Monday, July 31, 2017

The old and the new

Remember this photo from our Bloomsday sketchout? It was taken in front of a house on Hardwicke Street (just one street behind the Olivier Cornet Gallery)

Well, I was on Hardwicke street recently, meeting Jason Sheridan from the Hardwicke Street Community Garden, and he sent me this photo:

One of the things I love about urban sketching is that it brings you to parts of the city you would not visit in your day-to-day life. This is Dublin inner city, with its poverty, unemployment, social issues, its drug problems. Not a place I would normally go to. And yet, Hardwicke Street's residents made me feel very welcome indeed when I visited. And I got to know them a little better, chatting with old and young. All that because of a sketch from Bloomsday! I am a firm believer that sketching can bring people together. 

And I did find out about Margaret Sheridan, Margaret Maguire and Amanda Bowes. Sadly, all three were killed in 1980 when a joy-rider lost control of the car he was driving at speed on the street. Margaret Sheridan was Jason's grand-mother, Amanda was his 8-year-old cousin, and Margaret Maguire was a friend of Mrs Sheridan. 

May they rest in peace.


After I got back, I did this little painting from a photo I took in Bellegarde-du-Razès, using my "old" colour palette, so it was a little bit of an experimentation, playing with colours I haven't used in a while.

The result isn't quite as sparkling as I wanted. And definitely not as interesting. Was there a good reason these colours were cast aside?

I'm sure I can do better than that - it's a bit too literal an interpretation of the landscape - I think I should try something more abstract and textural! I've just picked up Ann Blockley's book on watercolour textures, and I'm seeing things that are really inspiring me! Always good to go back to my old classics.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Old Colours

And some old colours too, which I've dug out of my paint box and organised. Not sure what I'll use them for yet - that's why they've been in the box for a while (years in some cases - if the tube is well sealed, watercolour will keep a long long time)- but they are so cheerful that I'm sure I'll find a project to make me happy on a rainy day:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

New Colours

Let's talk about exciting new colours I've discovered while reading a blog post by Marc Taro Holmes, aka CitizenSketcher. I was so intrigued by some of the colours he uses in his standard palette that I had to try some of them at least. I do have my own minimum favourite palette, with quinacridone gold, aureolin yellow, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, PG50, PV19, pyrolle red, phthalo green, green apatite genuine, and burnt sienna - those colours will work for most of my urban sketches and sea and clouds too. But the names of some of these new colours were so exotic that they got me intrigued.

  • Buff Titanium - PW6:1 - it's a white of some sort. Not that attractive on its own, but Marc Taro Holmes swears by it for complexion mixes, and beaches, and crazy skies. And yes, I have tried it for all of the above, and it works. Accompanied by perylene maroon and prussian blue, it makes a perfect mix for painting faces.
  • Graphite Gray - PBk10 - yes, it's a black. Apart from the patch below, I haven't tested it yet. It's a very smooth dark grey, no granulation. Maybe I'll try it for drawing with a paint brush? 
  • Lavender - PW6+PV19+PB29 - so that's a mix of white, ruby red (pink red) and ultramarine. I could have mixed that myself I guess, but it was mentioned as a colour Alvaro Castagnet used to push backgrounds back. And yes, I did think his book on watercolour painting was useless. I still do. But his paintings are amazing. And I know using the same colours as him is not going to transform me into a professional artist overnight, but I believe in using the best possible tools on my journey! 
  • Moonglow - PG18+PB29+PR177 - that's veridian green, ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson to you and me - well the guys at Daniel Smith decided to mix it all together and the result, Moonglow, is just amazing! It's just a purple, I hear you say. But wait until you see it granulate and separate when mixed with other colours. I've tried it with Buff Titanium and Lavender for skies and it makes the most amazing clouds!
  • Bloodstone Genuine - this one doesn't have a pigment number because the pigment is Bloodstone Genuine, or Heliotrope - it's a stone. Quite dark. Not quite sure yet how I'll use it. It granulates beautifully, but I've tried it for clouds and it didn't work for me - I just have to find the right colour to mix it with.
  • Perylene Maroon - PR179 - now if you want to paint the colour of blood, perylene maroon is what you need. It's so thick and intense! But if you dilute it well, it will work for painting faces, as I mentioned above.
And then, there are a couple of colours that I already had which I've included in this palette
  • Chinese White
  • Naples Yellow
  • English Venetian Red
  • Prussian Blue
Prussian Blue and Naples Yellow because they worked well for painting faces, English Venetian Red for no good reason except that I thought it would be a good red to have, and Chinese White because I felt that if I kept it in the tube, it would dry out through lack of use, like every other watercolour white I've ever bought.

So we'll see how these colours will all work out. I have them all together in a little portable palette, so they'll be handy for urban sketching!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Bellegarde-du-Razès sketches

That bad bad cold is still taking a lot out of me. I don't even have the energy to sketch or paint. That's so frustrating. You know the feeling, when your body is so heavy and tired that you think it will never get better. And that's only a cold. God forbid I ever have anything serious! Plus I don't get summer colds, particulary in a good summer. Yes, I was at the doctor's surgery and a nursing home and on an airplane in the week before I got this cold, so that's probably why. And there is a theory going that I've been wearing myself out with all my activities and that maybe I should take it easy for a while. Well, I have no choice but to take it easy right now. My legs feel so weak I think I would struggle reaching the top of the road.

OK, enough moaning.

When travelling, always carry your little sketchbook with you, and a small watercolour set if you can! On this occasion, the set I brought with me was a mini Sennelier set. It's really tiny tiny, but perfect when you're sight-seeing and you don't want to carry too much. I brought one watercolour brush, my versatile Pyramid brush from Rosemary and Co., quirky but useful in that it can do both detail and good washes. I also brought one pen, my beloved Lamy Safari (extra fine nib), filled with DeAtramentis waterproof Document ink.

This was the view from the house in Bellegarde-du-Razès, all rolling hills and fields. I really liked it. If I was to build that house myself, I would change its orientation, with more windows and terraces facing that way. But then again, that's full South, so I can imagine that after one summer there, I'd be looking for the shade!

This view is from the village. There is a little square with a picnic bench, and it overlooks some of the houses and the fields and hills in the distance.

And then some airport and airplane sketches. Airports are the best place to practise drawing people: they are generally looking at their phones or reading a book, you can move to a different spot if you don't want to be noticed, you can do a combination of standing and sitting poses, there are plenty of bags and colourful outfits. It's a long time since I was in transit in Dubai airport, but if I went there, I would definitely bring my watercolour set, and the hours would pass really quickly. Maybe I should book a flight with a really long transit time? My fellow passenger would go mad of course, but I would be happy! Or book a flight to Donegal or Kerry and spend the day in Dublin airport just sketching! Well, now that I look into it, it would actually be cheaper to book a cheap Ryanair flight. Dublin to East Midlands is currently 14.99, versus 34.99 to Donegal. But then again, it depends what terminal I would want to work in. That would be a great project!

Thursday, July 27, 2017


I was so lucky to be invited to France for a few days by my good friend Françoise, who had the use of a house in a tiny village called Bellegarde-du-Razès, in the Aude department, about 40 minutes from Carcassone, and 20 minutes from the town of Mirepoix in the Ariège towards the Pyrenees.

The weather was glorious - 3 days of pure sunshine (and a few thunder clouds in the evening - they always form over the Pyrenees), intense blue skies and 30 degrees. Perfect!

My main memory of the views is the gentle hills and valleys that stretch as far as the eye can see, with a mix of vineyards, wheat fields, forests, and sunflowers. Apparently, it was peak sunflower season, and it was so intense! A very different feel from the Corbières, which is more rugged and dry.

Not much to do in the village itself, but it's very pretty and I could spend a week sketching there and still not capture all the views. On my last day, we discoverd a hiking trail that goes through the whole Razès area. We only walked a very small section of it, but it was so peaceful. You can get the map at the post office, which is open every morning.

And if you want more to do, there are lots of beautiful towns and villages nearby, like the town of Mirepoix, with its market and cathedral (well worth a visit), and the castle of Montségur, which we didn't get to as I needed some pool time!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cold remedies

I hate having a cold. I hate it even more in the summer! It's not fair! I get the feeling I'm going to be coughing for weeks, despite deploying all my cold remedies! And since the coughing happens mostly at night, I feel wrecked. Here is what I've been throwing at it so far:

  1. raw grated garlic (in a salad with tomatoes and a dash of rapeseed oil - actually quite nice, if socially awkward)
  2. baked garlic
  3. Difflam throat spray and gargle
  4. expectorant syrup
  5. paracetamol
  6. vitamin C
  7. Pineapple juice
  8. Lots of rest
  9. A few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek the Next Generation
  10. Drops of lavender oil
  11. hot water with
  12. grated ginger 
  13. lemon juice
  14. manuka honey
  15. cloves
Anything else I could try to shake this off?

Two things to add to the list:

  1. A friend of mine recommended grated raw garlic and turmeric simmered in milk. I haven't tried it, but it sounds so awful it must be good!
  2. I just got a new cough syrup from the pharmacy: Bronchostop, and it already seems to be helping. It's based on natural ingredients, thyme and marshmallow root, which I like, and it works for all kinds of coughs, which is perfect for me. Productive cough during the day and tickly cough at nightime! I'm still feeling worn out, but once I can control the cough, I will regain my energy in no time!

Watercolour faces - Sktchy

Well done me! I've stuck to one thing! Still working on drawing people from Sktchy! In watercolour this time. I was inspired by Marc Taro Holmes's wonderful portraits. I have a long way to go, and I should definitely paint in a bigger format (this is approximately 10x10cm), but I had fun with the colour mixes. More about those another time.  And the model was happy with the end result. 

I didn't show her the first layer, although that's often more interesting to me than the final product - I just love to see the fluid colours run and mingle, and I feel no pressure to create a likeness.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I keep going round and round, jumping from one subject to the next. So I'm back with drawing people, for a short while anyway. Since I haven't had the time (or picked up the courage) to go to a life drawing session, I turned to Sktchy again. This time, I tried to draw the minimum amount of features to define the form. It worked well for two of the three, so I uploaded them. And got great feedback (9 people wowed the girl in shorts, and 4 the young man in profile, including the subjects themselves)
Sktchy is an interesting concept, isn't it? You can get your portrait painted without having to commission or pay any artist! Having a portrait of yourself is no longer the exclusive privilege of the rich and famous - I kind of like that! But also, artists can practise their craft without having to pay a model, or even leaving the comfort of their own home! Now all I need to do is practise. Or maybe I'll move on to something else? Clouds maybe?

This one didn't work out so good. I will make another attempt and will only upload it when I'm happy.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sketching while waiting

As I am the kind of person who always likes to be on time, I tend to be early for appointments. that can be infuriating to some, but, me, that's the only way I can actually relax. What better way to use the dead time than sketching (from the car or the footpath)? Two pens and a small sketchbook is all that's needed - in this case, a fine pen (Micron Pigma) and a grey bold PITT pen. The dark darks were achieved by adding several layers of the grey PITT pen.

It would be an interesting project to map all the locations I've been to since I started sketching - Ah, there's another potential project!

A watercolour a day

I set myself a goal of painting a watercolour a day for the summer. I'm currently failing miserably.

I am working from Veronica Lawlor's book, One Watercolor a Day, a good tool for trying out different techniques without pressure.

This is how far I got since around the 25th of June!

Tackling roses, a subject I find particularly difficult

Painting only in red, with juicy wet-in-wet washes around a dry shape

Monochrome painting

Analogous colours

Not sure what kind of colours this is. It was supposed to be split complementaries, but I got confused somewhere along the way

This is what happens when you try to use old masking fluid - the lesson? If the bottle has been opened more than a couple of months, throw it out. I think I will stay away from masking fluid for now, despite the flexibility it offers

Another attempt at a rose,with masking fluid this time. Not very exciting.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Elgin Road

Being early for an appointment at the embassy, I was glad I had my sketchbook with me, and a couple of nice pens (including the dreaded Pentel brush pen!). Cars are to be added to the list of things I need to practise.

So I decided to draw just a car on its own, the car that was parked right in front of me!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Wolfe Tone Square

Another Sunday, another Dublin Sketchers location! Wolfe Tone Square. One of these places you normally pass through without stopping.
We have been blessed with the weather, and Wolfe Tone Square was busy with families, children, tourists, pigeons, seagulls, and a group of Eastern European men (Romanians?) engaged in very animated conversation. And sketchers of course.

I wasn't the only one to be drawn to the dome over Penneys on Mary Street, the old Todd Burn's Department Store, but my sketch was probably the most colourful! (OK, not quite as colourful as this, but Picasa seems to struggle with orange - the sketch is actually a little more pink than this)

And while I'm at it, I couldn't help this Picasa Invert Colours trick. I must try this in real life next time! A great excuse to use yummy colours!

And now I know why the bar that was facing me (to the right of the sketch) is called The Church!

Since I had some time left, I did a second sketch, trying to capture the group of men talking, a couple of sketchers, the palm trees and the beautiful big tree in the background.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mud Island Community Garden

A little gem of a location for Dublin Sketchers a few weeks ago: Mud Island Community Garden, just off North Strand Road, Dublin 3. Lots of vegetables and flowers and a caravan. And also a lovely lean-to with benches and a table - ideal for Sketchers tea and chat.

The artist at work
I love discovering hidden corners of Dublin. Particularly when, in this case, it brings me back to parts of the city I used to be familiar with. When I first came to Dublin in 1982, I stayed with a family in Raheny for 3 weeks. And I took the 29A bus into town most days - this was pre-Dart, remember! I had forgotten all about that area, but it was like I was back at the top of that bus, smoking Major cigarettes, and falling in love with the city for the first time. I still do, love it.

Courgettes and Nasturtiums

Yes, I know, my caravan is too short, but look at the lovely colours and shapes!

Drawing what's in front of me

When life gets too busy, my desk gets messy!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Powerscourt on my birthday

Do you know anyone who gets up at 6am on their birthday and goes out to paint at 7 am? I am so lucky I have a friend who was happy to do the same!
We met at Powerscourt just before 7 on that beautiful sunny morning and set to work straight away. Painting is serious business! Particularly so in Ireland when the good weather is never guaranteed to last.
By 10 am, we both had two paintings done, and we went to the coffee shop for a celebration slice of banana cake and a cup of tea. I was home by 11, ready to open my presents!

Powerscourt house and gardens is a wonderful location, apparently voted Nr 3 Best Garden in the World by the National Geographic! - gorgeous mountains in the distance, lots of trees, meadows, and if you go into the gardens themselves, you could spend the rest of your life painting there: fountains, statues, Japanese garden, walled garden, pet cemetery, beautiful views over the moutains, tourists, ... It's got it all. On this occasion, we stayed outside the main garden - we didn't want to have to pay to get in. I could have painted the Sugar Loaf view in the distance - it is picture-perfect after all. But, maybe I was intimidated by it, I chose instead to paint this set of conifers in the east.

The first painting, as done on location. I was very happy with it at the time, but when I got home, I felt that there were too many busy bright shapes competing for attention.

So I reworked it - lifting quite a bit of paint and applying simpler washes to push shapes further back. I also greyed out the little house in the distance, as it was competing for attention with my centre of interest, the big conifers on the left.
Second painting of the day. I turned around and tried to paint one of the beautiful trees in the middle distance. It didn't work out quite as well as I had hoped. I applied the same treatment, but the patient didn't respond too well. What I needed to do in this case was start again, giving the leaves more fluid strokes and thinking more about the colours for the bark. Plus I should have worked wet-in-wet for my sky. Another day's work. I'll just have to go back!


After rework at home

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sketches and paintings from the holidays

A month has gone by, and I've been so busy that I never got around to sharing holiday pics, paintings or sketches.

Photos will have to wait a while yet - too many to review in the time available!

I did sketch and/or paint more or less every day, but I'm afraid it's quantity over quality. Still, I'm happy I fitted in that much, despite the weather and the distractions (good distractions, might I add).

A lot of clouds over the hills, so I tried to work quite wet to get that sense of softness. I hope it shows!

The paintings below are all views from the house we rented in Dunquin - I did not include the endless stream of bungalows and houses that blight the landscape, but rather, I painted what I saw - the sky, the sea, the mountains! And most of all, I edited out Kruger's pub, the ugliest yellow rambling building I've ever seen! (and service with no smile, to make things worse!)

My favourite of the week - captured the softness, the greens, and a beautiful house. Just like I wanted.

Slea Head is just behind that hill
That day, it was raining. A lot. But the painting would have worked better is I had kept the house brighter (and not botched my electricity poles!)

Great Blasket Island. As seen from the house.