Traveling to Iceland With a Backpack Full of Bow Seat Inspiration!
August 19, 2021
By Ely German

During the month of June, I was fortunate to travel to Iceland for a NES Artist Residency program. As an Ocean Awareness Contest alumna, current alumna judge, and friend of the Bow Seat community, I wanted to integrate Bow Seat artwork in my experience. The goal was to transport and amplify student voices by featuring Bow Seat artwork in murals accompanied by the beautiful Icelandic landscape. Little did I know that inspiration from the incredible work of Bow Seat students would spark other projects. With Bow Seat’s generous support, I was able to make this trip possible. Below is a photo essay of what happened.

A view of a blue sky with the moon and stars outside of an airplane window.

View from the airplane right before landing in Reykjavík, Iceland.

And so it begins! The window seat is always better in my opinion. I find joy in seeing how blue our planet is. From the sky you can really tell that the oceans are the main stage. I had never seen the sun sitting so low and close to the horizon line. Excitement builds as the adventure awaits.


The concert hall and church in Reykjavík.

I landed in Reykjavík very tired, but the sky was lit up, and I just wanted to see it all before making my way to the residency in Skagaströnd. The architecture here is inspired by the landscape; both the church and the concert hall echo geological formations of Iceland. A barista told me that the roofs of houses are colorful because they add cheer in the long dark winters. I stayed busy in Reykjavík, bouncing between galleries, coffee shops, museums, and parks before I made my way north to Skagaströnd.


A picture of Ely's desk, with her opened sketchbook, watercolor set, and bag, at the NES studio.

My desk at the NES studio.

Skagaströnd is a small fishing town with a population of just under 500 people. It sits between the ocean and mountains, wild horses grazing around it, and the surrounding hills painted purple with a wildflower called Lupines and yellow with Dandelions. The studio space provided by NES is an old repurposed fish factory. This space is filled with creativity. The ocean is right outside the studio, so blue definitely became a presence in my mind. After I got a little tour of the town and spaces I would be working in, the first thing I did was make the above sketch with the floor painted in blue watercolor from my desk.


Flowers, flowers, flowers!

The constant presence of flowers made the air feel magical.


A view out of a window with a taped drawing over it of the buildings beyond it.

The view from my bedroom at the house.

As I was putting my clothes away and settling into the house I would be living in during the duration of my trip, I had a hunch to do a real-life rotoscope. Intuition turned out to be a voice I listened to very carefully this trip. The adventure never stopped!


A picture of a view of the mountains and white buildings from out a paneled window with a lace fringe out the top.

The view from the kitchen at the house.

From the kitchen, I would watch how the long and soft grass moved with the soft touch of the wind. This effect made the land feel alive, like a giant furry monster’s back.


Ely German sits on top of a mountain with a view of the Icelandic coast. To the left, in the distance, are mountains, and to the right, closer to the foreground, is the town of Skagaströnd by the ocean.

View of Skagaströnd and the ocean from the peak of the mountain.

I did a super crazy, intense 8-hour hike with the other artists in the program. This was the view! Definitely worth it, and I enjoyed getting to know everyone along the way. The little town on the far right of the picture is Skagaströnd. My favorite part about this was noticing the changing tones of blue in the ocean and how tiny the town is!


A mirror-selfie of Ely standing in the black bathroom she painted with a golden fish pattern.

The Harbour restaurant mural I painted.

It turned out that the one and only restaurant in town, Harbour, was about to open, and the owners (who are siblings!) asked me to paint these golden fish for them. It became clear to me how relevant fish are to the people there and how knowledgeable they are about them. One man walked by and yelled with excitement, “Herring!” I don’t know anyone personally who could have correctly guessed the type of fish I was modeling. I got to taste lots of yummy food while working at the restaurant and couldn’t have asked for a better time. 🙂


A picture of a brown and white baby horse nipping some grass.

Baby horse!

It was springtime in Iceland while I was there, and nature was flourishing—both animals and plants! It was so inspiring and magical. Nature seemed to be singing in harmony; the air was crisp, clean, and bright. All of that life was energizing, and it made me want to paint big.


Making prints by sitting on the grass—snow angels are fun, but grass imprints are even better!

I began thinking about feet as a grounding point with earth, which is powered by the ocean. The soft grass in Skagaströnd called for me to take my shoes off, and this had me a bit entranced. These fuzzy, hairy hills that make you wanna roll around all day and night were a lovely playground. Notice how blue the sky was at this moment. Every day was filled with activities that brought me joy.


Ely bending backward in front of her painting of a big foot, which is hanging on a white wall.

Posing next to a painting I made in the studio.

I could not stop thinking about the lack of connection we have with the earth. When I found some canvas, I felt inclined to paint it blue and depict a foot over it. This sense of connection brought play into my practice. No day was the same, except for a couple of constants: coffee and surfing through the Bow Seat online gallery.


When I made eyes with Chelsea’s beautiful piece in Bow Seat’s online gallery, I was entranced. I could see how she poured her heart into her painting. The effect of movement she created by employing repetition is stunning and effective at communicating the grand presence and force of earth. Those mountains and sun are creative geniuses, and they were deserving of being enlarged, so I decided I would paint them really, really big by incorporating them in two murals that I would paint in the town. 🙂


Ely sitting on a table next to a painting of her character DANDA hanging on a wall.

Sitting next to the first version of DANDA in the studio.

The murals feature DANDA, a character born out of my love of the dandelions in Skagaströnd and the wish to connect with the land. In the first mural, DANDA stands with a raincoat on. In the second mural, DANDA sits bare-skinned. Comparably, they show the flexibility of the weather here and the permanent visibility of the radiating Sun. Mural one highlights the ease with which the people here allow time to flow. Mural two highlights the connection to the land palpable in Skagaströnd.


Last supper with fellow residents and researchers.

After a month in Iceland, it was time to say my goodbyes. The night before I took off, the residents of NES had a potluck dinner together. It was truly lovely. This group is extremely talented and entertaining in conversation. I will forever cherish their friendship.


A picture of Ely wearing a backpack and petting an brown Icelandic horse on the nose with mountains in the background.

Bye bye horses! 🙁

As I was saying my goodbyes, I put together a love letter with the young voices of Bow Seat spoken word artists. It came to life naturally; the students’ sentiment fit perfectly with footage I had gathered over the trip.


A picture of Ely embracing her brown chihuaha as she sits on the wooden floor of her home.

My puppy in my parents’ house in Houston, Texas. 🙂

Looking back at my time in Iceland, I get emotional. The people I met, experiences I had, and places I visited will forever inform my art practice. I am very thankful to Bow Seat for its generous support and to the people I met along the journey who helped me.

This blog post is one of four that Bow Seat alumna Ely German wrote about her artist residency in Iceland, supported by Bow Seat. Read more about her residency here, discover her murals here, and learn about Icelanders’ deep connection to the ocean here.

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Traveling to Iceland With a Backpack Full of Bow Seat Inspiration!

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