Monday, May 21, 2018

Friend 4

This friend, I've been trying to capture her likeness for years. This is the closest I've got so far!
She's always in my thoughts.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friend 2

Another portrait from a photograph taken last year, at our Bloomsday exhibition. I'm getting to like these ArtGraf tailor shapes!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Friend 1

You know me when I'm on a roll. No stopping me!

This time I worked from a photo of a friend. It was quite a small picture she had sent me a while back, but in a way, having so little detail to work from helped be distil the essence of her (I hope!)

This time, I used hot-pressed watercolour paper, and the smoothness of it was much better than the rougher grain I had used so far. It enabled me to use a lighter touch.

I hope she likes it!

Timber and Willow

These didn't work out so well. I was getting carried away, lashing on the tailor shapes! Less is more is the lesson to be learned here. Back to the drawing board.

PS: no, Timber's ribs don't show like that. He is well fed, don't worry

As for Willow, well, he does look scruffy these days. He gets quite wheezy when he tries to purr, and he purrs when I brush him (not because he likes it, quite the opposite actually). So I don't brush him as much as I should.

I did manage a nice portrait of Timber later on, as he settled on his sofa.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Done on watercolour paper with black, sanguine, and (I think) ochre (the pack says sepia, but that's not sepia!) ArtGraf tailor shapes.

They're basically like a tailor's chalk, but it's a very tightly compacted pigment instead. I don't know what the binder is - it's watersoluble and it behaves like a mix of charcoal and watercolour is all I can tell you. It needs fixing, but it's not as light as pastels, so if it's framed under glass you might get away with no fixing spray.

Great fun to use - you can draw with it, you can blend it with water, as thick or transparent as you want. And I love how the three colours I bought work together!

This first effort is a bit heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it so much that I'm definitely going to explore this further!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Art Graf

Got myself 3 ArtGraf tailor shapes and one little tin of watersoluble graphite in Spectrum art shop in Wexford last week. Of course, not a clue how to use them. YouTube to the rescue!

This is going to be fun and energising. And messy!

House on Beara

I can't remember if this is the small valley (Glenbeg) or the big valley (Glanmore).  We were on the Beara Peninsula for a few days last year. The small one I think. That's when the cloud descended so low you couldn't see the mountains. By the time we got to the big valley in the afternoon, it was raining so much that the cloud was actually lifting!

Again, had great fun with colours here, starting with a similar range as the previous painting, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Moonglow, Potter's Pink, Lavender, Buff Titanium. Then I had to extend my palette for the green grasses and plants at the front.

PS: I chose not to include the power line that goes into the house, more or less at the centre of the gable. But if the house is on the market, it's good to know there is the potential for electricity!

Monday, May 14, 2018


Trying to get back into painting more, as opposed to urban sketching and art journaling (I go through phases). This is a view of the wet beach at Bettystown, from a photo I took a few months back. All clouds and reflections. There was actually a car on the beach too, but I edited it out. It's one of these beaches that you can drive onto (There's nowhere else to park!). And some cars do get stranded apparently. Just like people get stranded on Sandymount beach - it's so flat, with some dips that you barely notice at low tide, that when the tide comes in, it can really take you by surprise. A few weeks ago, I was wearing my wellies, and we did measure how quickly the water was coming up. Well, not exactly measuring, but it was fast!!

I had great fun with (mostly) Daniel Smith watercolour - if you're familiar with their range, you'll probably recognise Moonglow, Lavender, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Mayan Blue. Possibly a touch of Buff Titanium too. The Potter's Pink I use is Winsor & Newton (based on feedback from fellow students on an online watercolour sketching course I did in January, it's supposed to hold itself together better). I love my Daniel Smith watercolours They've opened a whole new range of watercolour magic for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dublin Sketchers go to the Seaside

Last Sunday, unlike today (I'm writing this on the 11th of May, and it's raining cats and dogs out there), was a beautiful, hot, sunny day. I had picked the Dun Laoghaire seafront and pier for our Dublin Sketchers outing. It's not often the sun shines so brightly in Dublin, so I felt it would have been a waste to stay in the city centre. There'll be plenty of time for that by August, when our summer is effectively over (in some cases, over before it's started).

I knew Dun Laoghaire would be busy - Dublin is basically divided between the people who stay home when the sun shines, and people who go to the seaside. My husband is the former. Me, it depends, but I like to be where the action is! 
I knew it would be pointless to try and find parking on the street, so I opted for the Pavilion car park, which was remarkably quiet when I arrived there just after 1pm.

First, I headed off to People's Park. They have a market there on Sundays and I thought it would be a good spot to practise sketching crowds. I found a shady spot under a tree and got started. Just as well I'd had lunch before leaving home. The queues for the food tents were huge. I'd reckon a good 20 minutes half an hour before you could place your order at most of them! And there were people everywhere, on the benches, on the grass, families with kids, hipsters with dogs, and people queuing queuing queuing! People moved, but enough of them stayed put long enough for me to try and catch their poses. I worked straight in watercolour, not even one pencil mark to start. I made the mistake of starting with the tents and the people queuing at the back, so my man in red standing at the front lost his head in a tent, and you can see the legs of the people at the back, which I couldn't see in reality. But, hey, lesson learned and all the rest! 

After a while, I decided to move to a quieter spot. Just below the seafront promenade, there are paths and steps leading to the sea. Hardly anybody there! I found a nice little corner and set up there. I love the colour of the sea in Ireland when the sun shines. In the West, there are spots that are Caribbean or even Maldivian turquoise. Not quite in Dublin, but still, shimmering and dancing! Well, I got so engrossed in the colours that my horizon isn't straight. But, really, I felt so happy there, it didn't matter to me! I was actually proud I had reserved the white for the sailboat anchored in the bay that nothing much mattered after that.

Once that was done, I still had a bit of time before meeting my fellow Dublin Sketchers, so I looked around and there was a lady sitting on a low wall to my left. She looked like she might be there for a while. When I left, she was engrossed in her phone, so I didn't show her my sketch.

And then at 4pm, we met for a drink in the Haddington House Hotel. Great location, just above the pier. And they have a beer garden. But it was mobbed, so we retreated to a quiet spot in the lobby, and after queuing forever, I managed to get a drink and sat down to chat with the others about the day!

PS: It took me nearly half an hour to get out of the car park at 5pm! Memo to self for the next time: park further away and walk!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cherry Blossoms everywhere

Very often, by the time I get my act together to go out and paint them, the trees have lost their spring freshness. This year, I was determined I would not miss the cherry blossoms, at the very least. So last Saturday, the sun was shining, and they were at their fullest. So I picked up my backpack and walked down the road and started painting them in a little park near us.

I found that the latest colour I bought recently, ultramarine rose (Daniel Smith), is perfect to capture the pinkness of them, with a touch of Lavender for the shade. I dropped in a little Potter's Pink for texture too.

And today, Thursday, most of the petals are gone, lying in our back garden  - one of our neighbours has a cherry tree, and the prevailing wind sends most of the petals to us. So I feel so lucky that I did capture the trees at their most glorious.

And of course, I can't talk about cherry trees without including John Spillane's song, which never fails to make me happy, no matter what time of the year!

Vignettes from my travels (to Wexford)

I often struggle to sketch much when I'm travelling. But I had a very patient travelling companion (whose special birthday was the excuse for this trip), so I managed a few pieces over the 3 days we were in Wexford. Also, I worked almost exclusively in my little Hand.Book sketchbook, which makes it easier to work quickly (it's about 15x15cm). The only exception is the view of the town from the quays, for which I used my little Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (about the same size)

We didn't have perfect weather, but it wasn't bad, except the day we drove to the JFK Arboretum near New Ross. It's not that it was bad bad even then, just very grey, and although I carried my sketching kit with me all morning, the light was so dull that I decided not to even attempt a drawing.

I always arrive in good time at the airport, so I had enough time in the arrivals hall to do a quick sketch.

I can't believe I hadn't been to Wexford since the National Opera House was built! The entrance on the street is still exactly the same as it was many years ago when we used to go to the Opera Festival. But once you step inside, it's just amazing. A big high space, with wonderful wood, and great views from the top floor (which has a nice little café overlooking the roofs)

A nice lunch in Green Acres in Wexford town. I'm trying to sketch fuller views, with people and ceilings even. But I didn't draw the lady's two friends across the table from her. Plus I need to practise chairs!

Found a nice café on the main street, with seating upstairs. It was busy with students who had just finished school before the mid-term break. The poor waitress was constantly going up and down those stairs. The camomile tea was nice too!

I attempted a sketch of the town from the quays, but I was chatting on the phone at the same time, so my lines are all over the place. Still. It was fun. And it shows the lack of planning in the development of Irish towns!

OK, not a very good sketch, and it makes it look like the view from our room was awful, which isn't true. We could see the sea to the left of the building too, a nice surprise as we hadn't booked a seaview room. But the really exciting thing about this sketch is that it was done with an ArtGraf watersoluble tailor shape. I had heard of these, and I was hoping to buy one or two in Porto when I go there this summer, as they are made there. But I discovered them in Wexford's art shop, Spectrum. I was very excited!! And this sketch doesn't do the material justice, but I'm looking forward to experimenting more with it!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Glasnevin cemetery

I am in catch-up mode at the moment. I was busy last week and didn't get to post as regularly as I normally do.
So this one is from the last Sunday in April, on a Dublin Sketchers outing, and I just realise I forgot to take a photo with the quote from Ulysses added. In case you're wondering, I wrote it on the left side of the page, as I didn't feel like making this into another big double-spread.

"The clay fell softer. Begin to be forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind."

If you've never been, Glasnevin Cemetery is a wonderful place to visit. I had never been there, in my 32 years living in Dublin. But on a quiet sunny Sunday afternoon, it is the most peaceful location you can imagine. Yes, it's a working graveyard.  It's also a major tourist attraction, as many of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising are buried there, along with O'Connell and Parnell, and James Joyce's father. I didn't look any of these up, I have to admit. I was just happy to stroll amongst the gravestones and the trees, enjoying the stillness, and contemplating the vastness of it, a city within a city. It is said that there are as many Dubliners buried there as there are alive in the city today!

Another good reason to visit is that it's next door to the Botanic Gardens, which you can reach directly from the cemetery. And there is a good local pub just outside, known as the Gravediggers Pub (Note: if you want a green tea, go to the lounge, not the bar!!)

Here are a few photos I took. Don't be fooled by the glorious sunshine. It was so cold I only managed the one sketch!


Although I took lots of photos when I was in Venice last year, I never developed any of them into watercolours. Maybe I felt Venice paintings are too cliché? All that beautiful water and these amazing buildings were too scary? Maybe I felt that I couldn't do it justice, which is the same thing really.

So, finally, I gave it a try. I'm not 100% happy with it, but some aspects worked out, so it's definitely something to develop further.  Next time, I'd like to do it in a less 'romantic' style. Maybe work more on value contrast rather than happy colours?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Wave at Killiney

Been working on this little watercolour for a while. I had to use gouache for the top of my waves. Next time I try the same subject, I really want to reserve my whites better!
We take our dog for walks on Killiney beach most weekends in the winter season, so I never run out of photos taken with my iPhone to inspire me! Some day I might even take my easel there! But for now, with the good weather, it will be busy with families, so dogs are not welcome, unless we get up really early. Which is something I aspire to every summer. But it never seems to happen!

Monday, May 07, 2018

Pot of tea

After finishing my pot of tea at Grogan's, I went into Powerscourt Townhouse, scouting for a good spot to sketch. The sun was still shining,  but showers were threatening. I sat at the café at the very top, Le Petit Parisien. I ordered a camomile tea and a strawberry tart and set out to sketch what was in front of me, the tart first, which I then ate, then the teapot and cup (I like my tea lukewarm). A friend sat at the same table and we sketched and chatted away until it was time to meet the rest of the gang!

My sketch of the strawberry tart doesn't look as tempting as the photo on their website, but, trust me, it was delicious!

Saturday, May 05, 2018


We were sketching near Powerscourt Townhouse a few weeks ago. I was in town early, and the sun was shining, so I sat across the way at the terrace of Grogan's pub and sketched for a bit. I found the Powerscourt building itself a bit intimidating, so I sketched a window on its own, as I wanted to practise how to get the proportions right and how to give them depth. Once I was finished the window, I looked at the skyline and the chimneys, and decided to tackle them.
When I got home, I added a stamp and a quote from Ulysses, and a simple frame around the page, and I called it done!

By the way, Grogan's is a really authentic pub - no fancy furniture, fake antiques, or TVs blaring. Just a simple pub, with nice service. It's a shame really that Dublin pubs have all gone mega and fake, trying to recreate the idea of an Irish pub, but really looking more like a tourist attraction than a nice place to meet friends and chat over a pint. I wouldn't mind sketching in there some day.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


I was at the James Joyce Centre earlier in April for a free concert, called Ulysses Extended, a musical score by Stephen Gardner performed by Paul Roe, Ellen Demos and Shane O'Donovan. Very enjoyable, if a bit obscure. I sketched a little during the performance. I was at the back row, and I had brought a couple of calligraphy pens with me. I couldn't really do a detailed sketch, plus I didn't want to disturb the artists. So I did this dynamic sketch instead, drawing the singer twice and super-imposed the clarinet player and the percussionist. When I got home, I scanned the sketch and printed it on watercolour paper and added a few dashes of colour.

This sketch fits well into the Sirens chapter of Ulysses, where music is the art form explored by Joyce. Me, I'm just enjoying every moment of it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The chimneys

There is always a certain energy when you're sketching on location. On this occasion, I had already done three sketches, and I was getting tired. Plus there was the risk that we might be asked to move on, as it wasn't clear whether this was a private or public space. So I worked with urgency! We were inside the courtyard just beside the Pigeon House. The ESB plant is on the other side and that's not open to the public. But on this side the gate was open, and there were a few cars parked there. There is also a portakabin - I remember doing some work on a computer for a builder who operated from there a few years ago. While my friends stayed a good bit longer to finish their sketches, I left after just a basic pencil structure and one layer of watercolour. To be honest, I didn't think I would be able to create anything worth looking at, particularly when I realised that I had got some of the proportions of the house wrong. So I decided it was best to take a break from it.

I finished the sketch at home the following day. The windows caused me more trouble than I had anticipated. I had to use white marker to do the window frames and it was all over the place. Let me know if you have a good white marker that you could recommend. I would like a white marker for detail and also to write on top of colour backgrounds. I'm quite happy with how I managed to convey the imposing scale of the chimneys, though!

The scene was so huge that I had to tilt my sketchbook to capture it all

I found on the ESB website a photo of the house (from the other side) and the brick chimney and the power station. The other chimneys are all gone and there isn't much left of the long building I think, except for a rusty metal structure. You can see on the photo the coal (bottom right) and the conveyor belt that brings it to the furnace!

Pigeon House was named after a Mr Pigeon, who ran it as a coffee shop where passengers from the ferry could get a cup of tea and a slice of cake after their long journey. It later became a hotel. I think it's used by the ESB now, or the Dublin corporation. It's not open to visitors, which is a pity. The old power station, which was commissioned in 1903, gets a mention in Ulysses.

 This is how it looks from Google Maps now:
And here is a photo I took before I did my first sketch:

Monday, April 30, 2018

Pigeon House - when sand gets in you watercolour

I did mention the wind kicking up while we were sketching near the Poolbeg station, didn't I! One of my fellow sketchers found that his water container kept filling with sand.  Mine didn't, but the page I was working on at that stage got this mottled effect because of the sand getting into everything.
At this stage, I was facing towards the Dublin Mountains and the sand was coming right at me! It wasn't exactly the effect I was after.

So what do you do with a failed page?
I had nothing to lose, so when I got home, I decided to splatter paint all over and pretend it was the fireworks scene in Ulysses (yes, all the quotes in this sketchbook are from James Joyce's Ulysses). I love this one!

And then you can always do another one! It was so blustery that the watercolour dried really quickly on my pages!

Saturday, April 28, 2018


It was the first day of sunshine after a long long winter! Three of us from Dublin Sketchers arranged to go to Poolbeg to sketch, paint and enjoy the weather.

We met up around 10:30. And of course, I had to start with a sketch of the two chimneys at the old power station. I always associate them with falling in love with Dublin all those years ago. And still today, any time I fly home from abroad, seeing them from the plane makes my heart go boum!

At one point, there was talk of the ESB taking them down, but apparently they decided to keep them, after public consultation in 2015. Why am I only finding that out now? I clearly don't read the papers! But this (old) news makes me very happy! (PS, click on the link above for stunning drone footage from the top of the chimneys!)

And here is the classic urban sketcher shot!
(A4 Moleskine attached to coroplast board, pencil and watercolour)

Text added later for our Bloomsday sketchbook project, although I don't think these chimneys were there in 1904. But the first power station was set up on the site in 1903! (and there will be a sketch of what's left of it in a couple of days!).

After that sketch, I felt I deserved a break, and a bite to eat, and ate lovely wraps while sitting in the car. If I had attempted to eat them outside, they would have been sand sandwiches, as the wind started kicking up around that time! But more about that later!

So next time you fly into Dublin, look out for the two chimneys at the mouth of the river Liffey, in the middle of Dublin bay. I hope your heart goes boum too!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Sketching while waiting

I don't carry my big A4 Moleskine with me all the time. That would be too exhausting. And my everyday handbag isn't that big. If I'm going anywhere where I might have to wait, I bring a little square Hand.Book with me. It's great for small sketches and it can take a watercolour wash, as long as it's not too wet! Perfect for experimenting, and discreet too if you don't want to attract attention.

On this occasion, I used a fountain pen with black watersoluble ink - that particular ink gives lots of gorgeous reddish and brownish shades when you wet it. If I could only remember where I got those ink cartridges - they probably came with the pen, which I bought in Bruges (I'm not the only person who loves to rummage in art shops when travelling abroad, am I?). For most of the sketches, I added the water after I got home, but for the crazy indoor tree, I actually dipped my finger in my tea and spread the ink digitally. Messy business, but I managed to wash my hands before my appointment!!

(PS: All good with me, this is just my yearly neurology review. I'm just trying to persuade the consultant to take me off a medication which I really believe is not necessary. Something I already asked last year, when I was told to wait until this appointment. But now I'm told I will need an EEG before they make the decision! Things don't move fast in the Irish health system!)

And rather than sketch the people in the waiting room (somehow, it felt like an invasion of their privacy), I sketched the presenters on the TV. (Yes, every waiting room in the hospital has TVs on the walls, and yet every winter we have patients stuck on trolleys in ERs. Priorities anyone?)

Another day, same sketchbook. With pencils instead. I only had two pencils with me (pink/purple and red/yellow).
On this occasion, I was just waiting for my food! It was marginally more efficient than the Irish Health System!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

St Andrew's Church, Westland Row

I don't go to churches (except for weddings and funerals, communions and confirmations!). But I was in St Andrew's Church, Westland Row, recently and sketched a composite view of it. It's actually quite beautiful inside. And very peaceful in contrast to the hustle and bustle of commuter traffic and people coming and going at rush hour. And warm on a cold day!

As I had my Bloomsday sketchbook with me (I was doing a reccie for our next "Dublin Sketchers Draws Ulysses" outing, checking out Sweny's pharmacy and making sure that we could sketch in the church) so I sat down in the warm church and admired the ceiling, altar, arches and statues. Funnily enough, I have just only noticed that I tend to sketch from the top down, always more interested in ceilings than floors, and rarely leaving enough space to fit both. Next time, I must make a conscious effort to sketch the "box" of the space, i.e. floor, walls, ceiling, before I get into the details.

By the way, if you would like to join us for our sketching outings, all information is available on We sketch every Sunday afternoon, except for Christmas and Easter. We'll be in the Westland Row area between 2 and 4 on the 13th May.

When I searched first through Ulysses, I couldn't find any mentions of St Andrew's Church. But it's actually referred to as "All Hallows". Here is the information I found on the James Joyce Project webpage: "After his circuitous journey from Westland Row, Bloom comes to "the open backdoor of All Hallows." This church, also called St. Andrew's, has a back entrance on Cumberland Street South and a main entrance on Westland Row, just south of the post office.

Now that I know, I think I might sketch around this quote: "The cold smell of sacred stone called him. He trod the worn steps, pushed the swingdoor and entered softly by the rere." I don't think I've ever been on South Cumberland Street. There is nothing that I love more than to discover new little nooks and crannies in this city that I've called my own for over 30 years (I am known to have uttered the words "Home is in Dublin" in the summer of 1983, although I didn't move here until 1986!).

I love Dublin! And I love urban sketching!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Japanese Film Festival

I got to see two movies at the Japanese Film Festival this year. I enjoyed both and gave them both an 'excellent' rating (as part of the festival, you can give each movie a rating). I would have liked to see a few more, but there was only so much time in the day!

Her Sketchbook (sekai wa kyo kara kimi no mono)

A lovely story about a young woman who has withdrawn from the world, only working in a factory because she doesn't have to talk to anyone. When she loses her job, her father finds her work as a tester for video games.
A beautiful story, and also an interesting insight into the hikikomori in Japan, a phenomenon I had never heard of before, but something quite widespread in Japan, when young people gradually withdraw from society and don't interact with the outside world.
The movie manages to be both tender and humorous.

Dear Etranger (osanago warera ni umare, which literally means 'a young child was born to us', so I really don't know where they got the English title from!!)

Life is not easy when you have a daughter from a first marriage, your wife has two daughters from her first marriage (one of which is young and doesn't realise that you're not her real dad, and the other is a teenager, full of angst and anger, mostly targeted at you), and your wife tells you she is pregnant, more or less at the same time as you're told by your boss that your job is not secure and you will be transferred from being a middle manager to working on the factory floor. But this man, Manoko Tanaka, loves his family, and keeps on giving his best, no matter how far he is pushed. A beautiful story, showing that Japanese men can express their love for their family and don't spend all their time at work. He's not perfect mind you. He does occasionally lose his temper, and he doesn't tell his wife about his demotion for a few months, continuing to go to work in his suit as if nothing happened! An interesting look at real life for many restructured families!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mulligan & Haines

One of those pages that I should have left alone. I had a nice black ink drawing. And then I added watercolour wet in wet, and I think I preferred the original. Well, at least I took a photo of it!!