an open sketchbook with a drawing of a ship control center and sails

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary.” All images © Elsa Guillaume, shared with permission

Whether capturing the sights of a dive in the remote Mexican village of Xcalak or the internal mechanisms of a sailing ship, Elsa Guillaume’s stylized sketchbooks record her adventures. Glimpses of masts, a kitchen quaking from shaky seas, and a hand gutting a fish create a rich tapestry of life on the move. “Daily drawings (are) a ritual while traveling,” she tells Colossal. “It is a way to practice the gaze, to be attentive to any type of surroundings. I believe it is important to train both eyes and hands simultaneously, and regularly.”

The Brussels-based artist’s frequent travels provide encounters and research opportunities that fuel both her work and devotion to the beauty and wonder of the sea. In fall, she explored the arctic aboard the Polar POD, and she’s currently sailing on a 195-meter container ship called the MARIUS for a residency with Villa Albertine. The vessel launched this month from Nouméa in the South Pacific and will travel the Australian east coast, New Zealand, and the Panama Canal before docking in Savannah, Georgia, in May.

During the six-week journey, Guillaume plans to continue her daily drawings and create a vast repository of ocean life. “It gives space and time to discover and observe an all-new environment to me, the merchant marine,” she says. “How human beings either explore, travel, or exploit the ocean has always been a very strong source of inspiration to me.”


an open sketchbook with a drawing of people scrambling in a ship kitchen

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

When the artist returns to her studio, encounters with new-to-her creatures and the discoveries of her travels often slip into her three-dimensional works, sometimes unintentionally. The process “is very probably an unconscious continuity of what I have noticed, of what I have felt, though I don’t necessarily make an obvious connection between these two practices. I like to think of my sculptures, installations, exhibitions (as) projects from scratch, nourished by many other things,” she shares.

Often in subdued color palettes or monochrome ceramic, her sculptures tend to display hybrid characteristics, like the human limbs and animal heads of “Triton IX.” Others disassemble ocean life, revealing the insides and anatomy of flayed fish.

While on the MARIUS, Guillaume will create larger collaged ink drawings that will be shown along with a new sculpture in October at Galerie La Patinoire Royale in Brussels. That solo show will “create a new narration, around human’s shells, like a lost civilization of the seas. This time at sea, connecting the French island of New-Caledonia to Savannah in the U.S. will infuse in many ways this exhibition project.”

Guillaume has limited internet access during the residency, but follow her on Instagram for occasional updates about her journey.


an open sketchbook with a drawing a hand flaying a fish

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

a black ceramic sculpture of fish winding around a human-animal hybrid

“Triton IX” (2022), ceramic, 39 2/5 × 16 1/2 × 23 3/5 inches

an open sketchbook with a drawing of a ship navigation system

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

an open sketchbook with a drawing of a person hoisting something on a ship and writing on the left page

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

a ceramic sculpture of a fish-like figure with kelp head

“Tritons” (2020). Photo by Tadzio

an open sketchbook with a drawing of people looking out at a tiny ship on the water

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

an open sketchbook with a drawing of ship mechanics

“Arctic Sea Travel Diary”

a selection of flayed fish part sculptures on a gray slab

“Thinking About the Immortality of the Crab” (2022). Photo by Jérôme Michel

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