Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Willow B. - Born 17 March 2000, Passed Away 30 May 2018. We were there at every step of his journey. He made us happy. We gave him chicken. Rest in peace my Willow Pillow.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Night Sky

Some pages don't work out too good. I started this one as a watercolour with masking fluid. It went horribly wrong when the masking fluid dropped in big blobs on the page. Then I wasn't patient enough to wait for it to dry completely before I painted. When I peeled the dry blobs, some of the paper lifted. So I had to abandon that idea. Montana marker to the rescue! I was able to cover the whole page with a good blue acrylic. And then attached little stars (I've had them for years - I knew they'd come in handy some day) and some origami paper. Not too bad.
Until I started writing the Ulysses quote I had chosen and found that I had a nearly empty ink cartridge and dry ink on the pen nib. And then, the ink took longer than I had anticipated to dry and I smudged it.
Turn the page and forget about it!

What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?
The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

Monday, May 28, 2018


I can't believe I got this far in my sketchbook, and I hadn't sketched Molly yet. Well, I haven't done Bloom or Stephen Dedalus either, so I'm going to have to think about that!

I looked at the movie, but I found it hard to freeze a frame where I was happy with how Molly looked for a portrait. So instead, I found a black and white photo online of Barbara Jefford, the actress who played Molly, and I sketched her with a Viarco ArtGraf tailor shape. For the facing page, I was inspired by the colours of the TogetherForYes campaign! I think that's the only quote I needed, particularly after the landslide vote in Ireland on 25th of May!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Westland Row

I had a great time around Westland Row, sketching for our Bloomsday Sketchbook project.  Our sketchbooks are getting quite full, actually, so it will be lovely to see them on display around Bloomsday! If you've followed our adventures via the Dublin Sketchers blog, you'll see there is quite a variety of styles and interpretations!

For me it's an opportunity to (re-)discover lesser-known corners of Dublin, trying to see the city as if I was James Joyce himself - what would he notice if he was writing Ulysses now, in 2018? First, he probably wouldn't be in Trieste - he'd probably have got an arts grant to sustain him and his family while working on his avant-garde project, without having to leave Dublin. So he wouldn't be working from memory, but maybe you'd see him taking notes while walking around the streets of the capital!

Anyways, comparing myself to Joyce is somewhat ambitious. I'm not of that caliber. Nowhere near. But I do sketch from direct observation - no working from photographs for me, except to finish a piece at home, adding darks or colours. And the more I sketch, the more I love my city.

Since I had already been inside St Andrew's Church, I decided to go around the back, following into Leopold Bloom's footsteps. (I'm telling a little lie here, since I entered South Cumberland Street from the South, rather than from Pearse Street, unless you count when I drove through the street looking for parking a little earlier!)

I've lived in Dublin over 30 years, but I can safely say I had never been on South Cumberland Street. Well, I think it's worth a visit. From an urban sketcher's point of view anyway. Lots of buildings, windows, roofs, a covered railway bridge, parked cars, a fire escape that caused me endless trouble to draw, street lamps and overhead cables. It certainly was a challenge to sketch! And yes, there is an entrance to the church "from the rere". But it was locked.

"The cold smell of sacred stone called him. He trod the worn steps, pushed the swing door and entered softly by the rere."
(Darks added afterwards)

You can't do Ulysses and Westland Row and ignore Sweny's Chemist. Actually, you don't even have to know anything about James Joyce to go visit - that's certainly the impression I got from a lot of the tourists who visited that Sunday afternoon. It's such a busy spot on a Sunday that it is quite challenging to actually see what's in front of you, let alone sketch it. If you're lucky and PJ is there, he will ask you where you're from and he'll speak a few words in your language. He spoke French - very well -, Russian - mine is rusty, but he sounded convincing -, and Lithuanian - I can't comment there -, in the time I was there. And he sang a song in Irish, accompanying himself on the guitar - twice! Japanese seemed to stop him, though!

"Drugs age you after mental excitement. Lethargy then. Why? Reaction. A lifetime in a night."
(Colour pencil added afterwards)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Friend 4

This friend, I've been trying to capture her likeness for years. This is the closest I've got so far!
She's always in my thoughts.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friend 2

Another portrait from a photograph taken last year, at our Bloomsday exhibition. I'm getting to like these ArtGraf tailor shapes!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Friend 1

You know me when I'm on a roll. No stopping me!

This time I worked from a photo of a friend. It was quite a small picture she had sent me a while back, but in a way, having so little detail to work from helped be distil the essence of her (I hope!)

This time, I used hot-pressed watercolour paper, and the smoothness of it was much better than the rougher grain I had used so far. It enabled me to use a lighter touch.

I hope she likes it!

Timber and Willow

These didn't work out so well. I was getting carried away, lashing on the tailor shapes! Less is more is the lesson to be learned here. Back to the drawing board.

PS: no, Timber's ribs don't show like that. He is well fed, don't worry

As for Willow, well, he does look scruffy these days. He gets quite wheezy when he tries to purr, and he purrs when I brush him (not because he likes it, quite the opposite actually). So I don't brush him as much as I should.

I did manage a nice portrait of Timber later on, as he settled on his sofa.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Done on watercolour paper with black, sanguine, and (I think) ochre (the pack says sepia, but that's not sepia!) ArtGraf tailor shapes.

They're basically like a tailor's chalk, but it's a very tightly compacted pigment instead. I don't know what the binder is - it's watersoluble and it behaves like a mix of charcoal and watercolour is all I can tell you. It needs fixing, but it's not as light as pastels, so if it's framed under glass you might get away with no fixing spray.

Great fun to use - you can draw with it, you can blend it with water, as thick or transparent as you want. And I love how the three colours I bought work together!

This first effort is a bit heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it so much that I'm definitely going to explore this further!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Art Graf

Got myself 3 ArtGraf tailor shapes and one little tin of watersoluble graphite in Spectrum art shop in Wexford last week. Of course, not a clue how to use them. YouTube to the rescue!

This is going to be fun and energising. And messy!

House on Beara

I can't remember if this is the small valley (Glenbeg) or the big valley (Glanmore).  We were on the Beara Peninsula for a few days last year. The small one I think. That's when the cloud descended so low you couldn't see the mountains. By the time we got to the big valley in the afternoon, it was raining so much that the cloud was actually lifting!

Again, had great fun with colours here, starting with a similar range as the previous painting, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Moonglow, Potter's Pink, Lavender, Buff Titanium. Then I had to extend my palette for the green grasses and plants at the front.

PS: I chose not to include the power line that goes into the house, more or less at the centre of the gable. But if the house is on the market, it's good to know there is the potential for electricity!

Monday, May 14, 2018


Trying to get back into painting more, as opposed to urban sketching and art journaling (I go through phases). This is a view of the wet beach at Bettystown, from a photo I took a few months back. All clouds and reflections. There was actually a car on the beach too, but I edited it out. It's one of these beaches that you can drive onto (There's nowhere else to park!). And some cars do get stranded apparently. Just like people get stranded on Sandymount beach - it's so flat, with some dips that you barely notice at low tide, that when the tide comes in, it can really take you by surprise. A few weeks ago, I was wearing my wellies, and we did measure how quickly the water was coming up. Well, not exactly measuring, but it was fast!!

I had great fun with (mostly) Daniel Smith watercolour - if you're familiar with their range, you'll probably recognise Moonglow, Lavender, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Mayan Blue. Possibly a touch of Buff Titanium too. The Potter's Pink I use is Winsor & Newton (based on feedback from fellow students on an online watercolour sketching course I did in January, it's supposed to hold itself together better). I love my Daniel Smith watercolours They've opened a whole new range of watercolour magic for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dublin Sketchers go to the Seaside

Last Sunday, unlike today (I'm writing this on the 11th of May, and it's raining cats and dogs out there), was a beautiful, hot, sunny day. I had picked the Dun Laoghaire seafront and pier for our Dublin Sketchers outing. It's not often the sun shines so brightly in Dublin, so I felt it would have been a waste to stay in the city centre. There'll be plenty of time for that by August, when our summer is effectively over (in some cases, over before it's started).

I knew Dun Laoghaire would be busy - Dublin is basically divided between the people who stay home when the sun shines, and people who go to the seaside. My husband is the former. Me, it depends, but I like to be where the action is! 
I knew it would be pointless to try and find parking on the street, so I opted for the Pavilion car park, which was remarkably quiet when I arrived there just after 1pm.

First, I headed off to People's Park. They have a market there on Sundays and I thought it would be a good spot to practise sketching crowds. I found a shady spot under a tree and got started. Just as well I'd had lunch before leaving home. The queues for the food tents were huge. I'd reckon a good 20 minutes half an hour before you could place your order at most of them! And there were people everywhere, on the benches, on the grass, families with kids, hipsters with dogs, and people queuing queuing queuing! People moved, but enough of them stayed put long enough for me to try and catch their poses. I worked straight in watercolour, not even one pencil mark to start. I made the mistake of starting with the tents and the people queuing at the back, so my man in red standing at the front lost his head in a tent, and you can see the legs of the people at the back, which I couldn't see in reality. But, hey, lesson learned and all the rest! 

After a while, I decided to move to a quieter spot. Just below the seafront promenade, there are paths and steps leading to the sea. Hardly anybody there! I found a nice little corner and set up there. I love the colour of the sea in Ireland when the sun shines. In the West, there are spots that are Caribbean or even Maldivian turquoise. Not quite in Dublin, but still, shimmering and dancing! Well, I got so engrossed in the colours that my horizon isn't straight. But, really, I felt so happy there, it didn't matter to me! I was actually proud I had reserved the white for the sailboat anchored in the bay that nothing much mattered after that.

Once that was done, I still had a bit of time before meeting my fellow Dublin Sketchers, so I looked around and there was a lady sitting on a low wall to my left. She looked like she might be there for a while. When I left, she was engrossed in her phone, so I didn't show her my sketch.

And then at 4pm, we met for a drink in the Haddington House Hotel. Great location, just above the pier. And they have a beer garden. But it was mobbed, so we retreated to a quiet spot in the lobby, and after queuing forever, I managed to get a drink and sat down to chat with the others about the day!

PS: It took me nearly half an hour to get out of the car park at 5pm! Memo to self for the next time: park further away and walk!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Cherry Blossoms everywhere

Very often, by the time I get my act together to go out and paint them, the trees have lost their spring freshness. This year, I was determined I would not miss the cherry blossoms, at the very least. So last Saturday, the sun was shining, and they were at their fullest. So I picked up my backpack and walked down the road and started painting them in a little park near us.

I found that the latest colour I bought recently, ultramarine rose (Daniel Smith), is perfect to capture the pinkness of them, with a touch of Lavender for the shade. I dropped in a little Potter's Pink for texture too.

And today, Thursday, most of the petals are gone, lying in our back garden  - one of our neighbours has a cherry tree, and the prevailing wind sends most of the petals to us. So I feel so lucky that I did capture the trees at their most glorious.

And of course, I can't talk about cherry trees without including John Spillane's song, which never fails to make me happy, no matter what time of the year!

Vignettes from my travels (to Wexford)

I often struggle to sketch much when I'm travelling. But I had a very patient travelling companion (whose special birthday was the excuse for this trip), so I managed a few pieces over the 3 days we were in Wexford. Also, I worked almost exclusively in my little Hand.Book sketchbook, which makes it easier to work quickly (it's about 15x15cm). The only exception is the view of the town from the quays, for which I used my little Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (about the same size)

We didn't have perfect weather, but it wasn't bad, except the day we drove to the JFK Arboretum near New Ross. It's not that it was bad bad even then, just very grey, and although I carried my sketching kit with me all morning, the light was so dull that I decided not to even attempt a drawing.

I always arrive in good time at the airport, so I had enough time in the arrivals hall to do a quick sketch.

I can't believe I hadn't been to Wexford since the National Opera House was built! The entrance on the street is still exactly the same as it was many years ago when we used to go to the Opera Festival. But once you step inside, it's just amazing. A big high space, with wonderful wood, and great views from the top floor (which has a nice little café overlooking the roofs)

A nice lunch in Green Acres in Wexford town. I'm trying to sketch fuller views, with people and ceilings even. But I didn't draw the lady's two friends across the table from her. Plus I need to practise chairs!

Found a nice café on the main street, with seating upstairs. It was busy with students who had just finished school before the mid-term break. The poor waitress was constantly going up and down those stairs. The camomile tea was nice too!

I attempted a sketch of the town from the quays, but I was chatting on the phone at the same time, so my lines are all over the place. Still. It was fun. And it shows the lack of planning in the development of Irish towns!

OK, not a very good sketch, and it makes it look like the view from our room was awful, which isn't true. We could see the sea to the left of the building too, a nice surprise as we hadn't booked a seaview room. But the really exciting thing about this sketch is that it was done with an ArtGraf watersoluble tailor shape. I had heard of these, and I was hoping to buy one or two in Porto when I go there this summer, as they are made there. But I discovered them in Wexford's art shop, Spectrum. I was very excited!! And this sketch doesn't do the material justice, but I'm looking forward to experimenting more with it!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Glasnevin cemetery

I am in catch-up mode at the moment. I was busy last week and didn't get to post as regularly as I normally do.
So this one is from the last Sunday in April, on a Dublin Sketchers outing, and I just realise I forgot to take a photo with the quote from Ulysses added. In case you're wondering, I wrote it on the left side of the page, as I didn't feel like making this into another big double-spread.

"The clay fell softer. Begin to be forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind."

If you've never been, Glasnevin Cemetery is a wonderful place to visit. I had never been there, in my 32 years living in Dublin. But on a quiet sunny Sunday afternoon, it is the most peaceful location you can imagine. Yes, it's a working graveyard.  It's also a major tourist attraction, as many of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising are buried there, along with O'Connell and Parnell, and James Joyce's father. I didn't look any of these up, I have to admit. I was just happy to stroll amongst the gravestones and the trees, enjoying the stillness, and contemplating the vastness of it, a city within a city. It is said that there are as many Dubliners buried there as there are alive in the city today!

Another good reason to visit is that it's next door to the Botanic Gardens, which you can reach directly from the cemetery. And there is a good local pub just outside, known as the Gravediggers Pub (Note: if you want a green tea, go to the lounge, not the bar!!)

Here are a few photos I took. Don't be fooled by the glorious sunshine. It was so cold I only managed the one sketch!


Although I took lots of photos when I was in Venice last year, I never developed any of them into watercolours. Maybe I felt Venice paintings are too cliché? All that beautiful water and these amazing buildings were too scary? Maybe I felt that I couldn't do it justice, which is the same thing really.

So, finally, I gave it a try. I'm not 100% happy with it, but some aspects worked out, so it's definitely something to develop further.  Next time, I'd like to do it in a less 'romantic' style. Maybe work more on value contrast rather than happy colours?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Wave at Killiney

Been working on this little watercolour for a while. I had to use gouache for the top of my waves. Next time I try the same subject, I really want to reserve my whites better!
We take our dog for walks on Killiney beach most weekends in the winter season, so I never run out of photos taken with my iPhone to inspire me! Some day I might even take my easel there! But for now, with the good weather, it will be busy with families, so dogs are not welcome, unless we get up really early. Which is something I aspire to every summer. But it never seems to happen!

Monday, May 07, 2018

Pot of tea

After finishing my pot of tea at Grogan's, I went into Powerscourt Townhouse, scouting for a good spot to sketch. The sun was still shining,  but showers were threatening. I sat at the café at the very top, Le Petit Parisien. I ordered a camomile tea and a strawberry tart and set out to sketch what was in front of me, the tart first, which I then ate, then the teapot and cup (I like my tea lukewarm). A friend sat at the same table and we sketched and chatted away until it was time to meet the rest of the gang!

My sketch of the strawberry tart doesn't look as tempting as the photo on their website, but, trust me, it was delicious!

Saturday, May 05, 2018


We were sketching near Powerscourt Townhouse a few weeks ago. I was in town early, and the sun was shining, so I sat across the way at the terrace of Grogan's pub and sketched for a bit. I found the Powerscourt building itself a bit intimidating, so I sketched a window on its own, as I wanted to practise how to get the proportions right and how to give them depth. Once I was finished the window, I looked at the skyline and the chimneys, and decided to tackle them.
When I got home, I added a stamp and a quote from Ulysses, and a simple frame around the page, and I called it done!

By the way, Grogan's is a really authentic pub - no fancy furniture, fake antiques, or TVs blaring. Just a simple pub, with nice service. It's a shame really that Dublin pubs have all gone mega and fake, trying to recreate the idea of an Irish pub, but really looking more like a tourist attraction than a nice place to meet friends and chat over a pint. I wouldn't mind sketching in there some day.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


I was at the James Joyce Centre earlier in April for a free concert, called Ulysses Extended, a musical score by Stephen Gardner performed by Paul Roe, Ellen Demos and Shane O'Donovan. Very enjoyable, if a bit obscure. I sketched a little during the performance. I was at the back row, and I had brought a couple of calligraphy pens with me. I couldn't really do a detailed sketch, plus I didn't want to disturb the artists. So I did this dynamic sketch instead, drawing the singer twice and super-imposed the clarinet player and the percussionist. When I got home, I scanned the sketch and printed it on watercolour paper and added a few dashes of colour.

This sketch fits well into the Sirens chapter of Ulysses, where music is the art form explored by Joyce. Me, I'm just enjoying every moment of it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The chimneys

There is always a certain energy when you're sketching on location. On this occasion, I had already done three sketches, and I was getting tired. Plus there was the risk that we might be asked to move on, as it wasn't clear whether this was a private or public space. So I worked with urgency! We were inside the courtyard just beside the Pigeon House. The ESB plant is on the other side and that's not open to the public. But on this side the gate was open, and there were a few cars parked there. There is also a portakabin - I remember doing some work on a computer for a builder who operated from there a few years ago. While my friends stayed a good bit longer to finish their sketches, I left after just a basic pencil structure and one layer of watercolour. To be honest, I didn't think I would be able to create anything worth looking at, particularly when I realised that I had got some of the proportions of the house wrong. So I decided it was best to take a break from it.

I finished the sketch at home the following day. The windows caused me more trouble than I had anticipated. I had to use white marker to do the window frames and it was all over the place. Let me know if you have a good white marker that you could recommend. I would like a white marker for detail and also to write on top of colour backgrounds. I'm quite happy with how I managed to convey the imposing scale of the chimneys, though!

The scene was so huge that I had to tilt my sketchbook to capture it all

I found on the ESB website a photo of the house (from the other side) and the brick chimney and the power station. The other chimneys are all gone and there isn't much left of the long building I think, except for a rusty metal structure. You can see on the photo the coal (bottom right) and the conveyor belt that brings it to the furnace!

Pigeon House was named after a Mr Pigeon, who ran it as a coffee shop where passengers from the ferry could get a cup of tea and a slice of cake after their long journey. It later became a hotel. I think it's used by the ESB now, or the Dublin corporation. It's not open to visitors, which is a pity. The old power station, which was commissioned in 1903, gets a mention in Ulysses.

 This is how it looks from Google Maps now:
And here is a photo I took before I did my first sketch: