Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Here is how I want to paint poppies

Existential crisis? Maybe not. But I'm starting to seriously doubt how I paint. And I want to move to more abstract landscapes. But I keep reverting back to what's expected of me in terms of watercolour style. And even though it doesn't agree with me, I keep repeating the same pattern. Chocolate box. I love chocolate. But not in my paintings.
So, after a frustrating session of painting stiff poppies, I took my biggest paint brush out (a Jean Haines squirrel blend mop from Rosemary and Co.) picked bright colours and splashed paint around on three different papers (rough, cold press, hot press). And let pigment and water do their work, while I sat back and enjoyed!
I know these are not "frameable quality, but I had fun painting them. Isn't that what it should be all about?

And a quote, from Marc Taro Holmes, to motivate me:
"You never want a painting to be hard work. It should be a joy, not a second job :)"


Cold Press

Hot Press

Monday, December 11, 2017

When in doubt, paint poppies

Still looking for my mojo back in watercolours. So in the meantime, I'll just paint poppies.
And even that's getting frustrating. It's like I'm trying too hard!
Promising enough start

By this stage, it's lots its spontaneity, and my light grass is too brash a tone. Maybe it'll be all right when I've added the tree to the left (it's quite dark) and glazed a quinacridone gold over that awful green grass? Maybe it won't?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Dublin Castle State Apartments

"My love affair with Dublin" should be the title of all these posts!

Great afternoon with Dublin Sketchers at the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. It was a cold and drizzly day. And we had special access to the beautiful, warm and bright rooms in the State Apartments, so I sketched indoors! I couldn't resist. I got so warm I had to take my coat off, though.

Until 1922, Dublin Castle was the centre of the British administration in Ireland. It has wonderful state rooms designed, literally, for kings. And apparently a throne whose legs were chopped off for a not so tall queen. It was also home to the viceroy, who ruled Ireland on behalf of the monarch. Lots of gilding. So many amazing chandeliers.

But what caught my eye on Sunday was the building across the courtyard (I'm not sure of its use). A tricky bit of architecture in terms of proportions. I battled with it for an hour and a half, in pencil - a record for me. Still got lots of basic proportions wrong (but I think my building is more harmonious than the original, with it's ridiculously tall tower!). Then I went to the Terrace Café to ink it. Watercolour was added a couple of days later! I used to be much faster, but I am learning precision (of sorts) so I need to slow right down. With practise (a lot of practise), I will get faster hopefully. And better?  Without having to measure so much, so I can be more spontaneous again! Or I might just lose patience and throw it all out the window!

The finished sketch
What I got done on site (pencil, then inked in the café)

The full spread, with a copy of the official sketch from the OPW, which shows how short the tower is in my sketch!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Palm Oil Free Irish Soap

In a world where even Brennan's Bread contains palm oil (I kid you not - check the ingredients!), at long last, I have found a palm-oil-free soap!! Was so happy to come across this wonderful stand at the RDS Gifted fair (on until Sunday)! Palm Free are a company based in Killaloe who make soaps, shampoo bars (thyme-scented!) and candles without palm oil! Their products smell delicious and the couple on the stand are very nice too!

Make sure to drop in and buy palm free soaps!

Christmas cards

I've been busy making Christmas cards in the last few days. I've posted one on Zazzle in case you like them! PS: I recommend the semi-gloss option rather than the matte - I tried the matte before but was disappointed with how the colours looked.
I've actually just received my order of this card now and it looks really nice, if I may say so myself!

Christmas Trees Card
Christmas Trees Card
by _MHBD_

I've also got a few other designs that you might like!

Wooden figurines - drawing

Last week wasn't a good week for sketching. I just got busier and busier as the week went on. Culminating with a major laundry and hoovering operation on Saturday. Not what I had planned.
Here is what I managed to squeeze in:

It's a back to basics approach. Which I really need to do right now. I think that's the only way for me to get out of the rut I'm in. To keep going back and building on what I've learned, rather than getting notions. 

Speaking of notions, an interesting result when I do a Multiple Exposure collage in Picasa.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Köln Concert

Some music can make me so happy with life. The Köln Concert,  by Keith Jarrett, is one of those albums that does that for me - it makes my heart sing. And I'm not a big piano fan. And I don't like jazz. But this is not jazz to me. This is life at its best.

I can't find any decent version of it on YouTube, only some pale imitation. So you'll have to go to Spotify or Deezer to find it!

If you're not sure, check out this article by someone who's much more knowledgeable than I am.

Perfect for the dark days.

Self portraits in watercolour

Quick sketches. One too fat with a small head. One with moustache and beard. Not my best work. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Palettes for Sketching Now Watercolour

New Year, New course, New sketchbook, Same paints.

So I'm snatching little bits of time to get myself ready for it!

I'm going to try a Stillman & Birn Beta Series (Portrait, A4, hardbound, hard cover) sketchbook this time. It will be interesting to see how the paint works on this paper. I'm so used to my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook at this stage that it will feel very strange to move away from it.

So, rather than changing everything, I'm going to stick to my usual sets of paints. Yes, sets. Plural. I guess I could pack them all into one box, but having them separate forces me to think about my colour choices. And it's what I'm used to for urban sketching anyway. Some of the colours are not very transparent. Some not at all actually. But I really love most of the colours in my sets. The only two I have doubts about are the Chinese White (I don't think I've used it once - I keep thinking it might be useful for something, but I haven't found that something yet) and Bloodstone Genuine (but I'm keeping an open mind about it - it would be good if I wanted real good darks)

So, come January 10th, I'll be all set!

Books read over the last few months

This is going back to the summer - I'm not reading as much as I used to.

The Patience Stone - a story of a wife and her injured husband in Afghanistan, or somewhere similar. The husband is in a coma. The wife looks after him every day. Outside, war rages on. And inside, another type of war. Best book in a long time. And I had a quick look at the DVD trailer on Amazon, and it looks really good too.

The Round House - it was a long time since I read a book by Louise Erdrich. A beautiful story of a young teenage boy, whose family is torn by a brutal attack. Great read.

Slade House - I like David Mitchell's stories. This is the prequel to The Bone Clocks. I should have read it first of course. But it was brilliant all the same. Makes me want to re-read the Bone Clocks. And Cloud Atlas!

Morality Play - the story of a band of medieval actors, who end up in a town where a boy was found dead on the side of the road. They decide to tell the story of the boy's death. But they find that elements of the narrative don't make sense. This is like a medieval thriller. A good story.

Small Great Things - I can't have my summer holidays without reading a Jodi Picoult book. Small Great Things delivered all I wanted! The story of a black delivery nurse and a white supremacist family.

PS: I've read all of these in Kindle edition. But I've put the links to the paperbacks. Not sure why!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Not only was the grass an amazing, intense, green, but so were the bare branches of the trees. I should have sketched the moment. Didn't. So I photographed it instead. Within 10 seconds, the light had changed. Always the light for me. Always the light.
What if I painted this green? I bet I'd be told it's not realistic. But this is Ireland! So you'd better believe me.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Exterminating Angel

It wasn't to everyone's taste. There were only about 20 people in the cinema. Some left at the interval.
But I found The Exterminating Angel, by Thomas Adès, a thrilling experience. The singing was interesting more than pleasing to the ear. The highest note ever sung by a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera New York was much talked about, but my ear found it hard to appreciate it. Still, what a fantastic story (based on the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel), striking setting, and chilling acting by the wide cast (except for one mezzo, whom I think suffers from an over-acting habit). I'm glad I experienced it. But I thought that Adès's The Tempest was a better opera overall.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Gelli printing

I'm noticing a pattern here. What am I avoiding?
It's a long time since I've done any Gelli printing. But I'm running out of colourful pages for my art journal. So I had to print a set this afternoon. Like all forms of art, it requires practise in order to attain interesting results. And I'm out of practise. Still, I had forgotten how much fun it can be to pull print after print and to end up with fingers full of paint.

Here is a little collage of what I ended up with. Not high art, but it will do!

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Drimnagh Castle and Dublin Sketchers Christmas party

26 of November, and still sketching outdoors. Warm layers, thermal underwear, hat, gloves, and a flask of hot tea - those are my secrets. This was my second time to Drimnagh Castle. And actually last year, it was in December I went there with Dublin Sketchers, and I sketched outdoors then!
But this time, I didn't lose my way in the car on the return journey.

And I managed to fit the whole castle on the page. I'm using a bigger sketchbook, which helps. And I do measure a bit nowadays!

This was our end-of-year party and everybody was in good spirit, warmed up by the fire, soup, tea, and for some, mulled wine on offer. And Drimnagh Castle was the perfect location. The initial castle was built in the 13th century, and it has a moat, and beautiful gardens. And we know someone who knows someone so it opens just for us on Sundays. We're so lucky!

Finished sketch (strengthened colours, added sky, fine pen to reinforce shapes, a little bit of white pen for windows)

Sketch as done on location - pencil and watercolour. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


You know how it goes. You think you're doing plenty. And then you realise that you haven't been drawing in ages. And it shows. And then you understand why you've been feeling. What? Off your game? Flat? Not right? And you wonder how it happened. Yes, life is busy. Bills have to be paid. (Just got our Laya health insurance bill, by the way, and couldn't believe how expensive it was. I must ring them on Monday and discuss plans.) Laundry has to be done. Dog has to be walked. Cat has to be injected. (And his litter tray has to be cleaned up - constantly - despite the regular insulin routine, he still drinks too much, and pees day and night. ) But drawing for 15 minutes a day should be possible. A matter of time management? Priorities? And where to fit yoga and meditation then?

Doesn't even look like me! And proportions are all over the place.
Thankfully, does look like my cat!
The only solution of course is to pick up a pen and a sketchbook and draw what's there. The cat. Me. The dog (if he didn't move so much). And pick myself up, one drawing at a time. Be warned. Some of these are not very good. And some are absolutely awful!

Interestingly enough, there is actually a resemblance here.
No resemblance here. Whatsoever.
A completely generic face. Must try harder.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

National Gallery of Ireland

This is a building that I've been longing to sketch for a good while now. But the old wing of the National Gallery of Ireland was behind scaffolding and closed to the public for a few years and it only reopened in the summer (I sketched a little section of the façade then). And I really didn't have the skills to tackle that simple but complicated façade.

Last Sunday, I was actually going to go inside, as it was cold and a bit drizzly. But as I walked in, a security guard stopped me and told me that my backpack and "this item" would have to be left at the cloakroom. Well, yeah. I don't travel light. But I find a backpack easier on my body than a shoulder bag. And the item in question was just my three-legged stool, neatly wrapped in its little sleeve and carried over my shoulder. Did he think it was a gun? Or simply that I could damage valuable paintings just out of clumsiness? The latter is more likely in my case, it has to be said. So, I decided to stay outside. The rain soon stopped. I was well wrapped up. And I got engrossed in my sketching. The said security guard did feel bad, by the way (I think so anyway!). He brought me a sketching stool about ten minutes later. The guards in the National Gallery are very nice! But anyway, that's how I was still sketching outside in mid-November!

So I felt a real sense of achievement when I actually managed to sketch the whole building! Thank you Security Guard for not letting me in. And Thank you Liz Steel for a wonderful SketchingNowBuildings course, which is really helping me on my journey! I am not yet able to sketch at the speed I would like. But I am finally achieving a better sense of proportions in my architectural sketches. I'm not there yet, but I feel I am making progress!

And not only that, but I did manage to fit the full building on the page! Something that you may remember is not my strong suit.
I still have a lot to learn, even at this level. But in my mind, my goals are 1. to sketch looser (but still accurate!) and 2. add people. So it's going to be a long journey!

This is the finished sketch - an extra half hour at home was all I needed to finish the details and add more colour and shading.

This is how far I got on the day  - about an hour and a half of sketching time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The ceiling

How to explore painting shade and cast shadow on a cold grey day in November? And finding a good-looking modern building in Ireland?

Well, I took the lazy option and sat at my dining room table. I've always found our ceiling interesting. Although this sketch makes it look like there is significant damp in the corners. Not the case. We got a new roof a couple of years back exactly for that reason. And now, it's completely dry, even on days when it doesn't stop raining.

PS: If anybody has any ideas of an interesting modern building in Dublin that I could sketch, let me know!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mapping Light and Dark - 2nd colour study

This is the last of the indoor exercises I had to do. In this version, instead of giving the buildings a first light wash, I started with the shady sides of the houses first, leaving the sunny sides white until I was done with the dark side.
The one mistake I've made throughout, I now realise a bit late, is that the shady side doesn't have strong cast shadows. Hopefully I will remember this in future!
The big advantage of this technique is that you don't have to wait for the first layer to dry. Although I did struggle with paint bleeding into damp areas at various stages all the same.
I think my light sides are a bit too light, but that's probably better than being too dark.

Now, I need to find a modern building and a sunny day to do my outdoor assignment.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mapping Dark and Light

Now that everybody else seems to be finished this course, I am struggling a bit with motivation and I have become slow with my assignments.

I really want to finish before Christmas, though, so I'll have to stick at it.

I was looking forward to this section on mapping light and dark (or dark and light?). I found the value study exercises  really good, learning how to differentiate between form shadow (or the shady side of a building - it can contain a lot of reflected light) and cast shadow (which is often a lot darker, and cooler colour), and also discovering that the bright side of a building is often more bleached out than you'd think - although that probably applies to Australia and Italy. But not so sure how that works out in Ireland. As I will be doing my outdoor assignment here in Ireland over the next couple of weeks, the darkest dullest time of the year, it will be interesting to see how that works out for me!
But I've just realised I still have to do a second indoor colour study before I'm allowed outdoors! So I'll continue pretending I'm somewhere warm!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Healy Pass, Take 2, final version

I got very frustrated when I was trying to finish this painting, but I think I'm done.

It needed a darker bit in the middle to separate the two rock formations, but the paint I applied initially was too dark and heavy. So I had to lift it (magic eraser to the rescue) and tidy it all up. There was a point where I genuinely thought I had ruined it. But it all worked out in the end!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Healy Pass, Take 2

My desk is currently taken over with a big acrylics canvas and paints. It's a bit of a mess. And I'm dithering between figurative and abstract. But the main difficulty with it is that I have no room left for watercolour painting - I need a bigger room. Or another tidy-up. And more time.
I've got a couple of watercolours on the go, and I really want to finish them, but I keep finding excuses. And in less than a month, I'll have to have the guest bedroom clear, which means tidying my office and my art-room so I can move things from the guest bedroom into these two small rooms. Busy Busy weeks ahead! Busy busy mind is not good for creativity.
Still, I can't complain. I do manage to fit in a good bit in the time I have.

So this one is going remarkably well, considering the lack of physical and mental space! If you remember I painted a view of the Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula soon after being there at the end of the summer. I was thinking of exploring the same technique further, but my attempts at watercolouring with a knife were not as exciting as that first painting. So I've gone back to more traditional watercolour techniques: a light wet-in-wet layer, followed by darker and darker layers, with each stroke pulled with a thirsty brush to soften the edges. I need to balance both sides a bit, but I'm getting there. Interesting that I was really relaxed while painting this, and I think it shows. Also, it's one of my favourite papers - Hannemühle Cornwall - a very strong texture - it handles the paint beautifully. I must get myself some more of it, as I'm running low!

Here is a photo of the first layer I painted:

And two earlier attempts that didn't work out quite as well:
This one got too dark and messy. I might lift the paint in the grass centre and have another go, but I think the joy is gone out of it. I might just wash it off and start from scratch.

This one was done on a little square of paper that clearly is not suited for dragging paint, even with an old credit card - the fibre lifted. I haven't yet found what that paper is good for!

The Dodder, final version

A few adjustments, and I'm done. That's it. I've seen enough of this painting. And yes, I abandoned the other version. For some reason, I'm very slow painting this year.

Next painting, I want to keep all my whites and lights with masking fluid and paint with abandon. I hate recovering the lights. Although I have to admit that the magic watercolour eraser is very handy.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Dodder

Am I done? The most important question a watercolourist needs to ask herself! (and just in case, I'm working on another version, but I'm getting a bit fed up with it, so I might drop it and move to something else!)
I'm not 100% sure yet, which probably means I need to do something. But what?

Right now, I'm leaning towards adding some more leaves to that central tree - it looks like it needs a bit more leaves on top. It's a bit stumpy, isn't it?  In the end, it will be about finding a balance between light and dark. And not letting my haste to be done with it ruin it all!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Magic Flute

I'm running behind, as always at this time of year - lots of things to do. Not much time to document everything.

I was delighted when The Magic Flute was announced for the Met HD programme, as I had never seen it before, and I had heard a lot about the magical production by Julie Taymor, who directed The Lion King, a show that's been running nightly since 1997 on Broadway! I've never seen The Lion King (the original 1994 Disney animated movie, nor the musical).

And I loved The Magic Flute, despite reports of sexism by a friend who saw the Covent Garden production. Yes, Mozart is not exactly a feminist. But hey, it was sung in German, so I could ignore the subtitles if I found them too offensive (a major element of the plot has got to do with the hero having to ignore his beloved's pleas, as "women are the cause of a lot of trouble for men", or words to that effect). Beautiful singing. Beautiful production. And the Queen of the Night is such a great baddie.

Unfortunately, the Odeon in Stillorgan cut the ending before the opera was actually finished. A lot of angry punters. Apparently, the transmission ran late and they cut it off automatically because they had another movie in that theatre. Annoying, yes. But not the end of the world.

The clips below are from the English language version.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What I bought with my voucher!

In case you're bored with my goings-on about pigments and watercolour papers, here is a little diversion!

Remember I won the prize for the Nation Paints on RTE, the mini-competition accompanying Painting the Nation (which was won by Hazel Higgins, a young Sligo woman, who was a student of my good friend Máire Hynes, a ledge of an art teacher, according to her student ratings on, by the way!)? Well, that One4All voucher has been burning a hole in my pocket since I received it. Since the main art stores in Dublin are not covered by the voucher, I had to have a think about what to do with it? Grocery shopping in SuperValu? Pet supplies for my four-legged friends? Make-up from Boots? A spa day? A weekend away? A nice meal out? Difficult choices.

Most of all, I wanted to get lots of things, not just one big thing. And what do I do when I want value for money?
I go to TKMaxx!!
I tried 10 different tops and knitwear and I narrowed it down to three items.
With still plenty of money on the voucher, I headed to Schuh and got myself a pair of Sketchers pumps. Then to Fat Face where I bought a gorgeous teal top.
And I still have over €75 left on the voucher!

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

This always happens to me. I read a book. And I don't write about it straight away. And by the time I get to my keyboard, I've forgotten what made this book special to me. I actually read this one before the summer.

Let me think...

Well, first of all, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was written by David Mitchell, of Cloud Atlas, and The Bone Clocks fame.
Second, it's set in Japan.

It's very different in style from the other two books, presented more like historical fiction, which it isn't. All the characters and stories are fictional, but apparently the author did quite a bit of research so that the details are historically accurate. I quite liked the storyline, it's actually more of a thriller. But of the three books, I think The Bone Clocks is my favourite. Or Cloud Atlas? I can't decide!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

George's Dock

Another cold day at Dublin Sketchers last Sunday. I wore the same elegant outfit as the previous week. And I was cosy. The more I sketch outdoors, the more I'm determined to stay sketching outdoors into the winter for as long as I can. I may be glad of the indoors next week, or there might be a rainy day and I'll have no option. Or I'll become a really hardy urban sketcher! It's a bit like some men that I know that take pride in wearing shorts into the autumn (BB lasted until the end of October last year, but didn't do quite as well this year - it just wasn't that kind of a summer. There is a man in the park who's still wearing shorts - nearly mid-November - a record maybe, but not a great fashion statement). Or maybe it's the excitement and enthusiasm brought about by the fact that Dublin Sketchers is now a Chapter of Urban Sketchers! Or, more probably, it's that I'm making my way through SketchingNowBuildings and I want to put into practise my newly-acquired skills.

The location chosen for the Dublin Sketchers outing was Connolly Station (check out the link for two interesting facts about Connolly Station!). But it was too hectic for me and my Moleskine (I'm using the A4 landscape one). So I walked around the back. Not via Sheriff Street, which I still consider too rough a street for casually strolling or sketching. But Harbourmaster Street, at the back of the IFSC - completely quiet on a Sunday afternoon. Probably humming with banking and finance professionals from Monday to Friday. I chose a little spot behind a Michie Sushi restaurant (open 7am-9pm Monday to Friday, closed Saturdays and Sundays - Ireland has finally embraced sushi), facing George's Dock. And I set to work. The sun was shining across the Liffey (which I couldn't see), and I was fascinated by the space in the skyline between a little church across the river and the ultra-modern IFSC building. And I developed the sketch from there.

After an hour and a bit, I had my pencil sketch done. No ink. No watercolour. But it was time to go in and warm up. A camomile tea and a slice of carrot cake later (thank you, Parlor Café, North Star Hotel), I was ready to add colour. The picture below shows how far I got on location.

Colour added as soon as I sat down in the café

Pencil sketch done on location

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I was going to call this one Water and Fire, or Earth Wind and Fire. But neither sounded right. The inspiration is all hissing lava and bubbling water. And now that I think of it, a fairly common theme in my abstract acrylics.

Tectonics, acrylic on canvas, 55x45cm
This painting has been a long time in the making. I have found an initial photo from the 11th of February, and a more recent one from the 1st of November. (Once things started falling into place, I kept going at a pace.)

11 February 2017

1 November 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hazel Avenue

I am 31 years in Ireland, and one thing that I have only recently noticed is that hedges are very popular in suburbia here. Looking at works from urban sketchers around the world, and from my own experience in Belgium until my early twenties (and now you know my age), it seems to me that people in other countries like to show their houses to the world, whether it is to display their wealth or to let in the light, I don't know. In Ireland, well, in South Dublin anyway, houses are often hidden away behind high hedges. I believe there are bylaws that prevent the erection of high walls in front of houses, so we have a combination of low walls and high hedges and trees instead. Are the Irish more private than their European counterparts? Is there a similar trend in the UK? I don't know.

All I know it that low walls and hedges are very hard to sketch in terms of perspective!

Another thing of course are the electricity cables - in more central areas, they are all underground. And probably in newer neighbourhoods too. But I love the criss-crossing of those cables! Another thing I love about Japan too, actually, those electric cables - they are everywhere, in cities and towns. A friend of mine thought they looked ugly, but I like them. I've only sketched them once - I'm not fast enough of a travel sketcher to make time for good sketches when on holiday with my husband. He's very patient, but half an hour is not enough for me (on that occasion, he was buying a knife, so I left him inside the shop and sketched outside).  And did you know why Japan, a modern country, doesn't bury its electric cables underground? Because of the earthquakes. Much easier to find and repair the faults when the cables are above ground!

(Sketched from the car - and I did attempt to draw a car on the side of the road and a white van in a drive - the white can got cut off as I was painting a gable wall and forgot about it, but you probably didn't notice until I told you. Did you?)