Sunday, February 25, 2007


I've been to a few movies lately. Some were better than others, but none were fantastic, I have to say, so I won't spend too much time talking about them.

Notes on a Scandal, with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, was by far the best of them, though I felt it was a bit too short. It just seemed to end very suddenly. And the scary thing is that Judi Dench's cat looks like Willow's little brother. Judi Dench is fantastic in it. There is one scene where you can see the pulse of an artery in her neck. That's the only thing that reveals her emotions. Her face is completely impassive. If it wasn't for that pulse, you would have no idea of the turmoil inside.

Because I Said So, with Diane Keaton, is, well, pure Diane Keaton. Plenty of pretty dresses, but not much substance. It's the story of an overbearing mother (Diane Keaton) trying to find a suitable match for her younger daughter, who can't seem to find a decent man for herself. It was a nice way to spend an evening, but I don't think I'll be rushing to buy the DVD! I couldn't remember where I had seen one of the sisters - she is the mother in "The Gilmore Girls". She is the only one in the movie that seems to be quite sane. Hard to imagine anyone would turn out sane with a mother like that!

And then, last night, we rented "The Devil Wears Prada". It was quite predictable, and the ending was too American for my taste. Meryl Streep is wonderful, of course. But I was very disappointed by the clothes. I really didn't see anything I wanted to wear (except for a little bright green coat). I was expecting fabulous clothes, but it was all quite dull.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Busy Busy, Run Run

Not a moment to post anything this week, nor to do any drawing or painting, on the computer or paper. Nice week, though! Went to the pictures, and met up with old friends. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to tell you all about it at the weekend!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And the next step

And here is the latest installment in the Poppy saga. (And I still haven't put a real pencil to paper, except for the first sketch!). This time, again, I started from the traced drawing in Corel Painter Essentials. Then I used a pencil tool from the same program and did some shading on the Wacom tablet. I used a fairly small pencil to start with, then I used the eraser to do the highlights on the stamens.

After that, I increased the size of the pencil about 5 times, and used a very light touch to do the shading on the petals.

Here is the result:

Friday, February 16, 2007


I didn't get much time to work on my Poppy project this week, but I have been making some progress on a value drawing, done on the computer with Corel Painter Essentials (which came with the tablet). I'll show it to you in a couple of days. In the meantime, here is a picture of the colour experimentation I was playing with last weekend, based on the tracing I took with the tablet. Again, this was done with Corel Painter Essentials.

The base drawing was the tracing I took. Then, I started pouring colours I selected from the palette. I didn't look for an exact match. I picked colours that I liked best and felt right. After using the "paint bucket" tool to pour my colours, I then used crayons to paint the centre of the flower, and then acrylics to give a bit of texture to the stamens (apologies to any botanist out there if I got the flower terminology wrong - I checked it on Wikipedia, but I'm still not sure which bit is a pistil and which is a stamen!)

I had to do this twice, as I saved it as a compressed jpg the first time and it looks pixelated when you blow it up. It is a pity, as my first attempt was definitely more spontaneous and looks more organic, I think

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New Hair Cut

This time, I went to the Toni and Guy Academy. It took nearly 3 hours, with the supervisor keeping a very close eye on the student's work. The student, Philip from the Czech Republic, seemed to be very capable. He always made sure he understood the supervisor's instructions before he took the scissors to my hair! I was charged 25 Euro, which surprised me a bit. When I had gone in the last time as a model for a trainee in one of their salons, it was free. But it was worth it (when I think that I was charged 63 Euro at my hairdresser in December, and I wasn't happy with the cut!). I'm happy with the look. It's a little bit more layered than I expected, and I'll have trouble getting it right when I blow-dry it, but I think it looks nice, and, at that price, I'll go again.

Just ignore the roots - I'll update the colour at the weekend! (For those of you who thought I was a natural red-head, just go through a few of the pictures from previous posts, and you'll notice the varying shades!

(Check out the last Hair Cut post)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Next Step

The next step in my project, which has been moving at a swift pace over the last few days, was to trace the picture - I'm not proud + I've already done a freehand drawing of it, so I see nothing wrong with tracing!

To do this, I decided to use the Wacom tablet that PC Medic purchased last year, rather than using tracing paper. After a little bit of fiddling around to adjust the screen vs tablet settings, it was very easy to use. I spent a good bit of time on Friday and Saturday trying out all sorts of techniques with different types of paint brushes, oils, pastels, crayons, etc.... all available with the bundled software. As I love experimenting with new media, this was the perfect excuse for me to spend hours doodling without really thinking about the end result! I will show you some of the resulting pictures in future posts.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Next project - Poppy

I've already started work on the next watercolour project - working from one of the pictures of poppies Brendan took in Airfield last year.
I love the bright red of the petals, and the textured centre of the flower, with its dark purple core and the shiny green of the poppy head, which looks like a juicy apple.

This is a picture I've been thinking of for a long time, but that I've been afraid to tackle. It's so rich and bright, I wasn't sure if watercolours were the right tool for it. But, since reading the book by Shirley Trevena, "taking risks with watercolour", I feel there are so many options I had not considered before - watercolour doesn't have to be pale and soft! I'm going to try out a variety of techniques, and maybe different media before I actually get to try watercolour. But I feel that watercolour will work, maybe not on my first attempt, but I'm prepared to have a few goes at it.

The first step I've taken is to do a drawing of it, to figure out the darks and lights, and the proportions of the various elements

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ballynahinch Sunset

Well, it took a long time in the making, but I've finally finished painting my Ballynahinch Sunset!

As you know, my first attempt wasn't entirely satisfactory. But I learned from my mistakes, and I am now happy to show the end result. It's still not perfect, but I'm not going to do another one. At this stage, I've had enough of that picture. Actually, I've already started work on the next project. But more about that later...

I'm very happy with the washes done with my Utrecht Squirrel brush. The paint was gliding onto the paper, creating a lovely smooth finish, with no blotches.

In terms of overall composition, the first attempt was actually nicer, with busy elements keeping the eye on the painting. This one is almost too smooth, and I find that the eye goes from the bottom left to the top right of the painting without stopping anywhere else - that's because the band of pale yellow in the diagonal attracts the eye, and there is nothing in these two corners to stop it. I could crop the picture to address that, but, for now, I'll leave well enough alone.

I've also included two details from the final product. Click on each picture to see it full size. I think the colours are glorious. Better than the actual painting!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


It's not very often that I write about technical subjects. I leave that to PC Medic. I have been investigating how you could put in a form into a blog so that you could ask other people to submit information to you without having to give them your email address.

A lot of digging around and a search in Blogger help pointed to Response-O-Matic, a website where you can create a form to your specification, then incorporate it into your website or blog. The information submitted into the form is sent to your via email, but the email address is not visible to the people who fill in the form.

Their website claims that the "form wizard will have you up and running in about 8 minutes". Well, it's true. The steps were quite easy to follow and there was a lot of flexibility in the form design elements you can choose from - standard fields, text fields, radio buttons, tick boxes, etc...

I needed a bit of extra help from them, when the form I had created was displaying too low in my post, with a lot of blank lines in front of it. I couldn't figure out why, so I contacted their support team. I got a reply that evening, pointing me to a setting in Blogger that was causing extra blank lines. So, after that extra tweak, it worked beautifully.

All of that for free! I was thrilled with the product and with the service.

Here is the result: MHBD Scratchpad

All without any programming, just a bit of HTML copy and paste, and using Blogger's new design elements to make it look nice. (And a lot of searching around the web to actually find this tool!).

Monday, February 05, 2007

Art Talk

A few months ago, I got my hands on a magazine called "Irish Arts Review". Plenty of beautiful pictures of gorgeous paintings, but who writes the articles?

One of the articles I read was about an artist who lives and works on the Beara Peninsula, Sarah Walker.
Another article was about Tim Hawkesworth, an artist born in Ireland, who now lives in the US, I think.

Both artists, as you'll see from their websites, who produce beautiful works of art.

Now, I would find it very hard to describe their work. I just don't have the vocabulary to describe what I see and what I feel when I look at their paintings. But the Irish Arts Review writers are certainly not lost for words. Too many big words in my opinion!

Here is an extract from the article about Sarah Walker: "This dichotomy between abstract patternage and organic structure as a visual conceit seems to thread its way through her process. This dialectical element of her work seeks to disengage the viewer from simplistic visual metaphors whether they are signalled by the title of the work, or more obviously apparent in naturalistic pattern, notionally referring to landscape."

Now, I think I understand the first bit - the paintings in the magazine at first look like abstract lines and shapes, but, when you look closer, you see the leaves, flowers and blades of grass that inspired the painting. But I have no idea what the 2nd sentence means. And the article goes on and on (and on) in the same vein.

Would you like to read the first paragraph in the article about Tim Hawkesworth, called "Activating the Canvas"? Here it goes: "There is something profound about coming across authentic painting. The eye races around the canvas, being passed from one brushstroke to another in an exhilarating optical dance" (so far so good, but wait for the next bit) "There is a glut of information, a greased communication, where gesture, colour, form and image all jostle for attention. The mind elbows itself into this fray offering meanings to the experience - interpretation best left for afterwards, for quiet recollection" (and maybe for mature recollection too!)

You can decide for yourself, but my mind doesn't elbow itself into anything when I look at these paintings. I just let my eyes and my feelings do the work, just enjoying the shapes and colours, without trying to read anything into it. Maybe I'm not intellectual enough to understand these paintings.

For me, it's the same with music - I don't necessarily understand musical structure, but it doesn't stop me enjoying Mozart. Maybe that's why I don't particularly like Mahler (not that I've tried much!) - but in my simplistic view, if art - visual or musical - doesn't appeal to my senses, what's the point?

So, go to their websites and decide if you like what you see.

PS: Picture posted here was taken from the LittleJohn Gallery website, as there were copy restrictions on the Tim Hawkesworth website.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Books I've been reading

I've read a few books over the last 3-4 weeks. That's the nice thing about having to take it easy!

I read On Beauty, by Zadie Smith. I had read her first book, White Teeth, a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I have mixed feelings about On Beauty. There are some scenes in it that are priceless, and some of the female characters are full of life. But I found it hard to feel for the male characters - I just didn't find them interesting enough. Some of them were not supposed to be nice characters, so, I didn't expect to like them, but I felt I didn't care what happened to them. So, a bit disappointed, as I had read plenty of good reviews about it.

Then I read The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan: The Magicians' Guild, The Novice, and The High Lord. These were easy reads, but thoroughly enjoyable. I couldn't put them down. They are probably geared at teenage readers, but that didn't stop me. The 3 books are just a very good story, and I wanted to keep on reading to find out what was going to happen next.

And I've discovered that Trudi Canavan is also a painter and graphic artist. Have a look at her website for her designs and paintings. Some of her designs even include maps for schoolbooks!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Wildlife of South Dublin - Continued

Remember Derrick Mooney's blue tits? We watched them grow on RTE's website last summer. Well, as you know, we live on the same housing estate as Derrick, and lately, we have been noticing a few blue tits on the trees in the back of our garden. This morning, a beautiful sunny day, they are hopping from tree to tree and singing their hearts out.

If you missed the RTE program last year, RTE still have it on their website. Here is the link to it.

I think, and hope, that they are too fast for Willow.

(PS: picture is from RTE's website)

Thursday, February 01, 2007