Features,  FEATURES

Nancy Farmer

Inspired by her wild swimming adventures, Nancy Farmer decided to immortalise her swims as drawings. She soon discovered that people were delighted to be caught in her sketchbook


early morning swim, startling the Environment Agency at work, was the first event that seemed worthy of immortalising into a drawing.

We had planned to meet in a little

carpark by the River Sowy, a manmade

channel across the Somerset Levels,

rural and peaceful. When we got there

a very large part of the carpark was

occupied by a mountain of gravel

which hadn’t been there the previous

week. So we tucked our cars around it,

and went swimming.

Some time later, following the

appearance of the first digger, and

a sprint swim back to our point of

entry, the Environment Agency were a

little surprised to see a grown woman

suddenly appear, soaking wet and

dressed in only a swimming costume,

in the middle of their temporary

building site. “Hello… ah… sorry, are

the cars in your way?” The digger-

driver stared and blinked, and finally

mustered a shake of his head. “Ok,

thanks, back in a bit…” The grown

woman tiptoed back across the nettles

and plopped back out of sight into the


That was how I knew the

Environment Agency had begun its

flood-defence work on that part of the

Levels: I caught them at it. But they

were very nice, if a little nonplussed,

and finally as we were dressing again in

the once-quiet but now uncomfortably

busy little car park, one man succeeded

in finding the words of the immortal

question that all land-based people ask

those rash enough to swim outside in

this country: “Is it cold?”

This was July of 2014 and no, it was

not cold. But there were not many

months before it was. A memorable

lack of a properly planned exit strategy at the head of Wast Water,

me still a relative newbie suddenly

in charge of a rather cold girl, and

my brother appearing from nowhere

with miraculous shoes: these were the

elements of the next scene that I drew.

From memory and imagination, and

this time I drew people, not mermaids.


Increasingly surprised at my own

persistent failure to put on a wetsuit,

before the end of that winter I had

discovered a respectable ability to deal

with cold, several new friends and a

healthy number of cake recipes.

I was a self-employed artist

before I began the swimming

drawings, so I already spent

quite a lot of time drawing

and painting, but meanwhile

back in my studio, the ultra-

connected world of social

media favours niches, and

finding an audience for my

pictures went hand-in glove

with finding soulmates willing to

swim in darkest January in a lake at

6 degrees, and more source material

for my pictures.

Do not expect to have a work-life

balance if you are a self-employed

artist, it is impossible for me to

even tell if I am working or playing

anymore, it is all one: I study clouds

and note seagulls as I swim, and try to

remember the exact silty yellow-brown

of the waters of the Bristol Channel,

in case I want to describe them later; a

day out to the coast may well result in

‘homework’ as I scribble the mood of

the swim and the scene before it is lost.

I’d been through a whole year of swimming outside as a regular thing:

beginning in the chilly waters of

Clevedon Marine Lake on a beautiful

April day, I’d swum through the

summer, the winter, and back through the summer again, I’d shed mywetsuit (with which I’d always had an uneasy relationship), and I

had a respectable collection of swimming drawings descriptive of the seasons as well as swims alone and with friends, notable events and silly ideas. So I  compiled 12 of them, with their captions which are almost part of the drawings, into an illustrated calendar arranged by

appropriate season. This was more to please myself than with any great expectation of selling many: almost a vanity project. To my surprise I soldabout 300. That was last year. This year I have a new collection on offer, and I’m experimenting with that most niche-market of products: wrapping paper for swimmers. I have also designed t-shirts for two of Chillswim’s events, and drawn a number of fellow swimmers’ portraits as commissions. The annexation of my artwork by my swimming habit is almost complete, and I have loved every minute of it!

Nancy’s swimming

drawings can

be found at


Big Chiil Swim Farmer
The Big Chill Swim by Nancy Farmer

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