the Outer Hebrides after falling in love with Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
Scotland has already become mine and my husband’s second home and heavily inspires my artwork. I’m driven by a lifelong passion for nature and exploring the natural landscapes from which modern urban lifestyles are increasingly disconnected.
I use the phrase ‘The Places We Go To Feel Small’ to explain my artwork, as this sense of awe and ‘freeing insignificance’ is something I experience and love when outside. Through my art I hope to reconnect people to their natural heritage by sharing our deep need for our natural world for both our mental and physical health and help us to recognise we are just one part of nature rather than its ruler.
My current show is called ‘By Land, By Foot’ and is a body of work consisting of 8 original paintings, depicting the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, explored overland and by foot, and I have just got back from a trip where I took the artworks back to where they were created.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
When I was child I loved animals, being in the garden and wanted a farm or to live in the countryside but it wasn’t actually until after university that I began to truly explore the outdoors in a more meaningful way. I worked at the Natural History Museum, and it was here that I met many of my friends I have now, who also loved the outdoors. We used to go on group trips hiking, surfing, snowboarding and biking all around the UK and I was introduced to most of the things I love now, including become an artist.
I’ve always been creative and making things, from toys to clothes, but in fact I originally wanted to be a natural history documentary maker, due to my love of the natural world and animals – I still have a love for film and audio. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, after a trip to Scotland, that I started drawing more seriously with the introduction of landscape, and overnight my love for the outdoors finally was being reflected in my art. I think up until that point I had never quite found my focus with my art, or even if I could see myself making it as a career.
Nature had long been an escape for me and a place to reflect and be happy, and I wanted to share this feeling through my art. It really did just happen that quickly – one day I wasn’t drawing landscape and the next I was. Looking back now I’m surprised I never brought my two passions together.
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
What a tricky question. I’ve been lucky enough to go to some amazing places, from Svalbard to Galapagos, and many have been as a solo traveller, but if I’m honest the trip that came to mind was one of the first trips I did with the guys from the museum to the Lake District. It was these early trips where I first felt myself, found my crowd, and it just opened up a world of possibilities and inspiration.
It was also where I made many rookie errors, ending up waist deep in a bog for example, but also the trip that had many moments of pure contentment, from the focus and freedom created by hiking, to good conversations and that hot stew and warm cuppa after being out all day in the rain (that is true happiness there!) Looking back and realising the impact this trip has had on my life direction and my own happiness just makes it even more special.
How do you find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
This has been a constant struggle for me – I could write a book! Before I became a full-time artist I worked in events, an industry that just does not compute the work life balance – and surprise surprise it burnt me out. It was at this time I was also diagnosed with leukaemia (I’m all ok now, and in remission – yay), and at that point, probably quite rightly, I realised that something needed to change. So, I quit my job to focus on my art full time, but also so I could gift myself more time to enjoy life – I knew there was value in being outdoors and being active, but I never allowed myself to stop.
It’s a shame it took a cancer diagnosis for me to get out of that cycle, but sometimes life just gives you a hint. I still constantly remind myself to balance my work and life and I now make sure I do something outside every day, be it just sitting outside doing nothing for 30mins, a walk, playing with my pet ducks, or hiking a Scottish Munro.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
I don’t think I have one person, so many names spring to mind and then every time I meet someone new and talk to them about their love for the outdoors it just inspires me more. I’m a bit of a sponge when it comes to being inspired by others (and things).
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Yes very much so, and it’s something I am really passionate about sharing through my work. Being outside allows me to push the pause button on the craziness of modern life. I guess my love for the outdoors comes from me existing in a world that just does not quite fit with my natural rhythm, it’s just a bit too fast and loud. Nature allows me a little solace and time to reset. I find myself instantly relaxed, and intuitively I think I knew that nature was good for me. Maybe we all know this, and why nature now is so important for both our physical and mental health.
The medication I am on for my leukaemia makes it harder for me to do the active things I have always done – my body doesn’t seem to manage so well, and it’s been hard to find the ‘new normal’ and accept Version Two of myself – but it never stopped me and has taught me a lot about the value of being active, to not taking your body for granted, to being kind to yourself and the impact the outside has on our wellbeing. Plus nature is a free playground that everyone can access no matter your health, level or abilities. There’s no judgement or expectations – a rarity – and it’s bliss.
What is it about being an artist that you love?
My art helps me to truly see our natural world and experience it in a different way than say an activity like hiking or biking would. I’m just trying in my own way to give the natural world a voice and help others to realise its value. And at the same time, it helps me have a voice – the simplicity of that motivates me. I also love that I have carved out a career that allows me to get outside too.
When did you discover FINDRA?
At the awesome Kendal Mountain Festival many years ago. In fact, my friend Aoife (mountain bike journalist and Spindrift podcast host) brought me one of your buffs as a birthday present while we where there and I wear that all time now, it’s a kit favourite! As well as making great outdoor clothing, I also love that FINDRA is Scottish and sustainable, another two loves of mine.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To stop worrying about what others think about me. I have defo been in a place of worrying about what others thought so much that it has stopped me making decisions or following my dreams, and even impacted my day-to-day happiness. I’m still trying to shake it but its very freeing in the moments I can do it.
What do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
That the outdoors is for everyone. It carries no expectations, prejudice, or pressure. You don’t need to have a big adventure, you don’t need to spend loads of money, you don’t need to travel for miles – walking in your local area or sitting watching the birds that you might never have noticed before can be just as enjoyable as those big dream adventures. In fact some of my happiness outdoor memories are those small moments. And of course, to respect, care & preserve our outside spaces so they can continue to be enjoyed and loved by future generations.”
Thanks Sam, great to meet you and see some of your work!
More information about Sam and her art can be found on her website here:
Isle of Harris
I love all of Scotland, but I’ve never been somewhere and as instantly felt at home as I did when I first visited Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. So much so that we are about to start building a future home and studio there. It is truly wild in places, and is just beautiful, rugged and inspirational.
An inspiring podcast about Scotland including history, nature, environment, conservation, culture, adventure, art, heritage, and farming. It’s a great listen!
BBC – Scotland Outdoors Podcast
Web of Life by Man of No Ego
I love ambient music and score music, such as the beautiful talents of Max Richter or Ólafur Arnalds, but there are so many that I love in this genre. If I had to pick one, it would be an album Web of Life by Man of No Ego.
It’s a beautifully ambient, moving and atmospheric piece of work, and samples the words of Alan Watts a British philosopher, speaker, and author. It’s both amazing to listen to at home in the dark (on full volume) to escape, but also incredible through headphones while being outside on an epic day out – I find it quite moving, uplifting and powerful.
I can’t really explain why, but I think certain ambient songs can help invoke the closest thing musically to what I feel when I am outside in the big wide world, and try so hard to share through my artwork.