Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Can I stick to one thing? Mmm... I guess not! I found these beautiful little decorative gourds in our local grocery store and I couldn't resist! At least I did them in the same style as the stones. I gave no thought whatsoever to composition, but focused on colour and lost and found edges. Now, can I reproduce this freedom in a proper composition?

New Yoga Channel on YouTube

I love my yoga. I rarely miss a class. I only go once a week. But I do try to practise at home, with a little help from YouTube. And one of my favourite yoga teachers, Lisa Burke from Yoga Soul Academy/Danu Yoga - she has a new YouTube channel with short, useful, practises. If I can stick to the three minutes a day, that will be major progress for me! This morning, I got up, did my ablutions and then set the timer on my phone and did double leg lifts for three minutes (I did have to revert to the easier version after about a minute and a half!!!). This morning, my dog even tried to help!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Gunnera Manicata

OK, I call it big rhubarb. But it's nothing to do with rhubarb at all. It's called Gunnera Manicata.  According to Wikipedia, it was named after a Norwegian bishop and naturalist Johan Ernst Gunnerus, who also named and published a description about the basking shark (which can be seen at the North of Donegal). It's thought to be around 150 million years old. It is native to Brazil, where it is used in traditional medicine to cure sexually transmitted diseases!

It is one of these plants that you will find in big Irish gardens, often beside a pond. I came across the ones that inspired this painting in a little hollow in Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens in County Wicklow, just half an hour from where we live on a cold day late in October. It was one of those days when you think the sun is going to come out, but it's reluctant. Then it finally appears when you're ready to go home!

Initially I struggled to capture their shape and colour. They didn't pop the way I wanted, so I lifted paint, and when the paper was dry, I used negative painting to again try to define the shape of these pre-historic plants (come to think of it, most plants are probably pre-historic, aren't they?). Here is how it looked originally. I was happy with how the trees in the background looked but the foreground was quite a mess. Perylene Green and a pointed brush to the rescue, plus a mop brush with water to create a soft edge above the plants!

Airplane movies

I'm struggling to catch up with my blogging, I have to admit. I would like to talk about the holiday, and all the lovely things we experienced, the wonderful foods we ate. But it seems so far away already. So I'll start here.

We don't go to the movies very often. With Netflix, I rarely feel the need. But it's hard to beat a good movie. These 4 that we watched on our various flights were brilliant!
  • The Shape of Water - an atmospheric love story, set in the cold war, with a fantastic watery element to it. Loved it.
  • Isle of Dogs - an animated fantasy movie set in Japan. The premise is that all dogs are banished to an island and have to fend for themselves. A young boy comes looking for his dog. Full of adventure and humour!
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - a heart-wrenching story of a mother whose daughter was raped, tortured and killed. Months after the murder, the police are no closer to solving the mystery. Amazing performance by Frances McDormand
  • Au poste - a weirdly funny French movie about a police interview that goes wrong. 

Monday, October 29, 2018


I know it's InkTober, but I find it much more fun to play with watercolours! So I'm back #FollowingTheWhiteRabbit exploring negative painting, lost and found edges, splattering and shading. Painting three items like this is relatively easy. But for me, when I try to create a full composition, it's like I forget everything I've learned and I revert to hard edges everywhere. Maybe what I need to do is slowly increase the number of pieces and slowly learn how to cope with the increasing complexity. Will I be patient enough to do that? Mmm... I would love to do a full painting with stones, from photos I've taken on Killiney Beach, and using some of the actual stones I've picked up over the years (not that many, I promise). That would  be fun! Which approach do you think I'll take? Slow and careful? Or Jump right in and make a mess of it?

PS: colours used are all Daniel Smith watercolours: Lavender, Moonglow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Buff Titanium, Transparent Red Oxide. I think they are my favourite colour mix!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Posca markers

I couldn't go to Japan and not buy a few Posca markers! Now I have to figure out how to use them to their best! And when I run out, Artmines in Rathmines have the whole range in stock!

Here I've tried them on two different types of toned paper. I'm not sure whether to use them for line drawing or for colouring!

Friday, October 26, 2018

The overhead wires

Back home after a long trip, it always takes me a while to get back into my groove. So, rather than leaving the memories behind, I'm going to try to use some of my sketches as the foundation for more finished works. My goal is to do five, but I'll probably get distracted by something else in no time. So, we'll see how it goes!

This one was a sketch of overhead wires (I wanted to call this The Power Lines, but I'm not sure they're all power - they could be telephone, internet, TV?) on a street in Nara, Japan. I know, I know, so much beauty and history all around me, and what do I choose to sketch? I can't help what I find interesting! Done while standing on a street corner for 10 minutes before heading back to the bus station for our coach to Kansai airport! (The bus trip was so much more relaxing than taking the train!)

I was happy with the initial sketch, but then I messed it up by adding coloured pencil. I've tried to erase it, but it's not working, so I'll have to live with it. I didn't take a picture of it before adding the coloured pencil.

The next stage was to draw it again from photo and sketch, and add ink.

I was happier with the plain grey one.

Then I decided to try to do an ink and watercolour version, using what I learned with Shari Blaukopf in terms of painting the walls and adding shadows (it was a dull day so I had to make them up!). This is my favourite so far.

I'm currently trying a Jane Gray style version, but my drawing wasn't brilliant to start with - it lacked shape and focus. And I think I've added too much watercolour pigment. Plus I forgot the idea to only use colour in the area of interest. Back to the drawing board, literally.

Will I try another style? I could do a Marc Taro Holmes direct watercolour version? Well, there's an idea now.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sketching while travelling with a non-sketching companion

I am an urban sketcher. My husband is not. And while he is very patient, I think it would not be fair on him if I spent our whole holiday sketching. Over the years, I've tried various approaches, but often found that I ended up sketching very little, unless we were on a one-location holiday (like a week in Kerry!). Maybe my sketchbook was too big to cart around every day? Or using watercolours required sitting down (I'm too clumsy to balance a sketchbook, palette and water container on one arm while sketching with the other!). The resulting sketches were often disappointing.

This year, I tried a new approach. I left my usual supplies at home. Brought two small sketchbooks, about A5 in size. And a pencil case full of fountain pens and Marabu and Posca markers. One waterbrush. And cutout Daniel Smith watercolour dot cards (cut out because they are A4 in size and I didn't want something so big, so I brought a small sheet of yellow, a small sheet of red, of blue and of brown, and I still had too much). One of the sketchbooks (Diário Gráfico by Firmo) was good with all the tools. The other, really only good for pen and ink. But that was OK.

I didn't necessarily sketch all the beauty spots and tourist attractions. But I took every opportunity I had. Waiting for rain to stop. Or a typhoon to pass. Most of the time standing on a street corner. Sometimes sitting on a bench. Or just at the hotel room window. Or in an airport, waiting for a plane

One of the days, I met up with fellow urban sketcher Samantha Takamura, from Ōsaka, who travelled to Kyoto to spend the day sketching with me. We had never met before. I had just posted on Urban Sketchers Japan's Facebook page, and she contacted me. By the end of the day, it was like we had known each other forever. It was so wonderful to meet up with a local urban sketcher while travelling. And to have made a new friend. It was a dream come true for me.

Here are some of the sketches I did. I have already posted most of these on Instagram (@MHBD1) while travelling, but without the narrative.

It was a public holiday in Hong Kong the first day we arrived, and every housemaid had been given the day off, it seems. All 370,000 of them! Half from the Philippines, and half from Indonesia. As a result, every single bench or shady spot in public spaces was taken up. Since they have to live with their employer and don't have a place of their own, they have nowhere to go on their day off, but the parks and public spaces of Hong Kong. Surely a social issue that will erupt at some point. Kowloon Park is near the mosque and the park seemed to be the focal point for a lot of Muslim foreign domestic workers. I did manage to get a seat on a bench (in the sun) to capture this scene. Pen and watercolours.

Trees and shadows at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul. Pen and watercolours.

View of Hong Kong from Kowloon seafront. Uniball pen.

View of Hong Kong from our room. Sailor Fude pen.

1881 Heritage (the former Marine Police Headquarters, actually built in 1884, but something about unlucky numbers led to the choice of 1881 in the redevelopment) and the YMCA Hong Kong (The Salisbury). Fineliner.

View from our hotel window near Ōsaka station. Our flight to Seoul was cancelled due to the forecast Typhoon Trami, so we had a day with nothing much to do except eat, watch TV and sketch. The typhoon passed peacefully in the end. We flew the following day. Sailor Fude.

Lots of people and luggage in the hotel lobby, stranded because of flight cancellations. Posca marker and watercolour.

I had been warned about spicy Korean food. I stuck to the bibimbaps, where you can manage the amount of chilli sauce yourself in most cases. This was my first, at a buffet at the base of Seoul Tower, so I had a chilli-free version. Marabu watercolour markers, watercolours.

I loved the green walkway near Seoul station - every city should have one. An urban sketcher's ideal location! I sat on a bench overlooking the train tracks and just drew what was in front of me. It was a glorious morning and I really enjoyed sketching the view! Calligraphy marker, fineliner and watercolour.

At Yasaka Jinja with fellow urban sketcher Samantha Takamura. It was wonderful to meet this local urban sketcher, who travelled from Ōsaka to Kyoto to spend a day with me! We sketched and chatted, and sketched some more. Sailor Fude and watercolour.

And then we had a matcha latte and a bite to eat, but not until we had sketched it! Thank you Samantha for a wonderful day! Sailor Fude and watercolour.

On Samantha's recommendation, I bought a lovely little fountain pen in Kyoto, a Pilot Kaküno, real cheap, but so nice. After that, all my sketches were with this pen only! The day we arrived in Nara was a holiday and it was packed with tourists (local and foreign), but we managed to find a quiet spot, with a tree and a brook.

The ink I bought for the pen is brown, but when you add water, it turns pink. I made it work for me, althought this scene looks more like a Spring cherry blossom view!

The second sketchbook I started while on holiday doesn't take water that well, so I just sketched with the fountain pen, using hatching for shading.

I sketched this quirky shop while standing close to a Japanese man who was drawing too. I never saw his finished work. A few people were drawing/painting in this quiet area of Nara, so I blended in well.

On our final morning in Nara, we didn't have time to venture very far, so I sketched people waiting for buses near the station. I found that a lot of Japanese women wear wide-brimmed hats to protect their skin and their eyes from the sun.

Most of the people in motion sketches on this page didn't really work out, except for the elderly lady in the bottom left. I tried to sketch her face on too, but she stared at me, so I moved on to someone else!

Back in Hong Kong for a night. Quick sketch from our hotel room window, looking down Des Voeux Road. I simplified the view by starting with the shape of the sky, then just adding a few buses and even a tram, and a quick impression of the 20/30 floors in one of the skyscrapers nearby.

After a one-hour crossing on the Turbo Jet to Macau, we explored the old and the new. My favourite spot was the lobby area of the MGM - it had these giant glass flowers all over, with a few giraffes and a big round aquarium! I just drew the flowers.

The old and the new in Macau,

And back to Hong Kong again for a final day. We enjoyed walking around Central and into Hong Kong Park. But most of all, I enjoyed the view from our room. So much so that I forgot to check out the swimming pool!

What happens when you leave the hotel at 4pm and your flight isn't until nearly 1am? Well, I eat lots and sketch lots.

People are so absorbed in their phones that you can stare and sketch and they never notice.

And when they fall asleep, you get a good chance to look at them!

Or when they're drinking. The two on the right were knocking back the champagne and as time went by, they became more and more touchy-feely.

And when you run out of people, there's plants!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Love is Art Atelier and Capel Street

Over 4 weeks since I sketched this. I spent a peaceful afternoon in a café off Capel Street called Love is Art Atelier. Lovely tea and cake. And lots of quirky art around everywhere. French/Jazzy music in the background. A haven in a busy part of town. After green tea and matcha/white chocolate cake, I had a pot of camomile tea. Perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


I love art challenges. Fake Journal Month, OneWeek100People, DirectWatercolour, ... I've done a few. But somehow, InkTober doesn't really appeal to me. Maybe it's just that there are too many people taking part. I like to feel part of a community (I loooved the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto). But I need to make a connection. And I don't get that with Inktober. Maybe I came to it too late.

Still, I have lots of inks to play with, so I did explore a few techniques over the last week. But really, I'm a watercolour girl.

Here are some of my efforts (didn't follow the prompts). The first few were not great, but then I moved to a Two Rivers sketchbook and the ink behaved very interestingly. For the last one, I used really smooth paper and a variety of fountain pens (Sailor Fude, Lamy Safari, Pilot Kaküno):