Thirty-year-old Thomas Philibert from the small town of Gaillac in France had a dream that one day he would visit Lapland. In May of this year he started the journey.
"I started to hitchhike from Toulouse, where I usually live," he said in a slightly broken English. With a paintbrush and sketching pencil he is financing his trip through Europe.
"I hitchhiked a lot, but I always gave something to those who helped me, whether it was a drawing or a painting," he said.
His works of art are created on cardboard or driftwood, and come in many different shapes. Here in Svalbard he is using driftwood he found on the shore as his favorite canvas.
Philibert's regular job is at institutions in Toulouse for disadvantaged youth and children, where he often works with them using art as therapy.
"In May, I had to move and I was going to find myself a new home. Then I decided to just go away. I would have a little time off," said the artist, who had never been further north than Hamburg.
"I found that it was perfect timing to fulfill the old dream of mine about Lapland," he said.
From Toulouse, he went to Lyon, and then on through Brussels, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Sweden, and finally, Norway. There he received the help of friendly people in Oslo.
"I worked my way through a week in Oslo and helped some people I met on the street," Philibert said. "In return, they bought me a ticket to Bodø and from there I went to Lofoten."
A greater challenge
In Lofoten he heard about Svalbard and decided that it had to be even better than Lapland.
"I wanted to see the emptiness, the high north," he said, smiling. "I would have an even greater challenge, and that was Svalbard."
Now he soon will have been in Longyearbyen for two weeks after a two-month journey from Toulouse. He is living here with friends of a girl he met in Tromsø, but it is still uncertain how long he will remain.
"I do not have a return ticket, but I put a little money aside every time I sell something. Perhaps I can sell enough art to be here for a while?" Philibert suggested. He admits, however, that sales have not gone so well so far.
"People don't buy as much here as they did in Tromsø, but it goes up and down," he said.
Working himself southwards
The artist wants to work on a southbound boat to get home. For that he will pay either with art or work, and he's not picky about the method of transport. Nevertheless, the journey is far from over.
"I would love to travel through Finland and southern Europe on the way home," he said. "I'll take my case and see where she brings me."