Time Out in London

London is an incredible city. Today, passing by the British Library with a few minutes to spare I popped in to see the Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bible and the original lyrics for 'Michelle' scratched by Paul McCartney on the back of an envelope. A 30 minute walk down the road is The Wallace Collection where I found Titians, the famous 'Laughing Cavalier', and Ary Scheffer's astonishing 'Francesca da Rimini'.

Remarkably, neither exhibition cost me a penny. London is full is amazing stuff to see and do for free: The British Museum, wonderful public parks, and the RAF Museum housing over 100 aircraft. Where else in the world could so many, see so much, for so little?

This was actually my second visit in as many days to the Wallace Collection. Last month I was lucky enough to visit St. Petersburg's Hermitage with an art historian friend. What a difference it made to have an expert on hand. Until then I'd walk through galleries, pausing at the pieces that caught my eye, with little idea of what I was actually looking at. That began to change in Russia and now I've got the bug.

Until recently I had no idea when the Middle Ages where, of the Reformation's effect on European art, how the Renaissance began, and the importance of the Impressionists. I went along to the V&A to learn a bit more. It's spectacular and also free.

Alain de Botton's 'The Art of Travel' spurred me on to look at the work of Vincent van Gogh and introduced me to John Ruskin.

Ruskin believed there was an artist inside all of us and in 1857 published 'The Elements of Drawing'. It's still in print. He wasn't especially bothered how polished the results, he just wanted everyone to try.

As tourists we often pause to admire a vista, a tree or a church; we take it in for a moment... then continue on our way, barely registering anything beyond the immediate visual impact.

Sitting down and trying to commit what we see to paper means we have to study it. A brief appreciative glance isn't enough. We must carefully consider the colours, shapes and light, even how it makes us feel and the memories it evokes. Only by soaking it all in can we truly appreciate its beauty.

That, said Ruskin, was the important thing. It didn't matter if what ended up on the page resembled the work of an angry eight year old. The contemplation and consideration of the subject was the end, not the means.

You don't need to go far to find something special. From a single fallen leaf resting on dewy grass to the sleek enamelled lines of a vintage motorcycle, there is beauty all around us. We only need take the time to look.