1000 Miles: Walking and Painting the Way of Saint James by Sharon Bamber



Written by Guest Blogger

An Artist Paints the Camino

Standing at the ‘End of the Earth’, artist Sharon Bamber looked out across the Atlantic Ocean. Overwhelmed with conflicting emotion, she carefully laid down her 200th painting and packed away her easel. She had done it.

Painting number 200 Finisterre by Sharon Bamber, Camino artist
Painting number 200 Finisterre by Sharon Bamber 1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

The Camino Artist’s Journey

From September 2018 to March 2019, I walked 1000 miles (1600km) from le Puy en Velay in France, over the Pyrenees, across Spain to Santiago de Compostela and onwards to Finisterre, the ‘End of the Earth’.

Every 5 miles (8km) along the entire route, I set up my easel and painted en plein air. Each painting took 3 hours. The whole journey took 6 months.

Artist painting on the camino - Sharon Bamber in the process of painting number 190, a hidden bridge on the way to Finisterre
Sharon Bamber in the process of painting number 190, a hidden bridge on the way to Finisterre 1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Why Paint the Way of Saint James?

It has been said that when you hear the call of the Camino, you can’t refuse. I first became aware of this network of ancient pathways while visiting Limoges in France. I noticed bronze scallop shells set into the paths at regular intervals, leading through the city. Intrigued, I discovered that they marked the Way of Saint James.

Painting on the camino - Painting number 123 Shell and yellow arrow - the symbols of the Way by Sharon Bamber
Painting number 123 Shell and yellow arrow – the symbols of the Way by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Here was a route of enormous cultural significance, crying out to be painted. For me, it wasn’t about adventure, escaping, grieving, or any of those reasons for walking the Camino. This was, I believed, just about the Camino itself. An art project designed and undertaken specifically to document and honour the Way of Saint James.

It didn’t cross my mind that 1000 miles was actually quite a long way to walk, nor did I realise how affected I would be by the experience. The Camino had called to me and it was too important to ignore.

The journey took me on several well-known paths that make up the Way of St. James – the Via Podiensis, the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Camino Frances) and the Camino Fisterra. It led me up and over two mountain ranges, across high plateaus, through woodlands, along canals, through old stone villages and more. With each footfall and each painting, the hectic pace of contemporary life slowed down and the story of the land gradually unfolded. 

Painting number 135 by Sharon Bamber. A surprise canal on the Meseta.  paint the Camino
Painting number 135 by Sharon Bamber. A surprise canal on the Meseta. 
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Painting number 30 The village of Lacoste on the Via Podiensis by Sharon Bamber, Painter
Painting number 30 The village of Lacoste on the Via Podiensis by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Painting number 30 (close up) The village of Lacoste on the Via Podiensis by Sharon Bamber
Painting number 30 (close up) The village of Lacoste on the Via Podiensis by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Sharon Bamber’s Companions

I wasn’t alone.  Alongside me was my husband, Simon, pulling 40kg (88 lb) of equipment. Dupon, my beautiful donkey, carried the softer, lighter load of clothes, sleeping bags and tent.  A lovable 5-year-old, his donkey antics enlivened the journey in ways that I couldn’t have even begun to imagine.

Sharon with her donkey Dupon on the Camino
Me and Dupon

Donkey carrying art supplies on the Camino
Simon waiting for Dupon to decide if he wants to cross the stream.

Sharon Bamber, artist, pulling the 80lb trailer of painting equipment on the Way of St James.
Me, pulling the 80lb trailer of painting equipment.

This weight included only 25 painting boards at a time. 200 painting boards were impossibly heavy and bulky to carry.This meant that I had to box boards up into sets of 25 and drive the route before walking it, dropping the boxes of boards off at various points along the way. I then went back to the beginning and started to walk.

At the end of the walk, I drove back along the route to pick up each pack of 25 finished paintings that I stored in various places as I walked.

Sharon, Dupon and the stunning landscape of the Way of Saint James
Me, Dupon and the stunning landscape of the Way of Saint James (Simon’s turn to walk behind and pull the trailer!)

The Paintings of the Camino

Before I started walking, I divided the entire route into 5-mile sections on the map. On the journey, I created one painting within each section. In this way, I captured the essence of landscape as I moved slowly through it.

As I walked, my choice of subject within each section was based on my emotional response, that catch of excitement, a heart-leap, that told me that I had to paint: historic towns, dry stone walls, coppiced woods, the path worn smooth or deeper than the surrounding land by years of footsteps. The raw ruggedness of the Aubrac plateau, twisting olive groves.

Each painting I named with its exact GPS location – a specific place at a specific moment in time. Every one of them with its own small story that adds to the cultural narrative of this route.

Painting number 91 St Jean-Pied-de-Port by Painter Sharon Bamber
Painting number 91 St Jean-Pied-de-Port by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Painting number 91 (close up) St Jean-Pied-de-Port by Sharon Bamber
Painting number 91 (close up) St Jean-Pied-de-Port by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of St James

We walked from the tail end of summer to the beginning of spring, through all types of landscape and weather. The scattering of pilgrims that passed us at the beginning thinned, replaced by a smattering of farmers, hunters and hounds until they too disappeared. For much of the autumn and winter, we walked through a landscape empty of people. Only traces of their presence remained, archives of millions of journeys and lives etched into the landscape.

Painting number 86 by Sharon Bamber - a cross adorned with pebbles shells and rosaries placed by pilgrims
Painting number 86 by Sharon Bamber – a cross adorned with pebbles shells and rosaries placed by pilgrims
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Sharon in a coat, wrapped up against the bitter wind as she paint Painting number 101 on the Alto de Perdon
Me, wrapped up against the bitter wind as I paint Painting number 101 on the Alto de Perdon
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Painting number 101 by Camino Artist Sharon Bamber. Alto de Perdon
Painting number 101 by Sharon Bamber. Alto de Perdon
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Days were long and hard – excerpts from my diary:

A Typical Day:

“Up at 6am, wake Dupon, cuddle Dupon, pack tent, eat breakfast, groom Dupon, hoof-pick Dupon, saddle Dupon, pack and weigh saddle bags, leave (eventually!) at 8am, walk, find painting location, tie Dupon on short tether to offload, re-tie on long tether so he can graze, set up to paint, stand at easel and paint for 3 hours, take photos of painting, find Google location coordinates, take down art gear, have a snack, pack, tie Dupon on short tether to reload, groom Dupon, check hoofs, load, walk to the next painting location and go through everything again.

It is start in the dark, end in the dark. My feet are killing me, my legs don’t want to work properly, my back’s aching, my shoulders are sore and I’m so tired that it’s hard to keep my eyes open; but I just can’t seem to stop grinning!”

Sharon painted on 9 x 12 ampersand pastelbords with Terry Ludwig pastels all along the Camino de Santiago from Le Puy Camino to Finesterre
I painted on 9 x 12 ampersand pastelboards with Terry Ludwig pastels. Each painting took 3 hours, so I was standing up painting for 3 to 6 hours a day (depending on whether I had to paint 1 or 2 paintings on a particular day) and walking for 5 or more hours.  It was rather tiring!

Cold and tired:

“Cumulative fatigue is brutal. I have to be incredibly disciplined to make sure I complete a painting within each section, even if I really didn’t feel like doing it.  Many times I have to put a hot water bottle inside my clothes while I paint.

Today my hands froze and I couldn’t even hold the pastels. It is so hard to get warm and dry again – even when we don’t camp, the places we stay are unheated because we’re the only ones using them”.

painting number 168 - winter snow on the way up to O Cebreiro
Sharon Bamber painting number 168 – winter snow on the way up to O Cebreiro

Painting number 168 on the way up to O Cebreiro by Sharon Bamber 
Camino Art
Painting number 168 on the way up to O Cebreiro by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

Painting 167 - I carried a pop-up pod to paint the Camino in on the wet days
Painting 167 – I carried a pop-up pod to paint in on the wet days

Sharon painting the Way of St James in December  on a chilly but beautifully sunny day. Painting Puente la Reina, number 103
But I was lucky, even in December I had some chilly but beautifully sunny days. Painting Puente la Reina, number 103

Painting number 103 Puente La Reina by Sharon Bamber
Painting number 103 Puente La Reina by Sharon Bamber
1000 Miles Walking & Painting the Way of St James

At the End of the Journey

I said at the beginning that this journey was just about the Camino. It wasn’t about me. But in the end, the Camino worked its magic on me too. Every footfall, every moment I stood painting, every one of Dupon’s high jinks is etched into my memory. It has left me with a yearning. To feel that bond with the land as strongly as I did on the Camino, to travel slowly and say goodbye forever to the car.

I told myself that the expedition would be challenging and wonderful, but I don’t think I really knew what that meant. I certainly do now! It’s far more than I ever expected. More exhausting, exhilarating, painful, fulfilling and deeply, deeply satisfying.

I discovered that the Way of Saint James is many things: a line on a map, a physical route, a spiritual journey and a journey into thought. The Camino is a journey of discovery, self-discovery, shared stories, connections.  It is layers of history and natural history, a story of the past, but also very much a story of the present and of being present.

The Camino is a story to which I feel joined now. Through those artists, writers, pilgrims that have walked before me and will walk in the future, I feel part of the legacy of the pilgrimage, and the land through which I walked will forever be part of me.

Made it - Artist Sharon Bamber at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Made it – me at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

My Book – 1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James

I share all 200 paintings and their stories in my newly released book 1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James and you can see the paintings on my website.

Sharon with her newly released hard back book ‘1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James’.
Me with my newly released hardback book ‘1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James’. Contains all 200 paintings that I painted during this walk, each painting in full colour on its own page, with a short accompanying narrative.

Find out more about the book, or purchase the book here.

‘1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James’ Hard back book of all 200 paintings that I painted during this walk, each painting in full colour on its own page, with short accompanying narrative.
‘1000 Miles: Walking & Painting the Way of Saint James’ Hard back book of all 200 paintings that I painted during this walk, each painting in full colour on its own page, with short accompanying narrative.

Purchase the book on Sharon’s website. Follow the Camino readers have been offered a wonderful 10% discount on the book! Claim yours by using the code followthecamino at the checkout.

The discount code is valid until the 1st of June 2021 so get in quick!

About Sharon Bamber

Sharon Bamber is an award-winning artist who is passionate about the natural world. She paints outside, capturing the ‘living landscape’ on location, in all weathers and conditions; a practice known as ‘en plein air’.

She is a Signature Member of the Artists for Conservation and of the Federation of Canadian Artists and an Associate Member of the Society of Animal Artists. She has exhibited widely in Canada and USA and has won numerous awards in international competitions.

Her paintings can be found in private and corporate collections throughout the world.  

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your gorgeous images with us, Sharon! It is a delight to see how the paintings came to life as you walked.

Create your Own Camino Memories

For other artists out there, the Camino is a treasure trove of inspiration! Let us know what you are planning and we can help you to make it a reality. Painting the Way of Saint James is a wonderful way to dedicate time to your craft and reconnect with your creative side.

We can help with transfering all your Camino painting equipment too!

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Embrace the adventure and reconnect with yourself and your loved ones.

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Originally published on 5th May 2021

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