Thursday, August 22, 2019

What title to give this one?

Lots of ideas, but finding it hard to finish anything. Funny, I've looked through all my photos of Amsterdam, but I'm not really tempted to paint from any of them. I should have looked through Deb's photos - she takes photos with a strong composition in mind and they make perfect starting points for painting projects. I copied a few of her photos from the Beara Peninsula, and she captured the light beautifully, so I will definitely use some of these to paint.

This one I'm working on is a good example. Deb took a photo of the farm shed beside our AirBnB, and what attracted her was the beautiful shadow play on the the white wall, which I hadn't even noticed.

Rather than plunging right in, I'm trying to decide on a composition and colour scheme. Colours are easy, I think. But what I really need to do is decide on a title first, which will help me with what to highlight and what to subdue. This is a good idea Deb told me about - it might have been something an instructor said at a workshop, but I really can't remember! Basically, by giving your piece a title before you start painting, you will remember what the focus should be, rather than try to paint everything everything.
My problem is that I can't decide what title to give it! What should it be?

  • Shadow on the barn
  • Lavender sky
  • Country road
  • Distant mountains
  • Dark tree against white barn
What I should really do is paint all of these versions, as an exercise in choosing a focus. But paint the same scene 5 times is hard! Unless, maybe, I try to apply different techniques for each of them. e.g.:

  • Shadow on the barn - giving a sense of calm by using a few colours 
  • Lavender sky - increasing the drama by using strong colours
  • Country road - a sense of peace by limiting the value contrast, or increasing the distance by increasing the value contrast
  • Distant mountains - a sense of space using shape contrast (more intricate shapes closer to me, simpler shapes in the distance)
  • Dark tree against white barn - strong value contrast to bring the attention to that spot - darkest dark against lightest light.
I'd better clear my calendar, so.

More colour swatches

I did give away some of the goodies I got at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Amsterdam - I just knew from last year in Porto that I wouldn't get to use everything. Although I have to say I am so envious of the workshop instructors, who got amazing goody bags!! Of course, they are influencers and that's why the sponsors love them! But I kept some for myself. And I also bought a few bits and pieces at the art market (I was much more restrained than in Porto, though).
So, in the couple of weeks that it takes me to get back into a normal routine, I've managed to fit in an hour here and there to play with my new paints! Mixing colours is so relaxing!

New favourite colours?
Aquarius Green and Aquarius Caput Mortuum, without a doubt! Such exciting colours!
And I also loved mixing the three QOR samples: Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Magenta.

Transparent Red Oxide sample from Daniel Smith

Pencils from various companies

Jane's Grey from Daniel Smith, Quin Magenta, Nickel Azo Yellow and Ultramarine from QOR, and a white gel pen

Aquarius colours

Caput Mortuum from Aquarius

And once I start, there's no stopping me!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sunset in Kerry

I painted two versions of the same view this weekend. I'm a bit tired tonight so I'm actually not 100% sure what colours I used, but I think it's mostly Quinacridone Magenta, Ultramarine, Nickel Azo Yellow, and some Green Apatite Genuine for the foreground. I might have used a touch of Cobalt Blue for the sky too. But really, I'm not sure. I should have written it down, as I quite like how the colours turned out, except for my clouds, which turned out heavier than I had planned. But it always takes a little while to get back into painting after a few weeks of sketching only!

They are both the same view, from a photo Deb took while I was driving I think! The sun was close to setting and the mountain range in the distance was stunning. I love our long evenings in the summer. It's late-August now and the light is fading, though.

I painted the two versions together, learning from one to the other, and letting layers dry in between.

So, I did the wash for the sky and the sea for this one first, but didn't wait long enough for the paint to dry before I did the clouds, so there's this very soft effect which dulled the band of sunshine behind the mountains. But then, after it was fully dry, I came back and added a delicate blue (probably a bit of Cobalt blue and a touch of Quin Magenta) and kept the clouds quite abstract. And for the foreground, which is the very last thing I did, I used a very calligraphic brush and kept my mixes very loose, which I like a lot. The mountains are a bit flat, though. But the water is a lovely silvery colour!

For this one, which I started second, I got a much brighter sunlight behind the mountains, and my mountains are more majestic.  I also got some nice colour mixes in the rocks to the left and the grasses at the front, which I pulled with an old credit card. But I painted my clouds too dark and muddy.  I should really paint a third version where I apply what I learned from these two. I've got lots of other ideas for paintings though, so it might have to wait.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Paella at Drimnagh Castle

Every year, Pat organises a special afternoon for Dublin Sketchers at Drimnagh Castle - this time it was paella for all. I've sketched Drimnagh Castle before. It's a beautiful 12th century structure, with a moat, gardens and also a fabulous room with an open fire. Having been there before, I didn't feel the need to sketch the castle this time.

Instead, I focused on the meal preparation, with the action taking place at the barbecue - I missed the prepping and chopping! I wasn't in the mood for a complex sketch, so I did little thumbnails and a bigger one.

I still had a bit of time before the food was ready, so I went inside the castle, and tried to sketch one of the windows using the skills I had learned at Reham Ali's workshop in Amsterdam - well, it didn't turn out too good - and I got frustrated with it, which didn't help one bit, and I am useless with hatching so I don't even know why I tried. Must try again some time!

Urban Sketchers Symposium Amsterdam 2019

Just sharing this video of the Symposium in Amsterdam because it brings back good memories! And I make a cameo appearance in it too!

Monday, August 19, 2019


Another outing with Dublin Sketchers - just round the corner from us, so very handy for me!

Fortified by a delicious courgette and goat's cheese muffin, I set to work quickly and captured the sun and shadows over a colourful arrangement of pots. Knowing Airfield well was a big bonus for me, as I knew exactly what I wanted to sketch, without having to explore the full 30+ acres! This scene was near the entrance.

The grapevines have grown a lot since I last saw them - I didn't think to check if the grapes were doing well. I was more interested in the overall view, which reminded me of the STTNG finale, "All Good Things ...". This sketch would probably have benefited from a few pen lines to tie it together better, at least for the first row of vines. I could still do that I guess.

And then I went over to say hello to the donkeys - and sketch the lovely tree in their enclosure. To all small children's delight, the two donkeys peed and pooed, and it appears that they have a specific spot for these activities - you learn something new every day! I added watercolour to this one when I got home, using the three QOR colours that were in my goody bag from Amsterdam: Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and Quinacridone Magenta.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Life Drawing - Anuta

After two weeks of constant sketching, I needed an evening of life drawing to settle me back into the normal routine. The model was Anuta. I chose to sit and draw with Polychromos pencils and paint in watercolour. I found it hard to settle, though, so it wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped it to be.

This one is my favourite of the evening - maybe one that worked out should be enough? This is a direct watercolour - no pencil, no pen. Hard to do when the watercolour isn't drying quick enough to paint another layer within the time allocated, which was 10 minutes!

I won't post all the others, just the ones that I'm not too unhappy with! But I did struggle with proportions all through the evening! You'd think that two weeks of constant sketching would have helped!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

One more sketch

With one morning left before Deb had to catch her flight home, we managed to fit in one more sketch - while Brendan took Timber for his walk around the campus, Deb and I sat in the shade in front of the library and sketched the O'Reilly Hall across the water. By the time we were done, the clouds had moved in and it was getting chilly. It was wonderful to spend the last two weeks with Deb, and to sketch non-stop. Time to get back to normal life!

Friday, August 16, 2019

College Green

Deb still had a full day before flying back to Australia, so we met up with Dublin Sketchers around College Green, which was pedestrianised for the weekend - it was great. So many beautiful buildings that you never get to see because of the buses and the crowds.

It was threatening to rain, so we took shelter in O'Neills and found lots to sketch there too!

I  did get to practise sketching people too, which was a bonus.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


What can I say about our stay on the Beara Peninsula? It couldn't be more different from Amsterdam. 4 and a half hours is a long drive, but it is so worth it. And then when you're there, there are 4 different roads to get to the pub and the one that Google Map chooses is the one-track road that goes up and down a mountain!

Deb and I had a wonderful time out on Beara. The weather was beautiful, the light amazing, the scenery spectacular. On our first morning in our AirBnB, I woke up at 7 am to find Deb painting the view from our porch. It was that kind of a place. The birds were singing, the cows in the field across the road were watching Deb. Heaven.

We drove crazy roads, sketched everywhere we stopped, and we stopped at every bend with enough space to pull over. We went to a pottery with nobody there - just an honesty box if you wanted to buy anything. And we sketched. There was a wedding in Eyeries - the dog groomer marrying the plumber, quite the event! In the evening, we went back to the same pub, and ended up driving up and down boreens on the side of another mountain!

The next day, the sun wasn't shining but the light was still strong. We drove the Healy Pass, a piece of cake compared to the road to the pub. After a short break in Castletownbere, where the light hitting the sea was otherworldly, we drove back to Eyeries and sketched some more! At that stage, my back was twinging and we spent a quiet afternoon at our AirBnB, painting some more!

It's hard to describe the feeling of our stay. Rain or shine, the West is always achingly beautiful. And Beara has a wilderness about it that makes my heart skip a beat. So different from the Dingle Peninsula, with its peaceful landscape and fabulous beaches. But a special place that will always stay with me.

After 3 nights, it was time to drive back to Dublin. It was raining anyway. And thank god for a heated car seat!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Goodbye Amsterdam, Hello Dublin

As travel days go, this was all easy and smooth.  I dragged my suitcase to Deb's hotel. (Lucky I'm not a Symposium Instructor - they got so many goodies from the sponsors that some of them had to buy an extra suitcase!). I even had time to sketch in the hotel lobby before our taxi arrived. All went smoothly at the airport and with our flight.

And then I was glad to get home to Brendan and Timber, who were both delighted to see us. Although I have to say that Timber was happier to see Deb than me!! He loves visitors!!

The next day, we went to Trinity College, the Long Room and the Museum Building (best hidden gem of the city). Lunch with Brendan at the Kilkenny shop and then it rained so much we had to stay a good bit longer, and sketch! And onto the National Library (but we couldn't sketch there as we had to leave our bags in a locker) and the RHA.

A busy day, and ready for the next adventure!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Amsterdam - Part 7

28th of July, Sunday. Waking up to the news of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong turning sour. That's a serious dark cloud over the plans for next year. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

But apart from that, it's just so nice to have a full day with no plans.
Deb and I decide to go sketching in the Artis area, near the botanic gardens, where Pat joins us. And we see our first heron of the week!

A really laid back morning, followed by a visit to an art gallery where we talk to the artist/owner who tells us all about his tools. Then a gorgeous lunch in a nearby café, and apple pie. Kate joins us for a bit.

We all go our separate ways. There is a feeling of an ending to our big adventure. But we're not ready to lay down our tools yet! I stroll for a bit and decide to go back to Kapitein Zeppos, where a friendly sketcher, Birgit from Germany, invites me to her table and we sketch each other, soon joined by Deb and Pat. Quite the portrait party! I love those random encounters that turn into one of the best moments of the week!

By the end of the afternoon, Birgit has to leave and we decide to stay for prinks and dinner. Kate has joined us. Two glasses of rosé later, I am very giggly. But I love the Dutch herring dish so much that I'm happy to eat two portions when Kate realises it's raw fish (well, it's cured with salt).
A wonderful end to a wonderful day to a wonderful week. I feel so lucky to be part of the Urban Sketchers family!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Amsterdam - Part 6

27th July? At this stage, I'm starting to lose track of time. But it's the last day of the Symposium already. So the day goes like this: workshop, good lunch because you don't know what time it will be before you have dinner, final sketchwalk (where I bump into lots of people I didn't see all week - Amsterdam is bigger than Porto), group photo, Closing Ceremony (where I get to chat to lots more people!), Announcement of the next Symposium Host City, and then it's time to go home (except this year I booked an extra day, so I don't have to pack my suitcases just yet!).

My third and final workshop was with Veronica Lawlor, an artist and illustrator I have been following for a number of years. I did one of her courses on SketchbookSkool, A Drawing A Day. Another wonderfully generous instructor - she assigned us short challenges, all in thumbnails, which made it quite manageable to take in all the information. And when she realised I was doing my best to avoid sketching people, she gave me a special assignment: do lots of thumbnails with people. She even showed me how to sketch necks and chins!

You can see in the pages below the progression from thumbnailing everything to finding something of interest and sketching it from different angles and points of view, before moving to your final large thumbnail where you bring various elements together. In the last piece, you can add colour, textures, detail. And yes, the windows of the University building had taken on the Pride rainbow colours as a celebration of Pride Week.

Then after a big lunch (Italian salad, pizza), I set off for the final sketchwalk, where I continued to practise thumbnails and people. Great opportunity for practising my new skills, as there was sketchers everywhere!

I couldn't find my friends for the group photo, nearly got included in the French group photo - they were quite happy to have me in. Then it was a long walk to the Muziekgebouw (Concert Hall) where the closing ceremony was held. It was a bit messy in that there was a public space and a private space, and these things can take a long time. But I did win a prize in the raffle draw (which included some White Nights watercolours and a lot of HB pencils (4 boxes of 10 actually - given that I am an ink and watercolour person, that's probably a lifetime supply)). I didn't buy anything at the silent auction - the queue was simply taking too long. But I did get to talk to lots of people, which is a big part of the Symposium experience for me! It was after 9 pm before we got something to eat (a delicious burger at the Majestic on Dam square).

And yes, next year's Symposium will be held in Hong Kong!