Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Buildings - Lesson 1 - Part 2, Manly Church

No, I didn't go to Australia. We were there nearly ten years ago. And it was brilliant. But I didn't sketch then. I certainly wouldn't have had the confidence to tackle a complex building like a church, that's for sure.

This one was an indoor assignment, working from a photograph. Exploring various ways to really look at a building, with continuous line drawing, negative shape painting (painting the sky), positive shape painting (paint the overall shape first, then add darker colours for roofs, windows, doors and cast shadows), and finally constructing volumes (trying to figure out how the building is constructed - a box in front  of a box, a pyramid on top of box, etc).

I think it's clear which method I enjoyed the most - once I took out my watercolours and a brush, I was in the zone, concentrating and enjoying playing with paints.

I struggled with the concept of constructing volumes, and the fact that it was the 4th drawing, I was expecting a lot out of myself - that somehow having done the other exercises, I would suddenly understand and "see" the building and that my pen would follow my eyes. The fact that this is initially a pencil sketch made it more difficult for me too. My inner critic (or my Left brain, whatever you want to call it, one of the other students calls hers "Debbie" I think. Mmmm, maybe I should name mine, it might be easier to control it) was ready to pounce, with all these things I "can't" do, can't draw a straight line, can't draw a roof, can't draw an arch!

When I'm painting, Bruce, I think I'm going to call it Bruce, was thinking - There she goes again, painting like a child, I don't need to keep an eye on her. Because playing with paints isn't serious business. Whereas when she starts measuring, that's important, that means that the building has to be structurally sound, or there'll be casualties. And we can't have wobbly lines or wrong angles, or casualties for that matter. That would be a bad, bad, situation!

Poor Bruce, I think I've finally discovered how to shut him up - an attack of buff titanium and moonglow! That will shut him up!

Buildings - Lesson 1 homework, lines and boxes

I think that the first lesson of an online course is often about discovering, or acknowledging, how little you know, how much you have to learn! I draw confident lines, but they are rarely straight. And often they are going in the wrong direction.
I enjoy shapes, but I get distracted easily.
And volumes is a concept that still eludes me!
Let's move on.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Intro 3 - Working in a Structured Way

This intro lesson was the hardest for me - I tend to jump right in without planning. With disastrous results sometimes. Working in a structured way means starting with the larger shapes, checking angles and relationships before moving to details and colour. By relationships, I mean looking to see if the window is in the middle of the wall, checking that all the windows are at the same level, figuring out how many columns there are, how many panes in the windows - basically trying to fit everything into the framework. 
For this approach, it's best to start with pencil, and only when you have the broad outline making sense, then you can move to pen to add some detail, and finally going to watercolour for the fun bit!
And I thought this little building looked easy! Since I don't take photos of buildings much, I had to go back to our trip to Australia-New Zealand (nearly 10 years ago!) to find some interesting places! Rakaia, if I remember right, was on our way from Kaikoura (where we went whale watching) to Oamaru (famous for its penguins!). Looking at Google Maps, it looks like there is a big bridge crossing a wide river bed. I remember that too. Although I think it's not the only town with that feature. Maybe we got petrol there? Or we just stopped briefly after going through Christchurch? I remember nothing else from this town, I have to admit. It was a long drive. And the scenery was wonderful, from start to finish! It's a pity it's so far away. I wouldn't mind going back!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Buildings Intro Lesson 2

Aren't windows wonderful?
So interesting. Full of complexity.

The three windows on this page are from houses on the Beara Peninsula. Two are really colourful, from the village of Eyeries, the perfect picture postcard town for tourists. I wonder do the locals get a Bord Fáilte grant to paint their houses every year?

These houses would make lovely little watercolours, wouldn't they? Well, you can't answer that question because I haven't posted a picture of the full house, of course. It was a rhetorical question. Ah. Never mind.

The third one was a house advertised for holiday rental near Lauragh I think.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Buildings Intro Lesson 1

Buildings are a relatively new interest of mine. You've heard me wax lyrical about skies, seas, clouds, trees, but buildings, not so much. Despite nearly two years of urban sketching. Well, I guess I wasn't ready to really get into it. But now, with a plenty of practise in my Moleskine sketchbook, I feel confident enough to tackle this subject. And more importantly, ready to learn from scratch!
If in doubt, find an online course! So, I have started SketchingNowBuildings.

Here is my work from the Intro Lesson 1, all about checking angles and relationships. As you can see, even after checking the main angles, I still didn't get it quite right. But it does look like a house that is structurally sound at least, unlike the first attempt!
I think I will paint this house some day - it's beside the road in the Glenbeg valley on the Beara Peninsula, a lonely place on a wet morning. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


OK - still not feeling like painting a proper painting. But rather than wasting time, I picked up my paintbrush, found some photos in my Art Ideas folder and set to work in my painting sketchbook.

How many sketchbooks do I need? How many do I have?
I have about a dozen on the go, although I haven't touched about half of those in a few weeks or months. I have one for urban sketching, I have one for painting ideas, I have one for online courses, I have one for my handbag, I have one for travelling, I have one for sketching people, I have one with good quality watercolour paper, I have one with really cheap paper. Well, that's about all I can think of right now.

It's too much really - I have this idea that if I was a proper artist, I would only ever have one on the go at any one time, and it would contain all the sketches and ideas of the moment. And I could track my progress chronologically.

But that's not how it works for me. I need to compartmentalise. For some reason that I can't explain. And anyways, does it really matter?

So, a flower and a landscape. I've tried to jazz up the colours. Maybe I needed to cheer myself up? To forget the cold wind and the frequent showers?

My only conclusion from this little exercise is that I like red-orange and cobalt turquoise together.

Will I now move to proper watercolour paper? Or continue dilly-dallying while I wait for inspiration? I can't say. But it's still better than watching the telly or browsing on the computer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

While waiting for the dentist

I'm still not very inspired these days - maybe it's from looking at blogs of sketchers in warmer climes, who don't have to bring a waterproof cape and an umbrella every time they go out. But then again, they probably have to pack a sun hat and SPF cream, and lots of water to drink, and mosquito repellent! I don't have those problems. It's just that I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to get out and sketch. If I moan enough about it, surely it will go away?

Still, I do carry a little sketchbook with me and dentist appointments are the ideal situation - even when everything is running smoothly, there is always some wait time. Are all dentists like that? Or is it just in Ireland?

OK, the view from the waiting room isn't brilliant. But there is a view. So at least I didn't have to sketch the other patients!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Feet on yoga mat

To me, this is really important: A yoga mat is a sacred space and you should never walk over someone else's yoga mat. Or put your feet on it. It's a question of respecting someone's space. Plus it's a hygiene issue. But because a yoga class is a non-confrontational space, I could say nothing when my (yoga) neighbour planted a foot on my mat. Inside, I was fuming! Actually, I was grossed out! I got over it. But still. Where do you stand on this question?

Saturday, September 09, 2017

My desk

If I can think of nothing to draw, my desk is usually a good candidate. It's full of junk, whose configuration changes constantly. The main challenge for me is the bottle tops - ellipses continue to resist me.
Do you see the little guy sitting on the box? He is a Body Kun, or probably a cheap imitation. Well it was cheap, and it took forever to make its way here from China. And it didn't have all the accessories (guns and swords and the like). I would have liked a Body Chan instead. But the website wasn't very clear about what the product was. Well, although he loses an arm every so often, he's pretty good all the same. I must try and draw him better next time.
I'm in a little bit of a "I have nothing to draw/paint" rut. I'm determined to work my way through it. But the lure of Netflix and Facebook is strong.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hugh Lane Gallery

The Hugh Lane Gallery is an old favourite of mine. I still remember the time when our car got clamped just outside, as we lost track of time on a visit there many years ago with one of our nieces. I love the rooms indoors and the ceilings, and those stairs. And the Francis Bacon Studio of course. But last Sunday was dry, for the most part, so I sat myself across the road and decided to tackle that façade!

I couldn't sit right across, as a big tree was blocking my view of the top floor and roof. So I positioned myself slightly to the right. But I wanted to do a straight-on view. Just in case you were wondering why the chimney on the left is at a funny angle. I just got a bit confused between what I was actually seeing (the chimneys are pretty accurate - the building isn't) and what I wanted to represent.

I got confused with the middle floor too - windows way way too short.

But it does look like the Hugh Lane.

And it's a good end to this sketchbook, my own personal favourite so far. It's seen me through Inis Oírr, and Bloomsday, sunny days, a wet month of August, ... It's become like an old pair of shoes. It will be strange to leave it behind when I go on urban sketching outings. Well, maybe I'll take it with me next Sunday. I just love showing it off. And it is a bit scary to start a new book. What if my first sketch is awful? I'm hesitating between another Moleskine like this one (A4, watercolour paper) and a smaller book, with thicker watercolour paper. I love this format - it fits whole buildings and two hours of intense sketching. But maybe I should practise smaller details?

PS: I'm really curious about the upcoming exhibition - The Ocean after Nature!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Self Portrait with hair colour

There's nothing more boring than waiting for hair colour to take. 25 to 40 minutes with nothing to do.

That's why I should always have my sketchbook with me. Not that it's my best look, but it is an excellent way to pass the time, and a good exercise in observation too. Better than reading Hello Magazine. I believe Kate is pregnant again, by the way!

I wonder do other women feel the same as I do about going to the hairdressers? Or do they actually enjoy it? All that time spent looking at one's face, under unflattering light.

At least I'm lucky - I actually enjoy chatting to my hairdresser - he's into art, and photography, and cinema. And he always asks me how my dog is doing!

And he cuts my hair beautifully. I've followed him from Goatstown to Terenure to Stillorgan to Monkstown. I like Monkstown - if I'm early for my appointment, I can sketch there - two beautiful churches, and lots of interesting houses.

But one day, he will leave this country, and the search for the perfect hairdresser will start again.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Landscape abstracts

Trying little landscape abstracts, working wet in wet with just three colours on 15x10cm and 15x15cm paper (give or take).
I should do more of these. They take no time at all and they are a great way to explore pigments. I must also try a wet on dry approach, layering transparent glazes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Lough Eske

Lough Eske is a beautiful lake in Donegal.

My sketch doesn't do it justice.

Neither do photos.

As we were going to a wedding, I knew I wouldn't get much chance to sketch. (It was a great wedding, by the way - I got to wear a nice dress and I danced like I was 20 again, except my hips are still sore a week later!). But I brought my gear anyway, as we were away for a few days, and I thought I would have time on the Sunday. We were on the move a lot, the light wasn't right, I wasn't in the humour. I don't know! Well, it wasn't meant to be. I find it hard to focus on my painting/sketching if I'm in the company of a non-sketcher. Maybe it's just me. I wasn't put under pressure to work quickly, but I just couldn't get into the frame of mind needed to paint. I'll keep trying though.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Palm Oil in Côte d'Or Noir Truffé - We're doomed

Palm oil seems to be in everything these days. In the last hour (this blog post was written a few weeks ago - I am NOT travelling again!), I've seen it listed in every single brand of Belgian chocolate at Brussels airport, and in my ham and cheese croissant on the Ryanair flight. I haven't looked at the list of ingredients in the face cream I bought in the duty free, but I'm worried.

How can I find chocolate without palm oil? I love chocolate, but instead of buying my usual supply, I only bought one bar. And this was my last Ryanair ham and cheese croissant. Sigh! They were delicious.

I just refuse to contribute further to the cutting and burning of rain forests, which lead to the death of whole species, including the orangutans.

And I'm not sure I can believe the "sustainable palm oil" label. So I'll do my best to eliminate anything that says palm oil in the ingredients. Not so easy, as I've just discovered an article listing all the names used on labels to name palm oil!

And I haven't even looked at the label on my shampoo and conditioner! But I did check some yummy soaps I bought last Christmas, and they won't be on my list again next year!

How much impact will my actions have on the world? Probably none if I'm the only one who cares. But I do hope things will change. Otherwise, it will be a bleak world for the next generation. Not that they seem to care much themselves. We're doomed!

Read more here!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Circe Pavillion

Another wet August Sunday afternoon. But we had shelter. Under the Circe Pavillion. In Liberty Park. Or Eileen McLoughlin Park. I don't know why it has two names. Maybe it's trying to re-invent itself? Unfortunately, while the druggies are still using it, it's going to be a struggle for families and children to reclaim the area.
As always, though, with Dublin Sketchers, there was strength in numbers, and we managed to make the space our own for a couple of hours. We were joined by Jay, of the Hardwicke Street Community Garden, and Mark, who was just taking shelter from the rain, but happily started sketching and even more happily got his portrait done by one of our talented sketchers, Des.
So, despite the pouring rain and the cold, it was a good afternoon.
And then we met up in the Parlor Café in the North Star Hotel, a cosy, modern and friendly space, with not just one, but two slices of banana bread! So much for portion control!

Many thanks to the Treeline Project for making the space available to us, and to Mary for bringing chairs!

Was very happy with this sketch - despite the fact that the proportions of the building in the background are completely wrong. Believe me, completely and utterly wrong! My solution when that happens is to splash loads of yummy colours. Always works!

A few of the trees in the park.

Jason's sketch, which he left with me. Pretty good sense of volume and proportions for someone who hasn't drawn since 6th Class!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

End of Summer

Not quite as ambitious as a big Kerry landscape. But I picked up this bunch of berries in UCD last weekend - I think they might be from a linden tree. But my knowledge of trees is limited. It's one of those things. Fish and trees actually - and don't ask me for a translation, into French or English. It's just one of those things that refuse to stick to my brain cells. I wonder why? And yet, I love trees. And fish. I can name exotic coral reef fish, interestingly enough.

I have this small block of Fabriano watercolour paper (about 20x15cm) and it's good for experimenting. Definitely should do more of that. More experimenting. More painting. More drawing. I think about it a lot, but if I look back at any given day, I don't actually do that much.
Where does the time go?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Healy Pass

Took so many photos. I don't know where to start. I painted this at the kitchen table. A convivial and inspiring place. As was our visit to the Mill Cove Gallery in Castletownbere. In particular the works of Kasper Zier (of unreachable beauty for my level of skill) and Monica Groves  (the photos in the link don't do the pieces justice).

So I tried to catch something of the landscape we had driven through the previous day. The Healy Pass stood out in terms of its scale and sheer power.

I still don't know what those rocks are. Time to do a geology search!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


A productive few days off down in Kerry. Painting before breakfast. A good way to start the day. Even if the end result is more of a any other name!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sunflower field

I got fed up with my sunflowers.
So what do I do?
I start painting a sunflower field!
At least, I've got only one version of this one. But I might need more to get to what I have in my head. The main thing that bothers me here is the blob on the left - it was supposed to be some bushes and trees, but somehow it lost its shape along the way and looks like some alien monster from Star Trek (the original series - special effects got a little more sophisticated by The Next Generation).

I'm trying to explore new ideas and textures that take me away from a strict representation of what my camera captured. And I hope the yellow sky conveys the heat of the day.

Although it wasn't that hot - just about 30 Celsius. Which to me is normal Summer temperature in the South of France. Quite pleasant actually! And the joy of sitting out on the terrace for breakfast and dinner. A rare treat when you live in Ireland. I think I'll need more sunshine and warm weather next year. But I'll have to watch my carbon footprint, or we'll end with those temperatures in Ireland, which really wouldn't be right!

Back to the blob - how would it look if I cropped the painting? That's one of the beauties of watercolour paper - something you can't do with a stretched canvas!

Better already.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Airports and stations

One big advantage of travelling alone is that I can get to the airport when it suits me, allowing plenty of time for shopping and sketching.
On this occasion, it did mean getting up at 3am. With a MyTaxi booked for 4am, and a FastTrack through security (the best thing ever), I was at the airport with two hours to spare. Travelling with hand-luggage only, I couldn't do any shopping, so that left plenty of time for sketching. I got myself a green tea and a gluten-free muffin of some sort (which tasted awful, by the way, but I didn't want to queue for the more appealing food options), then I sat down at a counter overlooking the bar. Nobody noticed me - people have their phones and they are pre-occupied, plus they're not quite awake at that time yet.
To really finish that sketch, I probably would have needed an extra half hour or even an hour. But I had a plane to catch, so that's all I've got!

And then, there was a train to take. Good open spaces, train stations. Unfortunately, I had even less time, and this view of Brussels North never got beyond this stage.

Still, not a bad start to the day!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rugby Word Cup Women's in Dublin

I'm watching rugby on the telly. That has to be a first. It's the Women's Rugby World Cup, it's set in Dublin, and it's Ireland vs Japan, so of course I'm interested. And yes, I'm rooting for Japan! 頑張ってください!!

The first phase of the matches is set in UCD, just down the road from us, so it was really easy to get to. So I spent the afternoon in the Fan Zone (it was the England-Italy match), sat on the ground and started sketching! Several children looked on, and a few grown-ups too, including some young French women, who were surprised when I turned back and thanked them for their kind comments.

When I was done, I went over to the Japanese supporters I had captured, and showed them my sketch. They were so pleased they insisted on taking pictures with me and my sketchbook! Unfortunately, I forgot to take my phone out to get a photo too.

After that, I walked over towards the all-weather pitches, met with my husband and my dog and we walked around the back, then watched the Japanese team warming up and wished them good luck!

So far so good. 27 minutes into the game and it's 0-7 for Japan! In my humble opinion, the Irish team thought it would be easier to beat the Japanese, and they're finding it tougher than they expected.

May the best team win.

3rd time lucky

Drawing someone you know is the hardest thing.

But I had a very patient subject, who was busy watching the telly, so I was able to try three times. The first two - no likeness whatsoever (the second one actually looks more like a neighbour, strangely enough), but the third one, I feel I can recognise him, and I hope that others do too.

Another tournesol, and two more

I often find it hard to stop with one attempt - that's the nature of watercolours - you have to explore the process through more than one painting, as opposed to acrylics, where you develop a work through layers. As is often the case the first one is the best.

This is the first one I tried

 Second, on bigger paper. I like how the petals worked out.

Third, on smaller page, with salt to create the seeds in the centre. But the petals are too orange.

Tried a bigger one, but the salt didn't work for some reason. I must explore that further. Obviously the ambiant temperature and humidity will affect how the salt pushes the pigment, but the weather had not changed to any great extent between these two paintings.

I tried to "fix" the last one by adding oil pastel. Clearly didn't work. Time to move on.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Eatyard

Another Sunday, another sketching location. And rain again. This is August in Ireland. But I bumped into a friend just as the rain was starting and we took shelter together, and chatted for a while under the trees by the canal. Then we scouted for a good location where we could stay dry. And we found the Eat Yard, just beside the Bernard Shaw pub in Portobello. I wasn't particularly hungry, but I got chips from the Box Burger. My fellow sketcher got a sweet potato burger. And we set to work.

This is not something I was aware of until Sunday, but food truck culture has hit Dublin. Now cars are not my strong suit. We've established that already. But this one wasn't going nowhere. So I started with the overall shape (more or less) first, then I went back in for detail, jumping from one area to the next every time I struggled with a particular point. And no, I'm not sure I'll ever manage to fit the bottom of my subjects onto the page. You'd think at this point I'd remember to start at the bottom, or draw higher on the page. Or start with a quick pencil outline. One day maybe. But then I wouldn't be me. And where would be the fun in that?

I haven't yet developed the ability to sketch things and people at the same time. But there were loads of young people hanging around the yard, fathers with young children (one little boy stole an eraser, and when it fell to the ground, it looked exactly like the gravel under our feet - he looked fairly cross when he was asked to pick it up and hand it back!), young couples, first dates. There was a young man and a young woman in very intense conversation. Although I wasn't listening to what they were actually saying, it sounded like a first date. And the young man was working hard at impressing the young woman! I wish them well for the future!

The man behind the counter at Burn Baby Burn was so impressed with my sketch that he took photos of it to include on their instagram page! But unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere - there are just too many people using burn baby burn as a hashtag!

Still, it was a very pleasant afternoon, despite the rain!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


It was one of my goals for the summer, to go down to Belfield and sketch. Better late than never, but it looks like this will be my only chance, unfortunately. I won't even be there for the Women's Rugby World Cup. Which is a shame, as even the training sessions would be great sketching opportunities, particularly with the Japanese team there!

But never mind, Belfield will still be there next summer, and I'll make sure to reserve time for my own goals, rather than getting caught up in other things. I know I've only got myself to blame. A little better time management is all that would have been needed. But sometimes, I just don't have enough energy.

This is one of my favourite spots, by the way, a quiet courtyard between the old and new science buildings, where a majestic old tree stands, watching over generations of students going by.

Funny that before we got Timber, I always found Belfield boring, just a concrete jungle with no good view of the mountains or the sea. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. But in my case, it's the opposite. I've grown quite fond of the place. It's within easy reach of home. Timber loves it. It's quite safe, even when he is off the leash. Although there are a few s.q.s (squirrels) and r.a.t.s (rats). Which can be quite distracting. And swallows in the summer. We had to keep him on the lead for most of the walk this morning, as several of the rugby teams were training on the grounds. But he didn't seem to mind. And there are a lot of interesting buildings and views that would make great urban sketches. Well, at least, I've captured one so far. I did paint a view of the pitches last year, a lovely painting I sold.

Well, maybe I didn't hit my goal for the summer, but, come September, I might go there on Saturday mornings to sketch and paint. Nothing to stop me!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Chasing Coral

We watched Chasing Coral on Netflix a few days ago. And it is scary. Scarier than Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (Although I hear there is a sequel, so that will be one to watch out for). Scarier? Why? Because it shows you what's already happening,  the coral reefs around the world are dying because the sea temperature continues to go up, leading to coral bleaching and death of a whole ecosystem. Coral reefs hold 25% of the oceans' fish. And when the reefs die, the fish die too. A bit like having the whole Amazonian forest disappearing. And worse in a way, because most people don't have any idea what it's like, and probably don't care.
I just find it so sad that my young nephew will probably never get the chance to snorkel over the reef and see turtles, black-tip sharks and eagle rays swimming all around him. I know that many people have never had the luck to see this alien world on our blue planet, but believe me, it's amazing. There is nothing to prepare you for the feeling you get when you swim over the reef for the first time, and it's like you're floating in space. Or when you swim out of the lagoon and find yourself face to face with an eagle ray, who is as surprised as you are to see you there. Or the pure joy of snorkelling in a shoal of blue triggerfish.

Chasing Coral is basically showing how quickly that whole world is dying. And given how little our politicians, or most people for that matter, care about climate change, I'm not seeing a happy ending, unless we wake up and start taking action. There was a scene in the movie where the crew are filming on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. And when they come up to the surface to the base they've rented for the duration, it's a party platform where young people are drinking, dancing and flirting, with absolutely no interest in the reef itself. I found that scene so sad. Our world is dying and the generation who will be affected by it don't know and don't care.

Now, I'm not perfect. Despite my effort to walk rather than drive to the local shop, to eat less meat, to recycle and avoid unnecessary consumption, I found that my environmental footprint was 176% of the UK average!! Too many flights this year! But at least now I know, and I can try and do something about it. Why don't you try out the footprint calculator and see what your impact on climate change is, and what steps you can take to make our world a better place, a place where the next generation will be able to live, and maybe enjoy a swim/dance with all the exotic fishes on a coral reef somewhere.

Because let's face it, who wants to live on Mars?