In the summer of 2014 I traveled to Iceland with a group of artists. I share my travelog, paintings and photos here. I returned to Iceland in the summer of 2016 and my stories continue.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Iceland: Through an Artist's Eyes part 1 First Impressions of Summer in Iceland

'Home of the Huldufolk'            18x24          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $450

'In the Mountain's Shadow'            5x7         plein air pastel   Iceland          ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting $50

Iceland is a land of extremes. The darks are darker, the lights brighter and the greens are more varied and lush than one can possibly imagine. As an artist I was enthralled. I couldn’t wait to paint the rich fairyland of green grasses and moss. I hoped I had packed the right colors in my pastel box.

'Iceland Extreme'         4x10       plein air pastel somewhere on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland  June 2014

In Iceland the earth is raw and dark. It  sometimes feels dark and brooding and sometimes the landscape is filled with a warm and gentle glow from the sun that stays low in the sky for hours on end. Sunset never really came. I arrived on the Summer Solstice and my first night in Iceland I watched the sun do a dance on the horizon. It went down around 12:30 am only to reappear and hour later slightly to the right. The sky remained bright and colorful all night. Even though it was never completely dark during my visit,  I fell into bed pleasantly tired every night. I was never bothered by the never ending daylight.

The Midnight Sun as seen from my bedroom window in Stykkisholmur, Iceland

Iceland’s summer weather followed suit and was also extreme. It went from warm sunny summer days that truly never ended to gray and moody days filled with steady chilling rains. There were days in the 70’s and the sun felt hot on my skin. Then there were the cold and damp days when the high temperature was 50 with a fierce blowing wind. During my two week visit  I experienced everything but snowfall.(though I did touch a glacier)

A sunny day in Stykkisholmur with our red house in the distance. This was 10:00 pm

A gray and moody day in a field of Lupines

The weather in Iceland changed constantly. I learned not to fret about a bad weather forecast. It was likely to change...several times in the course of the day. My new friend from Sweden would tell us there was no such thing as bad weather...only bad clothes. I was prepared with good clothes and that helped. I had packed layers. I had packed everything from a bathing suit to long underwear and a down jacket. I even brought my travel Wellies (rain boots) and wore them often.

Lots of layers to remove or add as necessary. A waterproof layer is important.

Keeping my feet warm and dry

While in Iceland I splurged on my very own Icelandic wool sweater. The Icelandic name for this traditional sweater with a circular pattern on the yoke is "lopapeysa."  "Lopi" is the name of the yarn traditionally used in its making, and "peysa" means sweater. I noticed that it wasn’t just a souvenir for tourists. I saw locals everywhere I traveled wearing their beautiful sometimes well worn sweaters. They seemed to wear them as we wear jackets or sweatshirts. I soon found out for myself how wonderful they are. The wool from the Icelandic sheep is both soft and water repellent. My sweater kept me perfectly warm and cozy on the damp cold days. 

Icelandic sheep are everywhere

The sweaters are available everywhere but I bought mine at the weekly flea market Kolaportid in Reykjavik. I had the chance to chat with the woman who had knitted my sweater. She told me “I looked well” in my new sweater. She also gave me care instructions. Did you know there is no need to really wash the sweater for two years?   It is said that one somehow knows when they find the perfect a wedding dress. It sounds strange but it was true for me. I knew it was the one as soon as I put it on and I will treasure it forever. 

Modeling my new Lopapeysa

I had only been in Iceland for 24 hours when it occurred to me that it was the most amazing place I had ever seen. In 24 hours I had experienced the Mid Atlantic Ridge, volcanos, hot springs, glaciers, countless waterfalls, the midnight sun and a huge treeless landscape that begged to be painted. This was going to be an epic adventure!


steam from geothermal springs

the Mid- Atlantic Ridge comes ashore on Icleand

Moss covered lava fields from distant volcanoes

waterfalls are everywhere

Be sure to return for part two tomorrow!

Iceland: Through an Artist's Eyes part 2 Beyond Reykjavik

'Summer Evening'             11x14              pastel    Stykkisholmur, Iceland June 2014            ©Karen Margulis
As capital cities go Reykjavik made me feel very welcome. I spent five days in the city and great memories were made. But to really experience Iceland, one must go beyond Reykjavik. Take a few bus tours or rent a car and drive around the Island on the Ring Road.  The beauty of Iceland is all around and it is even more magical as you move away from the city.

'Evening Peace'             5x7        pastel
purchase painting $50       
I experienced the both the South Coast and West Iceland on this trip. Both were filled with wonders and were made for artists and adventurers of all sorts.  I came to Iceland to join an art workshop expedition led by internationally known pastel artist Stan Sperlak. Stan and his assistant Cory Brandt had come to Iceland the previous November to scout out our base and painting locations. They chose well.

Stan Sperlak doing a pastel demo on the deck of our home

Stan brought Painter's Passport signs for the vans which made us look very important and official!

A group of eleven came together from all over the world to experience Iceland together. We were painters, photographers and adventurers at heart. We didn’t know one another but quickly bonded and left as good friends with memories to last a lifetime. We were based in two wonderful rental homes in the magical town of Stykkisholmur. This small town with a population of 1,100 sits on the Northern Snæfellsnes peninsula and serves as a hub for fishing and tourism. If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ , Stykkishholmur was Greenland. You can see our street and house in the movie! It was the perfect place for an artist. 

A side view of the red house with the harbor down the street

Stykkisholmur has a special kind of magic that I can’t quite describe. It has to be experienced. It is small and walkable and filled with colorful homes and gardens. The harbor was filled with equally colorful boats and sea birds. It has a hill covered in wildflowers which overlooks the harbor and town and onto the distant snow covered mountains. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful spot to stay for awhile. We had a week.

Quiet time, Stykkisholmur's harbor around 11 pm

Beautiful reflections

And they have snow covered mountains too? I could get used to this place!

Our town (it quickly became our town as soon as we hung the Icelandic flag) was both quaint and beautiful but what made it extra special was the warmth of the people- locals and visitors alike. One sunny afternoon after our painting session we were relaxing on the deck of the red house (we had a red house and a gray house) The caretaker happened to walk by and Stan invited her over for a glass of wine. After making sure it wasn’t rude, she joined us. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon with her and her son and grandson. Priceless memories and friends were made that day. 

Stan and Cory hanging the Icelandic flag. 

What a wonderful day in Iceland

One evening we were enjoying homemade truffles (we had some great chefs in our group) when a group of young men walked by. They were invited in to join us and the living room quickly filled with laughter as the young men on holiday from Keflavik came in to have a few truffles.  More magical moments in Iceland.

Come on in for truffles!

We probably could have stayed in town the entire week and not run out of painting subjects. We did stay put for the first day to paint. After Stan's demo I set up on the deck and never moved all day.  The view was postcard perfect. There was a rocky cliff with a few tiny houses on top. A meadow filled with yellow wildflowers leading down to the island-filled bay. There was an ever-changing sky filled with beautiful clouds and light. Could an artist ask for anything more? It couldn’t possibly get any better....or could it?

The view from the red house...endless painting ideas

The light of the magic hour lasted for hours

Iceland...a breath of Fresh air!
Stay tuned to part three of my trip report. You can read part one here.

If you would like more information about Stan Sperlak, his workshops and the Painter's Passport program visit his website here. Next summer he is planning to go to France...Paris and the beaches the impressionists painted! Another great painting adventure!

Iceland: Through an Artist's Eyes part 3 Exploring the Snaefellsness Peninsula

'Sea of Pink'    5x5       pastel     ©Karen Margulis    Sea  Thrift in Iceland

'Beyond the Sea of Pink'     5x7      pastel  Grundarfjordur, Iceland
available for purchase $50

The town of Styikkisholmur was perfect for artists. You could find every possible motif all within a short walk. Bathrooms and food were close at hand. Our houses even had hot tubs filled with hot water from the geothermal springs. Why would we ever want to leave?  But if we had stayed in town all week we would not have experienced even greater magic. So true to the nature of an expedition....we kept moving. 

They say that the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where we were based is like Iceland in miniature. It has all of the features that make Iceland special packed into one area of the country. Think volcanoes, glaciers, a rocky coastline, quaint seaside towns, waterfalls and streams everywhere, lush green meadows filled with sheep and horses (with adorable babies) lots of birds, fields of wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see, beaches with wonderful colored stones, stark red and black lava fields covered in spongy green moss....truly an amazing place.  We saw it all in a week’s time!

Long and winding roads

Lupine everywhere

Lava and moss

Just a small sample of my drive-by van photos of the Snaefellsness Peninsula

Stan had rented two vans for touring the countryside. He was the driver of what we dubbed the ‘bad van’ and Cory drove the new van. The bad van had seen better days and was probably driven on the forbidden F roads. It rattled and moaned with the wind and the door was a challenge to close. But it got us where we needed to go.  We all took turns riding in each of the vans and changed seats as well giving us all a different view for each trip. It really didn’t matter because everywhere you looked the view was spectacular. You truly could stick your camera outside of the window and shoot and you would have good photos. 

The red house and our trust vans

Our first trip from home was actually very close. It was a good start. We all climbed the mountain called Helgafell. Helgafell ("Holy Mountain") was considered sacred by the early Icelanders. According to myth, the god Odin will grant three wishes to anyone climbing Helgafell for the first time, as long as they climb in silence and come down on the east side without looking back. Did we come down on the east side?  I also heard that you have to be pure of heart when you make your wish. I hope my wishes come true. We were accompanied on our walk by a yellow lab puppy named Perla. She reminded me of my dog Heidi and I enjoyed her company. The view from the top was worth the climb! 

Helgafell on a gorgeous summer day

Nearing the summit

The view as I climbed in silence

Perla is a common name for Icelandic pets we were told

Riley descends without looking back

I want to paint her!

and her too!

On another day trip we loaded the van with picnic supplies and painting gear and drove to the town of Grundarfjordur to paint in the shadow of the mountain called Kirkjufell. This iconic mountain stands on a peninsula of it’s own and the summit is 1500 feet above sea level. The mountain is amazing by itself but it’s setting makes it hard to believe that it truly exists. Surrounded by shimmering blue water and fields of yellow wildflowers, it sits across from a spectacular multilevel waterfall. It was surreal.

The amazing Kirkjufell as seen from our painting spot

Approaching the town of Grundarfjordur

Stan doing a pastel demo of Kirkjufell. It was a bit chilly

Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall

The perfect spot for a picnic lunch

It was a beautiful day with drama in the sky. Everything was paintable...Kirkjufell of course, but the mist on the surrounding mountains, the sheep drinking from the stream, the waterfalls....It was overwhelming. Should I paint or should I take pictures? I had many days like this which is why I came home with 4000 photos and only 24 paintings. The trip was quickly becoming so much more than a painting workshop and I couldn’t wait to see what each day would bring. Iceland was amazing!

Be sure to come back for part 4 of my story tomorrow!  Click here to read part one. Click here for part two.

For some truly awe inspiring photos of Kirkjufell and the Northern Lights read this article in the Huffington Post.