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!

Monday, October 16, 2017


It was later than forecast when the strong winds hit Dublin. As we've all stayed indoors, it hasn't felt too bad, but there are reports from all around the country of damage, power cuts in over 300,000 homes and businesses, and, sadly, three deaths so far.

Here, we can't complain. We've lost one of our beautiful old trees on the green at the front of the estate. But no other damage so far. And we still have our electricity and internet. Not that it matters to Timber, who only got a short walk this morning, and is getting a bit anxious to get out again.

People are staying indoors, for the most part - we saw three ladies coming home with bags of shopping earlier, but it wasn't too bad at the time. But there's been reports of emergency services being called somewhere to come to the rescue of a kite surfer who had decided it was a good idea to get out to sea this morning. Some people will never learn.

By 2 pm, the wind was picking up, but nothing we haven't seen before. Lots of leaves flying everywhere. And some ladies coming back from doing a spot of shopping.

About 4pm, after watching a movie, we looked out and saw that one of the trees on our estate green was down. But the sky was blue, and there was even a rainbow!

The calm before the ex-hurricane!

11:20 in Dublin - wind is starting to pick up, but Ophelia hasn't arrived yet.
We walked our dog earlier, let the cat out for a little rummage. But now we're all indoors. Everything we can think of has been secured, bins, garden table, pots, ...
And we're waiting.
Last night, it looked like the East coast of Ireland would also be hit, but now the forecast is not as bad here, compared to the West, where there are already thousands of houses without electricity and trees are blocking roads in Cork and Kerry.
Schools are closed around the country, public transport is coming to a halt, all day procedures and appointments in hospitals have been cancelled.
The worst is supposed to hit us around 1pm.
So what do I do? I sketch of course!
Here is the view from outside our window at about 11 - parents, children, dog owners and their doggies making the most of the morning before everyone is brought indoors.
(Screen grab from

Beara Peninsula

A few photos from the Beara Peninsula (to distract us from ex-hurricane Ophelia that's coming our way today)

I find it hard to express in words.
And photographs don't do it justice.
How is it possible that I had never been to the Beara Peninsula
In my 30 years in this land I love?
The word I kept uttering was "gorgeous"
But it's also spectacular, barren, green, lush, colourful, bleak,
And I'm still wondering about the geology.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Custom House

I'm hitting one of those days where I feel I will never draw or paint well again. Frustrating when that happens. But I'll just have to work through it. Life is too short to go without. But I know things are not going well when I'm procrastinating. Maybe that book "The Artist's Way" would be useful after all. All my artist friends seem to have used it to work themselves out of a creative rut at some stage or other. I just don't like the spiritual aspect of it... Plus, my philosophy is that reading art- or self-motivation books is just another form of procrastination!

So why am I still here on my computer, rather than at my easel? Well, I also believe in being gentle with myself. And blogging is something creative, isn't it?

So, to the Custom House. I always called it the Customs House. Nobody ever corrected me. I'm in Ireland 30 years.

A beautiful building. A classical building. An intimidating building. I wasn't in the right frame of mind on Sunday. But I turned up. And I sketched for about an hour. I wasn't satisfied with my work. But when I added a bit of colour to Liberty Hall and the sky after I got home, I felt better about it.

Interesting that these two buildings, The Custom House and Liberty Hall, are so iconic, each in their own right. But they are rarely photographed together. But I did find one just now, from more or less the angle I was sketching from!

In the end, I was glad I packed up when I did, as heavy drizzle came out of nowhere and I didn't have my rain poncho with me!

And I am so glad I recorded the colour of the Liffey in my sketchbook. It's generally quite brown, but the last few days, it's been this amazing green! (PG50+Pyrrole Red+a tiny touch of aureolin yellow, just in case you're wondering!)

Saturday, October 14, 2017


I can't believe a week has gone by already. The days are flying. Actually more like burning this week (in-joke - battling with Feedburner - why is something that's supposed to be so simple so complicated?)

Back to the cinema, for the new Met HD season of operas. I'm going to be busy this winter - lots of old and new productions!

An excellent start, with Bellini's Norma. Sondra Radvanovky (soprano) and Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) as the two druid priestesses who have been seduced by a Roman soldier, Pollione, sung by tenor Joseph Calleja (he had a good voice, but I don't think he had enough charisma to make me believe that Norma, a powerful high priestess, would fall for him). So for me, it was all about the two women, the older priestess, and her apprentice, a relationship of power, but also respect and deep friendship.

Sir David McVicar's production included his signature moving trees (not my favourite bit), but also a live scene change, where the whole stage smoothly moves up to reveal a completely different stage set, with singers ready to go - Apparently the Met have 5 stages that they can move back and forth, left and right and up and down. Amazing stuff!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Never Give Up - The Dodder

A lot has happened since I wrote that previous post about my attempts to paint the Dodder at Bushy Park.

Funny how it is that I have an attachment for that spot. Or maybe an obsession? We rarely go that way these days. We now tend to park on the other side of the park, off the Templeogue road. When we first got Timber, we used to park near the junction with the road that goes to Rathfarnham (and Terenure in the other direction), and cross that little bridge over the river. Every time, the light was different. But the sides of the path by the river could on occasion be very mucky. Not good when you have an enthusiastic puppy. Mucky paws, mucky car, mucky towels, mucky house... So that's why we ended up parking on the other side. But I kept going back to that photo - it was always a scene I wanted to paint.

Anyways, back to the painting - I went back and reworked my second attempt, which was so ugly I hadn't even put up a photo of it on the blog. It was even blockier than my first attempt.

When I despair about a painting, I often dig out old books that I think might help me tackle a particular problem, in this case one of the books on watercolour I got ages ago, called How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself, by Nita Engle. I remember when I tried the techniques described in the book at the time, the results were very disappointing. Just because I didn't have enough experience in order to grasp what was needed. I've learned a lot about watercolour since - how much water to use, how to use the right pigments so things don't turn to mud, how much paint to put on the brush. It makes a big difference. That's the way it is with any form of art, you're continuously learning, building your skills in a spiral (I got that from Liz Steel), with something new you've acquired every time you go around, which helps you "get" something that made no sense the previous time you travelled that path.

I'm not done yet, but now there are elements I love in it. So I know I'm climbing the right mountain at least.

The ugly duckling step one - and that was after lifting a lot of paint already.

Step two - masking highlights and flooding the paper with lots of water and pigment, and letting watercolour do its magic. Happy with the bottom half. I need to tackle those trees next.
Still need to figure out how to make the blob in the centre into a darker set of leaves. Nearly done, but this is the scary stage where I can still mess it all up! Will post the final picture when it's ready, but I'm procrastinating!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Some you can't win

I've been mulling over one of my photos of the Dodder near Bushy Park for a couple of years, and I finally decided to take the plunge and paint it in watercolours.

Too blocky. But the pale blue in the centre is nice.
It's Delft Blue (Schmincke) by the way.
I'm aiming for a soft look, full of yummy colours and a good tonal balance. But it hasn't worked out so far - all I'm getting is blotchy and dull. Water is always a challenge for me - I find that there are so many strong contrasts and interesting reflections that I get lost in the detail and the end result is too solid.

I guess I haven't really found the recipe that works for me all the time. Probably to do with the fact that I'm interested in so many things, and constantly trying out different techniques.

This picture shows the second layer of the third
version. Lots of masking fluid used. Nice soft
I'm currently on my third version, and going back to using masking fluid and working very wet in wet, actually spraying water on the page to make the paint move and mingle. It will probably end up too soft.

Now it's at the stage where I'm waiting for paint to dry. A lot of that goes on in watercolour painting.  If it doesn't work out, I will have to move on. But I have a stubborn streak, so I haven't given up yet!
You can't win them all! But you can try!

Monday, October 09, 2017

Inspired by the Watercolour Society Exhibition

I went to the Watercolour Society Exhibition in Dun Laoghaire last week. Such an inspiration! I can be fussy about what I like in watercolour. I didn't like everything. But two artists really struck a chord with me: Barbara Ellison and John Short. Such confident use of colour and line!

I was so inspired that I actually contacted Barbara Ellison and asked her if she gave classes or workshops. I was prepared to travel to Lisburn! But no, she doesn't. And since photography wasn't allowed at the exhibition, I have to rely on my memory to bring back what I loved about her paintings - the sparse use of line, combined with rich colours. Her work is actually mixed media, so it contains watercolour, collage elements, and fabulous ink lines

What I've tried to do below is not a patch on her work (if you check this video from the WCSI, you will see a glimpse of her painting, and mine is really really not a patch on it, but being able to see it again will help me develop!). But I was really inspired. The two paintings below are based on a photo I took on Ini Oírr last February, with amazing light hitting the island just around dusk.

In this one, it looks like a mountain was dropped on the island. But I'm happy with how the bottom part worked out. And in case you're wondering about the bright red rectangle, it's the idea of a boat.

This one is still work in progress. I like my sky better, but the front of the image needs to be darker I think. Will keep you posted!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

National Museum

Museums are free in Ireland. Which I think is wonderful. You can pop in for a quick look at your favourite painting any time you walk by. Or explore a section in depth and ignore the rest. I'm very happy to be paying taxes so anyone can discover more about art or history! Well, I want infrastructure, health and education too.

Last Sunday's outing was at the National Museum, Kildare Street (Archeology). Famous for its bog bodies, gold chalices and Viking artefacts. There was a queue outside its doors at 2 o'clock, when the doors were opening.

Though I didn't even get into the Museum itself. It was dry. I was well wrapped up. I found a nice little spot across the road. And I think it's such a beautiful building that I was much more interested in the architecture than its contents. It's built in the Victorian Palladian style. And apparently, its domed rotunda is based on the Pantheon in Rome. I didn't tackle the rotunda this time.

Instead, I decided to sketch a section of the outside facing the street. Oh boy, did I regret it! It's time I moved to the next lesson of SketchingNowBuildings - a whole range of tutorials dedicated to working in a structured way! Because I really need to be able to fit a whole building on a page some day!

Having a passerby (a man of course) telling me I should be using a finer pen didn't help one bit. Whoever he is out there, I want him to know I am cursing him for life!

Still, what I did worked out ok - I just ran out of space for the ground floor!

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Trees on the Hill

My multiple art personalities are accompanied by obsessive tendencies. That's the only way I feel I can explore and develop what I want to paint. Very often, I come back to the first piece I painted and feel that it was better than the following 3 or 4. But in this case, I quite like the final work in the set.

I abandoned the ink experiment, but kept indigo, red madder dark and helio turquoise in my palette, with some variations.
I was very much in charge of the paint on my brush this time, still using the Japanese brushes (both from Rosemary & Co for the large one and a few smaller ones picked up in Japan the last time we were there) and I pushed and nudged the paint to help it do what watercolour does best.

This is called Trees on the Hill (it's about A3 in size)

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Atlantic - Watercolour and Ink abstract

After a small start, I decided to explore the same themes, methods and colours, but adding ink this time. The result is not exactly what I had in mind (although, god knows what I had in mind - I wanted to paint a feeling of the Atlantic ocean, rather than a representation of it!), but it was interesting to see how the ink interacted with the damp paper.

This first one was on a fairly large watercolour sheet (about A3). I used a big Japanese-style brush, and I loved how much paint it carried!

Here is a detail from the above painting. I think I like the detail better than the whole

I like this one better  - the watercolour paper I used was not as vibrant (it seems to absorb the paint and make it duller - it was an impulse buy in Venice last year) but it is an interesting format, which works well for abstract landscape painting.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Whale - Watercolour abstract

Exploring my inner abstract self! One of my multiple art personalities!

First I decided to start small, which doesn't really make sense for abstract. I always think of abstract art as BIG. But then again, we have a Jordi Fornies piece on our wall that's about 10x10cm. So maybe not such a bad choice after all.

And I decided to keep it simple.

I think I'm going to call it The Whale (about 18x12cm). Watercolour on Fabriano paper.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Yoga For Sciatica - Yoga With Adriene

It doesn't all have to be about painting. Although this is somewhat related. I hurt my back a few weeks back. I still think it all started with dancing at a wedding in Donegal at the end of August! I do jump a lot when I dance. I grew up in the "Come on Eileen" era after all! I don't dance as much as I used to. Just as well. My body would be in bits if I did.

Two weeks ago, I sketched at the Kilmainham Hospital. I got so absorbed in the what I was doing that I didn't get up for at least an hour. And when I tried to move, my back was so stiff it took me a good while to uncurl!

Much better now, but it's still there. So I think I will do a little bit of yoga tonight. If you're looking for free yoga videos on the Internet, I found that Yoga With Adriene is brilliant! It's actually got me to start practising yoga at home. Something I rarely did before! OK, I'm not doing an hour a day, far from it, but 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there is a start! Most of the videos on Yoga with Adriene are around the 20-minute mark, but there are some shorter ones. I just saw a 5-minute morning yoga that I must try!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Fame at last

I'm all over the place at the moment. A busy week. Struggling with finding "my style" in watercolour. Trying to paint bigger, freer and more abstract. While aiming for a more structured approach to my urban sketching (and I'm not even sure about that!)! Biting more than I can chew maybe?

So it was a great boost to my confidence when one of my paintings was this week's winner of "The Nation Paints", a mini-competition on RTE to tie in with Painting the Nation! Basically, you can submit an Irish landscape painting of your own, and one will be picked for every Sunday in October to appear during the weather forecast after the Six One News! At the end of the month, a final winner will be selected, to win a voucher for €250 in art supplies. That would be nice!! But I'm just so thrilled that my painting was selected at all! Even though they had to squash it to fit it on the screen - I had emailed a portrait format, not having read the guidelines until after sending my submission. When I realised my mistake, I actually had put it out of my mind, as I didn't think I stood a chance. Maybe I should break the rules more often!!

Monday, October 02, 2017

The Icon Factory

"Thank you to The Icon Factory for letting us sketch around their workshop and street on Sunday afternoon.

Temple Bar can be a busy spot on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but the Icon Factory is tucked away between Fleet Street and the Liffey and provided the perfect location for sketching. It's well worth a visit - they are an artist cooperative who are literally reclaiming the streets; they have beautiful art on display, and the Icon Walk will take you through a who-is-who of Irish Icons.
A special thanks to Aga and Iwona for making us feel welcome. And to Amolika, who kindly agreed to be sketched!

You will find photos of Dublin Sketchers in action on the Icon Factory Facebook page! "

Well, since I wrote the little blurb on the Dublin Sketchers's blog, I thought it was ethical for me to use the same text here! Well, we live in an age where people assume that what's online is free to use for whatever they want. I know some art teachers who have found their art used without acknowledgement to advertise somebody else's workshop! Crazy stuff, isn't it! But I wrote the piece, so it's mine to use and re-use if I want!! I'm just being lazy, actually. I could write a different little piece telling you all about the brilliant afternoon I and Dublin Sketchers had at the Icon Factory instead.

How would it go? Do I write differently here? Let me try:

Temple Bar is a horrible part of Dublin - full of drunk tourists and locals, and a few lost Americans looking for the traditional music! The price of a pint goes up as the evening wears on. It was supposed to be the art centre of Dublin. It's just full of mega-pubs and restaurants, even the Hard Rock Café. Nothing cultural. Nothing Irish. It could have been so wonderful. And the non-commercial alleys are full of litter, and probably used syringes if you look closely. But an artist cooperative called The Icon Factory decided to reclaim the streets. They have painted wonderful portraits of Irish Icons over the drab walls of the back-streets. You can take the Icon Walk and you will see James Joyce, Sinead O'Connor, lots of writers, singers and sports personalities. And the Icon Factory is a beautiful little space where you can buy reproductions of some of the art, in cards or mugs or art prints. They even have a workshop next door where you can see the artists in action. Last week, Dublin Sketchers descended on the area like locusts (well, maybe not locusts - we came in peace and we left the area as we had found it after all). We settled all around the footpaths and started sketching. It was a beautiful afternoon and my opinion of Temple Bar has changed. The power of Art!

And here is what I did. All sketched on location. Colours added later (middle version shows the colours I added in the pub we met in after our sketching time; I finished the watercolour work at home)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Complementary colours

I love colours!
So I had to explore a little when I found this interesting article on Marc Taro Holmes' Twitter feed.
It's called a modern approach to complementaries, by Delphine Doreau. An interesting little article, which actually complements quite well my favourite book on colour theory "Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green". Basically, reality is more complex than saying that green is the opposite of red, yellow the opposite of purple, and orange the opposite of blue. It's more of a "greeny blue is opposite to reddy orange", i.e. Turquoise is the complementary of Intense red
And I love (looooove) the combination of intense red (like Pyrrole red) and turquoise (like PG50).  I must I must paint those two together!

So, as Delphine describes in her article that she used the Invert Colour feature in Photoshop, I did the same in Picasa, using samples from a few of my working palettes. And now I am drooling at the gorgeous colours that appeared before me.

This is my Schmincke palette and its opposite - Plenty of blue complementaries, but overall a bit of a mishmash of colours. That's what happens when you buy a ready-made palette

Now, this one I put together myself, using colours I love and use a lot. And now I know why - it contains within itself all the perfect complementaries - the turquoises to match the reds, the yellows to match the blues!

This one is a smaller version of the above palette, and one of my favourites for going on sketching outings. See why I like it so much: Quinacridone gold complements cobalt blue, PV19 complements Phthalo Green, PG50 complements Pyrrole Red, etc etc. So, a small little palette, but lots and lots of possibilities!

And this one is my newest palettes, assembled with some of the colours used by some of my favourite urban sketchers (Marc Taro Holmes mostly), and while it's not perfectly balanced, I can see why Buff Titanium goes so well with Moonglow, and English Venitian Red is perfect for Prussian Blue! Quickly becoming my Number One palette for urban sketching!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Poetry on a dog walk

When I walk Timber on my own, I am sometimes inspired to create poetry (of a sort). Some days I'm more lyrical than others. Last week, my lower back was crippling me, paired with pain in the heel of my left foot. So here is what came out of that:

I refuse to let pain win
I refuse to let fear win
I refuse

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Killiney beach in September

Now that the day trippers and swimmers are gone, us dog owners can reclaim Killiney Beach! I've missed going there in the summer months, but I fully intend taking our Sunday morning walks there as much as possible over the winter. Last Sunday, I overslept a bit - I actually got to listen to World Report on RTE1 radio, a program I hadn't heard in years. But we still managed to make it. I had to cut short my weekly Skype call with Shinobu, but we'd had a good chat the previous week, so I didn't feel too bad.

And of course, Timber loves the beach. Actually, I should say he LOVES the beach! A big open space to run around. Plenty of other dogs. Seaweed (he's not allowed to eat it, but he can trade any bit he picks up for a piece of kibble by responding to the Drop command, and he probably still gets to eat a little bit of it anyway). The chance of a piece of crab, or fish, or, on one occasion a sheep carcass. There is one thing he doesn't like, though. And that's the water. He might be ok with getting his paws wet, but there is no way he will go in swimming. That's the half Malamute in him, definitely. And probably confirmation that the other half is not Labrador.

And I love the sea. One of the reasons why I couldn't live anywhere else. I can drive to Killiney beach in 12 minutes (at the weekend, early in the day), and walk the beach, feel the breeze, smell the air, chat with my husband. And then go home and start my day.

What else would I be doing on a Sunday morning? And every week it's different. So much inspiration for paintings. Not enough hours in the day, not enough years to live!! But I'll keep collecting the memories.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Creamery, Airfield

Sometimes, it's good to intensely practise a particular skill. Sometimes it's good to take a little break (and to catch up on the more mundane tasks, like paying bills (something I'm quite good at) and keeping the house tidy (not so good)). Last week, I was in an intense phase of learning how to sketch buildings. Not so much in the last few days, but I'm planning to get back into it by the end of this week.

Still practising adding and subtracting volumes, working on leading edges and noticing the thickness of elements like gutters and window sills. I have improved my windows somewhat but need to continue working on the proportions - most of my windows are still too wide.

I picked this little house in the Airfield estate for two reasons: One it's just round the corner from where I live, so I could fit it in without impacting the bill-paying and de-cluttering tasks too much. Second I knew this house, I call it the Creamery, I'm not sure if it ever was a creamery, anyway, I knew the area in front of this house was going to be quiet - it's not interactive enough for children, and there is no coffee on offer for adults. And of course, Airfield in general is a good spot for sketching (apart from the €10 entry fee - we used to have an annual pass, but since we got a dog, we haven't bothered - we get enough walking as it is) - lots of interesting architecture, old and new, trees, flowers, animals, people.

And Oh   My   God   They're already advertising Christmas! That has to be at least on a par with Brown Thomas!

Initial drawing - you can even see my pencil lines

I decided to draw the main building, and only part of the side block on the right

In true Urban Sketching style, a picture of the real thing and the sketched thing

And a bigger version of the final sketch.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Royal Hospital, Kilmainham

Do I like a challenge? I would normally say yes, but I'm not so sure now, after tackling this corner of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (home to IMMA). Last time I was there with Dublin Sketchers, I sketched a humble little shed - that was all I felt capable of. And I was really happy with how it worked out. That was in January of this year. It feels like a lifetime ago. It's been a busy year.

So, despite some serious proportional errors (ratio of chimney height to stained-glass window height, size of windows, to name just two), I am very proud of this sketch. I actually measured and did a basic pencil sketch to figure out the positioning of the various elements. And I really tried to understand the building, to put into practise all I have learned over the last few weeks and over the last year.

It was a beautiful afternoon, warm in the sun, cool in the shade. We're having a nice autumn so far - yes, we would have liked warmer temperatures, after a non-descript summer, but you don't always get what you wish for. At least we don't have hurricanes or monsoon rains in Ireland. And I found the perfect spot, a little out of the way (only one small group of Americans commented on my work, and that was only in the first half hour), with a good view of my subject. But I struggled with a few things: My favourite fountain pen ran out of ink (my own fault - I had another pen, though, but with a thicker nib). First page nerves too - it's never easy to start a new sketchbook, even if it's identical to my previous one (I'm sticking to watercolour-paper Moleskine - by the way, does anyone know what's the right pronunciation for Moleskine?). The main trouble I had was that my lower back started causing me major pain - it had been sore for a few days, but I thought I was better - hunching over my sketch for an hour and a half was not a good idea. So I added the colour indoor and finished the windows at home. And I applied one of those heat belts - it really helped. Now, 4 days later, I still struggle with my back - I've done yoga for lower back pain and yoga for sciatica (a great YouTube class), I've walked, I've applied heat, I've minded myself. And when I think I'm better, it hits me again, like this morning, when I was tying my shoe laces before heading out for our dog walk. So here I am, writing this with a hottie against my lower back, and another one under my left foot. But I'm refusing to let it stop me! I'll be out sketching again soon.