Story of a Castle Hunter

The seed for my castle work was planted in 2008 during a Dracula tour. We were on a bus between destinations and there it was, the most spectacular castle ruin imaginable. It was on a hill right off the highway big as life, and all aboard were glued to the windows on that side - shooting all the photos we could and wondering why the hell we were not stopping!

Two years later I was looking into vacation options and that great ruin came to mind. Where was it? WHAT was it? Would I ever see it again? Tough to say, but one thing was for sure, the answer to the last question was "no" unless I could answer the first two. Just googling "Transylvainia castle ruin" and the like got me nowhere, so I researched the date we saw it then checked the old itinerary to find out where we had been and where we were going. The castle had to be someplace in between. I mapped out that area of Transylvania and established the possible routes we could have been taken. Then I followed those roads using googleEarth, hoping I could recognize the ruin from a bird's eye view. There were candidates, with some leads in hand I finally stumbled upon my prize, the Rupea Citadal.

Romania is definitely tougher to get around than western Europe, less English is spoken and though they had been emerging from eastern block poverty I was still wary of a westerner being seen as a target. But castles had to be everywhere in Europe, why not start someplace more hospitable? I love Belgium, great counrtyside, some marvelous medieval towns and oh that beer. So I planned a trip there and researched what ruins might be along the way. That really worked out, and I learned the basics of castle hunting.

I'm not drawn to castles that serve as residence. A castle that a Duke would live in is a lot less fun than one where a vampire might hole up. Instead of the grand nature of intact castles I greatly prefer ruins. Fortresses constructed of great stones drawn from the Earth that now, centuries later, are returning to the Earth. The best for me are an unusual blend of human construct and cave, the tight hard edges giving way to a more rounded, worn condition. And across the Atlantic these are everywhere. Some have been cleaned up just enough to draw in visitors and are lots of fun to tour. But the biggest prizes are what I think of as "wild" castle ruins. Something on the outskirts of a village, in the middle of a pasture or buried deep in the woods. These are harder to find and to get to, but oh boy are they fun to explore. Sometimes you'll find one like this with dark rooms, hallways and intact staircases. That's a party.

After many trips to Europe and finding myself in places that made it seem like I should be donning a beret and sketching I finally thought to bring pad and pencil. That was 2014, my first time in Ireland and possibly the most robust castle hunting trip I've experienced. Two years later in Scotland I was finally finishing up that pad and was prepared to begin another larger one. I also had brought watercolour supplies thinking I might try some on-site painting. That never happened, and I ended up using the second pad not to rough out fast sketches but to seriously render some photos I had taken of Castle Kilchurn. Then it hit me, drawing on site means doing so from whatever vantage point offers a place to sit. Working from a photo means picking your vantage point. Plus you can zoom into photos, exposing details my eyes are not good enough to otherwise resolve.

6-8 hour drawings gave way to those taking a week. Then 3 weeks. Then 3 months. The more I did it the more in-depth they became.

In April 2017 I was between pencil renderings so I decide to finally try watercolours. I thawed out the water brought back from Loch Awe and started banging them out, finished pieces went from 3 months to 3 hours, wow! At some point along the way I stopped thinking in terms of filling a pad and started considering sharing my experiences with the world.

The result was STONES.

Story of a Castle Hunter