Sunday, December 31, 2017

Red Anthurium

I never knew the name of this plant. And I will soon forget it. Not good with scientific Latin names, despite three years of Latin in secondary school (all I remember is translating Cesar - not my idea of fun!). But it provided a forgiving subject for a line drawing. I love watercolours so much that I had nearly forgotten how beautiful a simple line is. With a little dash of colour to liven it up!

The reason I bought this plant is that I knew it was sturdy and required little attention. I just couldn't face another half a year where I'm keeping a Christmas rose going till the bitter end. They always end up in the bin, despite my tender loving care. And I have an Amaryllis bulb in the dark in the downstairs loo waiting to be brought out to the light, but I missed the Christmas deadline! So a red anthurium it is. It's grown plenty since I got it already.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas sketches

Not much sketching, and no painting, over the last week. Still, every little bit counts. And I plan on catching up over the coming days.

 Christmas lights and Christmas cards

 Got a gift of  Koh-I-Noor Magic pencils. Love the hatching effect

 Still trying to master my Pentel brush pen. Definitely in need of more practise

 Drawing my mother with her beloved iPad. It's incredibly hard to capture someone close.

For some reason, sketching my father is easier, particularly when he's having a little rest.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best Nine

It's a thing going around Instagram, your best posts of the year. Well, I don't use Instagram much (MHBD1 in case you're looking for me). So, I chose my favourite 9 watercolours and 9 urban sketches. They got drastically cropped on Instagram, so here they are again, still cropped but not too badly:

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Poppies - progress report

Sometimes, despairing about a painting forces me to take drastic action. In this case, I lifted and scrubbed paint to make the shapes more evanescent, and I added colours in the lights and darks to counteract the brassiness that had crept in.
Now I need to think what I'm going to do about the tree that's supposed to be on the left-hand side. Will it bring too much darkness to the painting? What colour should it be? How do I keep it light? How large should it be? I think I will need to experiment on another piece of paper and juxtapose it to see how it would look.
This will have to wait until after Christmas, though, as all my space is crowded by the items that are normally kept in the guest bedroom!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Drawing figures in a sketch

I recently rediscovered a wonderful book by James Richards, Drawing and Freehand Discovery, which I mentioned in a previous post. So I was practising how to draw people to populate my urban sketches. Here is a little bit that I copied from the book.
I've also started his Craftsy class! But I haven't done the first lesson's assignment yet, although I did put it into practise on my last Dublin Sketchers outing. It will all happen in the New Year. Life on hold until then!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

DLR Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire

Last Dublin Sketchers outing of the year. The DLR Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire is a wonderful indoor location with lots of outdoor views. And the sea an amazing colour for a dark day in December. Nice bright notes from the Christmas market - apparently the crêpes were the best seller, and a chance to practise populating my sketch with people (and a couple of dogs - although my dogs appear to be floating on a different plane than the people!). I must figure out how to add hair to my stick figures. Bobble hats look good, though.
This sketch was done from the ground floor - the window was at an angle to the scene, so I had to imagine as much as observe.

The DLR Lexicon is a controversial library - it was really a vanity project for the county council, I believe. It's a wonderful resource, welcoming to all, and it is in a perfect location. But many local residents were not happy with how it dominates the landscape, I'd imagine. And why build such a large library in one location (very close to the county council building, interestingly enough), rather than improve the libraries all around the county?

But when I sketch, I don't ask these questions. I just look at what's in front of me, I think about colours, and I see all the possible angles!

For this one, I had about 25 minutes left and I walked up to the first floor, where I found the perfect window seat looking straight down at the same view. That seat was taken by a fellow sketcher, so I sat in the little corner right beside her, and I was blessed with a really interesting perspective, framed by the vertical walls of the library - all sky. I didn't have time to sketch it, but I wanted to capture the colours of the sea and the sky the best I could, as the photos I took were full of reflections and the fading light made it look duller than it was. I might add detail at a later point, but let's be realistic, we're the week before Christmas, and things are going to get hectic, so it probably will remain unfinished!

Monday, December 18, 2017


Found a link to a wonderful website on watercolours (I found this via Liz Steel's blog). A lot of words, maybe, but this is the pep talk that I need at the moment to get me out of my watercolour rut! There are pages and pages of information on greens alone. It lacks illustrations, but it's a wonderful resource for a pigment geek like me!

And it has some inspiring quotes too!

"Watercolor is a swim in the metaphysics of life, a mirror of one's personal relationship with the world.

The vitality in watercolor is the life of art itself — alert, spontaneous, surprising, improvisatory, relentless, risky, and leaning a little on luck.

Let it be unpredictable ... colorful ... wet."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Watercolour portraits in Centra

Before I start, a quote for the day, from James Richards' book Freehand Drawing & Discovery, which I'm going through again at the moment. It's the first book where I came across urban sketching, by the way!

"At this point, don't aspire to be great or even to be original. Aspire to be prolific. That's an aspiration you can control, and one that can lead - in less time than you might think - to greatness and originality"

I haven't succeeded in being prolific over the last month, but the year has been pretty good from that perspective at least. I think it will be an ongoing goal for me!

Dublin Sketchers have a tradition of meeting in the basement café in Centra on Westland Row on a Sunday in December. We sketch each other, and listen to Davey playing the guitar and singing, and John playing the ukulele or the fiddle. It's a really lovely tradition. And makes for good memories in all our sketchbooks. It's fun also to see how the others perceive us!

My choice of going straight to watercolour means that accuracy goes out the window. But "I've had the time of my life" all the same, to quote one of the songs that Davey sang!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Here is how I want to paint poppies

Existential crisis? Maybe not. But I'm starting to seriously doubt how I paint. And I want to move to more abstract landscapes. But I keep reverting back to what's expected of me in terms of watercolour style. And even though it doesn't agree with me, I keep repeating the same pattern. Chocolate box. I love chocolate. But not in my paintings.
So, after a frustrating session of painting stiff poppies, I took my biggest paint brush out (a Jean Haines squirrel blend mop from Rosemary and Co.) picked bright colours and splashed paint around on three different papers (rough, cold press, hot press). And let pigment and water do their work, while I sat back and enjoyed!
I know these are not "frameable quality, but I had fun painting them. Isn't that what it should be all about?

And a quote, from Marc Taro Holmes, to motivate me:
"You never want a painting to be hard work. It should be a joy, not a second job :)"


Cold Press

Hot Press

Monday, December 11, 2017

When in doubt, paint poppies

Still looking for my mojo back in watercolours. So in the meantime, I'll just paint poppies.
And even that's getting frustrating. It's like I'm trying too hard!
Promising enough start

By this stage, it's lots its spontaneity, and my light grass is too brash a tone. Maybe it'll be all right when I've added the tree to the left (it's quite dark) and glazed a quinacridone gold over that awful green grass? Maybe it won't?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Dublin Castle State Apartments

"My love affair with Dublin" should be the title of all these posts!

Great afternoon with Dublin Sketchers at the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. It was a cold and drizzly day. And we had special access to the beautiful, warm and bright rooms in the State Apartments, so I sketched indoors! I couldn't resist. I got so warm I had to take my coat off, though.

Until 1922, Dublin Castle was the centre of the British administration in Ireland. It has wonderful state rooms designed, literally, for kings. And apparently a throne whose legs were chopped off for a not so tall queen. It was also home to the viceroy, who ruled Ireland on behalf of the monarch. Lots of gilding. So many amazing chandeliers.

But what caught my eye on Sunday was the building across the courtyard (I'm not sure of its use). A tricky bit of architecture in terms of proportions. I battled with it for an hour and a half, in pencil - a record for me. Still got lots of basic proportions wrong (but I think my building is more harmonious than the original, with it's ridiculously tall tower!). Then I went to the Terrace Café to ink it. Watercolour was added a couple of days later! I used to be much faster, but I am learning precision (of sorts) so I need to slow right down. With practise (a lot of practise), I will get faster hopefully. And better?  Without having to measure so much, so I can be more spontaneous again! Or I might just lose patience and throw it all out the window!

The finished sketch
What I got done on site (pencil, then inked in the café)

The full spread, with a copy of the official sketch from the OPW, which shows how short the tower is in my sketch!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Palm Oil Free Irish Soap

In a world where even Brennan's Bread contains palm oil (I kid you not - check the ingredients!), at long last, I have found a palm-oil-free soap!! Was so happy to come across this wonderful stand at the RDS Gifted fair (on until Sunday)! Palm Free are a company based in Killaloe who make soaps, shampoo bars (thyme-scented!) and candles without palm oil! Their products smell delicious and the couple on the stand are very nice too!

Make sure to drop in and buy palm free soaps!

Christmas cards

I've been busy making Christmas cards in the last few days. I've posted one on Zazzle in case you like them! PS: I recommend the semi-gloss option rather than the matte - I tried the matte before but was disappointed with how the colours looked.
I've actually just received my order of this card now and it looks really nice, if I may say so myself!

Christmas Trees Card
Christmas Trees Card
by _MHBD_

I've also got a few other designs that you might like!

Wooden figurines - drawing

Last week wasn't a good week for sketching. I just got busier and busier as the week went on. Culminating with a major laundry and hoovering operation on Saturday. Not what I had planned.
Here is what I managed to squeeze in:

It's a back to basics approach. Which I really need to do right now. I think that's the only way for me to get out of the rut I'm in. To keep going back and building on what I've learned, rather than getting notions. 

Speaking of notions, an interesting result when I do a Multiple Exposure collage in Picasa.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Köln Concert

Some music can make me so happy with life. The Köln Concert,  by Keith Jarrett, is one of those albums that does that for me - it makes my heart sing. And I'm not a big piano fan. And I don't like jazz. But this is not jazz to me. This is life at its best.

I can't find any decent version of it on YouTube, only some pale imitation. So you'll have to go to Spotify or Deezer to find it!

If you're not sure, check out this article by someone who's much more knowledgeable than I am.

Perfect for the dark days.

Self portraits in watercolour

Quick sketches. One too fat with a small head. One with moustache and beard. Not my best work. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Palettes for Sketching Now Watercolour

New Year, New course, New sketchbook, Same paints.

So I'm snatching little bits of time to get myself ready for it!

I'm going to try a Stillman & Birn Beta Series (Portrait, A4, hardbound, hard cover) sketchbook this time. It will be interesting to see how the paint works on this paper. I'm so used to my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook at this stage that it will feel very strange to move away from it.

So, rather than changing everything, I'm going to stick to my usual sets of paints. Yes, sets. Plural. I guess I could pack them all into one box, but having them separate forces me to think about my colour choices. And it's what I'm used to for urban sketching anyway. Some of the colours are not very transparent. Some not at all actually. But I really love most of the colours in my sets. The only two I have doubts about are the Chinese White (I don't think I've used it once - I keep thinking it might be useful for something, but I haven't found that something yet) and Bloodstone Genuine (but I'm keeping an open mind about it - it would be good if I wanted real good darks)

So, come January 10th, I'll be all set!

Books read over the last few months

This is going back to the summer - I'm not reading as much as I used to.

The Patience Stone - a story of a wife and her injured husband in Afghanistan, or somewhere similar. The husband is in a coma. The wife looks after him every day. Outside, war rages on. And inside, another type of war. Best book in a long time. And I had a quick look at the DVD trailer on Amazon, and it looks really good too.

The Round House - it was a long time since I read a book by Louise Erdrich. A beautiful story of a young teenage boy, whose family is torn by a brutal attack. Great read.

Slade House - I like David Mitchell's stories. This is the prequel to The Bone Clocks. I should have read it first of course. But it was brilliant all the same. Makes me want to re-read the Bone Clocks. And Cloud Atlas!

Morality Play - the story of a band of medieval actors, who end up in a town where a boy was found dead on the side of the road. They decide to tell the story of the boy's death. But they find that elements of the narrative don't make sense. This is like a medieval thriller. A good story.

Small Great Things - I can't have my summer holidays without reading a Jodi Picoult book. Small Great Things delivered all I wanted! The story of a black delivery nurse and a white supremacist family.

PS: I've read all of these in Kindle edition. But I've put the links to the paperbacks. Not sure why!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Not only was the grass an amazing, intense, green, but so were the bare branches of the trees. I should have sketched the moment. Didn't. So I photographed it instead. Within 10 seconds, the light had changed. Always the light for me. Always the light.
What if I painted this green? I bet I'd be told it's not realistic. But this is Ireland! So you'd better believe me.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Exterminating Angel

It wasn't to everyone's taste. There were only about 20 people in the cinema. Some left at the interval.
But I found The Exterminating Angel, by Thomas Adès, a thrilling experience. The singing was interesting more than pleasing to the ear. The highest note ever sung by a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera New York was much talked about, but my ear found it hard to appreciate it. Still, what a fantastic story (based on the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel), striking setting, and chilling acting by the wide cast (except for one mezzo, whom I think suffers from an over-acting habit). I'm glad I experienced it. But I thought that Adès's The Tempest was a better opera overall.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Gelli printing

I'm noticing a pattern here. What am I avoiding?
It's a long time since I've done any Gelli printing. But I'm running out of colourful pages for my art journal. So I had to print a set this afternoon. Like all forms of art, it requires practise in order to attain interesting results. And I'm out of practise. Still, I had forgotten how much fun it can be to pull print after print and to end up with fingers full of paint.

Here is a little collage of what I ended up with. Not high art, but it will do!

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Drimnagh Castle and Dublin Sketchers Christmas party

26 of November, and still sketching outdoors. Warm layers, thermal underwear, hat, gloves, and a flask of hot tea - those are my secrets. This was my second time to Drimnagh Castle. And actually last year, it was in December I went there with Dublin Sketchers, and I sketched outdoors then!
But this time, I didn't lose my way in the car on the return journey.

And I managed to fit the whole castle on the page. I'm using a bigger sketchbook, which helps. And I do measure a bit nowadays!

This was our end-of-year party and everybody was in good spirit, warmed up by the fire, soup, tea, and for some, mulled wine on offer. And Drimnagh Castle was the perfect location. The initial castle was built in the 13th century, and it has a moat, and beautiful gardens. And we know someone who knows someone so it opens just for us on Sundays. We're so lucky!

Finished sketch (strengthened colours, added sky, fine pen to reinforce shapes, a little bit of white pen for windows)

Sketch as done on location - pencil and watercolour. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


You know how it goes. You think you're doing plenty. And then you realise that you haven't been drawing in ages. And it shows. And then you understand why you've been feeling. What? Off your game? Flat? Not right? And you wonder how it happened. Yes, life is busy. Bills have to be paid. (Just got our Laya health insurance bill, by the way, and couldn't believe how expensive it was. I must ring them on Monday and discuss plans.) Laundry has to be done. Dog has to be walked. Cat has to be injected. (And his litter tray has to be cleaned up - constantly - despite the regular insulin routine, he still drinks too much, and pees day and night. ) But drawing for 15 minutes a day should be possible. A matter of time management? Priorities? And where to fit yoga and meditation then?

Doesn't even look like me! And proportions are all over the place.
Thankfully, does look like my cat!
The only solution of course is to pick up a pen and a sketchbook and draw what's there. The cat. Me. The dog (if he didn't move so much). And pick myself up, one drawing at a time. Be warned. Some of these are not very good. And some are absolutely awful!

Interestingly enough, there is actually a resemblance here.
No resemblance here. Whatsoever.
A completely generic face. Must try harder.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

National Gallery of Ireland

This is a building that I've been longing to sketch for a good while now. But the old wing of the National Gallery of Ireland was behind scaffolding and closed to the public for a few years and it only reopened in the summer (I sketched a little section of the façade then). And I really didn't have the skills to tackle that simple but complicated façade.

Last Sunday, I was actually going to go inside, as it was cold and a bit drizzly. But as I walked in, a security guard stopped me and told me that my backpack and "this item" would have to be left at the cloakroom. Well, yeah. I don't travel light. But I find a backpack easier on my body than a shoulder bag. And the item in question was just my three-legged stool, neatly wrapped in its little sleeve and carried over my shoulder. Did he think it was a gun? Or simply that I could damage valuable paintings just out of clumsiness? The latter is more likely in my case, it has to be said. So, I decided to stay outside. The rain soon stopped. I was well wrapped up. And I got engrossed in my sketching. The said security guard did feel bad, by the way (I think so anyway!). He brought me a sketching stool about ten minutes later. The guards in the National Gallery are very nice! But anyway, that's how I was still sketching outside in mid-November!

So I felt a real sense of achievement when I actually managed to sketch the whole building! Thank you Security Guard for not letting me in. And Thank you Liz Steel for a wonderful SketchingNowBuildings course, which is really helping me on my journey! I am not yet able to sketch at the speed I would like. But I am finally achieving a better sense of proportions in my architectural sketches. I'm not there yet, but I feel I am making progress!

And not only that, but I did manage to fit the full building on the page! Something that you may remember is not my strong suit.
I still have a lot to learn, even at this level. But in my mind, my goals are 1. to sketch looser (but still accurate!) and 2. add people. So it's going to be a long journey!

This is the finished sketch - an extra half hour at home was all I needed to finish the details and add more colour and shading.

This is how far I got on the day  - about an hour and a half of sketching time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The ceiling

How to explore painting shade and cast shadow on a cold grey day in November? And finding a good-looking modern building in Ireland?

Well, I took the lazy option and sat at my dining room table. I've always found our ceiling interesting. Although this sketch makes it look like there is significant damp in the corners. Not the case. We got a new roof a couple of years back exactly for that reason. And now, it's completely dry, even on days when it doesn't stop raining.

PS: If anybody has any ideas of an interesting modern building in Dublin that I could sketch, let me know!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mapping Light and Dark - 2nd colour study

This is the last of the indoor exercises I had to do. In this version, instead of giving the buildings a first light wash, I started with the shady sides of the houses first, leaving the sunny sides white until I was done with the dark side.
The one mistake I've made throughout, I now realise a bit late, is that the shady side doesn't have strong cast shadows. Hopefully I will remember this in future!
The big advantage of this technique is that you don't have to wait for the first layer to dry. Although I did struggle with paint bleeding into damp areas at various stages all the same.
I think my light sides are a bit too light, but that's probably better than being too dark.

Now, I need to find a modern building and a sunny day to do my outdoor assignment.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mapping Dark and Light

Now that everybody else seems to be finished this course, I am struggling a bit with motivation and I have become slow with my assignments.

I really want to finish before Christmas, though, so I'll have to stick at it.

I was looking forward to this section on mapping light and dark (or dark and light?). I found the value study exercises  really good, learning how to differentiate between form shadow (or the shady side of a building - it can contain a lot of reflected light) and cast shadow (which is often a lot darker, and cooler colour), and also discovering that the bright side of a building is often more bleached out than you'd think - although that probably applies to Australia and Italy. But not so sure how that works out in Ireland. As I will be doing my outdoor assignment here in Ireland over the next couple of weeks, the darkest dullest time of the year, it will be interesting to see how that works out for me!
But I've just realised I still have to do a second indoor colour study before I'm allowed outdoors! So I'll continue pretending I'm somewhere warm!