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?)

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 Ely Place Upper

It was a cold afternoon. By Irish standards, that is. Not sub-zero celcius, but the wind-chill was definitely pulling the temperature down. But I came prepared - thermal underwear top to bottom, a long puffa coat, good socks, heavy boots, a scarf, a wooly hat, and my mittens. No prize for elegance. But it was worth it. It was a beautiful dry sunny day, and I didn't want to be stuck indoors.

Still, after about an hour and a half, I had to go in and warm up. At that stage, I had finished my drawing, and all I needed to do was to add colour. And to drink a hot chocolate.

Ely Place Upper is a very central location, right in the heart of the city, a stone's throw from St Stephen's Green, the Shelbourne Hotel, Merrion Square. The location had been chosen for an exhibition showing at the RHA last weekend, but I had gone in to town on the Saturday to look at the exhibition. I wanted to have all my time for sketching.

The whole time I was sketching, there were cars doing three-point turns right in front of me - people hoping to find a parking space at the end of the cul-de-sac. I gave them all a big smile (especially for fellow sketchers!). There was a car parked in front of the house itself, so I had to kind of guess how the steps and railings met the pavement. I find cars harder to draw than buildings - all these curves and subtle changes in plane... another day's work.

I followed the "structured" approach taught by Liz Steel in her Sketching Now Buildings online course. Without it, I would never have felt confident enough to draw this. I need to continue to practise, though!

This is how the sketch looked after my first pass with pencil. Not much to look at, but I spent a good bit of time figuring out the general shape and proportions, and the placement of the windows. I found it interesting to see that the door and the ground-floor window are not aligned with the upstairs windows. And that the windows get smaller and smaller as you go up the stairs.

It took me a good while to work every shape and detail with ink. I'm very fond of the little balconies at the first-floor windows.
The door is my weakest element. Next time, I'll pick a Georgian house with a no-parking sign in front of it, so I can have a closer look.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Abstract landscape - Acrylics

As I was getting frustrated with my attempts at abstract with watercolours, I decided to try the same basic idea in acrylics - knife painting and spraying water on the wet paint. Lots of yummy colours. Much happier with the results, particularly after I applied a gloss varnish on top so the darks really pop.

These are fairly small canvases (about 25 cm in height), so easy to manage. I'm currently trying something on a bigger size, and let's just say that I'm glad I put a dry-cleaners' plastic cover on my worktop before I set to work.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Abstract landscape - watercolour

One of my goals for this year is to move towards a more abstract approach to my watercolours. Quite a struggle right now if you want my opinion. But it's my goal, so I can't moan!

I want to use a palette knife more to move the paint around. But I'm discovering that this is something that's even more sensitive to paper quality and thickness of the mix than painting with a brush.

So here I used a palette knife to apply the paint, and then I sprayed water over the top and moved the paper up and down to make the pigments move. I chose Daniel Smith granular pigments for this. The Lavender worked particularly well for the hazy effect. My darks are a touch too dark I think (mostly Bloodstone Genuine, some Perylene Maroon). But still, a good start.

Similar technique here, but I went too heavy on the darks I think. And didn't leave enough of the white paper to counterbalance. I might spray all over to reactivate the paint and see what happens!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Trinity College Dublin

I was sketching around Trinity College not long ago. I was practising "working structurally", a technique from SketchingNow Buildings, an online course by Liz Steel, which I'm finding very useful as I want to sketch more complex scenes these days and need to develop my observational skills, as well as a sound method for approaching intimidating classical buildings.

This time, I worked in a small square sketchbook, as I had a sore back and I didn't want to be carrying lots of art supplies with me. I am not a delicate draughtsperson, so changing to a different sketchbook presented its challenges for me. Plus, I didn't have much time. And we all know what happens when I rush.

But Trinity College is such a wonderful place - it has both ancient and modern architecture, lots of steps to sit on, and a constant lively crowd pacing its squares, students and tourists alike! And a few quiet corners too. And cricket matches when the weather is good!

For this sketch, I was sitting on the steps across from the Examination Hall on Parliament Square. All was quiet and peaceful, until a security guard asked everyone to clear the steps. I thought there might be a wedding in the chapel behind me. But a few minutes later, the commencement procession crossed the square to reach the Trinity College Chapel, with all the pump and ceremony expected for the occasion. Graduation Day! Or Commencement in Trinity parlance. At this stage, I was standing behind a bin, still trying to finish my sketch. Actually, those solar-panelled bins are very handy - a good flat surface for my sketchbook! Must remember that! When I could no longer see the Examination Hall, I started sketching the new graduates, in their beautiful black gowns trimmed with cream (fake?) fur.

I then decided to move to a quieter spot. I'm not sure what it's called. There was no name on the building (that I could see anyway). It just looked like an ancient Greek temple. It's beyond Library Square, on the Pearse Street side. After struggling with pillars, I moved back to Parliament Square and sketched proud fathers taking pictures of their offspring! And the black things in the air are not crows. They are the black square hats that are thrown in the air after graduation. All of this ritual is alien to me. We didn't have any formal graduation in my college. It was all very low key. Just exams, passed. A thesis, passed. (First class honours - I was a good student) And less than a week later, I had moved to Ireland anyway! 

And here, I couldn't resist throwing in a few pictures of the Long Room. Wouldn't it be wonderful, and scary, to sketch in there some day?

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Another self-portrait

You may have noticed that my Google account picture has changed. I thought it was time to remove old Odile and replace her by a more flattering view!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Self portraits

I'm struggling a bit with my urban sketching at the moment - I'm doing a very good online course about sketching buildings. I'm learning a lot. But what I'm gaining in accuracy, I'm losing in spontaneity. That's a normal stage in learning a new skill, but I'm finding it hard all the same. What I should do of course is practise more. But it seems I'm choosing avoidance instead!

Hence these two quick self-portraits in watercolour. Not brilliant, but at least I have the excuse that I have never done any portraiture training!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Thursday, November 02, 2017


It was noisy, it was cold, it was busy with lots and lots of children, but what fun!

Last Sunday, we (Dublin Sketchers) sketched at Stokerland, in St Patrick's Park. 

Lots of noise (I said that already - but imagine the bells of the cathedral ringing non-stop + music from a kiddie disco + strange sounds coming out of a machine + children running an screaming). 

Lots of adults and children in great costumes (have you ever seen a two-year old with a Dracula cape? - the cutest thing ever!). 

Lots of attractions - a man on stilts, old-style swings, face painting, a helterskelter - (I didn't know what it was until last Sunday, except for the Beatles song), and, my favourite, Morbid & Sons singing about the grave (and dying) business of undertaking!

It was hard to find a spot to capture it all, but once I was happy with the view, I set to work with abandon. I was also available for chats with children and grown-ups who dropped by to have a look at what I was doing!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


OK, one day late, here is my Halloween sketch! I was given the cutest little pumpkin (or is it a gourd?). So I had to sketch it. Not very successfully, I admit. The first looks like a grapefruit. The second, more like a scone. I'm busy with a couple other projects, so maybe I didn't give it the attention it deserves. It was fun, though. Maybe I'll have another go. Is it edible, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

St Philip's art sale

I will be showing three watercolours at the St Philip's art sale, on Temple Road in Dartry.
The exhibition is opening this Thursday, 2nd November, at 7:30pm, and will run on Friday (3-8pm), Saturday (10am-4pm) and Sunday (12:30-4pm).

I'm delighted to have been asked again to show paintings at this exhibition! Wish me luck!

Working structurally - you'd think these ones would be easy to draw!

These sketches were all done from photos from the SketchingNow Buildings online course. They look easy. They are not!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Painting Watercolour with a knife

While I'm dithering with my current painting, I'm already thinking of the next - I don't know what it's going to be yet, but I want to play with a knife, a painting knife that is - I am not allowed near sharp objects - too clumsy, I am.

Maybe I'll just do small abstracts like this one I tried in my sketchbook? I do want to move more towards an abstract feel in my landscapes. Maybe now is the time?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Iveagh Gardens

I am a busy bee, aren't I? Even when I'm hitting a wall, I keep on working. I may not always be happy with the results, but when I look back, I feel it's certainly better than doing nothing!

Last Sunday at Dublin Sketchers, we went to the Iveagh Gardens. I love it that we're getting towards the end of October and we're still working outdoors. It did feel cold after an hour, though. The Iveagh Gardens is definitely one of Dublin's hidden gems. It's so close to the city centre, yet, its entrance is kind of hidden. It was busy with families, young children, dogs. My memory of it was of a really really quiet place with nothing much happening - but that's over 20 years ago and during the week. I used to go there at lunchtime when I worked at the top of Harcourt Street and I wanted to escape my colleagues. I'd say I needed to go to the bank, and I'd go and sit there for 10-15 minutes. I just wasn't that interested in chit-chat. One day, I got caught out as they came in to the park themselves. I don't think my two fellow project managers ever trusted me after that!! Ah well!

Capturing views of the gardens is particularly important at present, as its future is at risk. There is a plan to build a science museum on part of its grounds, which would be a shame, as it would definitely lose its peaceful atmosphere. There is a link to a petition against this plan in the link above, so sign it if you want to be able to enjoy this oasis in the future.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Nation Paints

I was delighted to hear that my watercolour painting "Rain on the Horizon, Inis Oírr" was selected as the overall winner of the mini-competition "The Nation Paints" on RTE! If you were paying attention, you might have seen it for a few seconds behind the weather presenter on the Six One news last Sunday!

It is a beautiful painting, if I may say so myself. And I was extra chuffed to be told that it was chosen by the two judges of "Painting the Nation", Una Sealy and Gabhann Dunne.

What to spend my One4All voucher prize on is the next big question! Unfortunately, none of the Irish art stores are in. I'm going to have to go shopping, so!!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Working Structurally

Maybe if I write down the steps every time I sketch a scary building, it will eventually sink in!

This one looked really difficult, but the rhythm of it was actually easier than the previous one. If a building has really clean, simple lines, "there's nowhere to hide"! (I didn't come up with that expression - it's something that's mentioned by Liz Steel in one of the videos!). I would like to hide behind baroque architecture for the rest of my life, but unfortunately, I'm not sure there's much of that in Ireland! Must go back to my home town for a look at Saint Loup, one of the most important Baroque churches in Belgium!

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Here is a couple of seasonal sketches - not done from a real skull, but from a pretty convincing plastic one!
I'm in a phase of drawing with turquoise ink. Sepia would be more serious. But turquoise is definitely more me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bray again

I did manage to fit in another outing to Bray before the bad weather arrived. It's pouring rain right now. And windy. Let's hope this storm Brian will abate soon! As you can see from the Met Eireann screen grab below, it's just swirling around Dublin right now. Going into town won't be pleasant!! (I wrote this a few days ago)
The big worry with this storm is that the thousands of people who haven't got their electricity back since Ophelia on Monday are unlikely to have the power restored today, as it's not safe for ESB crews to be working in the current conditions.

I still can't believe that this time last week (10 days ago), I was sitting outside in a t-shirt!

Anyways, back to Bray, I did fit in another painting, but it will need rework, as the composition is too flat. Again, I'm very happy with my sky, but it's hard to distinguish between middle ground and foreground. I haven't had a chance to work on it in the last week, but I'll set aside a bit of time next weekend, I hope.

And I did get to play with sea colour again! It would be very different today!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Botanic Gardens

Still a lot of flowers in bloom in Dublin's Botanic Gardens last Sunday week.  I was so glad that we were sketching there - I never like to let a year go by without a visit to the Botanic Gardens, but I was cutting it fine this time. I must try and get there again before the year is out!

We were just one day before ex-hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland, but you wouldn't have known. It was a lovely calm day - actually the morning was glorious, but by the time I got there it was 2pm and it was getting a bit grey. Still, I was able to finish my sketch before the drizzle turned to heavy drizzle. Mmm. I wonder does the Irish language have more words for rain than English? Anything between "It's a soft day, thank God" and "It's raining cats and dogs"? And yes, I can confirm that "il pleut comme vache qui pisse" is an actual French expression!

And I had time to have a look at part of the "Sculpture in Context" exhibition, in the space above the cafeteria. Interesting that hares are a common subject for painting and sculpture, but not rabbits, don't you think?

I believe my hare is thinking "does my bum look big in this?".

And if you're curious as to how little drawing I do before I start to paint, here is a photo I took there.
And PS: yes, I painted it all on the spot. Since colour is the most important thing for me, I try to paint on site as much as possible.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


I was so lucky to get tickets to Ulysses, the Dermot Bolger play adaptation of James Joyce's big book!
One word
It had everything in it, just like the book, the whole of Irish society, politics, religion, alcohol, philosophy, humour, dirty talk, scatological jokes, pathos, comedy, puppetry, singing, dancing, music.
Just loved it!
And I'm wondering if Blazes Boylan's dance was inspired by Sweets in Buffy's Once More With Feeling!
I believe the current run is sold out, so you'll have to take my word for it! But if it comes back, make sure to get on-stage cabaret seats, a little uncomfortable, but right in the heart of the action!

And of course, I had my sketchbook with me, and I did manage a quick sketch in the lobby of the Abbey Theatre!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Notre Dame

Busy these days, so not as much time to give to my #SketchingNowBuildings course. Still, I hope to keep it ticking away in the background, practising any time I get a chance. We're getting into something quite tough for me, working structurally, and measuring of course! I knew I couldn't avoid it for much longer!

Here is my effort for the first indoor exercise, from a photo of Notre Dame in Paris. That was a great exercise, as that cathedral is seriously scary, but with good advice from Liz Steel, I felt able to tackle it! It'll be a completely different matter when I try a real face-to-face building of course!

The exercise involved doing a quick sketch, in one minute, drawing the overall shape, dividing the floors, aligning the windows and doors. That was fun! Then in the second sketch, I had to follow the seven steps - but of course what I struggle with is how to figure out the general shape and proportions, step 1 and 2!

My conclusion is that I need more practise!
I went back over the second sketch with a grey PITT marker to accentuate the darks. Much more convincing, isn't it?

Thursday, October 19, 2017


While I'm well-used to urban sketching, I'm still quite new to plein air painting. So I was delighted when a sketching friend proposed we go painting together in Bray. It's a 20-minute drive for me, with lots of easy parking. And plenty of beautiful views to paint, the harbour, the hill, the beach, the beautiful houses on the seafront and in the streets behind. On this occasion, we picked a little cove, just at the bottom of Bray head. Did you know by the way that "bray" comes from the Irish "bré", which means "hill". I didn't. Still learning something new every day. We used to often go to the Bray seafront for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. I actually used to work in Bray, a long long time ago. On the Quinsboro road (the one that goes from the main street to the Dart station and the seafront). It was handy for me at the time, as I could take the bus just outside my estate and be at work in no time. And in the evening, I would do my shopping at Quinnsworth, and take the bus home. When I got my first car, it's also where I got my first parking ticket, for parking half on a footpath. I was very upset about it! And I remember my dread every time I would drive out of Bray, going up the hill - I used to always hope the light would not turn red - it was quite a hill-start. And my car was old and had a tendency to cut out. It needed delicate use of the choke to start it in the mornings. Something I wasn't aware of when I bought it from a co-worker. It was also a left-hand drive. Not a good idea really. I couldn't believe it a couple of years later when I bought a brand new Ford Ka (it was raspberry red - I loved it!) and it was so easy to drive!! But I'm good with hill-starts now. All thanks to that hill just coming out of Bray. And also I used to live in Killiney, on the Shanganagh Road - there was hills everywhere!

Back to my painting day! The weather was threatening for a while, and a cold breeze was coming in from the sea. I had my winter coat on, and a hat, and I was still frozen after an hour and half painting. Lesson learned, bring a thermos next time. Though that presents its problems too, of a bladder nature, particularly as I drink green tea, which seems to be highly diuretic!

My main trouble that day wasn't the sky and the sea. I was happy with how they worked out. But the hill and the rest of the scene was too bitty. As I was looking into the light, I was just seeing a silhouette mostly, but I didn't want to paint a black outline. But I just couldn't figure out how I wanted it to look. I was getting bogged down in the detail.

So, rather than struggle with it on the day, I left it aside and did a scene in the opposite direction. At that point, the sky had brightened up and I loved the colour of the sea. (I need to rework the rock on the right - it's too dark and red.)

Over the last few days (we've been stuck at home with ex-hurricane Ophelia), I've reworked the larger painting. Thank god for the Watercolour Magic Eraser, and good-quality paper! I'm now done with it! I even gave the little man his fishing rod!