Norfolk Island Part 2: Unplugging and having time to think

November 10, 2015 | 12 Comments



The whole point of my great escape to Norfolk Island was to have a real break – to unwind and in particular to unplug from the daily grind of being swamped by emails and maintaining my usual very high activity on social media. I LOVE what I do but I needed a little time out. The degree to which I was expecting to be able to unplug was unknown and so I set myself a very achievable goal of a maximum of three social media updates for my two week trip. But my secret hope was that I would be able to unplug totally – no social media activity at all and no checking of emails. Three updates in two weeks doesn’t sound like much of a break, but as I normally do five updates a day when I travel, this was a radical change to my normal activities.

As most of you have realised, I was very quiet over the last two weeks, and (drum roll please….)

I DID indeed achieve a state of total unplug from social media and a very controlled use of email (the first week totally off and the second week once every one or two days, and only in the morning just in case something important came in).

And… the big news is that it was much easier than I expected it to be.

For starters wi-fi on the island was fairly limited, patchy and expensive, and then I had trouble accessing my gmail account and although I knew how to fix that I had no desire to spend time to do so. My biggest concern with the idea of unplugging was not so much giving up checking emails, Instagram and Facebook, as it was taking away the means by which I share the excitement of every day – something that is quite important to me when I’m travelling alone. Would I get lonely?

But the amazing thing about coming to Norfolk Island is the fact that I never went a day without running into a ‘friend’. Because the island is so small, I kept running into the same people over and over again and I was very recognisable not only because of my sketchbook but because I was one of the few tourists under 70 years of age! So after the first day when I did send a few emails back home to say I had safely arrived and to share the first day excitement, I was content to just have a very quiet adventure on my own. The short interactions with other people were all the social activity I needed… but I will admit that it was really special to have a friend to catch up with on my last three days – thanks Bronny! Often I didn’t see anyone at all when I was sketching in the afternoons at Kingston so I had to resort to taking this type ’selfie’ to prove I was there!

One of the other goals for my trip was to give my hands rest – I have a little issue with both my hands (so not just too much sketching!) but obviously my left hand is the one I look after the most and wore a brace all the time for support.  This is my heavy duty brace which it is good for making sure that all my strokes on the page come from my shoulder – no fiddling and fine wrist movements for me this trip! All of the sketches I will post were done wearing this brace so the loose quick style is a direct result of this. BTW it was VERY windy this particular day.

Resting my hands was much harder than unplugging! (Ha! that is surprising, hey?) Normally, my holidays are intensive sketching trips with the big goal being to get out exploring the new place as much as possible, sketching non-stop. As I mentioned earlier I had a quota of 3 x 30 minute sketches per day and that was very hard to stick to. Whilst a lot of people would think that there is not much to do on Norfolk Island, I was buzzing with ideas of  things to sketch – not just the tourist attractions, but also sketches of island life. And well, you all know that I am addicted to sketching. I found that whenever I went out, even though I had been there before, I wanted to sketch something that caught my eye at the time and also I never seemed content with just doing one sketch. I had no where else to go or people to meet. I spent many hours at the Kingston area, walking and just watching the waves and clouds (overwhelmed by how beautiful it was)… but I still wanted to sketch each visit!

So in the end I stopped exploring and made a big focus of my trip to spend time thinking and reading – I had a gorgeous cottage to stay in, so why not make the most of it? In other words the only way to stop sketching was to stay ‘home’!

But of course I had to sketch the books that I was reading – didn’t I? I ended up doing quite a bit of serious reading on creativity, organisation and planning, enjoying having space and time to so some big picture thinking.  The Twyla Tharp book “The Creative Habit” was great and I have got lots of underlined bits to revisit later! It was very interesting that I didn’t want to look at my Charles Reed book – for some reason that got me into teaching mode, and although I was doing some serious art thinking coming to terms with a different sketchbook – my struggles will be explained in a future post –  I felt like this trip was a chance to think my own thoughts. Why I was happy to organisational/planning books I’m not sure – it might not sound very much like a holiday to many people but being one my own and I not being able to sketch as much as I wanted to, I needed a project to keep my mind busy but in a clear calm and relaxing way. Having the time to plan a few systems to implement when I got home was a real luxury – I hope the implementation will be as effective as I planned!  You will also notice that I took one of my “desert island” books, a commentary on Psalm 119 by Charles Bridges. I loved spending serious time with my Bible this trip as well.

One of the things that I invested in before I left was Dragon Naturally Speaking – a voice recognition software. And so this blog post (along with a few others) I composed while I was sitting in my gorgeous cottage looking at a stunning view and resting my hands! The ability to be able to record my thoughts at the time was a great way for me to feel like I was connecting with people at the time – perhaps not connecting with them immediately, but knowing that what I was dictating would be the means of connection in the future. And this took away any deprivation that I felt by not being able to share my thoughts and ideas and excitement right at the time. I would have loved to have recorded my thoughts in my sketchbook (like I did on the first day in this spread) but dictating my days adventures was a great alternative.

So I was able to enjoy my trip to enjoy this beautiful remote island, to think my own thoughts and be free from the constant barrage to reply and respond to everyone. I feel really recharged  and refreshed as a result (and it was great to come home to a real work free weekend as well) and hope that I will be able to implement in the long term some of my big ideas. For one thing, I feel liberated from the compulsive checking of emails (or Instagram) that has developed over the last few years (this happened when I worked as an architect as well constantly checking for new requests and always distracted). It was just so wonderful to be able to read a book cover to cover in a day. I am thinking that an ‘at home’ unplug week would be a good idea between Xmas and New Year.

Anyway… tomorrow I will start sharing my daily sketches from the trip, but I thought that my ‘unplugging and solo time’  was such important part of the trip that it needed its own post. I would love to hear if any of you are able to do full ‘unplug’ and how long the benefit of doing so lasted!!!!


  • Liz Steel says:

    thank you! I am very pleased I was able to have this break too!!!!! Norfolk was the perfect place for what I wanted to do (or not do!)

  • Alissa Duke says:

    Liz, You don't know how pleased I am that you were able to switch off and change pace. Norfolk Island sounds like just the place to do it. I am really happy that you did this

  • Liz, thanks for your posts, teachings, comments and inspiration. I live in Argentina and one of my daily joys is to follow your wonderful blog. Also, it is an extra joy to know that we belong to the same spiritual family! Many blessings from Buenos Aires!

  • Carmela says:

    Liz…thank you for demonstrating that 'turning off' the demands of work can have both physical, creative and spiritual benefits. I find that giving myself breaks form routine demands leaves me feeling refreshed and open to creative exploration. You are to be commended for resting your wrist and for trying dictation. It's something that's been on my list for quite awhile!
    PS: No response required.

  • Margo says:

    Good for you! I unplug totally when I'm on vacation. The only thing I miss is being able to Google for instant info about things I find interesting on my travels. I explore, read, draw and paint, and write about my experiences, just in a journal or sketchbook. My hands appreciate the break from scrolling and typing, so the benefits are rather long lasting when I get home.

  • Cathy Dwyer says:

    Hi Liz. I really enjoy your process notes. I know you had a supply of Moleskins with the old paper. Have you moved on to the new paper yet and if so, how are you finding it? Thank you for this blog. I love reading it.

  • Liz Steel says:

    thank you!!! Extra joy for me too!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Ah! but I will! thanks for your comment Carmela!

  • Liz Steel says:

    ah! that is good to hear! I still had wifi so could google if I absolutely needed…. but the need was much less.
    I am happy that my hands were a lot better after the rest!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Hi Cathy – the new paper has improved from the terrible batch they were sending out when I did the review 18 months ago. I still have old stock… went crazy at the time. Need to do a more serious re-visit of the paper, but I think that even though it isn't as nice, I would still prefer it over other books.

  • Liz Steel says:

    HI Katherine!
    yes- resting is happening. I find slow sketching is worse for me… I am better to be relaxed and work quickly and loosely, using my shoulder action and get the sketch finished in 15 minutes. When I slow down I start fussing and I think it puts more pressure on my wrist and I would hold my pen tighter too. But thanks for the reminder- that is an issue I want to discuss with my physio.
    BTW- hope everything is going well for you!

  • Good to hear you achieved your goal – I was wondering whether you had or not.

    I know those splints well – I've got mine sat on top of my chest of drawers so I never need to find them when I need one. You MUST rest your hands. Try "The Art of Slow Sketching"!

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