Monday, April 30, 2018

Pigeon House - when sand gets in you watercolour

I did mention the wind kicking up while we were sketching near the Poolbeg station, didn't I! One of my fellow sketchers found that his water container kept filling with sand.  Mine didn't, but the page I was working on at that stage got this mottled effect because of the sand getting into everything.
At this stage, I was facing towards the Dublin Mountains and the sand was coming right at me! It wasn't exactly the effect I was after.

So what do you do with a failed page?
I had nothing to lose, so when I got home, I decided to splatter paint all over and pretend it was the fireworks scene in Ulysses (yes, all the quotes in this sketchbook are from James Joyce's Ulysses). I love this one!

And then you can always do another one! It was so blustery that the watercolour dried really quickly on my pages!

Saturday, April 28, 2018


It was the first day of sunshine after a long long winter! Three of us from Dublin Sketchers arranged to go to Poolbeg to sketch, paint and enjoy the weather.

We met up around 10:30. And of course, I had to start with a sketch of the two chimneys at the old power station. I always associate them with falling in love with Dublin all those years ago. And still today, any time I fly home from abroad, seeing them from the plane makes my heart go boum!

At one point, there was talk of the ESB taking them down, but apparently they decided to keep them, after public consultation in 2015. Why am I only finding that out now? I clearly don't read the papers! But this (old) news makes me very happy! (PS, click on the link above for stunning drone footage from the top of the chimneys!)

And here is the classic urban sketcher shot!
(A4 Moleskine attached to coroplast board, pencil and watercolour)

Text added later for our Bloomsday sketchbook project, although I don't think these chimneys were there in 1904. But the first power station was set up on the site in 1903! (and there will be a sketch of what's left of it in a couple of days!).

After that sketch, I felt I deserved a break, and a bite to eat, and ate lovely wraps while sitting in the car. If I had attempted to eat them outside, they would have been sand sandwiches, as the wind started kicking up around that time! But more about that later!

So next time you fly into Dublin, look out for the two chimneys at the mouth of the river Liffey, in the middle of Dublin bay. I hope your heart goes boum too!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Sketching while waiting

I don't carry my big A4 Moleskine with me all the time. That would be too exhausting. And my everyday handbag isn't that big. If I'm going anywhere where I might have to wait, I bring a little square Hand.Book with me. It's great for small sketches and it can take a watercolour wash, as long as it's not too wet! Perfect for experimenting, and discreet too if you don't want to attract attention.

On this occasion, I used a fountain pen with black watersoluble ink - that particular ink gives lots of gorgeous reddish and brownish shades when you wet it. If I could only remember where I got those ink cartridges - they probably came with the pen, which I bought in Bruges (I'm not the only person who loves to rummage in art shops when travelling abroad, am I?). For most of the sketches, I added the water after I got home, but for the crazy indoor tree, I actually dipped my finger in my tea and spread the ink digitally. Messy business, but I managed to wash my hands before my appointment!!

(PS: All good with me, this is just my yearly neurology review. I'm just trying to persuade the consultant to take me off a medication which I really believe is not necessary. Something I already asked last year, when I was told to wait until this appointment. But now I'm told I will need an EEG before they make the decision! Things don't move fast in the Irish health system!)

And rather than sketch the people in the waiting room (somehow, it felt like an invasion of their privacy), I sketched the presenters on the TV. (Yes, every waiting room in the hospital has TVs on the walls, and yet every winter we have patients stuck on trolleys in ERs. Priorities anyone?)

Another day, same sketchbook. With pencils instead. I only had two pencils with me (pink/purple and red/yellow).
On this occasion, I was just waiting for my food! It was marginally more efficient than the Irish Health System!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

St Andrew's Church, Westland Row

I don't go to churches (except for weddings and funerals, communions and confirmations!). But I was in St Andrew's Church, Westland Row, recently and sketched a composite view of it. It's actually quite beautiful inside. And very peaceful in contrast to the hustle and bustle of commuter traffic and people coming and going at rush hour. And warm on a cold day!

As I had my Bloomsday sketchbook with me (I was doing a reccie for our next "Dublin Sketchers Draws Ulysses" outing, checking out Sweny's pharmacy and making sure that we could sketch in the church) so I sat down in the warm church and admired the ceiling, altar, arches and statues. Funnily enough, I have just only noticed that I tend to sketch from the top down, always more interested in ceilings than floors, and rarely leaving enough space to fit both. Next time, I must make a conscious effort to sketch the "box" of the space, i.e. floor, walls, ceiling, before I get into the details.

By the way, if you would like to join us for our sketching outings, all information is available on We sketch every Sunday afternoon, except for Christmas and Easter. We'll be in the Westland Row area between 2 and 4 on the 13th May.

When I searched first through Ulysses, I couldn't find any mentions of St Andrew's Church. But it's actually referred to as "All Hallows". Here is the information I found on the James Joyce Project webpage: "After his circuitous journey from Westland Row, Bloom comes to "the open backdoor of All Hallows." This church, also called St. Andrew's, has a back entrance on Cumberland Street South and a main entrance on Westland Row, just south of the post office.

Now that I know, I think I might sketch around this quote: "The cold smell of sacred stone called him. He trod the worn steps, pushed the swingdoor and entered softly by the rere." I don't think I've ever been on South Cumberland Street. There is nothing that I love more than to discover new little nooks and crannies in this city that I've called my own for over 30 years (I am known to have uttered the words "Home is in Dublin" in the summer of 1983, although I didn't move here until 1986!).

I love Dublin! And I love urban sketching!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Japanese Film Festival

I got to see two movies at the Japanese Film Festival this year. I enjoyed both and gave them both an 'excellent' rating (as part of the festival, you can give each movie a rating). I would have liked to see a few more, but there was only so much time in the day!

Her Sketchbook (sekai wa kyo kara kimi no mono)

A lovely story about a young woman who has withdrawn from the world, only working in a factory because she doesn't have to talk to anyone. When she loses her job, her father finds her work as a tester for video games.
A beautiful story, and also an interesting insight into the hikikomori in Japan, a phenomenon I had never heard of before, but something quite widespread in Japan, when young people gradually withdraw from society and don't interact with the outside world.
The movie manages to be both tender and humorous.

Dear Etranger (osanago warera ni umare, which literally means 'a young child was born to us', so I really don't know where they got the English title from!!)

Life is not easy when you have a daughter from a first marriage, your wife has two daughters from her first marriage (one of which is young and doesn't realise that you're not her real dad, and the other is a teenager, full of angst and anger, mostly targeted at you), and your wife tells you she is pregnant, more or less at the same time as you're told by your boss that your job is not secure and you will be transferred from being a middle manager to working on the factory floor. But this man, Manoko Tanaka, loves his family, and keeps on giving his best, no matter how far he is pushed. A beautiful story, showing that Japanese men can express their love for their family and don't spend all their time at work. He's not perfect mind you. He does occasionally lose his temper, and he doesn't tell his wife about his demotion for a few months, continuing to go to work in his suit as if nothing happened! An interesting look at real life for many restructured families!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mulligan & Haines

One of those pages that I should have left alone. I had a nice black ink drawing. And then I added watercolour wet in wet, and I think I preferred the original. Well, at least I took a photo of it!!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Grattan Bridge

So, I settled in a warm café overlooking the Liffey, just South of Grattan Bridge, the Dwarf Jar. It's not as fancy as Dollard&Co, but somehow I doubt that posher establishment would be happy to welcome a bunch of sketchers taking over window tables for an hour or two! That said, the menu doesn't look that fancy, so maybe if we ordered pizza, we might be able to grab those prized seats. One thing I'm wondering about is if this is the location for the "Dollard big red printing house" mentioned in Wandering Rocks? Maybe worth a try after all!!

So, I settled at a window overlooking the bridge in the Dwarf Jar, picked up my watercolours and had fun for an hour! Although the Ormond hotel across the bridge is associated with the Sirens Chapter, I was inspired by Wandering Rocks, with people criss-crossing the city like pawns on a game of chess with the King and Bishop represented by the viceroy in his carriage and Father Conmee. Although some of my characters probably look more like the onelegged sailor that pops up now and then!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Court House

Fantastic sketch crawl with Dublin Sketchers last Sunday. On the Bloomsday theme. With a synopsis of the action for each location and a reading of excerpts.

The morning had been beautiful, with sunshine and light breezes. We were hopeful. But the first shower hit within half an hour. I just had enough time to deploy an umbrella to protect my sketch - waterproof ink will smudge if water hits it within the first few minutes of drawing. I donned my super-elegant rain poncho and moved directly to the next location, where I found a coffee shop and stayed warm for about an hour. (More about that in the next post).

Anyway, the location for this sketch is near the corner of Little Britain Street and Green Street, at the back of Capel Street, just North of the markets. It's not the most salubrious part of town, and I was glad to have other sketchers nearby. The looks from passersby were not the friendliest. Not hostile, but not "what are you doing here, it looks really interesting" either. So, for me anyway, a location where I would not be comfortable sketching on my own. Which is a shame, as there are some really interesting buildings around.

I didn't get very far in the sketch on location. But I was glad of what I had learned in Liz Steel's Buildings online course. In the time I had, I had managed to measure and draw the big shapes and proportions, plus the pillars that give the building, an old courthouse, its rhythm, plus some of the details in pencil. And start my pen work. Enough to be able to finish it at home, with the help of a quick photo.

"And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. "

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rainy morning in South Dublin

Spring is finally starting to appear. But the Easter weekend was so drab. So I had to resort to sketching from the car before and after our morning doggie walk on Easter Monday. I wasn't able for much anyway, crippled by back pain again. So sketching from the car, and a hot chocolate, was the only option for me!

The houses are on Redesdale Road, Mount Merrion, seen from the car park where our favourite little coffee shop is situated. Café Divino. Ida's coffee is the best in town, according to my husband! Me, I like the Suki teas and the hot chocolate! It's a small café, nothing fancy, but the owner, Ida, is really friendly, and she makes good coffee. And there are a couple of tables outside if you want to bring your dog! Lots of old trees and power lines added to the interest, from a sketcher's point of view!

I kept the Ulysses quotes simple.
"-The rain kept off.
 No answer."

"Save the trees of Ireland for the future men of Ireland on the fair hills of Eire, O."

Thursday, April 12, 2018


I was given beautiful tulips by a friend recently. It's not often we have flowers in this house. Although I love flowers. I just never think of buying them. So they had to be painted. I did a drawing (with inktense pencils and soft pastels) in my Fake Journal. And then, two watercolours.

The colours and the effect worked out much better in the one on the right. I was more careful in how I defined the petals. I need to work on painting better leaves, though.

And I might crop it...

Or try something more abstract. But that's another day's work.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Blue eyes

"Why have women such eyes of witchery? Gerty’s were of the bluest Irish blue, set off by lustrous lashes and dark expressive brows…..But Gerty’s crowning glory was her wealth of wonderful hair. It was dark brown with a natural wave in it. "

Continuing with the Bloomsday sketching project. My approach this year, as it's a much more prolonged affair, is to take every sketching opportunity as a Bloomsday inspiration. So, every time I use my Moleskine sketchbook, it's a Bloomsday sketch. Since Ulysses contains references to more or less everything in the universe, it is not hard to create connections. On this occasion, a friend was over for an afternoon of sketching, tea and chat. She happens to have blue eyes and dark hair! I sketched this directly to watercolour. Not even a pencil line (except for keeping my handwriting straight - I cannot write in a straight line to save my life). Portrait done in less than 15 minutes (we set a timer!). Watercolour swatches done as we were discussing various pigments I use for skin tone and other favourite colours (PG50 - I wouldn't use it for skin, but it's a fabulous colour, Cerulean Blue Chromium - a newcomer to my palette, Buff Titanium x2, Perylene Maroon x2, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna). I then added the quote and Japanese origami paper and washi tape. Why the Japanese elements?, might you ask. Just because I like them. And they help my page composition. And they contribute to the feeling I'm trying to evoke on each page. But mostly because I like them.

Monday, April 09, 2018


"—Afraid he’ll bite you? says the citizen, jeering.
  —No, says I. But he might take my leg for a lamppost."

Special thanks to Timber for modelling. (A chewy kept him occupied and roughly in the same position for a good half hour!)

A great afternoon spent chatting and sketching.

Friday, April 06, 2018

At the hairdressers

I'm not a hairdresser person. I like my hairdresser. He's great to chat with. But I find that the process of colouring and cutting hair is a tedious chore. A good reason to bring my sketchbook with me! I normally sketch a self portrait while the colour is taking. It's never very flattering.

So this time, I took a different approach. First, I drew the shelves behind me in the mirror. Then, I sketched the hairdresser as he was cutting my hair. That was quite a challenge. I never realised how much the hairdresser moves when he is working on my haircut, and how high his elbow is most of the time! Pencil worked better than ink.

I also did a quick sketch in the car as I was a few minutes early.

Next time, I should bring a bigger sketchbook and work all on one page.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Dublin Castle - Crawford

I really thought winter was over when I was able to sketch outside last Sunday week. But no. Not yet. Not for a while.

This is one of those sketches where the connection with Ulysses is tenuous. But it made sense to me at the time, based on a memory of a previous exhibition held at Dublin Castle. I bet there are plenty of connections like that in Ulysses, where no-one can figure out what Joyce was alluding to, just because the answer could only be found in Joyce's head. Not that I'm comparing myself to James Joyce!

Lots of tours around Dublin Castle at this time of the year. One of the tour guides I heard said that the pattern on the lawn in front of the Chester Beatty Library is a Celtic pattern that means Welcome. It doesn't quite match the information on the Dublin Castle website, which says that "At the heart of the gardens is the grassy sward of the Dubh Linn Garden, where patterns representing sea serpents are cut into the lawn. This lawn is on or near the site of the original dubh linn or ‘black pool’, where the Vikings harboured their ships and set up a trading base. It was this pool that gave its name to the city: Dublin." The tour guide did talk about the black pool and said that it was originally believed that the dark waters of this pool were the reason Guinness was black! So there you go, Dublin is the original Blackpool, and you can never be sure tour guides are telling you the truth! (PS: you will find this same paragraph on Dublin Sketchers' website, but since I wrote those lines, I think that's ok!)

I had great fun at home playing with the acronym so it would stand out.

—He can kiss my royal Irish arse, Myles Crawford cried loudly over his shoulder. Any time he likes, tell him.

While Mr Bloom stood weighing the point and about to smile he strode on jerkily."

Monday, April 02, 2018

Looking towards Bray Head

I'm fed up with winter! I really want to get out there, sketch and paint. But it's too bloody cold. I did get a good day when I went to the beach that time. I didn't stay out very long. And I didn't capture the brightness of the sky and the sea. But I got out with my sketchbook, pen and paints.
It's not going to happen this weekend. I'm currently looking out at a grey grey sky, with the same forecast for tomorrow, and rain.
Easy to tell myself "no excuses". And the weather is definitely not a good excuse. It's just the waves of creativity, with their peaks and troughs. I knew I would have to pick myself up and dust myself off. I just didn't think I would find it so hard to get back into the routine.

And in case you're wondering why I have those James Joyce quotes in my sketchbook, it's that I'm taking part in the Bloomsday sketchbook project. And rather than having a separate sketchbook just for that, I've decided to make every sketching outing into a Ulysses moment. There's very few locations in Dublin that have no Joyce connection. And if I need to stretch reality a tiny tiny little bit to make it fit, well, that's allowed! Sometimes, the connection will just be in my head.

"—Then what is it? Buck Mulligan asked impatiently. Cough it up. I’m quite frank with you. What have you against me now?

They halted, looking towards the blunt cape of Bray Head that lay on the water like the snout of a sleeping whale. Stephen freed his arm quietly.

—Do you wish me to tell you? he asked."

Sunday, April 01, 2018


I've been waiting for an election for so long, not that I want a change of government or anything, but because I needed a piece of coroplast, and I didn't want to buy it!

Whether our politicians are sensing an election in the air or not, I don't know, but many of them seem to find any excuse to set up public meetings, just to get their face on posters on the side of the roads. And in Ireland, we don't do simple paper posters that are displayed on a set board. No no no. That would be too environmentally friendly! No, what our politicians do is print dozens of posters on coroplast, and attach them with plastic ties to electricity or telephone poles! Coroplast is some kind of corrugated plastic sandwiched bewteen two sheets of straight plastic. A lot of plastic. It's strong. And quite rigid. And when it gets windy (I live in Ireland, remember, it's windy every other day here), these coroplast posters act like sails, they catch the wind, and sometimes, they break from their plastic ties, and go flying down the roads. So I was only doing my civic duty when I picked one up recently that my husband had seen near a junction in our neighbourhood.

So now, I was able to cut my own support board for sketching. No more worrying about holding my sketchbook's spine, or having to lean to pick up paint or water from the ground. It all fits! I didn't go for the version that Liz Steel has designed, with a flap. The full length fits in my bag. And while it's a big awkward in stormy weather, I'm so thrilled to have this new piece of kit. And I have plenty more of the politician's poster in case my first board gets damaged on my adventures! The one thing to remember is to bring lots of bulldog clips! Two to hold the book in place, one for the watecolour palette, and two for holding the pages in windy weather!