Antarctica is the world's highest, driest, windiest and coldest continent. Its record low temperature is -94°C. But it doesn't actually snow much – the Antarctic is so dry it's classed as a polar desert. At the south pole the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon and there is total darkness for several months of the year! This gives you a strong impression what it’s like for the wildlife that live in this wilderness and who spend their winters in total darkness.
Penguin Huddle, lithograph, (42x28cm)
A strange place to go to paint, you might think, but not so for Annie Broadley. ‘I was taken to Edinburgh Zoo by my parents at the age of five, says Annie. 'The Zoo is famous for its king penguins and I remember being fascinated by the penguin parade which took place once a day. When it came to going home out of all the animals I had seen, the small model I chose from the Zoo shop was - of course - a penguin. So when I visited my first penguin colony in Antarctica I was absolutely thrilled.'
Some practicalities of working in temperatures of zero and below
'I used a sketchbook and pencil or pen to make quick notes as I could only sketch for short periods without gloves and although I did work while wearing them it was a bit cumbersome.
'When it was windy I used clips to hold the sketchbook pages but when it snowed, the lack of shelter made sketching impossible. Add to that the occasional skirmish between individual penguins or chicks, the sliding down on tummies and jumping from rock to rock, sketching and capturing the unique penguin characters and body shapes was not easy.
'Sometimes I would work my sketches up back on the boat. The detailed drawings and paintings were done when I was back in the studio, using the sketches for reference'.
Penguin sketches in Annie's sketchbook
In her paintings, Annie wished to explore the ability of the penguins to survive in the coldest climate on Earth. She wanted to capture the discrepancy that exists between our image of penguins as engaging rather comical creatures, and their extraordinary ability to survive in the frozen cold. In a painting like Fortitude, see below, Annie tried to convey a sense of the cold reality of a penguin’s life.
Fortitude, oil on canvas, (79x73cm)
Annie explains the development of the initial Rookery Neuk sketch drawn in-situ (see below) to the finished painting.
'This is the sketch which Rookery Neuk developed from. Although the grouping of penguins is similar, the composition changed as it progressed. I did the pencil drawing and the painting in the studio. I didn’t really have any expectations I just went with it but I am pleased with the result although it is very different from my usual style. The orange and yellows on the rocks are lichens - another example of the fact that Antarctica is not just white! The title is borrowed from ‘Rookery Nook’ a play by Ben Travers. As with rooks the term rookery is used for the place where penguins breed and nest, and ‘neuk’ is the Scots word for corner'.
Pencil drawing developed in the studio and finished painting, Rookery Neuk, oil on board, (65x54cm)
For Annie painting in Antarctica was an experience of a life-time and something she will never forget. 'I loved the remoteness - the silence and the vast distances where there was nothing but sea, snow, ice and sky spreading far as the eye could see. That there are creatures too which have managed to make such amazing adaptations in order to survive in these extreme conditions fills me with wonder and makes me feel how very insignificant human beings are by comparison. I have tried to convey these feelings in both my landscapes and in the more intimate studies of the Antarctic wildlife.
'I am so excited that my work in Antarctica has also brought about collaboration with a wonderful Antarctic charity; the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, known as ASOC. The health of our planet depends upon keeping Antarctica stable and ASOC work tirelessly to protect Antarctica, the world's last unspoiled wilderness and all the species that call it home.
'My paintings of penguins have been used in support of a special penguin painting competition for World Penguin Day with a signed print as a prize. You couldn’t find a more worthy cause if you love penguins and if, like me, you seek to keep the beauty of wild Antarctica and its wildlife safe for generations to come'.
Gentoo Chick, pastel on paper, (21x26cm)
Find out more about ASOC on their website.