Friday, May 29, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Mary loaned me half a dozen books the last time I saw her - I've only just finished the first one, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. It's actually a French book, but I read it in its English translation.

I won't tell you the story, just let you know that I shed a few tears at the end.

A lovely book, well written, and well translated.

Step 3

At the class on Wednesday, we focused on the banana. When I say "we", I really mean Des. He did most of the hard work this week, while I happily watched the banana take shape. He gave it a three-dimensional feel, shaping it carefully, then adding shading to the various planes. Very nice. I went back over it myself, to try and learn something from the experience, but I went a bit heavy on the yellow-green, so there is a bit too much contrast now. He even mixed some of the shadow blue-grey for me. I would have been quite happy to do this myself, but Des got a bit carried away I think. I'll ask him to co-sign the painting when it's finished!


I get very frustrated when I see bad driving and bad parking - here is the best one I've seen recently. 
There are playing fields on the side of the road that leads up to Grange Road, near Marley Park - the road that ends in a T junction with Lidl on the right-hand side. I drive up that road on a Tuesday evening to go to yoga. There are always lots of cars parked on the cycle path on the side of the road, forcing traffic over the line. That's bad enough, but last week must have been a particularly busy evening - maybe it was the last night before the little darlings go on their holidays. One car was double parked - yes, double parked so that cars had to drive completely on the wrong side of the road to get by him, and another car was parked at such an angle that she was sticking out onto the road, just before the roundabout. In both cases, the drivers were in their cars - the woman was actually reading her newspaper. She obviously wasn't that interested in Little Johnny's game. 

But the worst bit, wait for it, there is a small car park on the other side of the road, just beyond the roundabout - and it was half empty. These 2 drivers could not be bothered driving another 50 meters to park safely. I should have called the guards in Dundrum, but I know they would not have come out for this. The last time I complained to a guard from Dundrum station about people parking on the footpath, he did absolutely nothing about it.

Waste of Money

It's the biggest recession since I don't know when. Our Health care system is in bits. We still don't have a motorway the whole way from Dublin to Cork or Galway.

But there is money to paint lampposts! Yes, I can confirm that the lampposts in our estate were given a fresh coat of paint last week. Since our estate was recently turned over to the County council, I have to assume that this work was funded by tax payers. 

On the other hand, the three street lights at the top of the estate are still not working - it's a big dark area when you walk into the estate at night. And I know that some of the residents rang the County council months ago to report these - after being bounced around from department to department, they were told that it would get done in due course!

The powers that be clearly know how to prioritise!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bistro One

With the weekend in Belgium and everything, I forgot to tell you about our evening out with Padraig and Mary a few weeks back. 

We went out to Bistro One, and had a lovely lovely meal. We were welcomed with a glass of pink champagne, followed by foie gras and toast (Mark, Bistro One's owner, ever attentive, made sure I got wheat-free bread for mine!). Everybody was happy with their starters - Mary had the soup, Padraig had an asparagus special (the season for asparagus is so short that I now feel I should have gone for the same myself), Brendan chose the prawn risotto, and I went for the liver and bacon (maybe a bit too wintery for this time of the year, but I do love liver)

Main courses were enjoyed by all - Brendan: fish & chips, Mary: steak, Padraig & myself: smoked fish haddock and mash with a poached egg on top.

And of course we had to have desert - Mary and Brendan chose the chocolate fondant (which is to die for, trust me), Padraig had rice pudding and rhubarb (if I remember correctly) and I went for the pavlova (but avoided the cream).

There was a good atmostphere around the place and we ate our food at a leisurely pace. We then drove down (at or below the speed limit, it will be noted) to the Millhouse for a drink (of orange juice in my case, of course).

Really enjoyed the food and the company. Must do it again before the summer is over.  (By the way - we are enjoying a few days of sunshine - there is a big high pressure over Ireland, and it looks like we will have sunny and warm weather for the bank holiday weekend. Though I have to admit I'm not that gone on sitting out in the sun - I got carried away last weekend, and got my back badly burnt. 5 days later, and it's still red in places. I'll probably start peeling soon. It is a pity to stay indoors when the weather is so glorious, but I find it hard to read in the sun, and I can't paint either. Maybe I should take my pencils out and do a bit of drawing.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Music for Museums - Dawn Upshaw and The Knights

Well, not as much Dawn Upshaw as advertised, but a very good night of music all the same.

Brendan had found a small article in the Sunday papers a few weeks back, announcing a performance by Dawn Upshaw at the National Gallery, as part of the "Music for Museums" series. I managed to get tickets without difficulty - it seems that the concert was not widely advertised. So, last night, Susanne and I were treated to an evening of music, with Dawn Upshaw and The Knights (a New York ensemble) in the first hour, and The Knights alone for the 2nd half.

There was no mention in the ads I saw that Dawn Upshaw would only be singing for the first half of the programme (6 songs in total!), and it was only when the conductor introduced the last songs before the interval that it became clear she had done her night's work. She actually sat through the 2nd half - I wonder why really, as there seemed to have been no plan for an encore, even! I think it was a bit disingenuous to have used her name to advertise the evening, but, hey, for €60, including program and free drink at the interval, it was pretty good value all the same.

And I was so happy to see and hear her live anyway - she was exactly like I imagined (well, I have seen her on DVD and YouTube after all): warm, smiling, down to earth and with a gorgeous powerful voice, and an obvious love of music. The acoustics were poor for vocal work - the concert was held in the first big room to the left in the National Gallery - a huge rectangular hall with high ceilings and pillars that seemed to reverberate her high notes to infinity, and not carry the low notes very far. We were lucky to get seats close enough to the stage - her low notes barely carried over the sound of the orchestra, and I felt that she belted out "What More Do I Need" more than she should have, just to make sure that people at the back could hear her voice! That said, I really enjoyed her interpretation of two songs by Osvaldo Golijov, one in Yiddish, and one in Galician.

And The Knights were excellent performers - I enjoyed the Philip Glass piece - Company, and the singing by Christina Courtin - a bit folksy, but she had a lovely voice, and the orchestra accompaniment was excellent. I'm not sure about the guy on the steel guitar - maybe the microphone wasn't strong enough - I felt the sound coming out of the guitar wasn't in proportion to his facial expressions!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Step 2

At class last night, I added plenty more layers to the apple (after reducing its size to a more harmonious proportion), going really dark, and I cut the end of the banana (it was too pointy).

And after an hour and a half, all there was time to do was paint the background and shadow really quickly.

Next week, we're tackling the banana, and I hope to add the highlights to the apple too. This is taking longer than I thought, but it's starting to take shape.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We were in Namur last weekend. The glorious spring weather that's been blessing the region for the last couple of months had decided to take a break while we were there. There were thunderstorms over Charleroi and Brussels when we landed (the plane went around a long circuitous route to avoid the thunder clouds as we were making our approach - at some point we even flew over the Atomium - nowhere near Charleroi!), followed by major flooding South of Brussels. The temperatures were a cool 15 or 16, nothing like the 20s I had been hoping for (and that are making their way back to the country).

There were some heavy showers while we were there, but we didn't do too badly. We managed to fit in a few walks around the place, including one to the Military cemetery in Champion and a stroll up to the Citadelle in Namur, where you can catch beautiful views of the town. Next time, I must go up to the open-air theatre and maybe go on a tour of the tunnels. There are a lot of lovely spots there and I'm looking forward to exploring them some more.

We stopped at the Musée archéologique for a quick look at the relief model of the town (made between 1747 and 1751 for Louis XIV). It's got amazing detail in it. It would be great if there was a camera over it and if you could zoom in on specific streets or buildings. One thing I discovered there is that there was a moat at the back of the town, where the railway line now lies. If you're interested in these relief models, you can find more at the Musée des plans-reliefs.

Art Class

After my failed attempt at painting my crystal vase with blue pebbles at the first class I went to, the 2 teachers and I decided we would be better off moving to something easier for me, so I could learn the techniques on subjects that were within my reach.

So, Moya brought an apple, banana and satsuma from her kitchen, and got me started. Des decided I should just turn over the illustration board I had used for the crystal vase. Moya did the broad outlines of the drawing for me, and told me to start painting the general colours. I did a bit of yellow for the banana, but it was too bright for my liking and I moved on to the satsuma, and got the colour spot on. I felt encouraged by this and moved back to the banana, then the apple. It's only a first layer, but I was much happier with the result. I felt I was getting the colours I wanted, and the 2 hours went really quickly

The only thing that's not right is the size of the apple. I think it's way too big. So I've manipulated it in Photoshop Elements and I'll bring a printout with me to the next class. I hope that Moya and Des agree with reducing the size of the apple, rather than making everything else bigger, because that would be a lot more work. I also made the banana thicker. I thought it looked too skinny.
What I'm interested in learning now is how to add to the original layer to bring the painting to life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Brittas Bay

We took a drive down to Brittas Bay last Bank Holiday Monday. It was a grey day, but we got no rain for our walk. It was a long time since either of us had been to Brittas, which is a gorgeous beach on a good day, but was just dull and windy last week. We enjoyed the brisk walk all the same. There really isn't much to talk about - it's a big long beach behind the dunes. The waves were not dramatic.

There is no parking on the road - it's too narrow. And the council have a pay car park - it's €2 to get in, I assume for as long as you want, as you pay on the way in. We were more or less the only ones in the car park - there were a few cars parked just outside - typically Irish! And I'm glad the car wasn't vandalised or broken into while we were walking. It's that kind of a place when it's not busy!

The website above could be good if the pages were updated. I found a lot of dead links, and, despite my extreme patience, the pictures never loaded! You'll find a few more pictures on Wikipedia.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ellipses - still lives

After my disastrous drawing experience last week, I decided to practise drawing ellipses. Well, I did put my good intentions into deeds last weekend. But I haven't touched pencils since. I should really have a sketchpad with me all the time, and do little doodles whenever I want a break from work (rather than playing solitaire on my computer!)
I'm quite happy with my drawing of my teapot and favourite mug. All done without tracing. I just need a bit of patience, and I actually enjoy it!

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Not me. I'm the opposite of a shopaholic, I'd say. I can go for weeks without entering a shop. I do most of my shopping online ( has everything I need), and I take more pleasure out of looking at a catalogue (see Boden above!) or compiling a wishlist on Amazon than from browsing in a real shop.

But the heroin of Confessions of a Shopaholic is in trouble. She's maxed out her credit card, she's ignoring letters from the bank, her life is running out of control, and she spends 3 quarters of the book burying her head in the sand. And then, all of a sudden, when she is hiding from her bank manager, telling her parents that he is a stalker, things start getting better. All because, despite being completely ditsy, she is a very bright girl after all.

If it sounds just like the plot of The Undomestic Goddess,... it's because it is. But a very enjoyable read all the same. I'll probably enjoy the movie too.
Hey - forgot to mention the most important fact - I didn't read this book on paper, but on my iPod Touch. Very tiring on the eyes if I tried to read more than 4 or 5 pages at a time, but it was so handy to be able to whip up my iPod Touch at any time, and read a few pages while waiting for Brendan in the car, or while watching the news on the telly. I have downloaded the full works of William Shakespeare (for free), so I'll never be stuck for something to read!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bob Dylan

Brendan and I went to the Bob Dylan concert at the O2 on Wednesday night. Brendan is a fan. I'm not, but I did enjoy the concert. It was definitely better than the last time we saw Dylan in the Point Theatre a few years ago, when he sat at his piano with his head down the whole time. The O2 is the same location as the Point Theatre by the way, except it's all been rebuilt and made bigger.

This time, he had a standy-upy harmonium-type keyboard, and he was standing the whole time, moving with the music. And he even played the guitar on a song or two, and plenty of harmonica, which the audience loved, of course.

And he did turn towards the audience on a couple of occasions and acnowledged us with a kind of wave.

The music was good, very bluesy. According to Brendan, a lot of the songs were nearly unrecognisable. I did recognise 3, so I'm doing pretty good there - one was Like a Rolling Stone, and the other 2 were from a recent album (I think it's Modern Times), which Brendan plays at home quite a bit (and it's very listenable too - I never thought I'd hear myself say that!).

I was concerned that my cough would disturb the mood - but of course, I had no idea how large the O2 is. It's like a big American stadium (or what I imagine a big American stadium to be). And the sound was so loud that a thousand coughs would go unheard. The O2 is really big, but we managed to get in and out with no major crush. All well organised, with plenty of ushers at all major junctions. And also the Carlsberg Backpack Girls. I've never seen this before. Young women (mostly Eastern Europeans) carrying big backpacks with Carlsberg bottles, going up and down the aisles and the steps, selling beer to the punters, at the cost of ... €7 per bottle. Not cheap. But it beats having to go down to the bar, I guess. Not that we availed of the service anyway, because if you drink, then you need to go to the loo, and when you're sitting in the middle of a row, a lot of people have to get up to let you out. I would not like to have a heart attack there!

Both of us still have colds - Brendan wasn't in great shape, but we managed to survive the night. We got the Luas into town, then the shuttle bus from Stephen's Green. The shuttle bus was very good, very efficient - got us there quickly, and got us back even quicker. It beats walking the whole way down the quays.

So overall, a good night out, though we're still paying the price, with lingering colds and chesty coughs.

By the way, I've read somewhere that Dylan has beaten Neil Diamond's record as the oldest artist touring (by a few months). They are 67 or 68. I don't know how they can stick touring for so long (check out all the dates on Dylan's website).

By the way, did you know that Bob Dylan also draws and paints? Check out I might not be a big fan of his music but there is no denying that the man's got talent!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Emer Martin

A good few weeks back, Brendan saw a painting he liked in a newspaper. It was only a tiny photograph, but it looked like a spiral of colour. I scanned it and printed it bigger and it looked really nice. Brendan said he wanted me to do a painting in a similar style, for somewhere over our stairs. I agreed it was beautiful, but I wasn't sure how to tackle it.

And then, last Thursday, I was at Pink Beauty in Dundrum, and picked up a magazine, and what did I find in it? There it was, with vibrant colours. So beautiful. I just had time to write down the details of the artist's website before I was called for my treatment. Her name is Emer Martin, and I love not only the spiral painting (it's called "She Followed Her Love Into The Underworld"), but also her series of little faces. Check them out- they appear so human (and a bit weird too) the way they're looking straight at you.

I don't want to do a straight copy of it, even if it's just for the top of our stairs and nobody will ever see it. I read in the magazine that it was to do with a narrative, so I want to paint something in a similar style that will be our narrative. Mmm. I'll need to ponder that for a while, I think.

Art Class

On Wednesday last, I took a big step, and joined an art class. And boy, am I at the deep end!

As you know, I've been taking shortcuts, the main one being taking a photograph of my subject and tracing the photograph as the basis for my painting. I was told by one of the teachers that I would learn a lot more by not tracing. I did learn how to draw a good ellipse all right, but, after a 2-hour class, I felt the teachers had spent a lot of time correcting my drawing, and there was not much left of my own tentative efforts. It's just as well, as it wasn't good, and I think they were anxious to get me started on the painting rather than staying stuck at the drawing phase.

The class focuses on acrylics, and I am keen to learn how to apply acrylics well. So far, all I've done is apply the first base layer on illustration board (rather than canvas, which apparently is harder to work with. I think illustration board is cheaper too, so a good way to get started without spending huge amounts of money), and it really doesn't look like much.
The other students in the class all have been working with these teachers for a good while, and all already had projects in progress, although I thought this was the start of a class cycle. All of them seemed to be working from photographs and are doing a variety of things, not just still lives, and they got stuck straight in, while I needed a lot of attention from the teachers. So I felt very much like the new kid on the block. And very inadequate! Maybe I should have picked a simple landscape rather than my little crystal vase with blue glass pebbles and pink ribbons.

Anyways, for what it's worth, here are 2 versions of my efforts - the first one is as is; the second is after applying a bit of Adobe Photoshop Elements to correct what looks to me like completely wrong perspective! A world apart from the one that's proudly hanging in our bedroom. That said, even that one didn't look so good at the start, so I have no doubt that this ugly little duckling will turn into a beautiful swan. Looking at the other students' paintings, there is hope for me yet. Or these ladies are all extremely talented!


We started watching Heroes last night. I think we saw a bit of an episode a while back and we thought we might like it. So we've started. We watched the 73-minute 1st episode and episode 2. It has some things that we'll probably find a bit irritating, like the "handsome Indian professor", the"intelligent rich black woman" and the "cute kid". But there is enough humour, with the Hiro character, to keep me hooked.

Scary - there is a Heroes Wiki, with all you ever wanted to know about Heroes.

And there is also an associated graphic novel available on the NBC website. It's currently at episode 135. We've got a bit of catching up to do!

Kevin McAleer?

Brendan was planning to go and see Kevin McAleer at the Olympia on Thursday evening with Padraig. Padraig had to cancel a few weeks ago, so I agreed to accompany my husband. Not that I'm a big fan of stand-up comedy. Apparently, I have no sense of humour. Whether it's a national trait (or failing rather) or not is open for debate. But I won't argue with it. Most of the time, I just don't get it.

Well, I was all ready on Thursday evening. Brendan had cooked us a nice early dinner of fish (was it sea bream? I don't know my fishes - no surprise there) and pak choi and fried rice. And I put on one of my nice Boden shirts and a long cardigan, and we headed into town on the Luas.

When we got to the Olympia, the shutters were down, and there was a note in the window saying that the Kevin McAleer show would now be on the 12th of September. No explanation, no email from TicketMaster, no management at the door. Not even an apology on the note in the window!
And no mention of it on the Kevin McAleer website. I found a vague something in the google search for the MCD website about filming commitments. But when I follow the link, I can't find anything about it. Anyway, whose filming commitments are they talking about? Kevin McAleer's? The Olympia's? Mine? Well, I felt our commitments were the least of the promoters' concerns.

The good thing about this now is that Padraig will hopefully be available to go on the 12th of September!

Lake Tekapo

I have now applied more slow-dri blending medium with white paint, and applied over the existing snow. It looks much more convincing, and I think I'm done with this painting.

Although the mountains are a lot darker in the acrylic version than in the watercolour one, they don't dominate the landscape as much, as I have a much bigger sky, which balances the composition better, I think. And I like my strong colours, if I may say so myself.

The only problem with the Liquitex slow-dri blending medium I'm using is that it's glossy, so the painting is quite shiny. Not good enough for framing, but a very useful exercise all the same. I must find out if they do a medium that's not quite as glossy.

I'm tempted to have another go at this painting, using watercolours again, and trying out some pouring techniques I'm reading about in "How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself", by Nita Engle (quite an inspirational book, with very clear explanations)